Given the global popularity of football (or soccer for my friends across the pond!), there is a distinct lack of football-based movies available to watch. The majority of football films that are produced generally tend to be documentaries and even those which are feature films, often the bulk of the action takes place off the pitch. Nonetheless, I’ve rounded up a selection of the best football-based films which should wet the appetite of any football fan.
You can’t have football without football hooligans! Starring Elijah Wood and Charlie Hunnam, Green Street follows an American college student as he falls in with a violent West Ham football firm. Whilst not the best of films, football is at the heart of Green Street and what’s more, the film is based on West Ham’s notorious hooligan firm, the Inter City Firm.
Somewhat of an ‘out there’ inclusion on this list, Early Man is a stop motion animated sports comedy film from the creators of Wallace and Gromit. Early Man follows a tribe of Stone Age valley dwellers who have to defend their land from invaders in a game of football.
Whilst it doesn’t quite have the same charm as Wallace and Gromit, Early Man is still an enjoyable watch with some quality animation and laughs, as well as a good dose of football thrown in for good measure. I’m surprised there are not more football-based animated movies, as I’m sure they would be a hit amongst younger fans.
Bend It Like Beckham
A cult classic and miles ahead of its time, Bend It Like Beckham took many people by surprise when it was released in 2002. Starring Parminder Nagra and Keira Knightley, Bend It Like Beckham follows a football obsessed 18-year-old girl, who is forbidden from playing by her parents because she is a girl.
Bend It Like Beckham breaks so many social norms whilst remaining so upbeat and realistic, that it’s unsurprising to learn that Bend It Like Beckham is the highest grossing association football film of all time. Also, fun fact; Bend it like Beckham was the first ever Western-made film to air on television in North Korea!
The Football Factory
Another football hooligan film on the list and arguably the better of the two, The Football Factory follows a member of the Chelsea Firm, whose life revolves around drinking, drugs and violence. Danny Dyer stars as lead character Tommy Johnson in what was one of his early breakout roles. The film is shot in a documentary style, offering a realistic view of football hooliganism.
Escape to Victory
The oldest football-based movie on the list is the 1981 sports war film, Escape to Victory. Set during the Second World War, Escape to Victory follows a group of Allied prisoners of war who play an exhibition match of football against a German team, all whilst attempting a daring escape at the same time.
Escape to Victory also features one of the best casts of any football movie, with Sylvester Stallone and Michael Caine starring as the leads, with Pelé, Bobby Moore and Osvaldo Ardiles also all starring and providing a bit of footballing flair. It was announced in 2019 that Escape to Victory will be getting a remake – hopefully this will be as good as the first!
The Damned United
The Damned United is a sports drama film, based on the 2006 novel The Damned Utd. The film follows the author’s interpretation of Brian Clough’s 44-day reign as a football manager of Leeds United in 1974. With an all-star cast featuring Michael Sheen, Timothy Spall, Colm Meaney and Jim Broadbent, The Damned United is a gripping sports movie delving into competing personalities and personal turmoil.
Arguably the greatest football film of all time, Goal! follows Santiago Munez (played by Kuno Becker), a Mexican illegal immigrant who is offered the chance to trial with Newcastle United. Goal! is the ultimate football fairy-tale story and it’s this story of rags to riches which makes Goal! such a widely loved film by football fans.
What’s more, Goal! was produced with full co-operation from FIFA, which is why real-life teams and players are actually used all throughout the film. Goal! features numerous cameo appearances throughout the film from retired and active footballers including Lionel Messi, Alan Shearer, David Beckham and Zinedine Zidane.
What is your favourite football movie of all time? Do you love the rags to riches tale of Goal!, or do you prefer the gritty brutality and violence of The Football Factory? Let me know in the comments!