This week, the FanPulse survey strayed away from the actual 2019 NFL season and into the Hollywood visions of football by asking voters across the SB Nation spectrum to say which was the best football movie of all time. Leaving out the “other” category, which garnered a surprisingly robust 12% of the voting, there were seven films that made the grade.
With no Redskins to watch today, perhaps you’ll want to download one of these classic football movies and enjoy a stress-free Sunday afternoon on your sofa escaping the drama of the 2019 Redskins season and instead immersing yourself in the drama of a timeless Hollywood football movie.
No. 7 - The Program (1993)
I’ve seen this movie before, and thought it was mildly entertaining.
The film touches on the season of the fictional Division I FBS (then IA) college football team, the ESU Timberwolves as they deal with the pressure to make a bowl game, alcohol and anabolic steroid abuse, receipt of improper benefits, and overall college life. It follows the trials of Coach Sam Winters (Caan), the Heisman Trophy candidate Joe Kane (Sheffer), the freshman running back Darnell Jefferson (Epps), their love interests (Berry and Swanson), and other team members.
- James Caan as Coach Sam Winters
- Halle Berry as Autumn Haley
- Omar Epps as Darnell Jefferson
- Craig Sheffer as Joe Kane
- Kristy Swanson as Camille Shafer
No. 6 Little Giants (1994)
To me, the words, “starring Rick Moranis” are the death knell to my interest in a movie. When that film is focused on football, the appearance of Moranis in the credits would pretty much guarantee I’d never watch the film. Ironically enough, I might make an exception to see a movie starring Ed O’Neill (Al Bundy from Married...with Children). As it happens, I have not seen Little Giants. I doubt I ever will.
Danny O’Shea (Rick Moranis) has always lived in the shadow of his older brother, Kevin (Ed O’Neill), a Heisman Trophy winner and a local football hero. They live in their hometown of Urbania, Ohio. Kevin coaches the local “Pee-Wee Cowboys” football team. Despite being the best player, Danny’s tomboy daughter, Becky (Shawna Waldron), nicknamed Icebox, is cut during try outs because she is a girl. Also cut are her less-talented friends, Rashid Hanon (who can’t catch anything), Tad Simpson (who can’t run), and Rudy Zolteck (who’s overweight and quite flatulent). After being ridiculed by the other players who made the team, she convinces her dad to coach a new pee-wee team of their own.
- Rick Moranis - Danny O’Shea
- Ed O’Neill - Kevin O’Shea
No. 5 The Replacements (2000)
As a Redskins fan who lived through the Super Bowl season that featured replacement players over-achieving and going undefeated, this is, of course, one of my favorite sports movies. I have seen this movie and I like it. In my opinion, the entire film is “made” by Keanu Reeves as Shane Falco — possibly one of the ten or twelve best Hollywood football characters of all time.
If you’ve never seen it before, this is a must-watch. If you have seen it before, it might be time to watch it again.
A fictional pro football league finds themselves hit with a players’ strike with the season still needing to be finished. Washington Sentinels owner Edward O’Neil calls a former coach of his, Jimmy McGinty, telling McGinty that he and the rest of the teams are going to finish the final four games of the season with replacement players. O’Neil asks McGinty to coach the Sentinels the rest of the season, along with the pressure of winning three of the last four games to make the playoffs. McGinty accepts, on the condition that he will also be given the freedom to sign the players he wants with O’Neil not allowed to interfere.
With O’Neil accepting his requests, McGinty builds his team of different varying players that he believes can make a winning team. As his quarterback, McGinty chooses Shane Falco, a former All-American from Ohio State whose career went to pieces after a horrendous Sugar Bowl game, and now lives in a houseboat near the Sentinels’ stadium. Falco initially refuses, but McGinty convinces him, believing that Falco can still be the player he was meant to be.
- Keanu Reeves as Shane Falco
- Jack Warden as Edward O’Neil
- Gene Hackman as Jimmy McGinty
No. 4 Friday Night Lights (2004)
I love the title of this movie, but, somehow, I’ve never seen it; that may be because I was living in Australia when it was released. It’s got two actors I really enjoy — Billy Bob Thornton, who proves time and again that a good ol’ boy can make it on the big screen, and Derek Luke, who played the lead role in Antwone Fisher. This is clearly a good movie. Maybe I’ll follow my own advice and watch it on Sunday instead of going to the cinema to watch Terminator: Dark Fate.
Friday Night Lights is a 2004 American sportsdrama film, directed by Peter Berg. The film follows the coach and players of a high schoolfootball team in the Texas city of Odessa, which supported and was obsessed with them. The book on which it was based, Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream (1990) by H. G. Bissinger, followed the story of the 1988 Permian High School Panthers football team as they made a run towards the state championship. A television series of the same name premiered on October 3, 2006 on NBC. The film won the Best Sports Movie ESPY Award and was ranked number 37 on Entertainment Weekly’s list of the Best High School Movies
- Billy Bob Thornton as Coach Gary Gaines
- Lucas Black as Mike Winchell
- Garrett Hedlund as Don Billingsley
- Derek Luke as James “Boobie” Miles
No.3 Any Given Sunday (1999)
This is movie that I’ve seen at least twice, including watching it at the moviehouse when it was released on the big screen. When you look at the cast, starting from Al Pacino and reading down a very long list of well-known names, and consider that it was directed by Oliver Stone, you’d be tempted to think this would be one of the great sports films of all time.
In my opinion, the movie is watchable, but I agree with Roger Ebert who gave the film a mostly positive review, but criticized its length: “I guess I recommend the movie because the dramatic scenes are worth it. Pacino has some nice heart-to-hearts with Quaid and Foxx, and the psychology of the veteran coach is well-captured in the screenplay by Stone and John Logan.Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times also gave the film a mostly positive review, awarding it 3 out of 4 stars, but criticized its length: “I guess I recommend the movie because the dramatic scenes are worth it. Pacino has some nice heart-to-hearts with Quaid and Foxx, and the psychology of the veteran coach is well-captured in the screenplay by Stone and John Logan. But if some studio executive came along and made Stone cut his movie down to two hours, I have the strangest feeling it wouldn’t lose much of substance and might even play better.”
Further, I’d agree with Richard Schickel who stated “Any Given Sunday ends up less than the sum of its many, often interesting parts.”
Still, I can think of worse ways to spend a Sunday afternoon.
Any Given Sunday is a 1999 American sports drama film directed by Oliver Stone depicting a fictional professional American football team. The film features an ensemble cast, including Al Pacino, Cameron Diaz, Dennis Quaid, Jamie Foxx, James Woods, LL Cool J, Ann-Margret, Lauren Holly, Matthew Modine, John C. McGinley, Charlton Heston, Bill Bellamy, Lela Rochon, Aaron Eckhart, Elizabeth Berkley, Marty Wright, and NFL players Jim Brown and Lawrence Taylor. It is partly based on the novel On Any Given Sunday by famed NFL defensive end Pat Toomay; the title is derived from a line in the book (also used in the film) that a team can win or lose on “any given Sunday”, said by the fictitious coach Tony D’Amato.
Cameo roles also featured many former American football players including Dick Butkus, Y. A. Tittle, Pat Toomay, Warren Moon, Johnny Unitas, Ricky Watters, Emmitt Smith and Terrell Owens, as well as coach Barry Switzer.
No. 2 Rudy (1993)
When I first saw the list of nominated movies on the FanPulse poll, I assumed that Rudy would win the vote hands down. It is, after all, the sentimental favorite of huge numbers of football fans, and has the added bonus of the Hobbit Samwell Gamgee playing the starring role.
This is a real puller-of-heartstrings, so if you’ve never seen it, and you are used to crying every Sunday watching the Redskins play something like football, then you may want to get ahold of a copy of Rudy, a box of tissues, and some popcorn.
Rudy is a 1993 American biographical sports film directed by David Anspaugh. It is an account of the life of Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger, who harbored dreams of playing football at the University of Notre Dame despite significant obstacles.
In 2005, Rudy was named one of the best 25 sports movies of the previous 25 years in two polls by ESPN. It was ranked the 54th-most inspiring film of all time in the “AFI 100 Years” series.
In late 1960s Joliet, Illinois, Daniel Eugene “Rudy” Ruettiger dreams of playing football at Notre Dame, but lacks the grades and money to attend, and the talent and physical stature to play major college football.
In 1972, Rudy visits Notre Dame but is not academically eligible to enroll. After two years at Holy Cross and three rejections from Notre Dame, Rudy is finally admitted and attempts to make the football team. Competing well as a “walk-on”, Rudy convinces head coach Ara Parseghian to give him a spot on the daily practice squad. Coach Parseghian agrees to let Rudy suit up for one home game in his senior year, but retires following the 1974 season and is replaced by former NFL coach Dan Devine, who refuses to place Rudy on the game day roster.
Devine finally lets Rudy play on the Notre Dame kickoff to Georgia Tech. Rudy stays in for the final play and sacks the Georgia Tech quarterback, and is carried on his teammates’ shoulders to cheers from the stadium.
An epilogue states that after 1975, no other player for Notre Dame had been carried off the field to the time of the film’s release in 1993. Rudy graduated in 1976 and all his younger brothers went on to earn college degrees.
- Sean Astin as Daniel E. “Rudy” Ruettiger
- Jon Favreau as Dennis “D-Bob” McGowan
- Ned Beatty as Daniel Ruettiger, Sr.
- Charles S. Dutton as Fortune
No. 1 Remember the Titans (2000)
Another film with a D.C. area connection, Remember the Titans is another film based on real people and true events. This is the film I voted for in the FanPulse survey, and it garnered an overwhelming 35% in an 8-way vote.
If you’re looking for inspiration that you haven’t gotten yet this season from Jay Gruden, Bill Callahan, Greg Manusky or anyone else in burgundy and gold, check out this inspiring movie about building a culture of winning together.
Remember the Titans is a 2000 American biographical sports film produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and directed by Boaz Yakin. The screenplay, written by Gregory Allen Howard, is based on the true story of African-American coach Herman Boone, portrayed by Denzel Washington, and his attempt to integrate the T. C. Williams High School football team in Alexandria, Virginia, in 1971. Will Patton portrays Bill Yoast, Boone’s assistant coach. Real-life athletes Gerry Bertier and Julius Campbell are portrayed by Ryan Hurst and Wood Harris, respectively.
- Denzel Washington as Coach Herman Boone
- Will Patton as Assistant Coach Bill Yoast
They just don’t make ‘em like that anymore
I couldn’t help noticing that all the nominated films came from the same period of time (1993-2004). In these days of back-to-back comic book superhero films, there doesn’t seem to be much room for good Hollywood produced football movies, and, no, Draft Day doesn’t count.
When I first saw the FanPulse question this week, I was primed to vote for the movie Jerry McGuire, which I really enjoy. It wasn’t among the nominations, and, when I considered voting “other” I reflected that it isn’t really a football movie — it’s just a movie about relationships that has football as the background.
That said, I can’t let this article go by without mentioning that Cuba Gooding, Jr.’s portrayal of Cardinals wide receiver Rod Tidwell is probably the best on-screen NFL football player of my lifetime. Nick Nolte’s portrayal of Phil Elliott in the 1979 film, North Dallas Forty, is a close second.
Movies about other sports
If you’re open to watching movies about sports other than football, here are a few recommendations to help fill this Redskins-free Sunday and the upcoming Week 10 bye:
- Bagger Vance (Golf)
- The Greatest Game Ever Played (Golf)
- Bull Durham (Baseball)
- Raging Bull (Boxing)
- The Wrestler (Professional Wrestling of the WWE variety)
- The Natural (Baseball)
- Slapshot (Hockey)
- Million Dollar Baby (Boxing)
- Field of Dreams (Baseball)
- Chariots of Fire (Olympic track)
- Hoosiers (Basketball)
- Tin Cup (Golf)
- The Longest Yard (1974) (Football, sort of)
- Bang the Drum Slowly (Baseball)
- Brian’s Song (Football)