While not related to football, many movies have incorporated football or footballers as a major plot element of the story. For example, Green Street Hooligans depicts the lives of hooligans standing up for their team, and Looking for Eric has former footballer Eric Cantona playing a crucial role.
Football or soccer is, in many ways, the perfect analogy to life. You have to be born with a certain amount of talent, but you have to work as hard as you can to reach the true heights of the sport. There are heartbreaks, there are fateful encounters, there are comedic instances, there are paradigm-shifting defeats, life-changing victories. Perhaps it is no surprise, then, that so many movies have been made about this popular sport.
Another aspect that links football to life is the very real connection between it and the social situation around it. Politicians base their careers on their support of certain teams, fans, of course, spend their lives following their team madly through thick and thin, and sometimes even drug cartels get in on the act.
All this has resulted in many soccer-related movies. Here's a list of the best of them, with a brief description. These movies are not purely the ones that depict soccer, but those that base their stories around it. There are entertaining movies for kids, there are movies that offer soft, mild fun for the whole family, there are movies that go off the beaten track, and some that are just plain so bad that they have become just because of that.
Best Soccer Movies Ever
: 2005; 2007; 2009
: Danny Cannon, Jaume Collet-Serra, and Andrew Morahan directed the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd parts, respectively
: Kuno Becker
is arguably the most famous movie about soccer. It tells the story of Santiago Muñez, a talented Mexican footballer who finds it hard to forge a career in soccer. He is fortuitously discovered by a retired football professional, who convinces English club Newcastle United to give Santiago a trial. After initial struggles, Santiago settles into the club, and eventually earns them qualification into the UEFA Champions League with a free kick.
In the second film, a now-established Santiago joins former Newcastle teammate Gavin Harris at Real Madrid, and plays a crucial role in Real's victory in the Champions League Final.
The third story depicts his journey at the World Cup with Mexico, where he is joined by his two English club mates. This movie was heavily panned almost universally.
The story is so formulaic, the execution is so clichéd, and the conclusion is so inevitably obvious, that these movies were never going to win Oscars. But thanks largely to the paucity of movies focusing completely on football, this series has gained a cult following among football fans.
Bend It Like Beckham
: Gurinder Chadha
: Parminder Nagra, Anupam Kher, Keira Knightley, Jonathan Rhys Meyers
This British-German movie about a Punjabi family was one of the most surprising and most widespread successes of 2002. Made on a tight budget, the film was initially only released in the UK, but its popularity there led to it being released in Canada and India, both of which proved to be receptive to the cross-cultural comedy.
Revolving around Jesminder "Jess" Bhamra (Nagra), the movie tells the story of a Punjabi girl defying the conventions in her conservative family by following her dream of playing soccer. She has to deal with her father's (Anupam Kher) anger, her attraction to her soccer coach, and, funnily enough, suspicions that she is lesbian. Spotted playing football with the neighborhood boys by fellow woman football player Jules Paxton (Knightley), she is introduced to the club at which the latter plays, The Hounslow Harriers. Jules becomes her best friend, though their mutual attraction towards their football coach Joe (Rhys Meyers) causes some friction between them. In the end, she and her coach are successful in making her parents see her talent and allowing her to gain a football scholarship.
Escape to Victory (Just 'Victory' in North America)
: John Huston
: Sylvester Stallone, Michael Caine, Pele, Bobby Moore
This classic cult film is so cluttered with cult clichés and clunky clangers that it makes the clumsy arrangement of words in this sentence look classic! Set in a WWII-era prison for POWs, the movie features an escape attempt by the prisoners following an exhibition football match.
Featuring basically only Michael Caine and Sylvester Stallone as 'actors' (so basically
only Michael Caine), this movie has gained the status of cult classic thanks to the generous inclusion of football stars, both active and retired. Pele and Bobby Moore are the undoubted headliners in a football star cast including the likes of John Wark, Mike Summerbee, and Paul Van Himst.
The soccer serves as an occasional reprieve from the terrible plot, and the magic of Pele shines through in spite of being more than 40 years old at the time.
The Damned United
: Tom Hooper
: Michael Sheen, Timothy Spall
Depicting renowned manager Brian Clough's ill-fated 44-day tenure at Leeds United, this film is a classic in the quasi-documentary genre. Based firmly on real events but with obvious artistic liberties, Michael Sheen's portrayal of Clough, considered the best manager the English national team never had, is one of his best performances.
Clough, a consistent patron of the beautiful game, had badmouthed Leeds United's abrasive style of play while in charge of Derby County, and Leeds players still harbored some resentment towards the manager. Clough's confrontational style also brought him into constant friction with the management. The film depicts Clough's tenure, including his fallout with his longtime assistant Peter Taylor (Spall), with whom he eventually reconciled.
: Stephen Chow
: Stephen Chow
When you see the same name as the director and the lead actor, it is almost always a bad sign, unless your name happens to be 'Gibson', 'Eastwood', etc. And so it is with Shaolin Soccer
, which fails on all fronts so spectacularly that it, like Victory
, is a movie to be enjoyed while deliberately keeping any interruption from your sound reason an arm's length away.
The story follows an ex-monk, Sing (Chow), who recruits some of his former monk buddies to play as a soccer team. It is pointless to elaborate on the plot of the movie, since it is deliberately utter madness. There's references to old kung fu films as well modern masterpieces like The Matrix
. Just do as advised and keep your brain out of it!
: Khyentse Norbu
: Orgyen Tobgyal, Neten Chokling
Shot in the picturesque Himalayan foothills in northern India, this movie is worth watching just for its stunning visuals as much as its offbeat plot.
A young Buddhist boy escapes to a Buddhist refuge monastery in India. The film depicts the normal, day-to-day lives of monks, who are surprisingly (or not, depending on your preconceptions) open and lighthearted. The main plotline is the monks' efforts to get a TV so that they can watch the 1998 FIFA World Cup Final.
The film is notable for the lighthearted peek into the lives of Buddhist monks as well as the casually delivered life lessons, and the mind-boggling scenery of the Himalayas.
The Two Escobars
: Michael and Jeff Zimbalist
This documentary, made for ESPN's '30 for 30' series of sports films, investigates the connection between crime and soccer in Colombia through the stories of the namesakes Pablo Escobar, a notorious cocaine trafficker and believed to be among the wealthiest gangsters in history, and Andrés Escobar, the popular captain of the Colombian national football team in the early 1990s.
The footballer Escobar was one of the better defenders in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and was the inspirational captain of the Colombian team at the 1994 FIFA World Cup. This Colombia team was regarded as genuine title contenders due to the stunning collection of talent. Unfortunately, the team went out in the group stage after just one win and two losses from the three group stage games. Escobar was responsible for an own goal during their second match. He was murdered on July 2, 1994, shortly after the World Cup, in Colombia, suspected to be due to his own goal costing the betting rings of mafias heavily.
Pablo Escobar died on December 2, 1993. The movie explores the connection between these two deaths in a country where the two streams were inextricably linked.
These were some of the most enjoyable movies depicting football. Some of these were made to serve as mindless entertainment, some unwittingly became so, while some show the lives of the people behind the scenes, and whose lives are affected by football. There are countless other movies that depict soccer in some way, either as a major plotline or as an incidental factor in it.