10 Most Realistic Football Movies
Maybe all the women’s trampoline and beach volleyball wrought by the Olympics have distracted you from your one true love, but it’s already football time.
With the NFL preseason well underway, you’re probably looking for a football movie or two… or 10, to get you in the mood. The problem with so many gridiron flicks, though, is the gameplay on the field is fake, ridiculous and unconvincing, looking more like namby-pamby actors pretending to be athletic rather than the real deal. Think ‘Brian’s Song,’ ‘Necessary Roughness,’ or — although we tried to forget Roseanne Barr’s invasion of our nightmares — ‘Backfield in Motion.’
Here are the 10 most realistic football movies that play football the hardcore way rather than typical Hollywood style:
Kicking off our list of the 10 most realistic football movies is ‘Little Giants.’ Rick Moranis and Ed O’Neill, who play brothers who coach rival squads, also nail a pair of youth coach archetypes — Moranis as the bumbling noob, O’Neill as the terrifying burnout who tries to correct all his life’s regrets by willing his team to domination. Football’s answer to ‘The Mighty Ducks’ suffers the problem of being a comedy that’s almost never funny, but the tykes they rounded up are much better athletes than the stuff you see at your local Pop Warner game.
Football flicks made in the 50′s and 60′s will have you believe that the sport was nothing more than facemask-less pat-a-cake in that era. This one, a 2008 biopic of the era’s color barrier-breaking Syracuse tailback Ernie Davis (Rob Brown), shows you how bloody and brutal the sport is and was in the trenches. You can practically feel the hits Davis takes and delivers as you watch him slam through the D-line, crunching pads and racial prejudice alike.
A no-brainer on the list of most realistic football movies is ‘North Dallas Forty.’ A before-he-was-crusty Nick Nolte leads the painkiller-popping, booze-swilling, womanizing North Dallas Bulls — who are totally not the 1970′s Dallas Cowboys, (wink wink) — through the backwards fun house that pro football creates in its celebrity athletes. Its vicious hits, remarkable speed and unflinching look at the sport’s dark years served as lead blocker the way for ESPN’s short-lived yet beloved series, ‘Playmakers.’
Writer/director Cameron Crowe tricked a generation of dudes into going soft for a romantic comedy by peppering the movie with just enough action to convince people they were watching a football movie. In the performance of a lifetime, that landed him a best supporting actor Oscar, Cuba Gooding Jr. plays Arizona Cardinals receiver Rod Tidwell — he of the “show me the money” meme — a Terrell Owens-style diva who makes an impressive comeback from a devastating hit in the end zone.
As Notre Dame’s tiny yet determined human tackling dummy, Rudy Ruettiger, Sean Astin takes beatings from squads of intimidating giants, always bouncing up, wiping the blood away and begging for more. Few movies captures the hell of two-a-days and never-ending training regimens the way this movie does. By the time Rudy makes his famous one-time appearance in a game, you share in his exuberance because you feel as though you were with him through the struggles.
Mark Wahlberg makes you feel the vibrations as Philadelphia Eagles walk-on Vince Papale, who makes the team during an open tryout in the 70s, rising to cult stardom. Just like ‘Rudy,’ this one focuses a lot on the trials of practice. The movie may play fast and loose with some actual facts — for one, the team invited Papale to workout and there was no open tryout — there’s no fudging the brutal, animalistic collisions on the field.
The 2006-2011, Netflix stream-able TV series gets all the play — deservedly so, because it’s phenomenal — but it’s the 2004 movie that first adapted the H.G. Bissinger book, packs the deadlier on-field explosions. Derek Luke, Jay Hernandez and Lucas Black look like 5-star recruits — or at least their stunt guys do — as they generate nasty collisions that make us glad we never played high school ball in the crazy land of Texas.
The dirty money, ample groupies and helmet-busting pressure of major college football gets exposed in this mid-1990s exposé, starring Craig Sheffer as the headstrong veteran quarterback, Omar Epps as the freshman running back and James Caan as their grizzled coach, obsessed with keeping his job at any expense, even if it means turning a blind eye to ‘roided-up players. Quick-cuts and NFL Films-like camerawork make you feel the snot getting knocked out of players’ noses.
The true-life tale recounts Marshall U’s determination to continue to field a football team, despite a devastating plane crash that wipes out much of the squad. Matthew McConaughey plays young coach Jack Lengyel, who cobbles together a roster of scrubs to play out the schedule. The movie focuses mostly on the off-field drama, which is a wise route because it saves the truly spectacular stuff for tiny, jubilant doses that make you crave more.
Oliver Stone’s NFL-satirizing epic gets knocked for going over the top with its gruesomeness and obsession with flash, but the movie drills the spirit of America’s game with a frozen-rope spiral. It helps that the acting is excellent, with Al Pacino as a hard-nosed coach, Dennis Quaid as a fading star quarterback, Jamie Foxx as his flashy understudy and James Woods as a sleazy team doctor. Nearly every play seems as outrageous and stylized as what you’d see in the video games but just about everything Stone shows has happened at some point.