Sunday 7th February, Superbowl Sunday. Considered by my many of our friends across the pond as an unofficial American holiday. The culmination of the American Football season is the most watched sporting event in North America and second only to The Champions League world wide. It is the second highest food consumption day in the US, behind Thanksgiving, and last years game became the most watched programme in American TV history with an audience of 114.1m.
So, with the Denver Broncos set to take on the Carolina Panthers, we here at Snooty Ushers Towers started talking about our favourite film featuring America’s Game. Now as Welshy has finally stopped changing his mind, we have put together our Top 10 American Football films.
10. We Are Marshall (Joseph McGinty Nicol, 2006)
Welshy: It’s easy to walk into a movie with low expectations because its directed by McG, the fellow who gave us both Charlies Angels and Charlies Angels: Full Throttle, neither of these flicks had the coherent storytelling or emotional weight that’s required for this fact-based tale.
On November 14, 1970, a chartered jet carrying most of the Marshall University Thundering Herd football team, their coaches, their radio sports caster, athletic director and even some eager fans, crashed just seconds away from the local airport at Huntington, W.Va. Approximately 75 people died that night. The only coach who decided not to take the flight, Red Dawson (Matthew Fox, Lost), is racked with guilt and has given up on football altogether. He’s not alone, one of the university’s board members, Paul Griffen (Ian McShane, Deadwood) lost his son in the crash and thinks re-establishing a football team would be an insult to the fallen.
Nonetheless, the students are adamant about putting together a team, even though the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) won’t allow them to play freshmen, and no sane coach would take the job. That may be why only Jack Lengyel (played with appropriate eccentricity by Matthew McConaughey) is willing to take the job. He spouts off a bunch of weird psychobabble and admits he has trouble with names. Nonetheless, there is something inherently compelling about the way Lengyel assembles a team that can’t possibly hold a winning record. While he would later be recognized as a great coach, Lengyel probably knew that simply rebuilding a team was a significant challenge. For the most part, McG handles the subject matter with a surprising sensitivity. The plane crash and its aftermath are depicted with remarkable restraint. Specifically, it’s the kind of movie that not only believes in the goodness of humankind, but makes you believe it too.
9. Rudy (David Anspaugh, 1993)
Welshy: Rudy would be a laughable “underdog rising to glory” tale if it wasn’t for the fact it is true in nearly every important detail. As crafted by the screenwriter Angelo Pizzo and director David Anspaugh of the equally enjoyable basketball movie Hoosiers also set in Indiana, Rudy is an irresistible inspirational movie for all ages. Daniel E. “Rudy” Ruettiger is, for all intents and purposes, the runt of a fourteen-child litter. Though little is expected of him (or anyone from his family of steel-mill workers), Rudy decides as a boy that he will grow up to play football for his father’s beloved Fighting Irish at the University of Notre Dame. Older but not much larger, the grown Rudy (Sean Astin) hasn’t given up on his dream. Not even the priests at the high school give the teen any moral support, and lacking the grades that would get him into Notre Dame, Rudy begins to accept that his future holds only a job at the steel mill and getting hitched to his downbeat local sweetheart Sherry (Lili Taylor).
Everything changes when a tragedy close to home reminds Rudy that life is to be lived to the fullest. It’s a long road to Notre Dame, past un-diagnosed dyslexia and with the help of his friend (Jon Favreau) he travels a longer road to arrive at the lowest rungs of the Fighting Irish. Despite all the odds, Rudy’s can-do attitude, hard-work ethic, and personal faith propel him to his moment. The final destination is of little significance in sports history, or even the history of Notre Dame football, but as an example of personal triumph over the odds. It’s exceptional, and only a heart of stone could withstand the emotional tsunami that accompanies Anspaugh’s narrative and Sean Astin’s passion and believability. With its faithful rendering of a true inspirational story, Rudy earns its sentiment.
8. Little Giants (Duwayne Dunham, 1994)
Welshy: This may seem an unusual choice as its a kids film about Pee-Wee football, but it is so good. It’s not well known but it’s actually one of the best Disney rags to riches sports stories ever, a million times better than The Mighty Ducks. It’s funny and has the typical team of bully, jockish kids and the team of weird, rejects. Rick Moranis and Ed O’Neil are battling brothers, who just happen to be the coaches of those respective teams.
It deals with non-conventional family and sexism, just in a very Disney way. Not only that but John Madden, Emmitt Smith, Bruce Smith, Tim Brown, and Steve Entman all cameo to help train The Giants. One of the moves used by the team was actually used in a 2011 match between The Panthers and The Texans. It’s stupid and predictable, it’s also funny and heart-warming. Give it a watch.
7. The Waterboy (Frank Coraci, 1998)
Dan: Back before Adam Sandler became the punching bag of critics everywhere, his films were little better received pre-2000 and The Waterboy is one of them. The film follows the unlikely emergence of talent from 31 year old waterboy Bobby Boucher for the Louisiana Cougars. However he is released from his role with the Cougars, and is not long after recruited onto a rival struggling team known as the Mud Dogs. After teasing and bullying from the new team boils over and Bobby sacks one of the players he is recruited onto the team as they make a run at the championship.
From the very beginning Adam Sandler films have been stupid, and The Waterboy is no different. Stupidly funny is a term I’d apply to most of Sandler’s films and for good reason, what makes this film work is that the entire cast are as dumb as there man-child counterpart. Kathy Bates is hilarious as an overbearing mother telling her son that everything she doesn’t like is the devil, including girls, and Henry Winkler is just as fun as the crisis stricken Coach Klein. I’m sure you’ve all seen The Waterboy by now, but if you haven’t then get involved with this extremely silly American Football film.
6. The Longest Yard (Peter Segal, 2005)
Dave: Who would have thought that a countdown of American Football films would feature not one but two Adam Sandler films. In The Longest Yard, Sandler stars as Paul “Wrecking” Crewe, a former NFL quarterback, who was banned for gambling. He is sent to prison following a drunken encounter with the police. While there he is blackmailed by the prison governor into training the inmates to play a football game against his guards, who are also a semi pro football team.
This is a remake of the 1974 film starring Burt Reynolds. Reynolds takes a role here as a long term in mate who helps train the team.
This film works for me on every level, Sandler is well controlled by director Segal and while there are moments of his nonsense they, thankfully are few and far between. Chris Rock too is on point as Caretaker, the go to guy in the prison and brilliantly fulfills the sidekick role. The film is funny, laugh out loud funny at times with Kevin Nash’s guards’ steroids being replaced with estrogen tablets, Terry Crews’ Cheeseburger Eddie and Adam Sandler’s romancing of the secretary to gain the game tapes the standout moments. There are also moments of tragedy and regret that, coupled with the fact that the guards are drawn as such vicious, racist bigots that you have no choice but to root for the criminals.
The football game itself is great, well directed and although you always know the outcome, Segal does a good job of stretching out the inevitable. That and the sheer amount of pro wrestlers in the cast can only be a good thing.
Over all this is at its core a very good sports comedy.
5. Draft Day (Ivan Reitman,2014)
Dave: This is the only film on the list that does not show a single down of Football. Instead, we are taken through the draft process. In very loose terms, every year, each team in the NFL pick the best and the brightest from the college programs across the country. The worst team gets first pick and so on. Now there are trades and swaps and all sorts of things that happen before we actually get there and this film follows a team manager as he leads up to the draft.
Kevin Costner plays Sonny Weaver Jnr. The General Manager of The Cleveland Browns. He is living in the shadow of a famous father, has just been saddled with a head coach he doesn’t want, under pressure for his job and on top of that, has just found out his girl friend is pregnant.
I loved this, mainly because it showed a different side of this wonderful game. I was aware of the draft, but not so much on the ins and outs of what went on, this is an interesting and very entertaining window into that.
Costner leads a brilliant cast that includes Jennifer Garner, Denis Leary, Chadwick Boseman and Tom (Smallville) Welling. Seek it out, you won’t regret it. Recommended to Football and non-football fans alike.
4. Friday Night Lights (Peter Berg, 2004)
Dan: This film is based on the book of the same name that follows the 1988 season of the Permean Panthers. The Panthers are a high school football team in the city of Odessa in Texas, making an unlikely run to the State Championship against a backdrop of poverty, racism, obsessive towns, and growing up.
Friday Night Lights is one of those films where every element of the film is perfectly orchestrated, like an in form football team going for the W. The tone of the film is great, the direction is fine, and the drama hits home. These are kids playing in a pressure cooker of demand, and the focus on their lives outside of the game and the problems they are dealing with make this as great a drama you can get, football or no football. Backing up the tide of emotion, bubbling under the surface of all involved, is a beautiful heartfelt score by the extraordinary group ‘Explosions in the Sky’. The track ‘Your Hand in Mine’ is pure perfection. (Spoiler Alert) Though the rest of the film is brilliant, what really put the seal on this film being a favourite is the climax. I watched this at a time when I thought I knew how these types of films were supposed to end, but when that final win defining touchdown was short my heart sank, and it helped me realised it’s fine to end a film like that. The Permean Panthers of 1988 may not have won that championship, but this film is the touchdown they never got. Do yourself a favour, ignore the TV show and watch this film.
3. The Replacements (Howard Deutch, 2000)
James: When American footballers go on strike, Gene Hackman is employed by the Washington Sentinels to put together a team of replacement players, with burned out college football star Shane Falco (Keanu Reeves) as his quarterback. Can the rag tag group of convicts, born again Christians, Sumo wrestlers, and army veterans come together and work as a team? And more importantly, win?
This is such a fun, fun film. Hackman is great as the grizzled old coach, Reeves has a low key charm that makes Falco likable and the supporting cast is fantastic. Jon Favreau, Rhys Ifans, and Orlando Jones are just three of them, and almost every member of the team has a little story going on and adversity to overcome.
Plenty of laugh out loud and punch the air moments, especially during a cheesey climax you can see coming a mile off. It doesn’t make it any less joyful though!
I know the other films on my list are “better” films, but there’s no replacement for that feeling of joy this film gives me. My number 1!
2. Any Given Sunday (Oliver Stone, 1999)
Welshy: On any given Sunday you’re gonna win or you’re gonna lose, the point is – can you win or lose like a man? In my opinion the best film regarding Pro Football. It covers several aspects of the sport as well as many of the tropes common in films surrounding sports. Any Given Sunday looks at all of them. The veteran quarterbacks doubting himself, injured players take risks to keep playing, that team doctors let them, overnight stardom can turn a young newbie into a fame seeking douchebag, the life professional athletes have and the quiet wisdom practiced by coaches in the midst of despair. Just like all good sports movies especially NFL/Pro Football we see the big game settled with a crucial play.
It’s nothing we haven’t seen before but the actors give these well trodden roles a human face, proving that movie material isn’t that original but incredible actors can transform it from cliches into particulars. Whip this up with Stone’s densely packed visuals, jarring editing and an MTV soundtrack; John Logan (Gladiator) script that symbolizes the players as gladiators clashing for the delight of upper and lower classes alike and you get a feast of visual and emotional drama. It’s just fucking awesome. It also has Al Pacino deliver one of the best inspirational speech ever.
1. Remember The Titans (Boaz Yakin, 2000)
Dave: This is not only my favourite American Football film, but is in my top 10 films of all time and I am so glad it came out on top.
This is based on the true story of T.C. Williams High School, Virginia, in 1971. Their football team was the first to allow black players to play with whites. Racial tensions are high and the team look to not only unite on the field, but bring their community together.
This is just one of the those films that every time I watch it, and I have watched it a lot, I just cant help but smile, cheer, cry and all out celebrate with joy. The story of The Titans is an inspirational one sure, but it is more than that, the way that these boys and their coach managed to use the game of Football, something that is so fundamentally American, to bring a broken community together is quiet beautiful.
Denzel Washington is, as he always is, brilliant as Coach Herman Boone, the man who brings the boys together and teaches them to see the heart of the man next to him and not the colour of his skin. Brilliant too is Will Patton as Bill Yoast his white counterpart, initial adversary and eventual friend. However, the film is about The Titans and they are a great ensemble of young actors, in particular Ryan Hurst and Wood Harris (Avon Barksdale from The Wire) as Bertier and Campbell, the leaders of their groups their relationship is the focal point as the team bonds. The scene when Coach Boone takes the boys to the Gettysburg battle field is as inspirational as it thought provoking, as is the moment when Bertier backs his black team mates over his white ones. This is the turning point and things begin to change and The Titans begin to dominate on the field.
Keep an eye out for a young Ryan Gosling in there, as well as Kate Bosworth, a very young Hayden Panettire, Turk from Scrubs and if you are as old as me, you will get a kick out of seeing Gregory Allan Williams (Garner, the Beach Cop from Baywatch) as one of Boone’s assistant coaches.
A wonderful mix of comedy, tragedy, inspirational performances, quotable lines and just good old fashioned good story telling, this is just a brilliant watch. If you have never seen it, then please do and if Trevor Rabin’s score doesn’t have you out of your seat in the climactic game then you have no soul.
A worthy winner.
So there it is, our Top 10. Now it is over to The Broncos and The Panthers…
PS: As a bonus for reading to the end here is our individual Top 5.
5. The Longest Yard 5. The Longest Yard
4. Any Given Sunday 4. The Replacements
3. Friday Night Lights 3. Draft Day
2. Remember The Titans 2. Any Given Sunday
1. The Replacements 1. Remember The Titans
5. The Waterboy 5. Little Giants
4. The Replacements 4. Remember The Titans
3. Friday Night Lights 3. The Replacements
2. Any Given Sunday 2. Friday Night Lights
1. Remember The Titans 1. Any Given Sunday
As there were only 8 films on the list we looked at what just missed out on our top 5, hence Rudy and We Are Marshall in slots 9 and 10.
All that is left for us to say is… Play Ball!