Football movies are great to watch any time of the year, but they’re especially fun around Super Bowl season. We’re counting down our favorite pigskin pictures, from the perfectly watchable #30 to a true modern classic at #1. Hut, hut, hike!
30. Radio (2003)
Critics rolled their eyes at Cuba Gooding Jr.’s portrayal of mentally challenged football fan James Robert “Radio” Kennedy, but those who don’t mind a little sentimentality may find ‘Radio’ to be a touching story about acceptance.
29. Gridiron Gang (2006)
This standard-issue sports flick dramatizes the eventful first season of the Kilpatrick Mustangs – a team based out of a juvenile detention camp. Whipping 'em into shape is Dwayne Johnson, himself a former University of Miami linebacker.
28. Little Giants (1994)
In one of his last roles before settling into semiretirement, Rick Moranis plays a pee-wee football team coach who goes up against his arrogant brother (Ed O’Neill). It's a family comedy with a nice twist: This team’s star player is a girl.
27. Leatherheads (2008)
Director-star George Clooney’s snappy paean to 1920s football fizzled at the box office, but its screwball banter and rich period detail – reminiscent of the Coen brothers, with whom Clooney has worked several times – are charming.
26. The Waterboy (1998)
We have a soft spot for this silly Adam Sandler vehicle, about a mama’s boy who becomes a juggernaut on the field when he gets mad. Highlights include Sandler’s irresistibly weird Cajun accent and a hilarious turn from Kathy Bates as Mama.
25. Semi-Tough (1977)
Burt Reynolds, who played football in college, costars with Kris Kristofferson as a pair of teammates who live with the same woman (Jill Clayburgh). ‘Semi-Tough’ endures as a raunchy spoof of 1970s self-help schemes.
24. We Are Marshall (2006)
The film is clichéd, but its story – about Marshall University’s quest to rebuild its football program after a 1970 plane crash killed the entire team – is worth telling, and everyone involved, especially Matthew McConaughey, gives it their best shot.
23. Draft Day (2014)
This drama focuses on the strategies behind NFL draft picks, much like the admittedly superior ‘Moneyball’ did with Major League Baseball in 2011. Kevin Costner does solid work as the (fictional) GM of the Cleveland Browns.
22. The Replacements (2000)
In this predictable but charming comedy set during a fictional NFL players strike, Gene Hackman is tasked with coaching a bunch of has-beens and wannabes, led by none other than Keanu Reeves. Can you say “ragtag team of underdogs”?
21. The Program (1993)
James Caan nails it as a coach dealing with his players’ personal issues (including drug abuse) in this underrated college drama. A scene in which several players lie down in the middle of a highway was later cut due to fatal copycat attempts.
20. Varsity Blues (1999)
James Van Der Beek was at the peak of his ‘Dawson’s Creek’ fame when he was cast as a sensitive Texas high school quarterback squaring off against one of the meanest football coaches in movie history (Jon Voight).
19. Heaven Can Wait (1978)
Director Warren Beatty’s romantic comedy-fantasy, a remake of 1941’s ‘Here Comes Mr. Jordan,’ stars Beatty as an L.A. Rams (remember them? They're comin' back!) quarterback who gets reincarnated – twice. The rare football flick that’s also a decent date movie.
18. Any Given Sunday (1999)
Oliver Stone’s ambitious examination of the NFL is typical for the director: It’s fascinating, frustrating and a half hour too long. Note: Costar Jamie Foxx’s moves are real. As a high school player, he passed over 1,000 yards in a single season.
17. All the Right Moves (1983)
Tom Cruise broke through in 1983 thanks to ‘The Outsiders,’ ‘Risky Business’ and this drama about a cocky high school defensive back who yearns to escape his Pennsylvania coal-mining town. The film's dated production values aside, 'Moves' boasts solid performances from its young cast.
16. The Express (2008)
This little-seen biopic of Ernie Davis (Rob Brown), the first African-American to win the Heisman Trophy (in 1961), hits all the usual sports movie tropes, but it does so expertly. It fumbled at theaters, but don’t let that keep you away. It’s a winner.
15. Invincible (2006)
You’re a 30-year-old bartender who dreams of playing in the NFL. It could happen, and it did to Vince Papale, who made it onto the Philadelphia Eagles roster from 1976 to 1978. Mark Wahlberg is in fine form as Papale in this crowd-pleaser.
14. Everybody's All-American (1988)
What happens after the winning touchdown? Dennis Quaid finds out in this brutally honest portrait of a football hero’s long, slow decline. Jessica Lange shines as Quaid’s unhappy wife, as do Timothy Hutton and John Goodman in supporting roles.
13. Horse Feathers (1932)
The perfect pick-me-up after a downer like ‘Everybody’s All-American’ is the Marx brothers’ famous college-football farce. Groucho, Chico, Harpo and even Zeppo bring their special brand of lunacy to the gridiron.
12. The Freshman (1925)
One of Harold Lloyd's funniest comedies has the silent star playing a wimpy college freshman who joins the school's football team in order to impress a girl. Ninety years on, the laughs – and thrills – still hold up.
11. Paper Lion (1968)
How would an average Joe fare on the professional circuit? Alan Alda, in his breakout role, plays real-life sports journalist George Plimpton, who briefly joined the Detroit Lions. Suffice to say, Plimpton didn’t take the team to the Super Bowl.
10. Friday Night Lights (2004)
Before it was a critically acclaimed TV series, 'Friday Night Lights' started out on the big screen, with Billy Bob Thornton playing a coach trying to help a team of Texas teens struggling with life on and off the field. Director Peter Berg would lend his gritty, "you are there" aesthetic to the series as well, as executive producer and director of the pilot.
9. The Longest Yard (1974)
The 2005 Adam Sandler remake has its moments, but the original is a down-and-dirty classic. Burt Reynolds leads a group of prison inmates who take on their guards in one of the greatest movie football matches of all time.
8. North Dallas Forty (1979)
Football in the '70s in all its debauchery is on full display here, and Nick Nolte – no stranger to wild times himself – is front and center. A sharp mix of comedy, drama and satire, 'Forty' takes a warts-and-all approach to the sport that largely still holds up today.
7. The Blind Side (2009)
It was the sleeper hit of 2009, and Sandra Bullock won an Oscar playing real-life Leigh Anne Tuohy, who adopted a runaway named Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron) and helped him become a gridiron superstar. (Oher has played for the Baltimore Ravens, Tennessee Titans and most recently the Carolina Panthers.)
6. Remember the Titans (2000)
In this first-class drama, Denzel Washington plays Coach Herman Boone, presiding over a Virginia high school’s newly integrated football program in 1971. Racial prejudice runs high, but Boone’s leadership in the face of adversity is truly inspiring -- as is Washington's performance.
5. Knute Rockne, All American (1940)
"Win just one for the Gipper!" Ronald Reagan, in arguably his greatest role, plays George "The Gipper" Gipp, whose parting words inspire Notre Dame’s legendary coach Rockne (Pat O’Brien) to motivate his team to victory time and again.
4. Undefeated (2011)
This thrilling, often heartbreaking documentary about a Memphis high school team won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, proving that while scripted football dramas can be great, sometimes you just can’t beat the real thing.
3. Jerry Maguire (1996)
One of Cameron Crowe's best films, 'Maguire' is arguably the funniest and most quotable movie about the business of professional sports. Tom Cruise stars as an agent tired of playing the game, but Cuba Gooding Jr. -- in an Oscar-winning turn -- steals the show as his demanding client, a wide receiver for the Arizona Cardinals.
2. Brian's Song (1971)
This fact-based weepie – a TV movie – still wrings tears out of even the toughest football fans. James Caan is terminally ill Chicago Bear Brian Piccolo, whose friendship with teammate Gale Sayers (Billy Dee Williams) sustains him in his final days.
1. Rudy (1993)
Our top pick is the ultimate underdog film; the movie you can't help but watch whenever you catch it on cable. Daniel "Rudy" Ruettiger (Sean Astin) dreams of playing for Notre Dame, and valiantly overcomes each and every obstacle that stands in his way. You just can’t get more feel-good than ‘Rudy.’