The 2020-21 NFL football season might be over, but fans don’t have to live in withdrawal until the next season starts in the fall. Instead, they can watch some great movies about football. Some of the best sports movies of all time are about football. Audiences love watching an inspirational drama about underdogs overcoming their challenges to achieve victory.
Many of these movies are about the National Football League (NFL) itself. The movies are perfect for football fans. As is the case with most genres, some are better than others. The ratings over at IMDb can help pick out the best films that involve the NFL.
10 Number One (1969) – 5.6
Professional football players’ careers have many ups-and-downs. In the 1969 drama, Number One, Ron Catlan (Charlton Heston) is an aging New Orleans Saints quarterback. After injuring his knee, his career is nearly over. He’s threatened by a new rookie (Richard Elkins), who might replace him entirely.
Coping with the stress, Ron engages in an extramarital affair, threatening his marriage with his wife (Jessica Walter). He fell from the top player on the Saints roster to the bottom. It doesn’t take much for a football player’s career (and personal life) to plummet in this story.
9 Paper Lion (1968) – 6.3
The 1968 comedy, Paper Lion, is different than most sports movies. It focuses on a Sports Illustrated writer, George Plimpton (Alan Alda), who has come up with the perfect idea for a new story. He has previously tried pitching a game of baseball and participating in a boxing match. Now, he wants to try playing professional football.
The New Yorker ends up playing for the Detroit Lions. Unfortunately, he has no idea what he’s doing on the football field. He’s sacked for losses and he ends up running into a goal post. This is the story of his lifetime. To be accurate, the movie used footage from the September 8, 1967 game between the Lions and the St. Louis Cardinals (now known as the Arizona Cardinals).
8 Black Sunday (1977) – 6.8
In the 1977 thriller Black Sunday, Vietnam War veteran Michael Lander (Bruce Dern) now flies the Goodyear Blimp over NFL games to film them for television viewers who can’t attend the games. Unfortunately, he gets swept up in the life of crime by a terrorist (Marthe Keller) under the group known as Black September.
Michael’s mission is to use a Goodyear Blimp to set off a bomb at the Super Bowl. The purpose is to punish Americans for supporting Israel. The story was inspired by the Munich massacre at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, Germany.
7 Draft Day (2014) – 6.8
Sports movies don’t need to only depict the action of the field. They can also focus on the behind-the-scenes business work of the industry. The 2014 drama, Draft Day, focuses on Sonny Weaver Jr. (Kevin Costner), the risk-taking general manager of the Cleveland Browns. As the NFL Draft nears, Sonny is juggling many problems, both with his job and his personal life.
When Sonny accepts a deal with Seattle to grant the Browns with the top pick, he begins to wonder if he made the right choice for the franchise. While the movie has some flaws with the storyline, it depicts the dramatic choices involved on the NFL Draft day in a way that gives football fans a brand new perspective.
6 Heaven Can Wait (1978) – 6.9
In the 1978 comedy-fantasy movie Heaven Can Wait, Los Angeles Rams quarterback Joe Pendleton (Warren Beatty) is killed in a car accident. Now in the afterlife, Joe meets his guardian angel (Buck Henry), who allows Joe to assume the identity of a greedy multimillionaire industrialist, Leo Farnsworth.
In his new form, Joe tries to return to football—the game he loves. He attempts to buy the Rams and put himself back on the team as the starting quarterback just in time for the team to play in the Super Bowl. Beatty and Henry collaborated to co-direct the fun movie that proves fantasy can work in sports movies.
5 Invincible (2006) – 7.1
It is every football fan’s dream to one day play in the NFL. In the 2006 drama, Invincible, this dream comes true for lifelong Philadelphia Eagles fan Vince Papale (Mark Wahlberg). Based on a true story from 1976, Vince goes from being a South Philly bartender and teacher to playing for his favorite team.
Vince didn’t play football in college, so it seems unlikely that he will perform well in the NFL. He works hard to become invincible and eventually scores a touchdown. While the story stretches the truth, the movie is a true underdog tale. Who doesn’t love those?
4 The Longest Yard (1974) – 7.1
In the 1974 movie The Longest Yard, Burt Reynolds stars as Paul “Wrecking” Crewe, a former NFL player who was dismissed for point shaving. Afterward, he’s involved in a police car chase and is eventually sentenced to organize a football team consisting of prison inmates at Citrus State Prison.
Paul has a difficult time working with the inmates because they have their own ideas for the team. They’re going to use this opportunity to seek revenge for the brutality they received at the prison. The movie is not only a great football story (featuring Green Bay Packers middle linebacker Ray Nitschke) but also one of the best prison movies of all time.
3 Concussion (2015) – 7.2
Everyone knows that football is a highly dangerous sport. With the intense tackling, players have concussions all the time. The 2015 biographical drama, Concussion, focuses on how the NFL handles concussions.
After Pittsburgh Steelers center Mike Webster (David Morse) is found dead, forensic pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu (Will Smith) discovers that he had a neurological deterioration similar to Alzheimer’s disease while performing the autopsy. Omalu continues his research, eventually determining that too many concussions lead to dangerous brain degeneration. The movie is an honest look at how the NFL treats injuries and the dangers of these head traumas.
2 Jerry Maguire (1996) – 7.3
It’s rare for a sports movie to also be classified as a romance. The 1996 movie, Jerry Maguire, is the exception to this tradition. Tom Cruise stars as Jerry Maguire, a sports agent who only has one client, the unpredictable wide receiver for the Arizona Cardinals, Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding, Jr.).
Jerry has to work hard at his job, eventually starting his own firm. He often succeeds, demanding team owners to “show me the money.” However, he wonders if he should give up his career for the love of his life, single mother Dorothy Boyd (Renée Zellweger). Jerry might give up everything he has ever known, but that’s okay. After all, he famously tells Dorothy: “You complete me.”
1 Brian’s Song (1971) – 7.6
Television movies aren’t usually stand-outs, but the 1971 drama, Brian’s Song, is one of the best TV movies ever made. Based on a true story, the movie, set in the mid-1960s, tells the story of Chicago Bears teammates Brian Piccolo (James Caan) and Gale Sayers (Billy Dee Williams).
While the NFL was still mostly segregated at the time, the players form a close bond despite their social barriers. The players become brothers and they’re united through their trials, including when Piccolo is dying of cancer. While the movie focuses on football, it’s really a story about friendship and racial barriers. Grab the tissues with this movie.
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