Rating the best football movies
With the Super Bowl finally upon us, we thought it was the perfect time to pick our top 10 football movies of all time.
It was harder than we thought so we've added a few quirky honorable mentions. Even then, it was hard to leave out such fondly-remembered pigskin flicks as "Best of Times," "We Are Marshall," "The Express" and "Paper Lion."
But here's the final list we came up with. Feel free to comment and add your choices:
1) "Brian's Song" (1971)
Seriously, would any other film top the list? The true story of the friendship between NFL great Gale Sayers (Billy Dee Williams) and fellow Chicago Bear Brian Piccolo (James Caan) still brings a tear to the eye of the most manly of men. Extra props for a cameo by Dick Butkus as himself.
2) "The Longest Yard" (1974)
Half prison flick and half football movie, this film about an inmate football team led by ex-gridiron star Paul Crewe (Burt Reynolds) taking on a team of sadistic prison guards still holds up. The actual game takes up almost a third of the movie and still packs a punch, thanks to the sharp direction of Robert Aldrich. Look for Packers great Ray Nitschke as one of the guards.
3) "North Dallas Forty" (1979)
Drawn from former Dallas Cowboys player Pete Gent's book about playing for the team in the 1970s, this is a lively, irreverent take on NFL — and one that didn't make the NFL very happy. Nick Nolte steps into the Gent role and Charles Durning is the coach (think Tom Landry). Big props for an appearance by Big John Matuszak of Raiders fame.
4) "Friday Night Lights" (2004)
H.G. Bissinger's bestseller may be the best book ever written about high school football. "Friday Night Lights" is definitely the best movie ever made about high school ball and the culture that goes with it. Director Peter Berg would later go on to produce a TV series based on the book.
5) "Rudy" (1993)
Another true story that gets the tear ducts flowing. It's a well-made tale about the undersized Rudy Ruettiger who overcomes all obstacles to get on the field for Notre Dame. Sean Austin heads a very good cast that also includes Jason Miller as Ara Parseghian.
6) "Any Given Sunday" (1999)
You either love "Any Given Sunday" or hate it. It was made by Oliver Stone, after all. But for all its flaws, it's an entertaining ride through life in the NFL with an A-list cast headed by Al Pacino, Jamie Foxx, Cameron Diaz, Dennis Quaid and — in a bit of type-casting — Charlton Heston as the commissioner of football. Jim Brown pops up as an assistant coach.
7) "Horse Feathers" (1932)
The Marx Brothers and college football. 'Nuff said. An absolute comedy classic.
8) "All the Right Moves" (1983)
And you thought the Tom Cruise film on this list would be "Jerry Maguire," right? Nope, we're going with this earlier Cruise flick about a high school football star trying to escape small town factory life. Cruise is very good as the player, Lea Thompson is even better as his girlfriend and Craig T. Nelson is fine as the high school's coach.
9) "Invincible" (2006)
Vince Papale was a 30-year-old substitute teacher and part-time bartender who somehow managed to play himself onto the Philadelphia Eagles as a special-teams player under coach Dick Vermeil. At times, it's a little too sugar-coated but for the most part, it manages to be rather effective and affecting, thanks in large part to Mark Wahlberg's performance as Papale and Greg Kinnear's turn as Vermeil.
10) "Remember the Titans" (2000)
An inspiring take on the true story of three Alexandria, Virginia high schools (two white, one African-American) who were forced to merge - and merge their football teams. Denzel Washington is terrific as the black coach is named to head the new team and is faced with the task of overcoming years of racial segregation - at least on the field. It's a little manipulative but it works.
Best film involving a Baltimore Raven: "The Blind Side" (2009)
The film is a very softened version of author Michael Lewis' best-seller "The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game" about Michael Oher who went from living on the streets to being an all-pro lineman for the Ravens. It actually got nominated for an Oscar and won one for Sandra Bullock as the woman who takes in Oher.
Best film involving the Super Bowl: "Black Sunday" (1977)
A very good espionage thriller by master director John Frankenheimer, the film pits Robert Shaw as an Israeli agent against a terrorist team that wants to launch an attack on the Super Bowl, using the Goodyear blimp. Bruce Dern gives one of his classic over-the-top performances as the blimp's pilot. By the way, those are real Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers on the field and Pat Summerall and Tom Brookshier show up as themselves.
Best TV series canceled by the NFL: "Playmakers" (2003)
"Playmakers," the first dramatic series ever on ESPN, was as close as anyone has come to a realistic look inside an NFL locker room. But it cut too close to the bone with its sex, drugs and racial tensions. Under pressure from the NFL, ESPN canceled it after 11 episodes. It's worth watching that one season if you can find it.