Big game week is upon us. Super Bowl 55 is set with the Kansas City Chiefs taking on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bucs will be the first team ever to play the Super Bowl in their home stadium. This is also Tom Brady’s tenth appearance—this time as a Florida man. Look, I’m a Pats fan, so I have many weird feelings about this, but I know I’ll be cheering for him on Sunday. In the meantime, spend a few hours with these football flicks to get you in the right mindset for all the gridiron action your heart desires.
Draft Day had no business being this good. I was actually covering the draft they filmed this at, and there is definitely a correlation between this movie’s questionable quarterback Bo Callahan and real-life trainwreck Johnny Manziel. Chadwick Boseman puts in a stellar performance as a top prospect from Ohio State with some questionable baggage, while Kevin Costner portrays the Browns’ GM battling legacy and expectations. Do you go with your gut when something doesn’t sit right and gamble an entire organization’s future? Dennis Leary and Jennifer Garner turn in nice performances too as the coach and team’s finance manager, respectively. I can’t speak to war room dealings but as for actual in-time draft dealings I can say the stress was perfectly captured. I’ve seen it in action and it’s nerve-wracking.
For a little bit of history, even if heavily fictionalized, Leatherheads is a fun romp through the dawn of the game in the roaring ‘20s. A bit of a rom-com mixed with pigskin George Clooney and John Krasinski turn in two very charming performances. Renée Zellweger does her best version of a prize-winning reporter full of moxy (think Amy Archer in Hudsucker Proxy). It’s a cute film with old-timey luster, beautifully costuming, and dad jokes. Your mom will love this one.
I read the book for this one a few years ago, and Peter Berg was obviously just as impressed when he started writing the film. Friday Night Lights embodies what it means to live and breathe small-town football. And getting voted Best Sports Movie at an ESPY Awards works to solidify your cultural prominence. This is the little team that could from Odessa, Texas. Berg presents a heartwrenching and sometimes inspiring portrayal of residents, coaches, and players. You see just how so many dreams hinge on the success of these young men. And its rave reviews warranted a TV show that would run for five seasons. Easily one of Tim McGraw’s best performance as a demanding and abusive father.
These lists never have enough documentaries, and this one is probably my favorite episode of 30 for 30. I grew up in a family that covers the AFC east, so it’s fun on holidays. Mario was definitely a savior for my uncle and a number one crush for my mom. The film goes in-depth on the 1983 NFL draft through the first-hand experience of Marvin Demoff, an agent to both Dan Marino and John Elway. His extensive note-taking of the days and months leading up to the draft gives an accurate and real-time play-by-play of the deals being made. It’s actually a great supplement to Draft Day.
Wildcats was a childhood favorite as Goldie Hawn was a god in our household. This is a very 80s film in that it follows the premise of: “Wouldn’t it be hilarious if a girl coached a team?” But I will say they definitely tackle issues of race and gender quite well. Goldie plays the daughter of a very successful coach who knows she is destined for that greatness too. She’s effervescent as one would expect, all blonde and idealistic, peak Hawn. Watching this pint-sized gal whip unruly high school players into shape is the personification of joy. This a great film for the optimist in all of us. Plus, you get a young Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson.
Boy, does Disney do those inspirational sports flicks well. Obviously, the line between “inspired by” and “true events” is usually pretty sizable. Invincible is a pretty good retelling of wide receiver Vince Papale’s story. Yes, the Philadelphia Eagles at one point were so bad that they asked gen pop to try out for them. Vince Papale did actually earn a tryout spot by private invitation. The “big game” in this one is starry-eyed and riveting, as only the house of mice can do. However, the fumble recovery did actually occur. The touchdown did not. Ironically with Mark Whalberg being from Boston, the only touchdown Papale ever scored was in an exhibition against the Pats in ‘77. Elizabeth Banks and Greg Kinnear give great performances as well.
I guess this is heartbreaking if you’re a Bills fan. For the first time in years, Buffalo was within snatching distance of the Lombardi trophy. Everything was set up this year for them, and yet it didn’t happen. Four Falls of Buffalo tells of a time when winning the Super Bowl was within reach, not once but four times. As I mentioned, I come from an AFC East family, and boy do I remember some very unhappy uncles in the early 90s. The film meticulously goes through all of the regrettable mishaps in each game, and there were many. Several former Bills players, including Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas, recount the heartache. I don’t actually want to spoil this because it’s terrific and painful to watch, especially the part with Scott Norwood. And oof, it nails you right in the feels.
Fun fact: Little Giants is one year older than Patrick Mahomes. This came out in the heyday of kids’ sports movies, and has all the underpinnings of your favorite underdog feel-good flicks. A very mismatched group of kids assemble to take on a very polished team. Of course, the coaches are rival brothers. This was peak Rick Moranis, and he plays well-meaning bumbling dad so perfectly. If you want to get a sense of what the summer of ‘94 was like, this is a great depiction. It’s a totally predictable but delightful movie.
In all seriousness, this is actually the best film on this list, hands down. Any Given Sunday is loosely based on former NFL defensive end Pat Toomey’s book of the same name. Here we have the Miami Sharks, a team struggling to make the playoffs. The long-standing coach, played by Al Pacino, is at odds with the team’s owner. She’s played by Cameron Diaz and is based on Jerry Jones. Yes, you heard me. It’s weird to think there is a universe where there is a sexy version of Jerry Jones, but here we are. Obviously, all of the Sharks’ QBs are injured, forcing them to lean on third-string quarterback Willie Beamen (Jamie Foxx). Controversy ensues between coach and owner on who they believe is the future of the team. Hey, a team can win or lose on “any given Sunday.”
Even if you haven’t seen this one, you have. They actually still use the uniforms of the Sentinels often in commercials where they need an undisclosed football team, which is kind of what The Replacements is. As the name suggests, the team’s current roster is on strike, and they only need to win three games to make it to the playoffs. This is one of my favorite grizzled performances from Gene Hackman, the team’s coach. He wrangles a washed-up QB in Keanu Reeves, who reluctantly joins. This is a feel-good movie, silly, but quotable.