Whether played under “Friday Night Lights” on a high school field, Saturday afternoons at a college stadium, or on “Any Given Sunday” by two NFL teams hammering it out, there’s something exciting about football’s raw power combined with the choreography involved in executing intricate plays.
Like baseball and basketball, American football is uniquely American, and should never, ever be confused with that other “football” — that thing we call soccer.
The action and drama make the game an ideal subject for any screenplay, and many true life stories centered on the game have led to riveting biographical films.
Here are Newsmax’s top 10, in alphabetical order:
"Any Given Sunday" (1999): Directed by Oliver Stone, this used a large ensemble cast of both Hollywood heavyweights and actual NFL players to depict a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the struggles of the modern-day gladiators that make up a fictional professional football team — the Miami Sharks.
“Any Given Sunday” is loosely based on a 1984 novel of the same name, written by NFL defensive end Pat Toomay, who had a cameo role in the film. The name is taken from a line in both the book and the film that any team can win or lose on “any given Sunday.”
“The film's most exciting scenes take place in the bone-crushing thick of the fray, and they provide about as acute a sense of straining muscle and excruciating collision as a football movie could hope to give,” wrote reviewer Stephen Holden for The New York Times. “Like battlefield casualties, injured players are rushed off the field on stretchers.”
"Brian’s Song" (1971, made for TV): This was an ABC Movie of the Week that depicted the close but unlikely friendship that developed between two Chicago Bears players: halfback Gayle Sayers and running back Brian Piccolo, who fell victim to terminal embryonal cell carcinoma shortly after turning pro in 1965.
The movie was based on Sayers's account of the friendship he and Piccolo developed as depicted in his 1970 autobiography, “I Am Third.” Piccolo and Sayers became the first interracial roommates in the NFL, and Piccolo’s illness provided the catalyst that led to their friendship.
“Director Buzz Kulik dared to tell a story about two men of different races whose rivalry leads to a close friendship,” said Dale Dobson, reviewing the film nearly three decades after its release for Digitally Obsessed. “Sayers and Piccolo support and sustain each other, and when Piccolo develops lung cancer it falls to the reluctant Sayers to help him through as best he can.”
The film was awarded eight Emmys, plus a Golden Globe and a Peabody among others.
"Friday Night Lights" (2004): Based on the 1990 book, “Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream,” the film follows the players and coaches of the 1988 Odessa, Texas Permian High School Panthers high school football team as it progressed toward a state championship.
“This movies is truly great because of the way he portrays the ‘Texas’ way of life. Peter Berg also did a pretty great job in developing characters because you can really relate to them,” according to a 370th April 2013 review.
“Ending of the movie is heartbreaking and I would strongly recommend this movie to everyone, even if you're not a football fan.”
In 2004 the American Film Institute rated “Friday Night Lights” one of the top 10 films of the year.
"Knute Rockne, All American" (1940): This is a biographical film that tells the story of the legendary Notre Dame Fighting Irish football coach.
It starred Pat O'Brien as Rockne and Ronald Reagan as player George Gipp (“win one for the Gipper”).
It included cameo performances by legendary football coaches "Pop" Warner, Amos Alonzo Stagg, William H. Spaulding, and Howard Jones, each playing themselves.
In 1997, the United States Library of Congress deemed the film "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and was selected for preservation in its National Film Registry.
Bosley Crowther of The New York Times wrote that O'Brien conveyed "a valid impression of an iron-willed, dynamic and cryptic fellow who could very well be 'Rock.' As a memorial to a fine and inspiring molder of character in young men, this picture ranks high. But, like the Carnegie Foundation has done on previous occasions, we are inclined to question its overemphasis of the pigskin sport."
"North Dallas Forty" (1979): This was based on the 1973 novel of the same name, written by an insider — retired Dallas Cowboy wide receiver Peter Gent.
It stars Nick Nolte as an aging wide receiver with “the best hands in the game,” but whose lifetime of game injuries makes him rely heavily on painkillers.
Singer MacDavis plays the team’s younger and popular quarterback, and the two indulge in the “drugs, sex, and rock ’n’ roll” life prevalent for sports figures and celebrities in that era.
Wrote Janet Maslin for The New York Times, "The central friendship in the movie, beautifully delineated, is the one between Mr. Nolte and Mac Davis, who expertly plays the team's quarterback, a man whose calculating nature and complacency make him all the more likable, somehow.”
"Remember the Titans" (2000):This is a biographical film telling the story of black football coach Herman Boone (Denzel Washington), tasked in 1971 with coaching the first integrated team for T. C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia.
The team is marred by frequent racial clashes in the beginning, but rigorous training and motivational speeches eventually bring the players together into a cohesive unit — a true team with the goal of working together to succeed on the field.
The critic’s consensus on Rotten Tomatoes called it "an inspirational crowd-pleaser with a healthy dose of social commentary, “Remember the Titans” may be predictable, but it's also well-crafted and features terrific performances.”
Although it won no Oscars, “Remember the Titans” took home many other awards, including two Blockbuster Entertainment Awards, two Young Artist Awards, and five NAACP Image Awards.
"Rudy" (1993): This is another biographical film, this time depicting the story of Daniel "Rudy" Ruettiger, who had a dream of one day playing football for the University of Notre Dame, despite significant obstacle.
They included his less than satisfactory grades, his small size for the game, and insufficient funds. He also suffered from dyslexia.
This was the first time that Notre Dame allowed a feature film to be shot on campus since the filming of “Knute Rockne, All American” in 1940. Overcoming all the odds, Rudy gets to play in the last home game against Georgia Tech.
Chicago Sun-Times film reviewer Roger Ebert wrote that the film “Underdog movies are a durable genre and never go out of style. They're fairly predictable, in the sense that few movie underdogs ever lose in the big last scene. The notion is enormously appealing, however, because everyone can identify in one way or another.”
"The Blind Side" (2009): This is yet another biographical film, this one based on the 2006 book “The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game” by Michael Lewis. It tells the amazing story of Michael Oher, who rose from abject poverty to play for the NFL, with the love, encouragement, and determination of his adoptive parents — especially his adoptive mother, portrayed by Sandra Bullock.
Although the film faithfully depicts actual events, some critics complained that it unfairly stereotyped African American Oher, whose natural mother suffered a drug problem, being redeemed by “white saviors.”
Nonetheless, Scott Brennan reported in Christian Spotlight that “not since the movie ‘Crash,’ has Sandra Bullock demonstrated this kind of artistic talent on screen. I’m hearing the Oscar buzz already. For the rest of you, pop your popcorn and wait for the DVD. But for all us, this line from the film applies no matter what we do: ‘Life—It’s about to be defined by what you cannot see.’ That is ‘The Blind Side.’”
And right on cue, “The Blind Side” won two Academy Awards — Best Picture and Best actress for Bullock.
"The Longest Yard“ (1974): With this one we’re getting back into fiction, in a prison-sports-comedy starring Burt Reynolds, who portrays former star NFL quarterback Paul "Wrecking" Crewe who’s sentenced to an 18-month prison term for making off with his girlfriend’s car without permission.
The warden has a semi-pro team composed of his prison guards, and he pulled strings to get Crewe admitted to his prison to serve as coach. Instead, he organizes a team composed of fellow prisoners to take on the guards in a big game.
Rotten Tomatoes’ critical response reads: "Equal parts tough and funny, and led by a perfectly cast Burt Reynolds, ‘The Longest Yard’ has an interesting political subtext and an excellent climax – even if it takes too long to get there.”
"We Are Marshall" (2006): And we close with another historical film. This one depicts the aftermath of the tragic crash of a chartered flight resulting in the death of 75 people: 37 players of the Marshall University Thundering Herd football team of Huntington, West Virginia, along with five coaches, two trainers, the athletic director, 25 boosters, and the entire flight crew of five.
Notwithstanding their loss, survivors and families find strength in the tenacity and leadership of Jack Lengyel, a young coach who was determined to both rebuild the school’s football program and heal the community.
“This is a really strong football movie that focuses on an entire team and the spirit of an entire school rather than a single athlete, which gives it a unique quality,” wrote S.C. Lannom for Studio Binder. The movie has some important lessons on bouncing back and rebuilding when it seems nothing will ever be the same again.”
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