Thankfully, everything we knew could be crammed into a 900-word post. Here’s everything you need to navigate the world of football film, listed in order:
This movie is so iconic, it has exactly one user submitted plot summary on IMDB.com. We’ve augmented it:
We deserve an apology for this romantic comedy about a man, a woman, 102 minutes of deflated adaptation, and a football team. Based on Nick Hornby’s best selling autobiographical novel, Fever Pitch. English teacher Paul Ashworth is a soccer-supporting cliché and believes his long standing obsession with Arsenal serves him well. But then he meets Sarah and fun ensues. Their relationship develops in tandem with Arsenal’s roller coaster fortunes in the football league, both leading to a nail biting climax (because, metaphors).
If you’re an Arsenal fan or a Nick Hornby obsessive, you’re obliged to watch.
10. Green Street Hooligans 2 – Future Parolee Boogaloo (2009)
With its 2F2F to the 2005 original, this aspiring franchise made the understandable choice to make a movie without Elijah Wood. It didn’t disappoint. Then-and-still obscure actor John Bariamis and the slightly more accomplished Matt Candito play Vin Diesels in a movie desperate for a Paul Walker. Takes place almost exclusively in a prison.
9. Bend It Like Beckham (2002)
Like a six-year-old’s AYSO team, this movie was cute but terrible, valuable only for what it’d produce for the future. The story is a coming of age, fish out of water, worlds collide tear-jerker that reached legendary levels of cynicism by including David Beckham’s name in the title.
The cast, however, was like watching Spain’s U-17s. Kiera Knightly went on to brief run as an A-List option, Parminder Nagra eventually drifted to ER, while Jonathan Rhys Meyers is creepy as fuck. All three flashed their potentials.
Remade 10 years later as an actual soccer-esque movie (we choose to believe), Noah Baumbach’s mid-1990s comedy has earned a solid 7.1 rating from IMDB’s users. It also carries the odious plot description of “a handful of college students do nothing and talk about it wittily,” a sentence seemingly designed to piss people off. Whereas the Will Ferrall vehicle that’d come along a decade later was charming in its modesty (if not its execution), this movie is the counterpoint to the last blowhard who touts Reality Bites as the era’s quintessential work. Must see.
7. The Damned United (2009)
Lift a finger to your “the book was better” friends by looping this on your laptop, letting the sublime brilliance of Michael Sheen’s Brian Clough and Colm Meaney’s Don Revie justify your choice to value your time. The book may not truly capture Clough, and the movie takes a further step into fiction, but as an actual soccer film, it might be the best on this list.
6. The Karate Kid (1984)
You can no longer write about sports online without fetishizing The Karate Kid, a difficult proposition considering every Karate Kid reference screams “hoping to take sitcom writing by storm.” Thankfully, this John G. Avildsen classic has a football link, with a scene early in the film diving into the often violent world of Southern California beach soccer.
Newly arrived on the scene from New Jersey, the movie’s hero, Daniel Larusso (Ralph Macchio), learns that repressed angst in suburban white youth leads to painful results. Sweep the leg, paint the fence, catch the chicken – there is no end to this movie’s awesome.
5. Looking for Eric (2009)
So you either hate Nick Hornby or Arsenal and are entitled to your opinions, yet you still want the loose credibility that comes with obscure cultural references to a relevant English club. Provided you still consider Manchester United relevant, Looking for Eric is here to help.
Built around the iconography of Eric Cantona, the former recalcitrant captain of the Red Devils, this film casts the forward-turned-mascot as a life coach. Movie fun certainly ensues, but the premise is still pretty solid.
The story of a young man whose dream takes him the Los Angeles streets to English soccer, and from the Santiago Bernabéu to the World Cup. When it began in 2005, the trilogy represented FIFA’s attempt at straight film making (Zurich having rubber-stamped the project). Though the tale gave soccer diehards a hero in Santiago Munez, it also showed the limitations of distilling soccer’s power. As United Passions proves, the game is actually high art, rendering this formerly seminal series irrelevant.
3. Shaolin Soccer (2001)
Most soccer films avoid confronting society’s true demons. Shaolin Soccer embraces the challenge with the grass-kicking approach that redefined the soccer-martial arts genre.
A story of a young woman at the crossroads of kung fu and debilitating acne, this ostensible soccer movie now scans as a precursor to Fincher’s Gone Girl. The relationship between Stephen Chow’s Mighty Steel Leg Lee and Wei Zhao’s Mei parallels Nick and Amy Dunne’s, but in the deft hands of Chow (also the film’s director), the film avoids the pitfalls that came with Fincher’s unproven talent.
2. Rudy (1993)
The one true fitba movie on this list, Rudy follows a modest hobbit’s quest to prove Jesus Christ has a favorite college football team. It’s also a legitimate tear-jerker. Sean Astin gives his signature performance (remarkable, given what was to come), while Charles S. Dutton was … well, maybe we shouldn’t go there.
Regardless, Rudy is better than almost any soccer movie ever made. Thanks to FIFA, however, we can now qualify that statement.
1. United Passions (2014)
Maxi Rodriguez has provided the definitive word on FIFA’s contribution to modern cinema. It’s a masterpiece, one that’s befuddled critics trapped between their ignorance and malice. The benevolence of our overlords shines through.
While all 11 of these movies are must-sees, and it’s difficult to call yourself a real soccer fan if you haven’t memorized each by now. So if you’re new to this game and need a place to start, get out to see United Passions, as soon as possible.
Honorable mention: Escape to Victory