I took a break from this top 50 list in the last edition. Here is a return to my top 50 sports films. Everyone may have his or her own list of all-time favorites, and all of these (1-50) are based on movies I've seen.
Here, I am continuing my picks for the greatest sports films, 31-40. These films all pertain to the sport of football.
1. Any Given Sunday (1999)
Oliver Stone is an accomplished director with a plethora of film titles under his belt. All of them range in scope and style. From titles such as Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July, JFK, Nixon, and Wall Street, Stone has directed and produced some of the most mesmerizing stories on the big screen.
This entry on my list, Any Given Sunday, is another top contender. The great Al Pacino takes a turn as a football coach to lead the Miami Sharks to a playoff appearance. However, he has to deal with the daughter of the late owner, Cameron Diaz, who wants to move the team to a different city. Ann-Margret plays the mother, while Jamie Foxx and Dennis Quaid represent the new and the old in football quarterbacks.
There are many other familiar faces in the film that round out the cast and the entire cast gets credit here for varied and interesting characters. The film really gives an inside look to what goes on “behind the scenes” so to speak. This is sort of a gritty look at the business of football and what players, coaches and owners do for “any given Sunday” on the football field.
2. Brian's Song (1971)
It was nearly 20 years after the release of this television movie before I was introduced to it. I believe I was about 15, in my high school drama class, when a former student (who was doing some acting on the West Coast in California), visited and performed the final monologue by one of the characters of this film.
I was immediately drawn to the story from his performance and subsequent research into the story, although it would be more than 10 years later when I actually was able to see the film.
It is another true story brought to life on the screen, adapted from Gale Sayers' own experience with the Chicago Bears and friendship with fellow running back Brian Piccolo from the mid-60s to early 70s.
Thirty years later it was remade as another television movie starring Sean Maher as Piccolo and Mekhi Phifer as Sayers.
In Brian's Song, the story unfolds to show the racial tensions of the time and the developing friendship between Sayers (Billy Dee Williams) and Piccolo (James Caan). For a 1971 television movie, it sure packs emotion, heart, drama and humor to bring out the characters and story. Jack Warden portrays the Bears coach George Halas who broke a color barrier at the time by pairing up the two to be roommates.
William Blinn's script offers a credible, poignant look at American football, racial tension and friendships. Buzz Kulik's direction is masterful at showing the relationships (not just Sayers and Piccolo) but between all the characters, and the sensitivity of the situation with finesse.
3. Friday Night Lights (2004)
A high school football story based on true events, from a book by H. G. Bissinger, follows the story of the Permian High School Panthers in Odessa, Texas and their path to a state championship.
Director Peter Berg helms the production with exhilarating camerawork that made the film like a documentary at times. It showed the emotions of the players both on and off the field, while showcasing the townsfolk as they experienced the ride along with the audience.
A couple of years after the film's release, it would be made into a television series. I unfortunately never really watched the series, but the film showed so much depth to the experiences of the time that I just think it was enough for me.
Honestly, I was thinking of this film as I was standing on the sidelines with Dumas’ district, and eventual, playoff run. For those final seven weeks of the season (and really about all season long) there was so much excitement and energy from the players, coaches, school and city of Dumas.
That's what the film brought out, especially the latter half of the film as the Permian Panthers were headed to the state championship. As with any based-on-real-events story, there were some liberties taken with the telling of the big screen action. However, it still was exciting to watch and follow the story until the end.
4. Invincible (2006)
This next entry into the realm of football movies might be a little controversial. There might be some other films on this list, but these are my picks based on films I've seen.
This may have not been one of the best overall, but I enjoyed it and it did allow me to get into the story and characters.
It was a basic underdog story. It was enjoyable to me. Mark Wahlberg played Vince Papale, a 30-year old bartender, who decides to try out for the 1976 Philadelphia Eagles after the new coach, Dick Vermeil (Greg Kinnear), holds open try outs.
I think I might just like most true life stories. I enjoy seeing the story come across on the big screen. Most films do it well. And some, not so well. Invincible did it well enough to keep me entertained and engrossed in the characters and story.
I'm sure there were some liberties, as with most true-life stories, taken with this film. Papale had a relatively short stint with the Eagles as the oldest rookie to play in the NFL at that time. It was not the most dramatic of underdog stories, but it was enough for me to include it on this list.
5. Jerry Maguire (1996)
I picked this film because it's sort of sentimental. It's not necessarily a football movie, but it does contain some football action. It ranked No. 10 on the American Film Institute's list of Top 10 sports films of all-time.
It's a sports movie in general because it revolves around a pro sports agent, Jerry Maguire (Tom Cruise). It also, of course, has romance between Cruise's character and Dorothy Boyd (Renee Zellweger).
The film presents another look at the business side of sports. The movie moves along after Maguire is fired because he feels an agent should be less concerned about money and more about their clients. Cruise delivered with his usual charisma and style (as he had at the time) and it showed in the scenes with Zellweger and his only client who didn't' leave after he was fired, Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding Jr.).
The film is also a relationship movie. Not just about romantic relationships, but business relationships and friendships. I said earlier it was sort of sentimental. I believe it is only sentimental because of the romance within it. It has a likable story and characters with a certain charm that makes this a film on my list.
6. Remember the Titans (2000)
This 2000 film was another sports film that was more than just about football. It showed the tragic look of race relations and tension, which was still present in Virginia at the time.
A high school in Alexandria, Virginia, in 1971, becomes integrated and hires a new African-American coach Herman Boone (Denzel Washington). This puts the previous coach, Bill Yoast (Will Patton), and Boone at odds with each other. Yoast didn't want to be demoted to an assistant any more than Boone wanted to take a head coaching job away from someone else.
In the beginning, there is prejudice where the white kids won't play for a black coach, and there continues to be animosity between the two coaches. However, they begin to bond. They begin to win and play as a team. It is a remarkable telling of bonds, relationships, triumphs, failures, and football. This is a story I could watch again and again.
7. Rudy (1993)
Here is another simple, underdog story filled with a lot of heart, emotion, and determination.
A special performance by Sean Astin as Daniel E. “Rudy” Ruettiger, gives the film a sense of style and focus of a story about a young kid that may have not had the brains and brawn to attend Notre Dame and play football, but he had the drive and persistence to try anyway. And he did.
He went through all the grueling try outs, practices, and the jeers and sneers from some family, coaches and other players that he was never going to be good enough to be on the team. He proved them wrong.
What drives this film is Astin's “Rudy” character. His determination and perseverance is what keeps the story in motion. He endured all of the ridicule for one final game his senior year, where he was able to sack the opposing quarterback and was hailed a hero for one brief moment. That's all he ever wanted.
A young Jon Favreau stars in the film, whom Rudy befriends. Ned Beatty plays Rudy's father. All the performances engage the audience to follow this scrawny kid who beats the odds and has his moment in the sun.
8. The Longest Yard (1974)
This of course is the original, not the Adam Sandler remake. Although the remake is fine in its own right, for this list I put the original up as the better film.
This film appears to be a bit more gritty and dark, but still plays as a comedy. The late Burt Reynolds has the starring role here as Paul Crewe, who unfortunately lands in prison for a few years. He ultimately deals with Warden Rudolph Hazen (Eddie Albert) to coach a team of inmates against the bigger, tougher prison guards on the gridiron.
A lengthy time frame is given to the film's final game (showdown) between the inmates and guards, and does not disappoint. The film has humor, drama, action and all the works to make this a well-crafted sports film that is not shy to show a dark side from time to time.
9. The Replacements (2000)
A story of second chances, redemption, and a humorous look at the business side of football.
This film was the 2000 film with Keanu Reeves as a failed college quarterback who gets a chance to be great. It contains elements of the 1987 football strike, where the players called a strike after the second game of the season. This resulted in the owners canceling the games in the third week and began replacing the teams with “replacement players.” Unresolved issues from a 1982 strike led to this one five years later.
In this movie, Reeves plays Shane Falco who lost a big game in the Sugar Bowl and gave up football. To some, this film may not be the greatest (and they may be right). It may not even be an accurate representation of strike football, but it is entertaining. However, each has his/her own taste.
I enjoy this film because of the characters and humor. A huge cast in the film includes Gene Hackman as Coach Jimmy McGinty, Brooke Langton as Annabelle Farrell (head cheerleader), Orlando Jones as Clifford Franklin, Jon Favreau as Daniel Bateman and Jack Warden as Edward O'Neil. Even the great broadcasting legends Pat Summerall and John Madden play themselves providing the play-by-play and commentary of the games.
The movie provides an escape and allows the viewer to fall into a hapless scenario where a football franchise would hire people from virtually anywhere to finish a season. And also, where the head cheerleader for the team would also have to find replacement cheerleaders. I also enjoyed the film because it's always fun to hear Madden call a game.
10. We Are Marshall (2006)
This film tells the story of the November 1970 plane crash that killed 37 players, six coaches, the athletic director and several others, after a loss in West Virginia, of the Thundering Herd varsity football team of Marshall University.
This was the inciting incident that set the film in motion. After the fatal day, there were talks of suspending the football program. However, Nate Ruffin, a surviving player (due to injury he didn't travel with the team) pursued University President Donald Dedmon (David Strathairn) to keep the program alive.
He hires Jack Lengyel (Matthew McConaughey), and in turn, Lengyel brings Red Dawson (Matthew Fox), a surviving coach because he preferred to drive rather than fly. Together, they assemble a new team and begin to rebuild the program.
There seemed to be much at stake at that point in time. The performances are enough to keep me engaged in the story. It may not be the most uplifting, inspirational sports movies, but it delivers some emotion and an enthralling story about what happens to a town after a huge tragedy. The ups and downs, the straining relationships and what transpires among all of that in order to move on and get past the traumatic devastation.