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The 10 Best Football Movies of All Time

If you're a football fanatic, cozy up on the couch and tune into a night of these gridiron classics.

Paramount Movies/YouTube

North Dallas Forty (1979)

Sex, drugs, and violence … it’s all here in this warts-and-all, no-gloss peek at what really happens on and off the football field. Loosely based on the both beloved and reviled Dallas Cowboys team of the 1970s, this funny film is shockingly prescient as it foreshadows the growing strength of corporatism in the front office, as well as the treatment of players as disposable commodities. With concussions becoming as big a topic as passer rating, it’s eerily timely. Stars Nick Nolte, Mac Davis, and the great character actor Charles Durning.

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DisneyMoviesOnDemand/YouTube

Remember The Titans (2000)

This is one of those football movies that every football coach makes his team watch together. Why? Because it’s all about camaraderie and team building. (What, you expected them to see Trainwreck?) The film is the true story of a newly integrated Virginia high school in the 70’s and its newly desegregated football team. The poor sucker brought in to deal with all this tension is Denzel Washington, the team’s first African-American coach, who has to battle a lot more than bigotry in order to bring his squad together. And bring his squad together he does. Hey, it’s a happy ending, just like Trainwreck! Don’t miss the most iconic movies set in every state.

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Paramount Movies/YouTube

The Longest Yard (1974)

We’re talking the Burt Reynolds version of these particular football movies, not Adam Sandler’s. It’s the convicts versus the prison guards in this hilarious scrum. A sadistic warden, played by Eddie Albert (side note, did you know Albert won the Bronze Star in World War II for his actions during the battle of Tarawa? But here he’s the bad guy), asks a former pro quarterback Reynolds, now serving time in his prison, to put together a team of inmates to take on the guards. The warden then offers him early release if he throws the game. Will he or won’t he? As one character says to the QB, “You could have robbed banks, sold dope, or stole your grandmother’s pension checks and none of us would have minded. But shaving points off of a football game, man, that’s un-American.” Part of the film’s fun is picking out the football greats who have cameos, like Ray Nitschke, Joe Kapp, and Ernie Wheelwright. These inventions were predicted in books and movies. 

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UniversalMovies/YouTube

Friday Night Lights (2004)

In Texas, Friday night belongs to high school football. And no film shows just how much the sport grips an entire community as well as Friday Night Lights. Based on a Buzz Bissinger book, this is the true story of the 1988 Permian High School football team of Odessa, Texas, and their emotional, pressure-filled run for the state championship. Most of us remember the great TV show of the same name, but the film version, starring Billy Bob Thornton as the coach, deserves a slap on the fanny, too. Check out these 18 hit movies that were books first.

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Warner Bros./YouTube

Knute Rockne, All-American (1940)

Yeah, yeah, it’s old and creaky. But like whipped cream on pie, you have to include it in this list of great football movies. This is the biography of legendary Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne, played by Pat O’Brien, and features some young actor named Jimmy Carter … oops, wrong president … Ronald Reagan. The film does have some great old newsreel clips of games of yore, and, of course, it has that rousing halftime speech: “Now I’m going to tell you something I’ve kept to myself for years. None of you ever knew George Gipp. He was long before your time, but you all know what a tradition he is at Notre Dame. And the last thing he said to me, ‘Rock,’ he said, ‘sometime when the team is up against it and the breaks are beating the boys, tell them to go out there with all they’ve got and win just one for the Gipper. I don’t know where I’ll be then, Rock,’ he said, ‘but I’ll know about it and I’ll be happy.'” I don’t know about you, but I just tackled my laptop. Check out the movie trivia facts you won’t believe are true.

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Sony Pictures at Home UK/YouTube

Brian’s Song (1971)

Admit it, you cried when you saw this TV movie, right? Right? It’s all right, you crybaby, no one’s going to laugh. We all sobbed at this true story of a pair of Chicago Bears, the great Gale Sayers (played by Billy Dee Williams) and fellow running back Brian Piccolo (James Caan), and their odds-busting friendship. What sets this apart from other buddy flicks is that Sayers is black and Piccolo white, that, plus they were competing for the same job. The feel-good aspect comes when they ultimately become roommates at a time when whites and blacks weren’t always allowed in the same hotel, let alone room. The feel-bad aspect comes when Piccolo is diagnosed with cancer. On a night that Sayers accepted an award, he told the crowd, “I love Brian Piccolo … and tonight, I want you to love him too.” A month later, Brian was dead. OK, wipe away that tear! This is why we watch football on Thanksgiving. 

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SonyPicsHomeEntWorld/YouTube

Jerry Maguire (1996)

Tom Cruise is a sports agent desperate to hold on to his one remaining client, played by a pumped-up Cuba Gooding, Jr. The film has a bunch of cornball lines, like, “You complete me,” and “You had me at hello.” But it also has “Show me the Money!” and Renee Zellweger, who’s even cuter than that kid who played her son. Check out the best movie one-liners you’ll want to say over and over again.

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Movieclips/YouTube

Horse Feathers (Marx Brothers) (1932)

It stars the Marx Brothers. ‘Nuff said! But I’ll add a few more words. Groucho plays Quincy Adams Wagstaff, the new president of Huxley University, the same school his womanizing son Zeppo attends. The school is in dire straights and President Wagstaff knows that the road to recovery doesn’t include top-notch professors, interesting courses, or an international meal plan. No, it’s a better football team (the leaders of the NCAA must have watched this flick a few times). Mistaking two idiots, Baravelli (Chico) and Pinky (Harpo), for football savants, Wagstaff hires them to help his school win the big game against rival (and quite evolved) Darwin University. The movie gave us the great song, “Whatever It Is, I’m Against It,” as well as some hilarious football scenes.

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Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Rudy (1993)

Roo-dy! Roo-dy! Rudy Reutiger (Sean Astin) lived out every short, shlubby boy’s dream when he walked onto the field of a major college program—in uniform—and sacked the opposing quarterback. The product of a steel mill town, Rudy dreamt of attending Notre Dame and playing for the Fighting Irish since he was a kid. Sadly, his body didn’t grow much from childhood, so it was unlikely he’d be invited to don a helmet for The Irish. But through spunk and spit, he endeared himself to the rest of the team, which forced legendary coach Ara Parseghian to put him into the last play of the last game of the season. It’s as sappy as it gets, but, so what. Here’s the actual play starring the real Rudy. Don’t miss these movies that have hilarious titles in other countries.

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Sony Pictures Entertainment/YouTube

Concussion (2015)

When a gridiron bruiser like Mike Ditka says he wouldn’t let his son play football due to the threat of brain trauma, there’s a problem with the sport. Concussion, based on a true story, tackles this issue head on, so to speak. Will Smith is forensic pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu. While performing an autopsy on former Pittsburgh Steeler center Mike Webster, he notices neurological deterioration similar to that found in Alzheimer patients. Omalu determines that the injuries are a result of on-field concussions. The film chronicles the doctor’s attempts to raise public awareness. Next, find out the 10 classic movies people lie about watching.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest

Andy Simmons
Andy Simmons is a features editor at Reader's Digest.