Soccer may be the beautiful game, but that hasn't always translated to beautiful movies. Despite the fact that soccer is, by far, the most popular sport in the world, Hollywood hasn't exactly shown a knack for getting it right on screen, probably because they're too busy making yet another baseball film.
But with the international box office becoming an ever more important piece of the pie, and with soccer growing in popularity in America, Hollywood is increasingly turning their attention to the other football. Case in point: This week's new release, "Playing for Keeps," which stars Gerard Butler as a former pro who begins coaching a youth soccer team.
So will "Playing for Keeps" be the film equivalent of a Messi strike? Or will it earn a red card from audiences? To put everything in perspective, here's a look at our picks for the top five and bottom five soccer movies of all time:
5. 'Joyeux Noel' (2005)
Proof that truth sometimes really is stranger than fiction, "Joyeux Noel" tells the incredible true story of the Christmas Truce of 1914. During the opening months of World War I, the German, British and French troops battling along the front found themselves locked in the deadly impasse of trench warfare. But on Christmas Eve, the Christmas spirit overtook the troops, who spontaneously declared their own unsanctioned truce and met between the lines for an impromptu game of soccer. If only the actual war could have been settled by a game of footy instead of another four long years of deadly combat.
4. 'Goal!' (2005)
Made in cooperation with FIFA, which resulted in appearances by major stars and franchises, "Goal!" is a classic underdog sports story. Kuno Becker plays an illegal immigrant named Santiago living in the barrios of Los Angeles, dreaming for a path to success. That dream is amazingly realized when a scout for Newcastle United happens to catch him practicing his soccer skills. After many ups and downs of the Hollywood variety, Santiago eventually makes his way to England, where he finds himself on the pitch against Liverpool. Needless to say, he wins the day - and the respect of his dead father - in one of those heartwarming moments that can only happen in sports movies.
3. 'The Damned United' (2009)
Before "The King's Speech" and "Les Misérables," Oscar winning director Tom Hooper cut his teeth with the soccer drama "The Damned United." Michael Sheen stars as British soccer icon Brian Clough, who is regarded as one of the greatest soccer managers in British history. This film, however, revolves around his brief and tumultuous 44-day run as manager of Leeds United. The always reliable Colm Meaney co-stars as Clough's arch-nemesis Don Revie. With excellent performances by top stars and the directorial breakthrough of Hooper, "Damned United" is a treat for film buffs and soccer buffs alike.
2. 'Bend It Like Beckham' (2002)
"Bend It Like Beckham" introduced the world to Keira Knightley, so if it only had that going for it, it would still rate a spot on our top soccer film list. But the film also boasts a timely and interesting story, with Parminder Nagra starring as a girl trying to reconcile her traditional Indian upbringing with her modern British lifestyle. The vehicle for that reconciliation? Soccer, of course, especially as exemplified in the person of David Beckham, who at the time was just becoming the international soccer icon he is today. A decade later, "Bend It Like Beckham" is still one of the best soccer films ever made.
1. 'Shaolin Soccer' (2001)
Let's face it: Stephen Chow is a genius. With all due respect to the great Jackie Chan, nobody has ever before combined kung-fu action and flat out hilarious comedy like Chow. Frankly, we doubt anyone will again either. And "Shaolin Soccer" remains Chow's crowning achievement, with its utterly silly storyline about a bunch of dissolute shaolin priests who reunite in order to apply their kung-fu powers to the world of soccer. The result is a film that doesn't just bend it like Beckham, it bends the laws of reality as well. Bonus points also awarded for the all-girl team that sneaks into the big competition by donning fake mustaches. Top that, Keira Knightley!
5. 'Victory' (1981)
Okay, so some of you are probably already firing up your laptops and composing angry emails, castigating us for this choice. "But, Film.com," you say, "this is a heartwarming tale of triumph against the forces of inhumanity! How can you dislike a movie about a group of WWII prisoners of war who play a soccer match against their prison guards before making a daring escape?" Well, because it's kind of crap, that's why. The true story this is based on, for instance, didn't quite have a Hollywood ending: After winning their matches against the Germans, the real prisoners were sent off to death camps as a reward. But since that wouldn't be fun for the audience, instead we get Sylvester Stallone hamming it up alongside real-life soccer star (and obvious non-thespian) Pele, setting back acting a decade in the process. Not watching this movie counts as the ultimate victory.
4. 'Kicking & Screaming' (2005)
It's not that "Kicking & Screaming' is a bad movie, really; in fact, if you're a kid who likes soccer, you probably will love this lightweight puff piece starring Will Ferrell s a youth soccer coach. For everyone else, though, this was a matter of mismanaged expectactions; coming off of the mind-blowing comedy in "Anchorman," people were expecting Ferrell's follow-up to be equally amazing. Instead, he switched gears to family friendly fare, leaving millions of puzzled moviegoers wondering what the hell had just happened. Plus, it's just not that funny. Avoid unless you are ten years old.
3. 'She's the Man' (2006)
Considering this film gave us one of Channing Tatum's first starring roles, you would think we would give it a little love, right? Well, we did: Tatum is the only reason this isn't number one on our list of terribad soccer movies. How bad is it? Our crack film expert Eric D. Snider recently re-reviewed it just to see if it was really as bad as he originally thought and, guess what, it was. You can check out his think-piece to see exactly why, because frankly, we don't want to think about it any longer. The fact that the movie is about a girl who pretends to be her own brother and joins his soccer team without anybody noticing is only the tip of the crapberg.
2. 'Ladybugs' (1992)
Speaking of terrible films about people disguising their gender to join soccer teams, here's "Ladybugs." This one does things the other way around, though: Jonathan Bradis plays a boy who disguises himself as a girl in order to help their team win. Because a) obviously girls are so bad at soccer they can't win for themselves, even against other girls and b) they are also all so dumb they won't notice their midfielder is sporting a "Shaolin Soccer"-style mustache. On the plus side, the team is coached by Rodney Dangerfield. On the minus side, this movie shows exactly why he got no respect. Ugh.
1. 'Air Bud: World Pup' (2001)
Hard to believe, but somehow the third "Air Bud" film didn't quite make it into theaters, ending up instead as a direct-to-video cautionary tale about why you should strictly avoid movies that are direct-to-video. So why is it at the top of our worst soccer movie list? Well, it's about dogs playing soccer. And... do you really even need more reasons that that? Next time you get in a debate with your European friends about America's place in the soccer world, try reminding them that our canine squad is the best on Earth. And then see how far that gets you. Thanks for nothing, Hollywood.