Hollywood loves a good sports story, but while there is a long history of baseball movies being turned into high art, football movies seem to fall into one of two categories: inspirational, heartwarming tearjerkers or mindless, idiotic locker room hijinks.
Oh, sure, there have been plenty of cool football movies over the decades, but for every good football film there's an equally terrible football film out there as well. So with the Super Bowl looming, we thought it would only be fitting to take a look at the best and worst gridiron showdowns ever to hit the big screen in our official list of the best and worst football films of all time.
This one pretty much checks off every box when it comes to inspirational stories. Quinton Aaron plays Michael Oher, a homeless boy who is taken in by a football-friendly family that gives him tough love and a second chance. Sandra Bullock won Best Actress three years ago for her role as the mom who fights for her new family. Bonus: The real Oher is playing in the Super Bowl as a starting offensive lineman for the Baltimore Ravens. Hard to top that.
Based on the bestselling book of the same name by author H.G. Bissinger, "Friday Night Lights" tells the true story of one Texas town and its passion for high school football. The film, which stars Billy Bob Thornton as the team's head coach, was awesome enough to inspire a spinoff TV series that became one of the most acclaimed shows of the past decade. As a result, the movie has become somewhat overshadowed, but take it from us: It's definitely worth a second look on its own merits.
Has any actor headlined as many classic movies as Sean Astin without becoming an A-list international superstar? As great as "Goonies" and 'The Lord of the Rings" are, though, Astin is probably best known to most men as the titular character in this 1993 tearjerker about a walk-on student at Notre Dame who became a gridiron hero simply by refusing to give up on his dreams. If you ever wanted to see a grown man cry, just invite a grown man to watch "Rudy" with you some time. Just bring plenty of Kleenex.
Take the positive aspects of every one of the first three films on our list and add them together, and what do you end up with? 2000's "Remember the Titans," which stars Denzel Washington as an empathetic high school coach (you know, like in "Friday Night Lights") who helps break down the racial barriers in a small town (kind of like in "The Blind Side") en route to becoming a feel-good, inspirational story to sports fans of all ages (see: "Rudy"). It's pretty much got everything going for it.
1. "Brian's Song"
Really, could there be any other pick for the top spot? Released back in 1971, "Brian's Song" has been a touchstone for generations of football fans thanks to its moving, true story of the friendship between teammates Gale Sayers (Billy Dee Williams, in the role that made him a star) and Brian Piccolo (James Caan, just a year before "The Godfather") during the 1969 season, which ended early for Piccolo when he was diagnosed with cancer. Less than a year later, he died at the age of 26. Accepting an award for displaying courage on the football field, Sayers famously said in his acceptance speech that the award should go to Piccolo instead. "I love Brian Piccolo, and I'd like all of you to love him, too," Sayers said. "Tonight, when you hit your knees to pray, please ask God to love him, too." No Hollywood screenwriter could improve on that.
Proof that even really good ideas can go horribly awry, 2008's "Leatherheads" was directed by and starred George Clooney. That usually guarantees a quality product, but in this case, the resulting film — which is about Clooney's rivalry with fellow barnstormer John Krasinski and the formation of the NFL in the 1920's — was a disappointing dud at best and a self-indulgent mess at worst.
4. "Necessary Roughness"
One good thing did come out of 1991's "Necessary Roughness": It bombed, leading star Scott Bakula to go back to television and continue starring in the cult classic sci-fi show "Quantum Leap." That might not have happened if he had become a star, but thanks to this cheap comedy's complete lack of laughs, Bakula pretty much never had a chance. Neither did moviegoers looking for entertainment from the story of a school hit with NCAA sanctions and forced to cobble together a team made up entirely of, you know, normal students — a team which ends up defeating the nation's top ranked squad. Talk about an epic fantasy.
So what's wrong with this film, which stars Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as a football superstar who discovers he has an eight-year-old daughter? Well, consider this disturbing fact: The movie isn't as memorable as "The Tooth Fairy" in which Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson plays a hockey superstar who becomes the Tooth Fairy. And any film that isn't as good as "The Tooth Fairy" automatically makes any Bottom 5 list. Okay, so the contrast between football culture and parenthood is jarring. We get it. We also get the fact that there are no other jokes in this entire film. Even Johnson's real life football credentials (he won the NCAA national title with Miami in 1991) can't save this ill-advised dud.
Let's be very clear here: We're talking about the horrifyingly terrible 2005 remake of "The Longest Yard," not the 1974 classic, which featured real-life college football star Burt Reynolds playing something that approximated real football. The remake, on the other hand, starred Adam Sandler, who pretty much wears "horrifyingly terrible" as a badge of honor these days. The plot, which revolves around a bunch of jailbirds putting together a team to play against the prison guards, may have been the same. But the utter stank? That was all new.
Oy, where do we even begin with this 1986 stinkbomb that stars Goldie Hawn as the coach of an inner city football team? Oh, yeah: With the part about the movie starring Goldie Hawn as the coach of an inner city football team. It's kind of like "Dangerous Minds," only instead of Coolio, it features horrible jokes that are offensive not just for being sexist, but even worse, for being unfunny. There have been a lot of bad football films over the years, but there's no doubt about it: "Wildcats" wins the Super Bowl of Bad. Take a bow, Goldie.