Soccer is pretty much the most popular sport in the world, hands down. It’s not just a great pastime, though. It’s also a great source of intense, captivating stories that greatly translate to cinema. We sat down to choose the best movies that focus on soccer and help you watch only the best works that focus on this theme.
There’s quite a variety of genres to choose from, too. There are dramas, there are comedies, and there are some documentaries on this list as well. Whether soccer is the main focus or just a backdrop for the main story, these movies should be highly enjoyable for you. You don’t even have to be a fan of the sport to like them (although this might help).
Let’s take a look at the best soccer movies of all time, shall we?
The Goal! trilogy
|Release year:||2005 (Goal!), 2007 (Goal! 2: Living the Dream), 2009 (Goal! 3: Taking on the World)|
|Directed by:||Danny Cannon (Goal!), Jaume Collet-Serra (Goal! 2: Living the Dream), Andrew Morahan (Goal! 3: Taking on the World)|
Did you know that the first Goal! film is responsible for a surge of Newcastle United’s popularity?
This trilogy focuses on the character of Santiago Muñez (played by Kuno Becker), an amateur player from Mexico, who gets a chance to play football professionally. All sorts of things happen along the way, but Santiago is still hopeful everything will turn out just fine. The next two installments in the series show the protagonist’s rise to stardom in Real Madrid, as well as his preparations for the 2006 FIFA World Cup.
Hardly the best film trilogy of all time, it still became a cult classic (the first film especially). Okay, the scripts are usually very predictable and melodramatic, but Kuno did a great job playing Santiago Muñez. It’s just too bad that the final installment in the series failed as a conclusion to the trilogy and is considered a total disappointment by fans and critics alike.
Still, you should at least check out the first film, as this one’s pretty good, even if a bit clichéd.
|Directed by:||David Evans|
If you’ve seen the 2005 remake with Drew Barrymore and Jimmy Fallon, know that the original focused on soccer instead. And it’s a pretty good film.
Based on Fever Pitch: A Fan’s Life, a best-selling memoir by Nick Hornsby, the film focuses on a fictional character named Paul Ashworth, a teacher who starts dating Sarah Hughes, a new teacher in his school. So yeah, it’s more of a romance movie, but set against the backdrop of soccer. After all, the protagonist is an avid fan of Arsenal, which has an impact on his relationship with Sarah.
So, if you share the affection for one of the UK’s most successful football clubs with both Nick Hornsby and Paul Ashworth, this movie should be a pleasing watch, especially now that it can help you experience all the excitement related to the legendary game of May 26, 1989, when Arsenal faced Liverpool in the final match of the 1988–89 Football League season, an event that started the so-called English football renaissance.
Bend It Like Beckham
|Directed by:||Gurinder Chadha|
And now for something completely different: a sports comedy-drama with female characters chasing careers in professional football. Alas, it’s all despite what their parents wish for them. Expect some serious family tensions!
Bend It Like Beckham stars Parminder Nagra and Keira Knightley as Jesminder Bhamra and Jules Paxton, respectively. The former is the daughter of British Indian Sikhs who loves football, but her parents disprove of her hobby. The latter is a member of a local women’s amateur football team, the Hounslow Harriers, who takes notice of Jess’ skills and invites her to join in. This goes against Jess’s parents’ wishes, of course…
What’s David Beckham got to do with all this? Well, the title refers to his curling free kick technique. Unfortunately, however, he does not appear in it, scheduling problems and all. Still, Bend It Like Beckham is a pretty great movie and the highest-grossing of all football-themed films.
By the way, did you know it was the first Western film to be screened in North Korea?
Escape to Victory
|Directed by:||John Huston|
Another unique movie on this list, Escape to Victory is a World War II film with a strong sports theme.
Sylvester Stallone, Michael Caine, and legendary Pelé star as Allied prisoners of war who end up playing an exhibition match against a German team, which later turns out to be just a publicity stunt. What results is The Great Escape-meets-a-sports-drama kind of story which war film aficionados should totally enjoy. While the movie presents fictional events, it’s inspired by the infamous Death Match in Ukraine.
One of the most notable features of Escape to Victory is the abundance of football stars in the cast. Aside from Pelé, the cast includes the likes of Bobby Moore, Osvaldo Ardiles, Kazimierz Deyna, Paul Van Himst and plenty of Ipswich Town players. This alone makes the movie worth watching if you’re a football fan.
The Figo Affair: The Transfer that Changed Football
|Directed by:||Ben Nicholas, David Tryhorn|
Also known as El Caso Figo, this documentary is a behind-the-scenes look at Luís Figo’s transfer from Barcelona to Real Madrid, considered one of the most contentious deals in the history of football to this day.
Source: Netflix Espana
This Portuguese player, one of the best in the world, a true legend of FC Barcelona and once a hero to the club’s fans, has become a villainous figure once he moved to Real Madrid. He was quickly dubbed a traitor, gold digger, even Judas. But why? Ben Nicholas and David Tryhorn tried to answer that question and unravel the truth behind this controversial transfer.
It’s a fascinating look at the world of professional football, even if full of contradictions, courtesy of every party involved. If you have a Netflix subscription and love documentaries, you should check this one out for sure. Naturally, if you’re a football fan, you probably know all the itty bitty details about this case, but it’s either a good refresher of memory or a perfect entry point for those who want to learn more about the financial side of professional football.
|Directed by:||Stephen Chow|
What do you get if you blend martial arts with football? Shaolin Soccer. This comedy film is probably the weirdest one on this list, but that’s what makes it very interesting.
The premise is simple: a former Shaolin monk wants to reunite with his Shaolin brothers and form an unstoppable football team thanks to their superhuman martial arts skills, all in order to make kung fu well-known among ordinary folks. In order to achieve that, though, they’ll need to beat Team Evil, led by a rich businessman named Hung. He’s a nasty fellow who betrayed his former teammate and a soccer star, Fung. Will this baddie get what he deserves?
Okay, we admit, the plot of Shaolin Soccer is utterly ridiculous and the whole thing is pretty much a farce. But that’s what makes it so enjoyable! So, if you love soccer, martial arts and Asian comedies, this movie should totally please you.
Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait
|Directed by:||Douglas Gordon, Philippe Pareno|
Another legendary player, Zinedine Zidane has received his own documentary, one that is certainly unique.
Why is that? The film focuses on Zizou’s playstyle and just a single match: the one played between Real Madrid and Villareal on April 23, 2005. It was filmed in real-time using seventeen synchronized cameras. If you’re a fan of the legendary French player, well, you probably have watched it already (probably at least a couple of times, too). If not, be sure to make up for that.
If you’re a fan of the band Mogwai, you’ll be happy to learn that it is responsible for the soundtrack in this film. The documentary itself bears resemblance to an experimental film from 1970, Football As Never Before, that focuses on George Best, an iconic Manchester United footballer (also considered one of the best in this sport). Perhaps it was inspired by it? These two films, however, have certainly led Spike Lee to direct his own film, Kobe Doin’ Work, a similar piece focusing on a single day in Kobe Bryant’s life.
The Big Green
|Directed by:||Holly Goldberg Sloan|
How about a family comedy that you can watch with your children? Set in the fictional small town of Elma, Texas, the movie follows a teacher from England who tries to build a successful soccer team out of a bunch of misfit kids.
Naturally, since the movie is set in America, this bunch knows squat about this sport and has a hard time achieving any success. Still, with time and effort, they become better and better. You know, it’s a classic underdog tale with lots of good-hearted humor and all that jazz.
It’s a very decent film, a warm, exhilarating comedy that’ll surely make you feel good. If you wanted something along the lines of the Mighty Ducks franchise, but with hockey replaced by soccer, this is exactly the movie you need.
Mike Bassett: England Manager
|Directed by:||Steve Barron|
The football world has received its own satirical mockumentary-style comedy. It’s basically what would’ve happened if This Is Spinal Tap was about the world’s most popular sport. Well, sort of.
The movie follows the exploits of the titular character, Mike Bassett, who is tasked with something very daunting: making sure that his team qualifies for the upcoming World Cup. The problem is that he’s only had experience managing English lower leagues. Will he succeed? Will the English team go to Brazil?
Mike Bassett: England Manager is now a cult classic among football fans. This is also due to quite a number of prominent cameos. Soccer stars and celebrities like Pelé, Ronaldo and the Atomic Kitten girl group. There were plans to create a sequel to the movie back in 2014, but the Kickstarter project for that unfortunately fell through. Oh well!
The Damned United
|Directed by:||Tom Hooper|
No, don’t expect a historical drama here, as this film is laden with inaccuracies, just like the novel it is based on, meaning it doesn’t really count as a “true story.” Still, the biography of Brian Clough, a former manager of Leeds United, is considered a cult film nevertheless, which is why it landed on this list.
Source: Sony Pictures Classi
The story here goes as follows: Brian Clough becomes the manager of Leeds United, a team he’s very critical of because of their overly violent and physical playstyle. We get to witness his ill-fated tenure in this club. Still, the real-life Clough is remembered as one of the best football managers in the UK, with the film quoting the famous statement that the protagonist was the greatest manager England never had.
One of the striking features of the movie is the performance of Michael Sheen who plays Clough. No, he actually disappears into his characters and becomes him as a result. The Damned United is a great film to help you understand the toll professional football can take on an individual. Please note, though, that there are plenty of historical discrepancies in it and fictional elements, so you shouldn’t treat it as some sort of a documentary.
As you can see, there’s quite a selection of good films about soccer and they come in all shapes and sizes. There are comedies, there are documentaries, there are some really good dramas…there’s plenty to choose from!
So, if you happen to be a soccer-fan-meets-a film-aficionado, you should totally be pleased with our picks. Enjoy!