What? Were you expecting American football movies? Not this time, friends. After decades with "The Beautiful Game" reigning across the globe - from the major international leagues to the popularity of football betting in Asia, Australia and Europe - soccer has finally begun to fully crossover in the USA. The increasing popularity of European football in America - spurred by FIFA videogames and greater television exposure for Premiere League - has lead to an interest in revisiting the best that cinematic soccer has to offer. Whether you're a longtime footie fan or a new fan raised on MLS and Playstation, these classic sports films should appeal to you.
THE DAMNED UNITED
A classic football picture directed by Tom Hooper and anchored by a ferocious performance by Michael Sheen (FROST/NIXON) as former football manager Brian Cough. Focusing on the turbulent 44 days that Clough spent as manager of Leeds United in 1974, the picture captures an era of the game that was as wild as it was controversial. Sheen brings great charisma to the screen, clashing with players and fans alike before he's finally fired after little over a month on the job. The film was very popular in the UK but actually ended up in court when one of the real-life characters took issue with his depiction.
Sylvester Stallone. Michael Caine. Pele. What else do you need? While hardly a great piece of cinema, the film known as ESCAPE TO VICTORY in Europe was a cable television regular in the United States. In the vein of THE LONGEST YARD, Caine stars as a British POW and former professional football star who is convinced to organize an exhibition game against the German guards. Stallone is the ace goaltender, who makes a key save in the closing moments of the game. Despite trailing early, it's Pele who leads the team back to even -- while our heroic prisoners are eventually saved as the game draws to a close. Ridiculous? Yes. Entertaining. You bet.
THE FOOTBALL FACTORY
Forget the more hyped GREEN STREET HOOLIGANS. If you want to see a real, gritty depiction of the dark side of football fandom this is the picture for you. Based on the novel by John King, this is a seriously dark look at the violence, crime and class issues that fuel a virulent strain of fan support. Starring Danny Dyer and Tamer Hassan, the film focuses on the escalating rivalry between two sets of football fanbases, culminating in an epic parking lot battle before Chelsea and Millwall actually battle on the soccer pitch. This one is not for kids but worth your time.
BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM
Perhaps the most well-known football film of modern times. This is the film that introduced the world to the acting charms of Keira Knightley, while also spinning a winning tale of race, class and footie. It follows the story of the 18-year-old daughter of Punjabi Sikhs in London who has been forbidden by her parents from playing football because she is a girl. Naturally, she joins the local women's football team and leads them to the top of their league, earning love and respect from her family in the process. This movie works for fans of all ages and is a great gateway drug into the great sport of football.