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5 Football Movies Even the Gridiron Agnostic Will Cheer For
Whole-family picks, teen dreams, and one for the littlest bleacher creatures.
TBP has somehow managed to have grown up in the Deep South, attended countless high-school football games, participated in numerous Super Bowl parties, watched Friday Night Lights in its entirety (twice), and sat through at least a dozen football movies without retaining a single thing about how the pigskin sport (I looked that up) actually works. So I tell you with utter confidence that there are two football movies in this world that rise to the level of family movie night, even if your crew also includes someone who calls football pants “sausage leggings.” The rest of these picks will make your kids do a touchdown dance, whether or not you watch alongside them.
Football for the Whole Family
Remember the Titans (2000; Disney+): A snappily directed movie based on a true story about a newly integrated Virginia football team in the early ’70s, with Denzel Washington playing the tough-but-big-hearted coach as he wrestles with team building, mentorship, and manhood amid pervasive racism. One of my favorite things about sports movies is that they rarely clock in at more than two hours; this one is a fast-moving hour and a half, with lots of classic bangers propelling the action forward both on and off the field.
Rudy (1993; Prime Video): Perhaps America’s most heralded underdog story is still as sweet as a Hoosier sugar cream pie. What I didn’t remember from the first half-dozen times I saw this movie—for obvious reasons—is that tertiary teammate Jamie O’Hara is played by a fresh-faced “Vincent Vaughn,” who first met Jon Favreau (Rudy’s buddy D-Bob McGowan) on set. That’s money, baby.
A Hit for Younger Fans
Little Giants (1994; Stream for free on Tubi): As a sucker for coach-centric fare, I think this Rick Moranis- and Ed O’Neill-starrer is pretty fun—despite its dismal Rotten Tomatoes ranking. Regardless of whether you want to spend your own precious time with one of TBP hall-of-famer Devon Sawa’s lesser films, your kids will love it (or at least enjoy it) no matter their aptitude for football or sports in general.
Your Tweens and Teens Will Laugh Their Heads Off
The Waterboy (1998; Rent with Prime Video et al. ): I always assumed that Adam Sandler’s oeuvre wouldn’t resonate with anyone born after 1990, but boy was I incorrect. Somehow, some way, newly teenaged H.B. discovered the Sandman, starting with this football classic, and reader, I’ve never heard more cackles radiating from our TV room.
Yeah, OK, Let’s Talk about Varsity Blues…
Now, I know you’re asking yourself: Should I let my high-school kid see Varsity Blues, popularizer of the whipped-cream bikini and the infinitely quotable, “I don’t. Want. Your life.”? Yeah, fine. They’ll think they’re really getting away with something, and while the gender politics aren’t my favorite, Varsity Blues (1999; HBO Max) is chaste compared to most R-rated high-school-set movies (from Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Porky’s to American Pie to Superbad and the excellent, gender-flipped Booksmart). What’s true of fictional Texas football is also true of parental movie-approving: There’s no room for fear in this game!
Two to Take a Pass On
The Blindside, in which Sandra Bullock plays the white savior of a talented Black kid in my home state of Mississippi.
Friday Night Lights, the movie, which pales in comparison to the near-perfect TV series (2006; Hulu) of the same name and source material.