20 Movies to Get You Ready for Football Season

From left: Sean Astin in Rudy; Keanu Reeves in The Replacements; Scott Bakula and Sinbad in Necessary Roughness; Harold Lloyd in The Freshman with a background of a football field. Photos Courtesy: TriStar Pictures/Everett Collection; Warner Bros./Everett Collection; Herbert Dorfman/Corbis via Getty Images; Everett Collection; iStock.com/FotografieLink

Football season is here. The NFL Preseason is already underway, and College Football kicks off on August 27. That makes it the perfect time to settle in with some of the classics in the canon of great football movies. 

The movies on this list are full of drama and comedy. Underdogs win the big one and favorites fall. There are movies on here that were critically acclaimed and others that were panned, but what they all have in common is a reverence for — and, sometimes, a little bit of a sense of humor about — the gridiron. 

Any Given Sunday (1999)

From left: Jamie Foxx, Al Pacino and Dennis Quaid in Any Given Sunday. Photo Courtesy: Warner Bros./Everett Collection

Any Given Sunday — currently streaming on Hulu — is the gold standard of football movies. Lots of football movies have great action; lots of movies have sports-related drama; and lots of these movies have meaningful drama beyond the gridiron. Any Given Sunday is one of the few that puts all of these things together. You could also argue that it’s the last great film by director Oliver Stone.

In addition to being an excellent film, it also captures the dark side of the big business that is the National Football League (NFL) while still feeling, in many ways, like a celebration of the sport. There’s a reason Al Pacino’s big speech — “The inches we need are everywhere around us!” — gets played on jumbotrons at sporting events all over the country over 20 years later. 

Varsity Blues (1999)

James Van Der Beek (left) and Paul Walker in Varsity Blues. Photo Courtesy: Deana Newcomb/Paramount Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

Varsity Blues, which was made by MTV Productions in 1999, was a hit when it came out in a very MTV kind of way. The soundtrack featured hits by ‘90s legends like Green Day, Collective Soul, Third Eye Blind and — most famously — Foo Fighters, with the band’s hit song “My Hero” fitting right in with the movie’s triumphant moments. 

As a movie though, it’s held up remarkably well. The football scenes are exciting, and the whole production is a who’s who of young Hollywood stars of the late ‘90s. It features early roles for Paul Walker, Ali Larter and James Van Der Beek, who was still at the height of his Dawson’s Creek TV stardom. And the bad guy is Jon Voight in one of his most despicable and over-the-top roles in a career that’s full of them. It’s streaming on Paramount+, and it’s very much worth your time.

All the Right Moves (1983)

Tom Cruise (center, #33) in All the Right Moves. Photo Courtesy: 20th Century Fox Film Corp./Everett Collection

All the Right Moves was one of the early breakout performances by Tom Cruise in the ‘80s. It’s streaming on Starz. It gets a lot less attention than Risky Business, which came out the same year, but shows Cruise at his most charismatic nonetheless. He plays a high school defensive back who’s trying to get a college scholarship, but finds himself blackballed by his coach (Craig T. Nelson, who would go on to star as a football coach on the hit sitcom Coach in 1989). 

The movie definitely capitalizes on the cultural popularity and ubiquity of high school football in the U.S. It’s immediately understood that football is at the center of what happens in the small Pennsylvania town where it’s set — and it’s also immediately clear that football might be the only way out for Cruise’s Stefen Djordjevic if he doesn’t want to spend the rest of his life working at the local mill.  

North Dallas Forty (1979)

Nick Nolte (left) and Cliff Frazier in North Dallas Forty. Photo Courtesy: Paramount/Everett Collection

One of the more adult films on this list, North Dallas Forty stars Nick Nolte as a past-his-prime wide receiver for the North Dallas Bulls, who seem to be a kind of proxy for the Dallas Cowboys of the real NFL. Similar to Any Given Sunday, it somehow manages to celebrate the sport in some ways while also chronicling the darker side of the business.

The film — it’s currently streaming on HBO Max — was directed by Ted Kotcheff, who made other classic films like First Blood and Weekend at Bernie’s, so you know you’re in good hands. But the star of the show is Nolte, who would go on to portray the darker side of college basketball 15 years later in another classic sports movie: Blue Chips.  

Horse Feathers (1932) 

From left: Groucho Marx, Zeppo Marx, Chico Marx and Harpo Marx in Horse Feathers. Photo Courtesy: Everett Collection

I’m not sure whether the Marx Brothers are your cup of tea, but I had to include this movie on the list. It features what ESPN literally referred to as the best scene in the history of football movies back in 2008. That scene is the climax of the movie, and it includes a hidden ball trick and a “horse-led garbage-can-turned-chariot.” 

Unfortunately, Horse Feathers isn’t currently streaming anywhere officially, but if you poke around on the internet it’s not too hard to find. Next time you find yourself looking forward to some big rivalry game, throw it on and laugh at the ridiculousness in the big game between fictional colleges Darwin and Huxley. Some comedy just never gets old. 

Remember the Titans (2000)

Will Patton (left) and Denzel Washington in Remember the Titans. Photo Courtesy: Everett Collection

We go from the slapstick hilarity of Horse Feathers to the sweet-bordering-on-saccharine drama of Disney’s 2000 hit, Remember the Titans. It tells the story of real-life coach Herman Boone (Denzel Washington) and his work integrating a high school football team in Virginia in 1971. 

It’s mostly just a feel good movie with lots of inspirational speeches and heartfelt moments. It’s an optimistic vision of racial harmony — a look at what sports, at their best, can do for groups of people who might not otherwise get along. The team even practices at Gettysburg College, and Boone delivers an emotional speech at Gettysburg National Cemetery to really drive the point home. But for all the drama, this is a football movie at its core, and it’s definitely one of the best ones out there.

Heaven Can Wait (1978)

Dick Enberg (left) and Warren Beatty in Heaven Can Wait. Photo Courtesy: Everett Collection

Heaven Can Wait is probably the most critically lauded film on this list. It was nominated for nine Academy Awards back in 1979 — though the only one it won was for Art Direction. The film was directed by Warren Beatty and Buck Henry, both of whom appear in the film — Beatty as quarterback Joe Pendleton, the movie’s main character.

The premise is quite ingenious. A guardian angel known as The Escort (Buck Henry) messes up and plucks Joe from Earth under the mistaken belief that he’s about to die in a car accident. When he realizes he was mistaken, they have to find a way to get Joe a new body. Things progress from there; somehow this is not even the strangest thing that happens in the movie. Let’s just say you need to see it; it’s currently streaming on Paramount+, and it’s an absolute classic.

The Longest Yard (1974)

Burt Reynolds (left) and James Hampton in The Longest Yard. Photo Courtesy: Everett Collection

It’s always fun when a football movie lets you spend a significant amount of time in the context of a single game, and that’s definitely the case in The Longest Yard. The movie, which is currently streaming on Paramount+, stars Burt Reynolds as Paul “Wrecking” Crewe, a former pro quarterback who ends up having to spend 18 months in prison after stealing his ex-girlfriend’s car and being chased by the police. 

Once he’s in prison, he gets roped into putting together a team of inmates to play an exhibition game against a team of guards. His team, the “Mean Machine,” gets off to a good start, but in the midst of the game, Crewe is blackmailed by the warden into throwing the game, and things really take off from there. The combo of a prison movie and a football movie just works — the movie was a classic, and ended up getting remade over 30 years later by Adam Sandler in 2005. 

Jerry Maguire (1996) 

Cuba Gooding Jr. in Jerry Maguire. Photo Courtesy: Andrew Cooper/TriStar Pictures/Everett Collection

Like Heaven Can Wait, Cameron Crowe’s 1996 hit Jerry Maguire, available to stream on Fubo TV, is the rare sports-adjacent movie to get attention from the Academy. It stars Tom Cruise as the titular Jerry, a sports agent, and Cuba Gooding Jr. as his client, an NFL wide receiver named Rod Tidwell. But it’s also a romantic comedy between Cruise and Renée Zellweger’s Dorothy, who quits her job to help Jerry start his own agency.

The film was nominated for five Oscars, and Cuba Gooding Jr. won Best Supporting Actor for his performance as Tidwell. Beyond the romance between Cruise and Zellweger — most famous for Zellweger’s delivery of the line, “You had me at hello” — the movie got a ton of attention for Gooding Jr.’s performance. His repeated line, “Show me the Money!” was a real moment in the history of ‘90s movies. 

The Freshman (1925)

Harold Lloyd in The Freshman. Photo Courtesy: Herbert Dorfman/Corbis via Getty Images

One of the classic films of the silent era, Harold Lloyd’s The Freshman is really a classic football movie in the way it anticipates so many of the other movies on this list. Harold Lloyd thinks that making the college football team will be the thing that makes him popular, and he spends the movie learning the lesson that what’s really important is to be yourself. Of course, in the end, he ends up saving the day during the big game, too. 

It’s also just a really funny movie, with some classic football gags. For example, when Harold breaks the school’s tackling dummy, the coach decides to just use Harold in its place. And if you’ve never watched a Harold Lloyd movie — this one is streaming on HBO Max — it’s really worth checking one out to see his hilarious brand of physical comedy. What better vehicle for that than a football movie?

The Replacements (2000)

Gene Hackman (left) and Keanu Reeves in The Replacements. Photo Courtesy: Warner Bros./Everett Collection

I thought about putting Keanu Reeves’ classic surfing movie, Point Break, on this list since Reeves plays an ex-QB in that one and even plays some football on a beach. But that’s not really a football movie, and this one is. The Replacements, which is streaming on HBO Max, features Reeves as Shane Falco, a former college quarterback who gets a second chance by stepping in as a replacement player during a player’s strike.

Despite the questionable premise of building a movie around the idea of replacement players undermining a labor strike, The Replacements is — I have to admit — a pretty fun football movie. Also, if you’re a fan of film history, it was one of the final films of Gene Hackman’s career and the final film of the legendary character actor Jack Warden, who appeared earlier on this list in Heaven Can Wait

Gridiron Gang (2006)

Dwayne Johnson (center right) in Gridiron Gang. Photo Courtesy: Columbia/Everett Collection

Dwyane Johnson probably gets the honor of being the best actual football player to appear as a major actor in one of these movies. Though he was mostly a backup at the University of Miami, he was a backup to truly great football players like Warren Sapp, and his team did win a National Championship in 1991. 

Gridiron Gang tells the partially true story of the Kilpatrick Mustangs, a football team run by a juvenile detention camp as a way to give the kids at the facility something to feel good about. From there, it’s your usual fare of a bunch of conflicts leading up to a big game that the good guys miraculously pull out at the very end. Heartwarming stuff. In all seriousness though, it’s notable for being the first time Johnson really let his former football player self come out on the big screen. You can watch it on HBO Max.

The Waterboy (1998)

Henry Winkler (left) and Adam Sandler in The Waterboy. Photo Courtesy: Buena Vista/Everett Collection

There are definitely more dramas than comedies in the canon of all-time great football movies, but The Waterboy is proof that the formula works for jokes as well as it does for chills. It’s also one of the classic Adam Sandler comedies of the ‘90s, full of weird voices and toilet humor. I mean that in the most loving way possible. 

In the movie, which you can watch for free on Tubi, Sandler plays Bobby Boucher, a man who sort of resists description. Suffice to say, he’s a 31-year-old man hanging around as the waterboy for the University of Louisiana football team. In the midst of a flashback about all the bullying he’s suffered over the years, Bobby viciously tackles the quarterback during practice one day, and the coach (Henry Winkler) realizes he might have something. It’s a charming movie, and it’s truly hilarious.

Friday Night Lights (2004)

Billy Bob Thornton (left) and Garrett Hedlund in Friday Night Lights. Photo Courtesy: Universal/Everett Collection

The movie that sparked everybody’s favorite TV show of the past couple of decades, Friday Night Lights holds up pretty darn well in the football movie pantheon itself. Based on Buzz Bissinger’s 1990 book Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream, it captures the outsized influence of high school football in Texas while also being just a really engrossing sports drama.

Like the TV show, the center of the movie is that a great Texas high school football team loses its star quarterback to a knee injury, but perseveres under the leadership of his backup anyway. In the end, the vast popularity of the TV show can’t help but overshadow the movie, but it’s really a great film — one of the best movies on this list. You can stream it on Starz if you want to find out what all the fuss was about.

Necessary Roughness (1991)

Scott Bakula (left) and Sinbad in Necessary Roughness. Photo Courtesy: Everett Collection

The ‘90s: a glorious time when football movies were all the rage and Scott Bakula and Sinbad were both major Hollywood movie stars. In Necessary Roughness — currently streaming on Paramount+ — Bakula plays Paul Blake, a 34-year-old former high school football star who never went to college. He’s convinced to enroll in the program at  the down-on-its-luck Texas State University — a once-elite program going through some lean years. Sinbad plays Andre Krimm, a graduate assistant with a little bit of eligibility remaining.

You’re not going to believe this, but the Fightin’ Armadillos of Texas State do manage to win the big game when it’s all said and done. What’s so fun about the movie is the hodgepodge of secondary stories and minor characters. Kathy Ireland plays Lucy Draper, a women’s soccer player who becomes the Armadillos’ kicker. And the movie features Jason Bateman in his second major film role (after, of course, Teen Wolf Too). 

We Are Marshall (2006)

Matthew McConaughey (left) and Matthew Fox in We Are Marshall. Photo Courtesy: Warner Bros./Everett Collection

We Are Marshall is the heartbreaking — but inspiring — story of how the Marshall football program recovered after losing 75 people associated with the team (37 players) in a plane crash in 1970. Matthew McConaughey plays Jack Lengyel, the coach who’s brought in to pick up the pieces, and Matthew Fox plays William “Red” Dawson, who was one of the surviving members of the coaching staff who hadn’t been on the plane.

The film chronicles the struggles of the subsequent games for the Marshall Thundering Herd (one of the great nicknames in team sports, as far as I’m concerned), before culminating in a triumphant win that really brings all the feelings of loss to a head. It’s an incredibly emotional movie — and it’s available for streaming on Netflix and HBO Max if you want to give it a watch. 

Knute Rockne, All American (1940)

Pat O’Brien (center) in Knute Rockne, All American. Photo Courtesy: Everett Collection

We’re shouting out yet another of the old classics here with Knute Rockne, All American — streaming on Tubi — a movie about the legendary player and coach of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. The movie is a pretty straightforward biopic, but includes a nod to the advent of the forward pass, among other important items of historical football lore. 

More than that, it’s famous for its portrayal of Notre Dame halfback George Gipp by none other than former American president Ronald Reagan. That portrayal includes the famous deathbed scene, in which Gipp, dying of a fatal illness, tells Rockne to tell the team to “win one for the Gipper.” 

Draft Day (2014)

Chadwick Boseman in Draft Day. Photo Courtesy: Dale Robinette/Summit Entertainment/Everett Collection

In one of his first film roles, the late Chadwick Boseman played Vontae Mack in Draft Day, a movie that capitalizes on the strange success of the NFL Draft as a television event. It’s hard to explain this movie without getting lost in the weeds of how the NFL Draft works, complete with analysis of the trade value of various first-round picks. We’re going to eschew that here, because the movie works whether you know about all that stuff or not.

It works because it humanizes the people involved with the Draft. We’re so used to thinking of athletes — especially NFL athletes — as commodities. This movie helps us remember that these guys are real people. Of course, it also works because it stars sports movie legend Kevin Costner. Anyway, whether you like football or not, Draft Day, which is available on lots of video on demand services, is a fun watch. 

Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994)

Jim Carrey in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. Photo Courtesy: Warner Bros./Everett Collection

Remember when I said that Dwayne Johnson was the best actual football player to have a big role in one of these movies? Well, I was wrong, because Ace Ventura: Pet Detective prominently features all-time great NFL quarterback Dan Marino…as himself. This hilarious Jim Carrey comedy has a great premise: somebody kidnaps the Miami Dolphins’ mascot, an actual dolphin named Snowflake.

Later, the Dolphins’ quarterback, Dan Marino, gets kidnapped too. And the only person who can solve the crime? Ace Ventura, a guy who does a special voice while pretending to talk out of his butt. It’s a profoundly flawed and stupid movie (that you can watch via lots of video on demand services), but I have to admit it still cracks me up after all these years, and Ace’s love for animals never fails to make me smile. 

Rudy (1993)

Robert Prosky (left) and Sean Astin in Rudy. Photo Courtesy: TriStar Pictures/Everett Collection

And last, but not least, we have Rudy — possibly the best football movie ever, even though the main character barely ever gets to play football. Based on real life, Rudy — now streaming on Starz — is the story of Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger. Rudy grows up worshiping the Notre Dame football team — he even spends time memorizing and acting out the aforementioned “win one for the Gipper” speech from Knute Rockne, All American

His only goal in life is to play football at Notre Dame, and through an absurd amount of perseverance, for one shining moment he gets to do just that. Rudy is really the quintessential football movie because it’s a movie about loving football. One of the most charming things about it is that we never even really understand why Rudy loves it so much — he just does, and we believe him. That kind of pure joy is the fuel that powers any good sports movie, and it’s a huge part of why we love them so much.