30 Essential Football Movies

The best football movies capture the grit, the drama, the glory, and even the absurd comedic potential of the sport. To that tight end, we’ve huddled together the 30 Essential Football Movies, as fine a lineup of critics’ choices and fan favorites as you’ll ever see. And just in time for the 101st NFL season kickoff on September 10, when returning Super Bowl champs Kansas City Chiefs host the Houston Texans on NBC.

Filling the roster are classics synonymous with football flicks (Remember the Titans, Rudy), comedies to tackle the funny bone (The Waterboy, The Replacements), industry insiders (Jerry Maguire, Draft Day), and the inspirational tearjerkers (Brian’s Song). And it’s an-all ages club, from elementary (Little Giants), to high school (Varsity Blues), to college (We Are Marshall), and, of course, the winding road to the pros (Invincible). Whether they’re set on field, in the locker room, or in the halls, these movies capture the spirit of football in its complex glory. These movies are not ranked by Tomatometer scores, but by their stature and impact inside the arena of sports cinema. So even if some critics gave these movies a hard time, the fact that they’ve been accepted by audiences and fans as film ambassadors to the football life was the true weighing factor.

So welcome to Rotten Tomatoes’ 30 Essential Football Movies. No need to review the play on this one: We guarantee you’re seeing a big dogpile of the gridiron movie greats.

#30

The Longest Yard (2005)
31%

#30
Adjusted Score: 36.497%
Critics Consensus: This Yard has some laughs but missing from this remake is the edginess of the original.
Synopsis: One of the toughest and best-remembered sports movies of the 1970s gets a humorous makeover in this comedy. Paul "Wrecking"... [More]
Directed By: Peter Segal

#29

Woodlawn (2015)
73%

#29
Adjusted Score: 46.405%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: In 1973, a spiritual awakening captures the hearts of the Woodlawn High School Football team. Lead by their coach, Tandy... [More]
Directed By: Jon Erwin, Andrew Erwin

#28

Lucas (1986)
70%

#28
Adjusted Score: 71.142%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: Corey Haim plays 13-year-old Lucas, a bespectacled, bookish type who attracts school bullies like a magnet. Lucas befriends 16-year-old Maggie... [More]
Directed By: David Seltzer

#27

Little Giants (1994)
36%

#27
Adjusted Score: 30.227%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: A successful retired jock and his geeky younger brother play out their sibling rivalry by coaching rival little league football... [More]

#26

The Longshots (2008)
41%

#26
Adjusted Score: 43.017%
Critics Consensus: The Longshots means well, but it's a largely formulaic affair, rarely deviating from the inspirational sports movie playbook.
Synopsis: Former Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst directs Ice Cube and Keke Palmer in this battle-of-the-sexes sports comedy about a former... [More]
Directed By: Fred Durst

#25

The Replacements (2000)
41%

#25
Adjusted Score: 44.507%
Critics Consensus: The cliched characters and obvious outcome make all the fun and excitement amount to nothing.
Synopsis: The 1987 National Football League players' strike inspired this sports-themed comedy. The Washington Sentinels are one of the strongest teams... [More]
Directed By:

#24

Gridiron Gang (2006)
42%

#24
Adjusted Score: 44.977%
Critics Consensus: The role of probation officer Sean Porter fits Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson like a glove; however, the execution is so cliched, the youths' stories (based on real events), fail to inspire.
Synopsis: The true story of the football team that proved sometimes second chances can make a difference comes to the screen... [More]
Directed By: Phil Joanou

#23

The Express (2008)
62%

#23
Adjusted Score: 66.1%
Critics Consensus: The Express crosses the goal line as an inspirational sports drama, although fans of the genre will recognize many -- if not most -- of its clichés.
Synopsis: Finding Forrester star Rob Brown steps into the cleats of Heisman Trophy-winning gridiron giant Ernie Davis in director Gary Fleder's... [More]
Directed By: Gary Fleder

#22

Go Tigers! (2001)
85%

#22
Adjusted Score: 85.541%
Critics Consensus: Go Tigers! is an absorbing and evenhanded documentary that takes a perceptive look at the world of high school sports and its impact on a community.
Synopsis: A first-hand account of young athletes in the high school football-obsessed town of Massillon, OH, this first feature by director... [More]
Directed By: Kenneth A. Carlson

#21
Adjusted Score: 88.245%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: The Knute Rockne legend is largely founded on this Lloyd Bacon biography, in which Pat O'Brien stars as the sainted... [More]
Directed By: Lloyd Bacon

#20

Jerry Maguire (1996)
83%

#20
Adjusted Score: 87.647%
Critics Consensus: Anchored by dazzling performances from Tom Cruise, Cuba Gooding Jr., and Renée Zellweger, as well as Cameron Crowe's tender direction, Jerry Maguire meshes romance and sports with panache.
Synopsis: Jerry Maguire is a man who knows the score. As a top agent at Sports Management International, Jerry is unquestionably... [More]
Directed By: Cameron Crowe

#19
#19
Adjusted Score: 49.15%
Critics Consensus: The Last Boy Scout is as explosive, silly, and fun as it does represent the decline of the buddy-cop genre.
Synopsis: Producer Joel Silver, director Tony Scott, and screenwriters Shane Black and Greg Hicks team up for this gridiron-set action thriller.... [More]
Directed By: Tony Scott

#18
#18
Adjusted Score: 92.615%
Critics Consensus: Harvard Beats Yale 29-29 is compelling viewing even though it spoils the score of the titular college football matchup - and even if you aren't a fan of the sport.
Synopsis: Kevin Rafferty's documentary Harvard Beats Yale 29-29 looks at this historic 1968 matchup between those two longtime college football rivals.... [More]
Directed By: Kevin Rafferty

#17

Varsity Blues (1999)
43%

#17
Adjusted Score: 44.869%
Critics Consensus: This is a predictable football movie that lacks intensity.
Synopsis: In his 35th year as head coach, Bud Kilmer is trying to lead his West Canaan Coyotes to their 23rd... [More]
Directed By: Brian Robbins

#16

Draft Day (2014)
59%

#16
Adjusted Score: 64.967%
Critics Consensus: It's perfectly pleasant for sports buffs and Costner fans, but overall, Draft Day lives down to its title by relying too heavily on the sort of by-the-numbers storytelling that only a statistician could love.
Synopsis: On the day of the NFL Draft, general manager Sonny Weaver (Costner) has the opportunity to save football in Cleveland... [More]
Directed By: Ivan Reitman

#15

The Waterboy (1998)
34%

#15
Adjusted Score: 37.898%
Critics Consensus: This is an insult to its genre with low humor and cheap gags.
Synopsis: Despite being the constant target of gross jokes and public humiliation from the university football team players he serves, lowly... [More]
Directed By: Frank Coraci

#14

Semi-Tough (1977)
89%

#14
Adjusted Score: 89.009%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: Burt Reynolds and Kris Kristofferson star as two pro-football pals who both fall for the team-owner's very rich daughter. Kind... [More]
Directed By: Michael Ritchie

#13

The Blind Side (2009)
66%

#13
Adjusted Score: 72.534%
Critics Consensus: It might strike some viewers as a little too pat, but The Blind Side has the benefit of strong source material and a strong performance from Sandra Bullock.
Synopsis: Taken in by a well-to-do family and offered a second chance at life, a homeless teen grows to become the... [More]
Directed By: John Lee Hancock

#12

We Are Marshall (2006)
48%

#12
Adjusted Score: 51.913%
Critics Consensus: Matthew McConaughey almost runs We Are Marshall to the end zone, but can't stop it from taking the easy, feel-good route in memorializing this historic event in American sports.
Synopsis: A true story of tragedy, hope, and resilience comes to the screen in this sports drama. Huntington, WV, is home... [More]
Directed By: McG

#11

Any Given Sunday (1999)
52%

#11
Adjusted Score: 57.353%
Critics Consensus: Sometimes entertaining, but overall Any Given Sunday is a disappointment coming from Oliver Stone.
Synopsis: Life is a contact sport and football is life when three-time academy award-winning filmmaker Oliver Stone and a dynamic acting... [More]
Directed By: Oliver Stone

#10

Undefeated (2012)
96%

#10
Adjusted Score: 99.274%
Critics Consensus: It covers familiar sports documentary territory, but Undefeated proves there are still powerful stories to be told on the high school gridiron.
Synopsis: Set in the inner-city of Memphis, Undefeated chronicles the Manassas Tigers' 2009 football season, on and off-the-field, as they strive... [More]
Directed By: Dan Lindsay, T.J. Martin

#9

Invincible (2006)
72%

#9
Adjusted Score: 76.303%
Critics Consensus: As simple and authentic as the gritty South Philly invirons in which it's set in, Invincible sends a uplifting and heartfelt message packed with an athletic enthusiasm that shouldn't be missed.
Synopsis: This is the true story of Vince Papale, who became a member of the Philadelphia Eagles football team as a... [More]
Directed By: Ericson Core

#8

Heaven Can Wait (1978)
88%

#8
Adjusted Score: 91.95%
Critics Consensus: A throwback to the high-gloss screwball comedies of the 1940s, Heaven Can Wait beguiles with seamless production values and great comic relief from Charles Grodin and Dianne Cannon.
Synopsis: In this film, Warren Beatty plays pro-football-player Joe Pendleton, who is whisked to Heaven before his due date by over-eager... [More]
Directed By: Warren Beatty, Buck Henry

#7
Adjusted Score: 95.36%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: One of Harold Lloyd's best feature-length comedies, The Freshman, features the bespectacled regular guy as Harold Lamb, a naïve young... [More]
Directed By: Fred Newmeyer, Sam Taylor

#6
#6
Adjusted Score: 85.539%
Critics Consensus: Muddled overall, but perceptive and brutally realistic, North Dallas Forty also benefits from strong performances by Nick Nolte and Charles Durning. Football fans will likely find it fascinating.
Synopsis: Onetime Dallas Cowboy Peter Gent's tell-all novel about the big business of football is the source for Ted Kotcheff's film,... [More]
Directed By: Ted Kotcheff

#5

Brian's Song (1970)
92%

#5
Adjusted Score: 92.855%
Critics Consensus: Buoyed by standout performances from James Caan and Billy Dee Williams, Brian's Song is a touching tale of friendship whose central relationship transcends its standard sports movie moments.
Synopsis: This football film draws on the memoirs of Chicago Bears' Gale Sayers to depict his friendship with fellow player Brian... [More]
Directed By: Buzz Kulik

#4
#4
Adjusted Score: 86.713%
Critics Consensus: An acute survey of the football-obsessed heartland that succeeds as both a stirring drama and a rousing sports movie.
Synopsis: A drama that chronicles the entire 1988 season of the Permian High Panthers of Odessa, Texas, with football players, coaches,... [More]
Directed By: Peter Berg

#3

The Longest Yard (1974)
79%

#3
Adjusted Score: 82.334%
Critics Consensus: Equal parts tough and funny, and led by a perfectly cast Burt Reynolds, The Longest Yard has an interesting political subtext and an excellent climax -- even if it takes too long to get there.
Synopsis: Ex-football star Paul Crewe (Burt Reynolds) ends up in a prison run by sadistic sports-nut Warden Hazen (Eddie Albert). Strong-armed... [More]
Directed By: Robert Aldrich

#2
#2
Adjusted Score: 77.634%
Critics Consensus: An inspirational crowd-pleaser with a healthy dose of social commentary, Remember the Titans may be predictable, but it's also well-crafted and features terrific performances.
Synopsis: Based on actual events that took place in 1971, a white southern high school is integrated with black students from... [More]
Directed By: Boaz Yakin

#1

Rudy (1993)
78%

#1
Adjusted Score: 81.219%
Critics Consensus: Though undeniably sentimental and predictable, Rudy succeeds with an uplifting spirit and determination.
Synopsis: Since he was a little boy, Rudy Ruttinger (Sean Astin) has idolized the University of Notre Dame and its football... [More]
Directed By: David Anspaugh

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