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.

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.

Adjusted Score: 16098%
Critics Consensus: The tropes of both football and evangelical movies are gracelessly on parade in this banal, insipid drama.
Synopsis: Grant Taylor, a Christian high-school football coach (Alex Kendrick), gets some very bad news. Besides his and his wife's (Shannen... [More]
Directed By: Alex Kendrick


Lucas (1986)

Adjusted Score: 72702%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: Lucas (Corey Haim) is an unusually bright teenager whose nerdy looks and meek demeanor make him a favorite target for... [More]
Directed By: David Seltzer


Go Tigers! (2001)

Adjusted Score: 85799%
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: "Go Tigers!" is a rare behind-the-scenes chronicling of a remarkable season for the Massillon Tiger's high school football team, played... [More]
Directed By: Kenneth A. Carlson

Adjusted Score: 92814%
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: In November 1968, undefeated Ivy League football teams from Harvard and Yale square off in a historic game in which... [More]
Directed By: Kevin Rafferty


The Longshots (2008)

Adjusted Score: 42389%
Critics Consensus: The Longshots means well, but it's a largely formulaic affair, rarely deviating from the inspirational sports movie playbook.
Synopsis: Curtis Plummer (Ice Cube), a down-on-his-luck former football player, becomes the new coach of the Minden, Illinois, Pop Warner football... [More]
Directed By: Fred Durst


Little Giants (1994)

Adjusted Score: 35537%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: Ever since childhood, nerdy Danny O'Shea (Rick Moranis) has felt inferior to his brother, Kevin (Ed O'Neill), a former college... [More]
Directed By: Duwayne Dunham


The Replacements (2000)

Adjusted Score: 44311%
Critics Consensus: The cliched characters and obvious outcome make all the fun and excitement amount to nothing.
Synopsis: It's late in the season; the playoffs are fast approaching; and the Washington Sentinels have just gone on strike. Scrambling... [More]
Directed By: Howard Deutch


The Longest Yard (2005)

Adjusted Score: 37178%
Critics Consensus: This Yard has some laughs but missing from this remake is the edginess of the original.
Synopsis: Disgraced pro football quarterback Paul Crewe (Adam Sandler) lands in jail, where manipulative Warden Hazen (James Cromwell) recruits him to... [More]
Directed By: Peter Segal

Adjusted Score: 47691%
Critics Consensus: The Last Boy Scout is as explosive, silly, and fun as it does represent the decline of the buddy-cop genre.
Synopsis: Once a first-rate Secret Service agent, Joe Hallenbeck (Bruce Willis) is now a gruff private investigator whose latest gig is... [More]
Directed By: Tony Scott


School Ties (1992)

Adjusted Score: 63457%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: When David Greene (Brendan Fraser) receives a football scholarship to a prestigious prep school in the 1950s, he feels pressure... [More]
Directed By: Robert Mandel


Heaven Can Wait (1978)

Adjusted Score: 92880%
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: Joe Pendleton (Warren Beatty), quarterback for the Los Angeles Rams, is killed in an auto accident. In the afterlife, Joe... [More]
Directed By: Warren Beatty, Buck Henry


The Freshman (1925)

Adjusted Score: 96045%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: In hopes of making some friends, Harold Lamb (Harold Lloyd) attends college at Tate University. But when the students notice... [More]
Directed By: Sam Taylor, Fred Newmeyer


Draft Day (2014)

Adjusted Score: 66586%
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: Sonny Weaver Jr. (Kevin Costner) is the general manager of the Cleveland Browns. One of pro football's most important days,... [More]
Directed By: Ivan Reitman


Semi-Tough (1977)

Adjusted Score: 81432%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: Billy Clyde Puckett (Burt Reynolds) and Marvin "Shake" Tiller (Kris Kristofferson) are professional football players who share a lush Miami... [More]
Directed By: Michael Ritchie


Invincible (2006)

Adjusted Score: 76967%
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: Lifelong football fan Vince Papale (Mark Wahlberg) sees his wildest dreams come true when he becomes a member of the... [More]
Directed By: Ericson Core

Adjusted Score: 85995%
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: A brutal satire of American professional football in which a veteran pass-catcher's individuality and refusal to become part of the... [More]
Directed By: Ted Kotcheff


The Waterboy (1998)

Adjusted Score: 38670%
Critics Consensus: This is an insult to its genre with low humor and cheap gags.
Synopsis: Raised by his overprotective mother, Helen (Kathy Bates), Bobby Boucher Jr. (Adam Sandler) is the water boy for a successful... [More]
Directed By: Frank Coraci


The Express (2008)

Adjusted Score: 65782%
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: Born into poverty, Ernie Davis (Rob Brown) overcomes many obstacles to get into Syracuse University's football program. Under the guidance... [More]
Directed By: Gary Fleder


Gridiron Gang (2006)

Adjusted Score: 45481%
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: A counselor (The Rock) at a juvenile detention facility decides to turn the young inmates in his charge into a... [More]
Directed By: Phil Joanou


Undefeated (2011)

Adjusted Score: 100109%
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: Since its founding in 1899, Manassas High School in North Memphis has never had a football team win a playoff... [More]
Starring: Bill Courtney
Directed By: Dan Lindsay, T.J. Martin


The Longest Yard (1974)

Adjusted Score: 82637%
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: An ex-football star doing time is forced by the warden to organize a team of inmates to play against his... [More]
Directed By: Robert Aldrich


Varsity Blues (1999)

Adjusted Score: 44222%
Critics Consensus: This is a predictable football movie that lacks intensity.
Synopsis: In West Canaan, Texas, high school football reigns supreme. When starting quarterback Lance Harbor (Paul Walker) turns up injured, the... [More]
Directed By: Brian Robbins


Any Given Sunday (1999)

Adjusted Score: 58131%
Critics Consensus: Sometimes entertaining, but overall Any Given Sunday is a disappointment coming from Oliver Stone.
Synopsis: Four years ago, DAmato's (Al Pacino) Miami Sharks were at the top. Now, his team is struggling with three consecutive... [More]
Directed By: Oliver Stone


We Are Marshall (2006)

Adjusted Score: 52536%
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: In 1970, Marshall University and the small town of Huntington, W.Va., reel when a plane crash claims the lives of... [More]
Directed By: McG


Jerry Maguire (1996)

Adjusted Score: 88907%
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: When slick sports agent Jerry Maguire (Tom Cruise) has a crisis of conscience, he pens a heartfelt company-wide memo that... [More]
Directed By: Cameron Crowe


The Blind Side (2009)

Adjusted Score: 73428%
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: Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron), a homeless black teen, has drifted in and out of the school system for years. Then... [More]
Directed By: John Lee Hancock


Brian's Song (1971)

Adjusted Score: 93162%
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: Brian Piccolo (James Caan) and Gale Sayers (Billy Dee Williams) are teammates on the mid-1960s Chicago Bears. At a time... [More]
Directed By: Buzz Kulik

Adjusted Score: 86344%
Critics Consensus: An acute survey of the football-obsessed heartland that succeeds as both a stirring drama and a rousing sports movie.
Synopsis: A small, turbulent town in Texas obsesses over their high school football team to an unhealthy degree. When the star... [More]
Directed By: Peter Berg

Adjusted Score: 77639%
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: In Virginia, high school football is a way of life, an institution revered, each game celebrated more lavishly than Christmas,... [More]
Directed By: Boaz Yakin


Rudy (1993)

Adjusted Score: 82127%
Critics Consensus: Though undeniably sentimental and predictable, Rudy succeeds with an uplifting spirit and determination.
Synopsis: Rudy Ruettiger (Sean Astin) wants to play football at the University of Notre Dame, but has neither the money for... [More]
Directed By: David Anspaugh

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