So you want to do what JaMarcus Russell and Johnny Manziel never did: study football film. You’ve got the drive to learn from the decisive plays, watch those game-clinching throws, and witness them beastly runs that can get a roaring stadium crowd up on their feet and register on the Richter scale.
It’s a good thing we got the best football movies right here that’ll make you a pro, and you won’t even need a sports agent or that distracting multi-million dollar contract.
First, throw away your scout reports, QB ratings, and ELOs (we’re not talking about Jeff Lynne LPs). To create our list of the best football movies, we use just one metric: the Tomatometer. We start with Certified Fresh films like Friday Night Lights, Jerry Maguire, and ultimate underdog story Rudy, all majorly approved by the critics.
Then we follow those up with Fresh movies, which include enduring favorites like crowd-pleasing Remember the Titans, tearjerker Brian’s Song, and Academy Award-winning The Blind Side.
Then come the Rotten movies, which plenty of RT users have given the go-ahead with positive Audience Scores. (Alright, we’ll come out and say it: A majority of critics may not have played ball at the collegiate level.) They include popular picks like Any Given Sunday, We Are Marshall, The Waterboy, and Varsity Blues.
So if you want to know from your Xs and Os and Y.A. Tittles, open up the playbook to the best football movies of all time, ranked by Tomatometer. And soon you’ll get to the Hall of Fame without ever having to step foot in Canton.
#1 Undefeated (2011)
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 game. In 2004, former high-school coach Bill Courtney offers to help turn the Manassas Tigers around. Nurturing his players' physical and emotional strengths, Courtney's efforts pay off in 2009, when the Tigers, led by their star player O.C., seem to have a chance to break their school's 110-year losing streak and finally win a playoff game.
Starring: Bill Courtney
#2 Heaven Can Wait (1978)
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 discovers that his guardian angel (Buck Henry) has taken him from his body prematurely, and he is due many more years on earth. Unable to return to his body, Joe assumes the form of greedy multimillionaire industrialist Leo Farnsworth. As Farnsworth, Joe attempts a return to football and falls in love with environmental activist Betty Logan (Julie Christie).
#3 Go Tigers! (2001)
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 out in a small town that draws its identity from football. During the course of the season, three young stars emerge who are forced to carry the burden of the town and their teammates as they confront their uncertain future. The film was shot on location in Ohio on High Definition video.
Directed By: Kenneth A. Carlson
#4 Jerry Maguire (1996)
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 promptly gets him fired. Desperate to hang on to the athletes that he represents, Jerry starts his own management firm, with only single mother Dorothy Boyd (Renee Zellweger) joining him in his new venture. Banking on their sole client, football player Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding Jr.), Jerry and Dorothy begin to fall in love as they struggle to make their business work.
Directed By: Cameron Crowe
#5 Friday Night Lights (2004)
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 tailback, Boobie Miles (Derek Luke), is seriously injured during the first game of the season, all hope is lost, and the town's dormant social problems begin to flare up. It is left to the inspiring abilities of new coach Gary Gaines (Billy Bob Thornton) to instill in the other team members -- and, by proxy, the town itself -- a sense of self-respect and honor.
Directed By: Peter Berg
#6 Safety (2020)
Critics Consensus: Fans of uplifting sports dramas will find Safety in this skillfully told fact-based story about an athlete overcoming adversity.
Synopsis: “Safety” is a drama inspired by the empowering story of former Clemson University football safety Ray McElrathbey (Jay Reeves), a young man facing a series of challenging circumstances, whose dedication and persistence help him to triumph over repeated adversities. Aided by his teammates and the Clemson community, he succeeds on the field while simultaneously raising and caring for his 11-year-old brother Fahmarr (Thaddeus J. Mixson).
Directed By: Reginald Hudlin
#7 Rudy (1993)
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 tuition nor the grades to qualify for a scholarship. Rudy redoubles his efforts to get out of the steel mill where his father works when his best friend (Christopher Reed) dies in an accident there. Overcoming his dyslexia thanks to his friend and tutor, D-Bob (Jon Favreau), Rudy gains admission to Notre Dame and begins to fight his way onto the school's fabled football team.
Directed By: David Anspaugh
#8 American Underdog (2021)
Critics Consensus: American Underdog sticks to the standard inspirational sports drama playbook -- and proves once again that it can be very effective in the right hands.
Synopsis: American Underdog tells the inspirational true story of Kurt Warner (Zachary Levi), who went from a stockboy at a grocery store to a two-time NFL MVP, Super Bowl champion, and Hall of Fame quarterback. The film centers on Warner's unique story and years of challenges and setbacks that could have derailed his aspirations to become an NFL player -- but just when his dreams seemed all but out of reach, it is only with the support of his wife, Brenda (Anna Paquin) and the encouragement of his family, coaches, and teammates that Warner perseveres and finds the strength to show the world the champion that he already is. American Underdog is an uplifting story that demonstrates that anything is possible when you have faith, family and determination.
#9 The Freshman (1925)
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 his eccentric personality, he becomes the joke of the school. His fellow students convince Harold that he is popular but laugh at him behind his back, telling him that he is a player on the football team when he is actually the waterboy. Only his friend Peggy (Jobyna Ralston) knows that, to be happy, Harold must accept himself for who he really is.
#10 Harvard Beats Yale 29-29 (2008)
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 Yale led 29-13 with 42 seconds left on the clock.
Directed By: Kevin Rafferty