Football is undoubtedly the world’s most popular and inspirational sport, uniting billions of fans around the globe, but finding really outstanding football films to watch can sometimes be as hit and miss as a penalty shoot-out. Too many of them are full of cliché, lack an appreciation of the game, badly acted, or, even worse, make footballers act. So, here’s our starting 11 for the best football films. (By the way, if your idea of football doesn’t involve a round ball, head over here for something that might be more to your liking).
The Damned United (2009)
Based on the book by David Pearce, Michael Sheen absolutely shines as the outspoken football manager Brian Clough. Charting his tumultuous 44 days in charge of Leeds United football, a team he was often critical about for their tough approach to the game. Not unsurprisingly Clough ends up battling his own players and the board. However, where the film is different to the book is it looks at the great friendship and partnership that Clough had with his Assistant Manager, Peter Taylor (Timothy Spall)
Director: Tom Hooper
Bend It Like Beckham (2002)
Although she’s a pretty mean girl at football, growing up in a strictly traditional family stops Jess Bhamra (Parminder Nagra) from playing in her local football team. When out practising for fun one day, her skills impress Jules Paxton (Keira Knightley), who convinces her to play for her semi-pro team. But how long can she keep her games secret from her disapproving family?
Director: Gurinda Chadha
The Firm (1989)
Clive Bissel (Gary Oldman) is a seemingly respectable estate agent. But on weekends he leads a double life as ‘Bex’ – the leader of a violent gang of football supporters known as the Inter City Firm. Controversial when first released, The Firm is now regarded as one of the finest football films on the subject of football hooliganism and still packs an almighty punch.
Director: Alan Clarke
The Miracle of Bern (2003)
After 11 years as a prisoner of war, Richard Lubanksi (Peter Lohmeyer) returns to his hometown in Germany but struggles to relate to his family after his traumatic experience. Even his young son feels more connected to a local football hero than him. But a trip to Bern to see Germany play Hungary in a ‘miraculous’ game will change everything for them.
Director: Sönke Wortmann
The Two Escobars (2010)
Although they were not related, the fates of drug kingpin Pablo Escobar and Colombian football star Andres Escobar were inextricably linked. Pablo’s drug money helped turn the national team into South American champions, but during the 1994 FIFA World Cup in the USA, Andres scored an own goal that would tragically cost him his life. The film is a fascinating portrait of football, crime and politics.
Directors: Jeff & Michael Zimbalist
Looking for Eric (2009)
Legendary Manchester United striker Eric Cantona was always a bit of an enigma, and here he even puts in a great acting performance. After Eric Bishop’s (Steve Evets) wife leaves him, his life increasingly falls apart, culminating in a car crash. But one night, he has a vision of his favourite player, Cantona, who’s going to help him get his life back on track…
Director: Ken Loach
Victory [a.k.a ‘Escape to Victory’] (1981)
A ‘football and wartime’ classic mix. Set during the Second World War, the head of a German prisoner of war camp, Karl Von Steiner (Max von Sydow), organises a football game between Nazi players and their Allied captives to push the agenda of the Third Reich. Although the Allied team see this as an opportunity to pull off a mass escape from their captors. Starring Pelé, Michael Caine, Bobby Moore and Sylvester Stallone, it’s an unapologetic ‘Boy’s own’ movie. A clever decision is to let the actors do the majority of the acting and the footballers play – although when you see a 48-year-old Michael Caine waddling around the field with professional footballers it is a little jarring.
Director: John Huston
There’s Only One Jimmy Grimble (2000)
Fifteen-year-old Manchester City fan Jimmy is addicted to sport and loves playing football in this movie – the problem is, he’s just not very good at it. To make matters worse, he’s bullied by the school’s star player, ‘Gorgeous’ Gordon. But when a mysterious old woman gives Jimmy a pair of boots that once belonged to a great City player, his football skills are magically transformed. (It’s also probably worth noting that Manchester City was not always the powerful Super-club they are today…)
Director: John Hay
With women banned from attending football matches in Iran, a group of women devise a plan to masquerade as men, so they can watch a World Cup qualifying game between Iran and Bahrain. But will they get past security? The film was inspired by the real-life experience of the director’s daughter and was banned in Iran despite being filmed there.
Director: Jafar Panahi
Diego Maradona (2019)
One of the best football and character study documentaries of all time, the film weaves its way around the turbulent career of perhaps the greatest and most-skilled footballer who ever lived, Argentina star Diego Maradona, who died last year. With no use of ‘talking heads’ and the most incredible access to archive footage the film plants you firmly in an absorbing and at times overwhelming story of Maradona’s time in Italy. I defy anyone to not be blown away by the opening scene as we zoom through the streets of Napoli, to Maradona’s unveiling at San Paolo (as it was then known) the home of S.S.C Napoli. A great film homage to one of the greatest goal snipers of all time.
Director: Asif Kapadia
Mike Bassett: England Manager (2001)
We have a real soft spot for this one. Mike Bassett (played by the loveable Ricky Tomlinson) is an old-school football manager who finds himself in charge of the England national team. Taking inspiration from An Impossible Job the fly-on-the-wall documentary that charted the difficulties of England Manager Graham Taylor, this mockumentary really goes for the jugular.
Whether it’s writing his squad selections on the back of a fag packet, arguing with fans or drunkenly dancing on a bar in his boxer shorts Mike Bassett is the wrong man in the wrong job with hilarious consequences.
We hope you like our best football movies list – do you agree with us or have your own ideas?