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.

#30
#30
Adjusted Score: 16098%
Critics Consensus: The tropes of both football and evangelical movies are gracelessly on parade in this banal, insipid drama.
Synopsis: A Christian high-school football coach (Alex Kendrick) inspires the players on his losing team through his steadfast belief in God.... [More]
Directed By: Alex Kendrick

#29

Lucas (1986)
71%

#29
Adjusted Score: 72702%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: School bullies pick on a scrawny 14-year-old (Corey Haim) in front of his 16-year-old summer dream-girl (Kerri Green).... [More]
Directed By: David Seltzer

#28

Go Tigers! (2001)
85%

#28
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: During the course of a football season in Massillon, Ohio, three young stars emerge when they are forced to carry... [More]
Starring:
Directed By: Kenneth A. Carlson

#27
#27
Adjusted Score: 92816%
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]
Starring:
Directed By: Kevin Rafferty

#26

The Longshots (2008)
41%

#26
Adjusted Score: 42393%
Critics Consensus: The Longshots means well, but it's a largely formulaic affair, rarely deviating from the inspirational sports movie playbook.
Synopsis: Under her uncle's (Ice Cube) tutelage, young Jasmine Plummer (Keke Palmer) becomes the quarterback of a Pop Warner football team... [More]
Directed By: Fred Durst

#25

Little Giants (1994)
36%

#25
Adjusted Score: 35537%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: A man (Rick Moranis) leads a group of misfits into competition against his brother's (Ed O'Neill) successful youth football team.... [More]
Directed By: Duwayne Dunham

#24

The Replacements (2000)
41%

#24
Adjusted Score: 44311%
Critics Consensus: The cliched characters and obvious outcome make all the fun and excitement amount to nothing.
Synopsis: A football coach (Gene Hackman) and his team's owner recruit a ragtag band of has-beens and wannabes after failed negotiations... [More]
Directed By: Howard Deutch

#23

The Longest Yard (2005)
31%

#23
Adjusted Score: 37178%
Critics Consensus: This Yard has some laughs but missing from this remake is the edginess of the original.
Synopsis: At a Texas penitentiary, jailed NFL veterans (Adam Sandler, Burt Reynolds) train their fellow inmates for a football game against... [More]
Directed By: Peter Segal

#22
#22
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: An ex-Secret Service agent (Bruce Willis) plays private eye with an ex-quarterback (Damon Wayans) on a case of sports gambling... [More]
Directed By: Tony Scott

#21

School Ties (1992)
60%

#21
Adjusted Score: 63457%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: A scholarship student (Brendan Fraser) hides his Jewish heritage to fit in at an Eastern prep school in the mid-1950s.... [More]
Directed By: Robert Mandel

#20

Heaven Can Wait (1978)
88%

#20
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: Heavenly executive Mr. Jordan allows an angry quarterback (Warren Beatty), taken before his time, to return to Earth as a... [More]
Directed By: Warren Beatty, Buck Henry

#19

The Freshman (1925)
94%

#19
Adjusted Score: 94702%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: Although he is the butt of jokes, Harold Lamb (Harold Lloyd) helps win Tate College's big football game.... [More]
Directed By: Sam Taylor, Fred Newmeyer

#18

Draft Day (2014)
60%

#18
Adjusted Score: 66587%
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, the general manager (Kevin Costner) of the Cleveland Browns must decide what he's... [More]
Directed By: Ivan Reitman

#17

Semi-Tough (1977)
82%

#17
Adjusted Score: 81432%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: Two pro-football buddies (Burt Reynolds, Kris Kristofferson) love the team owner's daughter (Jill Clayburgh), their longtime mutual friend.... [More]
Directed By: Michael Ritchie

#16

Invincible (2006)
72%

#16
Adjusted Score: 76975%
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: At 30 years old, bartender Vince Papale (Mark Wahlberg) sees his wildest dreams come true when he becomes a member... [More]
Directed By: Ericson Core

#15
#15
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: The fast life begins to take its toll on two fun-loving but aging football players. Based on Peter Gent's novel.... [More]
Directed By: Ted Kotcheff

#14

The Waterboy (1998)
34%

#14
Adjusted Score: 38670%
Critics Consensus: This is an insult to its genre with low humor and cheap gags.
Synopsis: A water boy's (Adam Sandler) temper tantrums spur an addled football coach (Henry Winkler) to sign him on as defensive... [More]
Directed By: Frank Coraci

#13

The Express (2008)
62%

#13
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: Under the guidance of Syracuse University football coach Ben Schwartzwalder, Ernie Davis overcomes poverty and prejudice to become the first... [More]
Directed By: Gary Fleder

#12

Gridiron Gang (2006)
42%

#12
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 turns a group of young criminals into a football team to... [More]
Directed By: Phil Joanou

#11

Undefeated (2011)
96%

#11
Adjusted Score: 100110%
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: With the help and encouragement of their new coach, the Manassas Tigers from Tennessee strive to win the first playoff... [More]
Starring: Bill Courtney
Directed By: Dan Lindsay, T.J. Martin

#10

The Longest Yard (1974)
79%

#10
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: A warden (Eddie Albert) forces an ex-football star (Burt Reynolds) to lead fellow inmates in a game against the guards.... [More]
Directed By: Robert Aldrich

#9

Varsity Blues (1999)
43%

#9
Adjusted Score: 44222%
Critics Consensus: This is a predictable football movie that lacks intensity.
Synopsis: When the star quarterback (Paul Walker) is injured, a rigid high-school football coach (Jon Voight) expects an irreverent player (James... [More]
Directed By: Brian Robbins

#8

Any Given Sunday (1999)
52%

#8
Adjusted Score: 58131%
Critics Consensus: Sometimes entertaining, but overall Any Given Sunday is a disappointment coming from Oliver Stone.
Synopsis: A football head coach (Al Pacino) and an aging quarterback (Dennis Quaid) clash with the new, contemporary, money-oriented owner (Cameron... [More]
Directed By: Oliver Stone

#7

We Are Marshall (2006)
48%

#7
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: Jack Lengyel, the new coach at West Virginia's Marshall University, vows to rebuild the school's football program after a plane... [More]
Directed By: McG

#6

Jerry Maguire (1996)
84%

#6
Adjusted Score: 88894%
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: A Los Angeles sports agent (Tom Cruise) finds love with a pretty accountant (Renee Zellweger) after an attack of conscience... [More]
Directed By: Cameron Crowe

#5

The Blind Side (2009)
66%

#5
Adjusted Score: 73421%
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: A well-to-do white family (Sandra Bullock, Tim McGraw) takes in a homeless black teen and helps him realize his potential... [More]
Directed By: John Lee Hancock

#4

Brian's Song (1971)
92%

#4
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: Chicago Bears rookie Gale Sayers (Billy Dee Williams) forms a bond with running back Brian Piccolo (James Caan), dying of... [More]
Directed By: Buzz Kulik

#3
#3
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 high-school football coach (Billy Bob Thornton) in Odessa, Texas, tries to lead his players (Derek Luke, Jay Hernandez) to... [More]
Directed By: Peter Berg

#2
#2
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: A Virginia high school hires a black football coach (Denzel Washington) after undergoing integration in 1971.... [More]
Directed By: Boaz Yakin

#1

Rudy (1993)
78%

#1
Adjusted Score: 82174%
Critics Consensus: Though undeniably sentimental and predictable, Rudy succeeds with an uplifting spirit and determination.
Synopsis: With heart and determination an Illinois youth (Sean Astin) tackles shortcomings to play Notre Dame football.... [More]
Directed By: David Anspaugh

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