Whether you know it as soccer or football, there is no denying that The Beautiful Game is enjoying historic popularity right now. If you’re looking to be moved by a movie about the international sport, check out our list of the seven best soccer movies of all time.
Even the least enthusiast sports fans among us have likely heard of Pele, widely regarded as one of the best players of all time. Pele: Birth of a Legend attempts to portray the man before he was a man, following him primarily during his teenage years in the slums of Bauru, Brazil. While the movie was panned by many critics for its cliched themes and whitewashing of some of the story, it is nonetheless worth watching if you want to see how the greatest player came to be.
Also known as just Goal!, this fictional film is everything the real life biopics on this list wish they could be. It follows Santiago Muñez, the son of an illegal immigrant living in a poor barrio of Los Angeles. He must balance his duty to his family and help earn money to support them with his dream to play soccer. His father, while sympathetic, must make difficult choices both for and against young Santiago’s dream. If you want to shed a tear or two and leave feeling inspired, this one’s for you.
Part of ESPN’s 30 for 30 series, The Two Escobars tells the true story of drug kingpin Pablo Escobar and beloved footballer Andrés Escobar (no relation). The film mostly centers around the 1994 World Cup run, during which Andrés accidentally knocked the ball into his own goal, costing them the match. He was subsequently murdered, most likely due to the error. With several twists and turns, this is an interesting watch for anybody wanting to understand both soccer and Colombian drug cartel culture.
Escape to Victory set the standard for prison sports movies back in 1981. Essentially The Longest Yard set in a German POW camp, this flick walks a fine line between capturing the dreary mood of World War II Germany while still maintaining some semblance of a sense of humor and storytelling. It features both Hollywood stars like Michael Caine and Max von Sydow as well as soccer greats such as Pele, Bobby Moore and Osvaldo Ardiles. Chances are, if you are a fan of soccer movies you have likely already seen this period piece, but it bears a second viewing.
Many films attempt to capture the hooliganism surrounding soccer, but few do it as well or as rawly as 1988’s The Firm. Starring Gary Oldman, this movie follows the Inner City Crew, a hooligan firm of West Ham United during the 1970s and 1980s. Offering an unflinching look and featuring sex, violence, alcohol, and a lot of rough language, this film is not for children nor the faint of heart. Check out the 2009 remake for an updated perspective.
Probably the most well-known and commercially successful movie on this list, Bend it Like Beckham achieved critical and audience acclaim upon release in 2002, inspiring a stage musical version which opened in 2015. A much more lighthearted look at the sport, this film follows a young Sikh girl who wishes to play soccer against her parents’ objections due to her gender. Don’t let the lightheartedness and broad appeal fool you though, this is a darn good soccer flick which tackles difficult themes in an accessible way.
Forget about soccer movies, The Damned United is one of the best sports movies–period. Adapted from the semi-biographical book of the same name by David Peace, this film follows Brian Clough’s controversial and turbulent period as the manager of Leeds United during 1974. Starring Michael Sheen as Clough, it delves into the struggles he had trying to take over for the team. Sheen’s portrayal is nothing short of brilliant, and the look into this chapter in soccer history is a must see for any sports fan.
(Image courtesy StefSince1985 via Flickr.)