Knute Rockne, All American (1940) – Pat O’Brien portrays Rockne, the famed Notre Dame football coach, and Ronald Reagan shines as player George Gipp, aka “The Gipper,” in this beloved classic. In 1997, this film was deemed culturally, historically or aesthetically significant by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in its National Film Registry.
Paper Lion (1968) – Alan Alda stars as author George Plimpton, based on Plimpton’s 1966 nonfiction book of the same name depicting his tryout with the Detroit Lions during his days as a writer for Sports Illustrated.
Brian’s Song (1971) – This emotion packed ABC Movie of the Week recounts the details of the life of Brian Piccolo (James Caan), a Chicago Bears football player stricken with terminal cancer, and his friendship with Bears teammate Gale Sayers (Billy Dee Williams). Critics have called the movie one of the finest television films of all time, and Entertainment Weekly ranked it among the top “guy-cry” films ever made.
The Longest Yard (1974) – Directed by tough guy filmmaker Robert Aldrich (The Dirty Dozen), this film follows a former NFL player (the late, great Burt Reynolds) who ends up behind bars and recruits a group of his fellow prisoners to play football against their guards. This film has proven to be so popular that it has been re-made three times, including a 2005 version with funny man Adam Sandler.
Heaven Can Wait (1978) – This captivating comedy, a loose remake of 1941’s Here Comes Mr. Jordan, stars screen heartthrob of the 1970s Warren Beatty as Joe Pendleton, a football player who is mistakenly taken to heaven by his guardian angel and the comic misadventures that ensue. The glamorous Julie Christie plays his love interest in this favorite flick among the critics, the awards circuit and the box office.
Rudy (1993) – Director David Anspaugh and writer Angelo Pizzo, the team behind 1986’s iconic basketball film Hoosiers, work their magic again with this account of the life of Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger (portrayed by Sean Astin). In this inspirational and deeply moving film, Rudy overcomes significant obstacles to play football at the University of Notre Dame. It is impossible not to jump up and cheer during this film’s final scenes.
Jerry Maguire (1996) – In one of his best roles, Tom Cruise shines in the title role as a driven and self-absorbed sports agent who finds redemption in true love. Written, produced and directed by Cameron Crowe (Say Anything, Vanilla Sky) with co-stars Cuba Gooding Jr. (who claimed an Oscar for his performance) and the luminous Renée Zellweger.
The Waterboy (1998) – As the 31-year-old water boy of the University of Louisiana football program, Adam Sandler has one of his best roles and is surrounded by a stellar supporting cast including Henry Winkler as his hapless coach and Oscar-winner Kathy Bates as his hilariously overprotective mother.
Remember the Titans (2000) – Based on the true story of African-American coach Herman Boone, portrayed by Denzel Washington, this heart-soaring film focuses on his attempt to integrate the T. C. Williams High School football team in Alexandria, Virginia, in 1971. The film is often listed among the best football films of all time.
Radio (2003) – Get your hankies ready for this true story of the friendship between South Carolina’s T. L. Hanna High School football coach Harold Jones (Ed Harris) and a mentally challenged young man, James Robert “Radio” Kennedy (Cuba Gooding Jr.). The film co-stars Debra Winger and Alfre Woodard along with a beautiful score by the late, great James Horner.
Friday Night Lights (2004) – The film follows the coach and players of a high school football team in a small town in Texas. The nonfiction book on which it was based is Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream by H. G. Bissinger. The movie spawned an award-winning television series that ran for five seasons.
We Are Marshall (2006) depicts the aftermath of the 1970 plane crash that killed 75 people: 37 football players on the Marshall University Thundering Herd football team, along with five coaches, two athletic trainers, the athletic director, 25 boosters and a crew of five. This powerful film addresses the re-building of the program and the healing that the community undergoes. In one of his best roles, Academy Award Winner Matthew McConaughey stars as head coach Jack Lengyel, with Matthew Fox (TV’s Lost) as assistant coach William “Red” Dawson.
The Blind Side (2009) – Based on the 2006 book of the same name by author Michael Lewis, this movie tells the story of Michael Oher, an offensive lineman who was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens. The film follows Oher from his impoverished upbringing, his school career in Memphis and his adoption by the Tuohy family, to his position as one of the top prospects in college football. The Blind Side proved to be a blockbuster, and star Sandra Bullock won the Academy Award for her bravura performance as Leigh Ann Tuohy.
So, sports and cinema fans, add to your Friday and Saturday football fever playlist to watch or re-watch some of these enduring football themed films. Enjoy!
Dr. Jeff Langham is State Assistant Superintendent for External and Governmental Affairs and a lifelong lover of film.
And ... A Fond Farewell
This will be my last monthly Movie Man column for the magazine. I want to thank the team at Tallapoosa Publishers/Elmore County Living (especially Editor Amy Passaretti) for this awesome opportunity that I have had over the past five years as your local columnist of cinema. Additionally, I offer a special thank you to readers throughout this area for your support and encouragement that have made this experience such a pleasure. Carry on … and I’ll see you at the movies!