From award-winning documentaries to inspirational dramas, there is no shortage of great football movies to watch. As the NFL starts up again this week, we’ve put together a list of our favorites, which cover the Friday night action of high school football, the college scene, and of course the NFL itself—often appearing as some other, fictional professional league.
See if your favorite is on the list, and stream the NFL starting September 8, 2022!
Any Given Sunday
Where to stream: Hulu
Few movies on this list have more star power than Any Given Sunday, the Oliver Stone-directed flick starring Al Pacino, Jamie Foxx, Cameron Diaz, and many more famous faces. The movie’s gratuitously graphic content and near-cartoonish plot elements haven’t stopped it from becoming a fan favorite over the years, mostly due to Pacino’s rousing “football is a game of inches” speech that actually seems to be about a whole lot more than football.
The Blind Side
Although The Blind Side has earned criticism over the years for its lack of accuracy to real events, the story of impoverished offensive lineman Michael Oher’s rise to prominence is still worth the watch. Sandra Bullock won the Academy Award for Best Actress in playing Leigh Anne Tuohy, Oher’s adoptive mother.
Where to stream: Amazon Prime Video (buy or rent)
Once upon a time, ABC regularly aired made-for-TV movies aptly called the ABC Movie of the Week. Brian’s Song, starring James Caan and Billy Dee Williams as real-life Chicago Bears teammates Brian Piccolo and Gale Sayers, remains among the most well-known of those movies. Despite their differing racial backgrounds and overall personalities, Piccolo and Sayers bonded en route to becoming the first interracial roommates in NFL history. We won’t spoil the rest.
Where to stream: Pluto TV (for free!)
Is it possible to fix the Cleveland Browns? Sports-movie king Kevin Costner, playing Browns General Manager Sonny Weaver Jr., certainly tried his hardest in this 2014 flick that rates fairly high on the unintentional comedy scale. Draft Day also stars the late Chadwick Boseman as a tempestuous prospect, Jennifer Garner as a salary-cap number cruncher, and Frank Langella as a demanding team owner who can travel faster than the speed of sound (you’ll have to watch the movie to see what we mean).
Where to stream: Paramount+
Have you ever wondered what would happen if a perennial college football powerhouse like Alabama or Ohio State had to start over entirely? Necessary Roughness covers the then-fictional Texas State University Armadillos, who lose almost their entire team following a scandal based on the infamous SMU “death penalty” saga of the 1980s. Can Scott Bakula (as a 34-year-old high school quarterback who never went to college) save the Armadillos’ program? With a ragtag bunch of teammates including Sinbad, supermodel Kathy Ireland (as a women’s soccer player-turned-kicker), and Jason Bateman, you can probably guess where this underdog comedy is going…
North Dallas Forty
Where to stream: HBO Max
Based on a semi-autobiographical novel by a former Dallas Cowboys player, North Dallas Forty holds nothing back about the inner workings of professional football. Nick Nolte (who actually attended Arizona State on a football scholarship) plays aging receiver Phil Elliott, who indulges in the painkillers, drugs, alcohol, and women readily available to a football player in the 1970s.
Remember the Titans
Where to stream: Disney Plus
Remember the Titans is among the most-celebrated films on this list, in large part because of Denzel Washington‘s performance as real-life football coach Herman Boone, who was tasked with uniting a newly integrated high school football team in Virginia in 1971. During that magical season, T.C. Williams High School went 13-0 and won a state championship; between overcoming adversity, a goosebumps-inducing speech from Washington on the battlefields of Gettysburg, and a fairytale ending, is it any wonder this made for an outstanding Disney movie? Fans of HBO’s The Wire will recognize a young Wood Harris as Julius Campbell.
Where to stream: HBO Max
For a brief time in the 1987 NFL season, several teams fielded “scab” players amid a strike. The Replacements, starring Keanu Reeves and Gene Hackman, is the fictionalized tale of the Washington Sentinels, who bring in new players during their own ongoing strike.
Every football season has those stories that bring a smile to your face, whether it’s the undrafted rookie having a career day or the grizzled veteran finally winning a Super Bowl. And few football movies are more inspiring than Rudy, the biopic starring Sean Astin as Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger, an undersized steel-mill worker who aspires to play college football at Notre Dame. We get the feeling you’ll be chanting “Rudy … Rudy … Rudy!” by the film’s conclusion.
Where to stream: Paramount+
What happens when a sparsely used backup quarterback is pressed into duty? Varsity Blues is a ’90s classic about Jonathan Moxon (James Van Der Beek), a high school QB in a football-mad Texas town whose life changes when a teammate’s injury propels him into the starting job. If you’ve ever heard the phrase “I don’t want…your life!” and have no idea where it came from, here’s your answer. Jon Voigt is also perfectly cast as the villainous and megalomaniacal head coach.
We Are Marshall
Hours after a 17-14 loss to East Carolina on November 14, 1970, the Marshall University football team’s flight crashed after clipping a tree. All 75 people on board, including 37 players and six coaches, died. We Are Marshall tells the true story of how a university, a football program, and a community banded together following the tragedy. Matthew McConaughey stars as the new head coach, and Marvel fans will recognize a young Anthony Mackie as co-captain Nate Ruffin.
Bonus: 30 for 30
To commemorate ESPN’s 30th anniversary in 2009, long-time sportswriter Bill Simmons helped launch the 30 for 30 documentary series. Our favorite football-themed 30 for 30s include Elway to Marino and The ‘85 Bears, which respectively cover the star-studded 1983 NFL Draft and the mid-1980s Chicago Bears. With an ESPN+ subscription, you can check out the entire 30 for 30 library on the ESPN app.