Skip to main content

15 Football Movies To Watch Before the Super Bowl

By Ken Miyamoto from ScreenCraft · February 9, 2023

15 Football Movies To Watch Before the Super Bowl_featured

It’s Super Bowl season! For those that don’t follow the NFL, the Super Bowl is the final game of the season, where the champions from each of the two National Football League conferences (AFC and NFC) go up against each other in one of the biggest annual sporting events in the world. And for those that are not true fans of the sport, you watch the game for the commercials and half-time show. For many football fans out there, you can hype yourself up for the Super Bowl by watching some classic and highly esteemed football movies.

Here are fifteen football movies you should watch before you tune into the Super Bowl.

Some are obvious choices. Others are dark horse selections that you may have forgotten about. And because the sport of football is America’s new pastime (arguably surpassing baseball a generation ago), we separate this list by the levels of football competition they represent (High School, College, Professional).

Spoiler Alert: standout scenes may contain spoilers.

Read More: The Name of the Game: Grand Slam Sports Classics

All The Right Moves (1983)

An ambitious young football star is trapped in a dying mill town — unless his gridiron skills can win him a way out.

We’ll start the list with this somewhat forgotten Tom Cruise classic. The film’s tone feels is what you would get when you merge the mining town atmosphere of The Deer Hunter with a high school football movie. This is one of Cruise’s earliest starring roles, and he showcases the charisma he would be soon known for worldwide after 1986’s Top Gun.

Released the same year as his true star-making film Risky Business, Cruise offers an electric performance alongside equally electric 1980s actors Lea Thompson and Craig T. Nelson. You’ll even find the late Chris Penn in a supporting role (Cruise costarred with Chris’s brother Sean Penn two years prior in 1981’s TAPS).

The story pits a star player vs. a hard-headed coach, a theme another one of our selections shares as well.

Varsity Blues (1999)

A backup quarterback is chosen to lead a Texas football team to victory after the star quarterback is injured.

A very 1990s high school football film that launched us into the 21-first century era of youth films. This is a John Hughes-like high school dramedy thrust into the world of Texas high school football. Football in Texas isn’t just a sport. It’s like a religion — especially high school football. Teenagers are treated like stars if they earn it on the field. This is a true underdog story, with backup quarterback Mox taking over the position after the star quarterback falls. As if that wasn’t enough, he’s forced to deal with the coach that thinks he’s an untouchable God with no patience for failure, rebels, deviants, or non-conformists.

The film stars eventual TV icon and teen heartthrob James Van Der Beek, hot off of the new hit teen show Dawson’s Creek. It also is one of the late Paul Walker’s earliest film roles. We’re also introduced to other early 2000s household teen icons names like Scott Caan (son of James Caan), Ali Larter, and Amy Smart. And who plays the coach? The great acting veteran Jon Voight plays the perfect asshole.

Friday Night Lights (2004)

Based on H.G. Bissinger’s book, which profiled the economically depressed town of Odessa, Texas and their heroic high school football team, The Permian High Panthers.

Friday Night Lights is the more realistic version of what Varsity Blues offered, eliminating the more comedic elements that the latter had while showcasing the realities of Texas high school sports (which end up being somewhat comedic in the ridiculousness of how serious some in Texas take high school football).

This feature takes on the theme of the inspirational leader with Coach Gaines, played brilliantly and charismatically by Billy Bob Thornton. The film was directed and c0-written by the vastly underrated Peter Berg, who implemented a rather unique approach to directing the actors (one that would carry over to the eventual TV series mentioned below). He wouldn’t always give them direct lines to recite. Instead, most scenes were improvised by the actors after being told about the point of the scene, the conflicts between the characters, etc. The result is a very realistic set of performances by the leads.

Remember the Titans (2000)

The true story of a newly appointed African-American coach and his high school team on their first season as a racially integrated unit.

Casting Denzel Washington as an inspiring football coach is perhaps the greatest feat of this film alone, beyond the outstanding supporting cast of soon-to-be stars, including Ryan Gosling, Hayden Panettiere, Kate Bosworth, Donald Faison, and character actor Ethan Suplee. Will Patton holds his own as Coach Yoast as well. Overall, it’s Washington’s performance that stands out the most.

It’s an inspiring story of integration, the game of football, and brotherhood. And it stands as one of the most inspirational sports movies of our time.

The Best of Times (1986)

A small-town loser determines to have one more shot at the big time by winning a football game.

This film is a hidden gem, starring the likes of Kurt Russell and the late, great legend Robin Williams. We include this as the final High School football level selections because the story revolves around two characters looking back to their old glory days of high school football.

Russell was the star quarterback that eventually blew his knee out. Williams plays a down-on-his-luck dreamer that longs to make up for the mistake he made in their final high school football game against the town’s biggest rival when he dropped what would be a game-winning pass from Russell.

It’s part sports drama, part 1980s comedy. And Russell and Williams are fantastic. Take the small-town blue-collar dynamics of The Deer Hunter and All The Right Moves, and mary them with hilarious early Williams comedy and nostalgic high school memories.

Necessary Roughness (1991)

Due to NCAA sanctions, the Texas State University Fightin’ Armadillos must form a football team from their actual student body, with no scholarships to help, to play their football schedule.

Much like baseball movies, the themes of football movies are universal. One of the greatest baseball movies is the 1989 comedy Major League. Well, this is the football movie genre’s answer to that film.

You take a ragtag bunch of nobody athletes, most of whom are inept at the sport to start (despite one strong skill that stands out), and then you bring them together under the leadership of an inspiring veteran. Hijinks ensue, yes. But, like all great football movies, we’re treated with a team to root for in the end.

Scott Bakula, then in the middle of a successful run of the hit TV series Quantum Leap (which has been successfully rebooted recently with another star), made his leap to feature films in this starring role as the grizzled and aging college student that’s recruited to play his sport again. And the film also has a young Jason Bateman in the mix, amongst some great 1990s stars like Sinbad, Larry Miller, Rob Schneider, Kathy Ireland, and Hollywood vets like Hector Elizondo, Robert Loggia, and Fred Thompson.

The Waterboy (1998)

A waterboy for a college football team discovers he has a unique tackling ability and becomes a member of the team.

So we go from comedy hijinks to even more ridiculous (but hilarious) comedy in the Adam Sandler classic The Waterboy. Slightly inspired by his SNL character Canteen Boy, this comedy features a Forrest Gump-like character taking on football thanks to his anger issues that the desperate coach — played hilariously by Henry “The Fonz” Winkler — decides to take advantage of.

It’s a dumb, stupid, college-humor laugh fest. The film is also one of Adam Sandler’s trifecta of box office hits (The Wedding Singer before it and Big Daddy after it) that made him a $20 million per picture star.

Rudy (1993)

Rudy has always been told that he was too small to play college football. But he is determined to overcome the odds and fulfill his dream of playing for Notre Dame.

While the film was originally marketed as “based on” the true story of Daniel E. ‘Rudy’ Ruettiger, we’ve come to learn from the likes of Joe Montana (not featured as a character in the film but was there in real life) and others that it’s really just “inspired by” the story. Many creative liberties taken aside, the actual film itself is one of the most inspiring sports dramas ever produced.

Pre-swingers costars Jon Favreau (eventual director of Iron Man and creator of The Mandalorian) and Vince Vaughn can be seen together in their early roles. In addition, Charles Dutton steals every scene in the fictional role of Rudy’s inspirational mentor Fortune. And you’ll also recognize the late Jason Miller, star of The Exorcist. He also happens to be actor Jason Patric’s father.

This feature is the true underdog sports story with few other equals.

Brian’s Song (1971)

Based on the real-life relationship between teammates Brian Piccolo and Gale Sayers and the bond established when Piccolo discovers that he is dying.

Now we graduate from collegiate football movies to the pros. We would normally say the NFL, but one of these selections doesn’t apply. We’ll explain why soon. Now, we’re featuring our first pro football selection, Brian’s Song.

Known as one of the greatest sports movies of all time, Brian’s Song was actually a TV movie back when major networks made those on a regular basis. It was eventually nominated for Golden Globes, Emmy Awards, and Peabody Awards.

It tells the true story of the life of Brian Piccolo (James Caan), a Chicago Bears football player stricken with terminal cancer after turning pro in 1965, told through his friendship with teammate Gale Sayers (Billy Dee Williams). Their different races and backgrounds made them unlikely roommates, but they eventually became the first interracial roommates in the history of the National Football League, breaking racial barriers in the process — and creating a brotherhood bond like no other.

If we had to pitch this football movie in the simplest of ways, it’s the Terms of Endearment of football movies. You’ll cry.

The Last Boy Scout (1991)

A private detective’s protected female witness is murdered, prompting him and the victim’s boyfriend to investigate the crime that leads to a corrupt politician and a crooked football team owner.

It’s the Die Hard of the NFL — if that makes any sense. But not the real NFL because the film (like another below) was not granted permission to use NFL references. Yes, this dark horse selection stars a very John McClane-like Bruce Willis investigating a corrupt football team owner. The backdrop of the NFL is fun, shot beautifully by the late Tony Scott. This action flick is so 1990s Tony Scott that you can’t help but think of his whole resume.

While it’s not an outright football movie, it has pro football written all over, thanks to a surprising performance by Damon Wayans, a disgraced former pro quarterback. Wayans, known mostly for his comedy via In Living Color then, offered up a great dramatic performance. Sometimes a great football movie isn’t even directly about football. It just oozes the behind-the-scenes elements of it. Such is the case with The Last Boy Scout.

You’ve got Die Hard-like action, buddy comedy laughs, and the NFL as a backdrop.

Jerry Maguire (1996)

When a sports agent has a moral epiphany and is fired for expressing it, he decides to put his new philosophy to the test as an independent agent with the only athlete who stays with him and his former colleague.

Consider Jerry Maguire the sports movie you can watch with your significant other that otherwise favors romantic comedies — all while feeling like you have watched one of the greatest sports dramas about the NFL at the same time.

Written and directed by Cameron Crowe, the film was nominated for Best Picture and arguably should have won Tom Cruise his first Oscar (he lost to Geoffrey Rush for Shine). It’s perhaps Cruise’s best overall performance, offering a charismatic blend of comedy, ego, angst, anger, romance, and tenderness. It’s a tale of a selfish, self-centered egomaniac that loses everything while gaining all that he didn’t know he needed or wanted.

The NFL embraced the film, offering up team names, coaches, and players. While Cruise lost his Oscar race, his costar Cuba Gooding Jr. won for Best Supporting Actor, offering one of the greatest acceptance speeches of all time. And the film also made a star of then-unknown Renee Zellweger.

In our eyes, it’s a masterpiece. One of the greatest romantic comedies ever produced — if not only for the brilliant move of pairing sports drama with rom-com for the perfect date movie. Something for each of you.

The Replacements (2000)

During a pro football strike, the owners hire substitute players.

Okay. If Necessary Roughness was the Major League of football movies. The Replacements is the Necessary Roughness of pro football movies inspired by true stories. It stars Keanu Reeves in one of his most underrated roles.

Once again, we’ve got a ragtag group of somewhat inept football players, each with special skills that the team needs. This film has more of a Major League feel to it, given that it takes place in the professional end of the sport. But this one is also loosely based on the 1987 NFL strike that had the Washington Redskins (now known as the Washington Commanders) go on to win three games with replacement players and without any of their regular players. They went on to win Super Bowl XXII. In the film, the team name is a fictional one. But we do get to see the likes of John Madden calling games.

This is Keanu Reeves’s second time playing a former quarterback star. He previously played former college quarterback star turned FBI agent Johnny Utah in the action classic Point Break.

The film was a moderate hit upon release but has since become a cult classic for sports movie fans. Had the film debuted in its original R-Rated (and never released) version, it likely would have hit closer to Major League-like success. The PG-13 rating sugarcoats the comedy somewhat, but it’s still worth a watch.

The supporting cast is excellent, with the treasure of seeing Gene Hackman as a professional football coach. Guys like Faison Love, Orlando Jones, Jon Favreau, and Rhys Ifans (and many others) rounded out the group in hilarious fashion.

And, yes, it has one of the greatest sports movie lines of all time.

Pain heals. Chicks dig scars. Glory… lasts forever.

Any Given Sunday (1999)

A behind-the-scenes look at the life-and-death struggles of modern-day gladiators and those who lead them.

The behind-the-scenes look at the NFL without officially being allowed to use the NFL name (nor any of its team names) because it was either so accurate or ridiculous, depending on who was asked about the film at the time.

Make no mistake; this is a great (albeit controversial) look at the NFL and how teams are run. Oliver Stone, who reigned with many controversial films in the 1980s and 1990s, co-wrote and directed this feature. Al Pacino plays an outstanding coach. And the rest of the cast is equally stellar, including the likes of Dennis Quaid (aging QB legend), Cameron Diaz (new owner of the team), James Woods (playing an asshole doctor), LL Cool J (star running back), Bill Bellamy (star wide receiver), Aaron Eckhart (hotshot offensive coordinator), etc. The film even packs the legit punch of casting NFL legends in key acting roles, including Jim Brown and Lawrence Taylor.

But it’s star-on-the-rise Jamie Foxx that stands out the most. Like Wayans in The Last Boy Scout, Foxx was primarily known for his In Living Color comedy. However, he offered up an amazing dramatic performance as third-string quarterback Willie Beaman who becomes the new starting quarterback for Pacino’s team.

If you want a real feel for how the NFL was back in the day, this is the flick to watch.

American Underdog (2021)

The story of NFL MVP and Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner, who went from stocking shelves at a supermarket to becoming an American Football star.

We could have included some other classics in its place, but this newer inspiring film is one we wanted to include as you prep for the Super Bowl. It’s the true story of Kurt Warner (Super Bowl champion and current NFL analyst) and his amazing late-in-life and against-all-odds journey to the Super Bowl. Warner was highly involved in the making of this film, so most of this stuff really happened the way it was presented, with a few subtle creative liberties to tell a cinematic story.

It’s cast brilliantly, with the likes of Zachary Levi (Kurt Warner) and dead ringer Anna Paquin as his wife Brenda.  The supporting cast offers up near spot-on performances playing NFL royalty.

The film is a great PG-rated football flick for the whole family.

Draft Day (2014)

At the NFL Draft, General Manager Sonny Weaver has the opportunity to rebuild his team when he trades for the number one pick. He must decide what he’s willing to sacrifice on a life-changing day for a few hundred young men with NFL dreams.

A unique look into the draft room of an NFL team. The film offers probably the most contemporary look behind the NFL curtain. And it gives us an idea of how teams are drafted and built. It feels like an Aaron Sorkin-written film about the NFL draft day — without the Aaron Sorkin. Oddly enough, it’s directed by the late Ivan Reitman, known most for Ghostbusters and other 1980s classic comedies. In this story, he takes a dramatic turn.

Keep an eye out for the late Chadwick Boseman in a key role. His talent was very evident in this early role of his.


In conclusion, the Super Bowl is not just about the game; it’s about the experience and the emotions that come with it. And what better way to get in the mood for the big event than by watching football movies that embody the spirit of the sport? These films showcase themes such as teamwork, determination, and overcoming adversity that is not only universal but also inspiring. So whether you are a die-hard fan or just looking to get in the spirit, these 15 football movies are a must-watch before the Super Bowl.

Ken Miyamoto has worked in the film industry for nearly two decades, most notably as a studio liaison for Sony Studios and then as a script reader and story analyst for Sony Pictures.

He has many studio meetings under his belt as a produced screenwriter, meeting with the likes of Sony, Dreamworks, Universal, Disney, and Warner Brothers, as well as many production and management companies. He has had a previous development deal with Lionsgate, as well as multiple writing assignments, including the produced miniseries Blackout, starring Anne Heche, Sean Patrick Flanery, Billy Zane, James Brolin, Haylie Duff, Brian Bloom, Eric La Salle, and Bruce Boxleitner, the feature thriller Hunter’s Creed, and many produced Lifetime thrillers.

Follow Ken on Twitter @KenMovies and Instagram @KenMovies76.