March 1, 2019 / US
Great sports makes for great movies, and soccer is no exception. From intense, well-acted dramas to behind-the-scenes explorations of the sporting world, soccer movies do a lot more than just show sports—they tell stories about the triumph of the human spirit. Check out our list of the best and worst soccer movies of all time below!
The Damned United is our pick for the best soccer drama of all time. Produced in 2009 and set against the backdrop of 1960s and 70s England, The Damned United tells the story of Brian Clough’s famous 44-day run as the manager of English football club Leeds United. Headstrong, brash, and famous for his dislike of dirty football, Clough is immediately at odds with his players and support staff.
With an enemy in former United coach Don Revie (Colm Meaney), Michael Sheen’s Clough is forced to mesh his abrasive and undiplomatic coaching style with thuggish players and a competitive league. Rounding out the story is Clough’s second-in-command Peter Taylor, played by Timothy Spall.
Eventually fired by management, Clough’s success as a coach isn’t fully realized until later in his career, when he’s crowned as “the best manager England never had”.
The Damned United is one of those movies that does more then tell a story—it takes the viewer on a journey. Michael Sheen’s portrayal of Brian Clough is nothing short of fantastic. The actor is passionate without coming off as sappy, arrogant without seeming ignorant, and principled without appearing weak.
Sheen’s acting aside, The Damned United is one of those rare times when soccer is used to tell a real story in an honest way. Clough’s short reign as manager of Leeds is tragic in its brevity, but it hits home for all fans of the game.
The Damned United can be purchased here.
This underrated 2001 film is, without a doubt, the best soccer comedy movie of all time. Mike Bassett: England Manager is a perfectly composed satire of English soccer clubs. Starring Rick Tomlinson as the titular Mike Bassett, this film is an absolute gem of classic British humor.
Directed by Steve Barron of Coneheads fame, Mike Bassett: England Manager is our pick for the best comedy soccer movie of all time. This hilarious satire follows the story of its titular character and his sudden promotion to England team’s manager. Inexperienced, blunt, and crude in all the right ways, Bassett’s management leaves a lot to be desired. Bassett embarks on a journey to make sure England qualifies for the World Cup—dealing with the stress of the team, flip-flopping press coverage, and occasional scandals involving hotel bars and underwear makes for a hilarious ride.
Shot in true faux-documentary style, Mike Bassett is hands-down amazing. And what’s great is that doesn’t try to be good. It’s not a film that set out to be the best soccer comedy of all time, but it nailed it perfectly almost by accident. Actor Ricky Tomlinson’s scruffy appearance and perfectly-delivered lines mesh with a series of ludicrous events, rowdy players, and media mishaps.
Interested in seeing more? Purchase the film here.
The Four Year Plan is a 2011 documentary that explores the glorious rise of the London Queen’s Park Rangers soccer club. This documentary offers one of the best insights into the backroom dealings of the soccer world available today.
The Four Year Plan keeps it on the other side of the Atlantic with a look at London’s Queens Park Rangers football club. This soccer documentary covers the takeover of the small, poorly performing club in 2007 and the subsequent revitalization of the team. Purchased by a collection of wealthy businessmen, The Four Year Plan tells the story of a lengthy project designed to turn London’s worst soccer team into champions and send them into the Premier League.
Unprecedented in the soccer world, The Four Year Plan focuses almost entirely on the behind the scenes activities of running a major team. It provides a look into the psychology and inner workings of managing a team and how different personalities affect a club.
Most interestingly, the documentary crew were given effectively free reign to work their magic. Unburdened by requirements to portray management in a specific light, The Four Year Plan is an honest dive into the world of high-level soccer management.
The film doesn’t hold back: brutal language, harsh realities, and a complete lack of narration puts the viewer right there in the room with the characters. We love this film because we aren’t told what to think—we can see what happened in real life and make our judgements.
The Four Year Plan can be purchased here.
Shaolin Soccer is a 2001 Hong Kong film that truly takes slapstick comedy to another level. This is a fantastic film for kids of all ages, and parents are sure to enjoy it as well!
A Shaolin Monk named Sing is a true master of his art. Attracted to the idea of mixing Kung Fu and soccer, Sing brings some of his Shaolin friends along for the ride of a lifetime. Wealthy Hong Kong businessman Fung provides the funding, and the Shaolin soccer team is formed! The monks combine absurd and fantastic feats on the pitch and head straight to the national championship, only to face seemingly superhuman foes in the finals.
Is it silly? Yes. Is it entertaining for kids, and a darn good movie to boot? You bet. Shaolin Soccer takes the standard underdog sports team motif and turns it on its head—these are elite-level Kung Fu masters tearing up the pitch with plenty of slapstick comedy. Kids absolutely love this film. It’s goofy, silly, and over the top in all the right ways.
And while the animations and CGI look dated, and that just adds to the comedy value for the kids. This is a movie that embraces its ludicrous premise and rounds it out to make a thoroughly entertaining film that kids are sure to enjoy. It doesn’t take much to enjoy the visuals of monks flying through the air like cannonballs, and and the mix of magic and soccer is a great combination.
All in all, it’s a great family movie that kids are guaranteed to love.
The film can be acquired here.
Goal! The Dream Begins (2005) is the first of a series of films that explore the life and career of fictional soccer player Santiago Munez. Heartwarming as it is intense, Goal! is a film that plays on the strengths of its appealing protagonist.
Starring Kuno Becker as Santiago Munez, Goal! takes the viewer through the classic story of a supremely talented and ambitious young soccer player. Santiago lives a hard life in a rough section of Los Angeles and playing professional soccer seems to be more a pipedream than a realistic opportunity.
But one day, fate smiles on Santiago when he’s scouted by a former Newcastle United player and brought to England to tryout for the team. After managing to scrape the money together for a ticket to England, Santiago performs poorly but manages to score a place on the reserve team.
Despite winning his first match in professional play, Santiago has to contend with the death of his father, the crippling of his friend and compadre, and the brutal stress of elite-level soccer. It’s not an easy story to experience, but shows remarkable resilience in the face of personal tragedy.
Why We Loved It
Choosing the best soccer movie of all time means juggling different genres and, more importantly, different viewers. Everyone likes films for different reasons, but Goal manages to do most of them right.
Yes, there’s no denying that the story of Santiago Munez is a bit of a cliche. The idea of the talented-but-struggling player who gets one shot at making it big is a cliche—but it’s one that works. Sure, the climatic finale scene in the last match of the movie has the nail-biting moment of triumph you expect, but it works! Kuno Becker’s acting is perfect for the role.
Most of all, this film just checks the boxes for the best soccer film ever made. It’s not the best in any one category. But it has some of the drama that makes The Damned United so good, it has a pinch of the English humor seen in Mike Bassett, and just enough comedy to make the film enjoyable without seeming overbearing.
Be warned: the sequels are not cinematic masterpieces.
Purchase the film here!
This 2009 Green Street Hooligans 2 film is, hands-down, the worst soccer movie of all time. Overacted, underdeveloped, and with a plot that makes your skin crawl, it’s a tough watch!
The story picks up with the London street soccer team Green Street Elite are imprisoned following the conclusion of the first film. Once inside the London slammer, our street soccer heroes are forced to contend with the brutal reality of life inside an English prison. Faced with violent soccer fans and rival teams while incarcerated, the Green Street Elite crew fight tooth and nail to keep themselves safe.
The movie culminates (of course) in an exhibition match organized by the prison warden, where the Green Street Elite heroes face down and defeat their rivals. They also manage to uncover a prison drug-smuggling ring and are set free. Throw in a dash of police corruption, threats against romantic partners, and this film has it all, but in the worst way possible.
It’s bad. Really, really bad!
While the first Green Street film managed to be a passable look at the rough-and-tough world of London street soccer. As a guilty pleasure, the Green Street works well. But this second installment, sold straight-to video, has none of the charm of its predecessor.
The fundamental idea of soccer players in prison isn’t terrible. In fact, it’s quite interesting—a film that explores the themes of dedication, redemption, and communal endeavors in the confines of a prison has potential! But Green Street Hooligans 2 isn’t that film.
Not only do none of the original cast return (save Ross McCall), but the plot itself is as contrived as could be. An evil prison warden who forces his inmates to compete in a gladiator-style soccer match, and where the hero’s lover is threatened with death unless he throws the match? Seriously?
Throw in incredibly poor acting and cringe-worthy faux English accents—this film is an absolute disaster.
Green Street Hooligans 2 is up there with the last Goal! installment as the worst soccer movie of all time. Should you watch it? It’s certainly good for a laugh or two with friends, but don’t expect a cinematic masterpiece.
You’ve been warned.
Soccer has inspired some truly impressive cinematic works. While The Damned United, Mike Bassett, The Four Year Plan, and Shaolin Soccer all cover widely different genres and cinematic styles, they all share one common characteristic: soccer both as a backdrop and as a platform to tell incredible stories. Michael Sheen’s stunning portrayal of Brian Clough, for example, walks the viewer through an entire journey that couldn’t have happened without soccer. Yet, regardless of the genre, soccer movies tell some incredible stories.
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