Dive into cinematic history with our list of all-time best NFL films. Relive legendary plays and iconic moments that define US football.
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While we all enjoy watching the NFL every week, starting in the preseason in August and through the Super Bowl in February, we can all admit that watching a movie based around the sport helps fill in those gaps of football-less times or to add to our love for the sport. But which NFL films are the best of all time?
Over the years, countless films have been made about the NFL and football. Here, we’ll look at the best we’ve seen and explain why we think they stand out among the pack.
The Greatest NFL Films Of All Time
1. The Waterboy
Growing up in New Hampshire, Adam Sandler has always been a favorite as he’s a native resident of the state. Thus, his movies have a special place, regardless of how preposterous they are.
One of those films is The Waterboy. A story about a kid from the Bayou of Louisiana who’s the waterboy for a downtrodden second-rate college football program. In this comedy, Bobby Boucher, played by Adam Sandler, gets into a fight with someone who teased him, which launches him into the lineup as a linebacker.
From there, any time someone speaks ill of him or water (including preferring Gatorade), Boucher goes into an intense rage that results in putting up ridiculous statistics.
Not only is the film hilarious, especially viewing the relationship between Boucher and his mother, but it’s a feel-good story, too. One of the best NFL films of all time.
2. Draft Day
Objectively speaking, this might not be one of the greatest NFL films of all time. However, Draft Day presented viewers with something we haven’t seen in a movie. That’s the behind-the-scenes with the managerial staff and higher-ups within a football program.
The movie follows Kevin Costner, who plays Sonny Weaver Jr., the general manager of the Cleveland Browns. We follow the process of the team behind the scenes evaluating who they want to select in the draft.
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He strikes a deal with the Seattle Seahawks to get their No. 1 overall pick which everyone assumed would be used on the star quarterback Bo Callahan, a position the team needed.
However, Weaver Jr. then re-evaluates the film and becomes more infatuated with Vontae Mack, a player they could have arguably gotten with their original selection, but they took him, which sent the team into a frenzy. During the draft, with Callahan still on the board, we see behind the scenes that Weaver Jr. then makes a trade to get the No. 6 overall pick. Going right in front of the Seahawks at No.7, who then they trade with. Seattle gets Callahan at No. 6, and the Browns select running back Ray Jennings, the son of a former Cleveland Brown.
These moves would be foolish from a practical standpoint of the real NFL. Moving up to No. 1 overall to select a linebacker would be insane in today’s NFL. Drafting a running back in the top seven also falls into the “insane” category. However, there’s a feel-good story behind it that you can’t help but smile at.
3. 80 For Brady
For the longest time, this movie was written off as something silly. After watching it, there’s a scene that you can’t help but get a tear in your eye.
80 For Brady is a film that follows four older women, Rita Moreno, Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Sally Field. They have a deep friendship with one another, and they have a passion for Tom Brady. In the movie, we see their Sunday rituals cheering for Brady. They remain loyal to him even when he’s on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after leaving the New England Patriots.
However, there’s a scene during the movie when Brady is still on the Patriots down 28-3 against the Atlanta Falcons. We know now this was a legendary comeback. During that, Lou, played by Lily Tomlin, delivers Brady an inspirational message after they break into the coaching booth, which inspires the rally.
Of course, getting to that point requires them to get tickets to the game. Lou claims to have won a contest. We find out later however, that she didn’t. She instead purchased them because she’s having health issues that could mean the end of her life.
Fortunately, in the end, we discover she’s OK, and the foursome continues watching Brady as he goes onto the Buccaneers.
Some silly moments are scattered throughout. Seeing how much Brady and football mean to these women in their advanced age can’t help but pull at your heartstrings.
We all know Mark Wahlberg is a great actor, but his performance in Invincible is outstanding. In this movie, Wahlberg plays Vince Papale in this biopic. We meet Papale as a 30-year-old substitute teacher who plays sandlot football but is dealing with problems at home as his wife doesn’t believe he can adequately provide. The film is based in 1970s Philadelphia, which, as a city, had its string of problems.
At this time, the Eagles are struggling massively. Papale is laid off from his school job but still works part-time as a bartender when he discovers that the Eagles and new head coach Dick Vermeil will be hosting open tryouts.
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After attending the tryouts, Papale returns to his car when Vermeil greets and invites him to training camp.
From here, we see a 30-year-old compete in training camp, land the final spot, and make a fumble recovery to win the game. In real life, this all happened which may be why its one of the best NFL films of all time. Even though Papale only played a few seasons, again, you can’t help but root for the guy.
5. The Blind Side
OK, at the time of this writing, there’s some controversy surrounding the movie, including the subject of it, Michael Oher. While the real-life controversies are getting sorted out, we feel comfortable still enjoying this movie. Again, it’s a movie. While we can debate the seriousness of the things that aren’t displayed, we can walk away from this movie and feel good about the message it displays.
The Blind Side is arguably the best, most impactful NFL films of all time ever. Bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue, which also saw Sandra Bullock win best actress for her performance as Leigh Anne Tuohy.
The movie follows Michael Oher, a kid from Tennessee that’s a teenager with absolutely zero stability in his life. He wanders around with a plastic bag and doesn’t have anywhere to stay. That is until a wealthy family, the Tuohy, takes him in. They give him a place to stay and helps him get his life back on track with his studies and playing football.
The real-life dispute now is that the movie portrays Michael as getting adopted when it was a conservatorship which is far different from adoption. That’s a massive omission, admittedly, but from the point of view of a movie, watching Michael ascend from the ashes into an eventual first-round draft pick by the Baltimore Ravens is incredible.
Real-life-wise, we hope Oher gets everything he deserves. He’s earned it and then some.
6. Best Sad NFL Films Of All Time:Concussion
We’ve made mention of several feel-good stories, but Concussion focuses on the dark side of football. Mainly CTE, a brain trauma that can manifest in athletes as their playing careers come and go. The movie centers around Will Smith’s character, Bennet Omalu, a real-life Pittsbrugh-based doctor who discovers after former Steelers legend Mike Webster committed suicide in his pickup truck in 2002. We learn that before Webster’s death, another former player, Justin Strzelcyzk, confides in him that he has memory loss.
Throughout the movie, Omalu teams up with several other doctors, including Steelers team doctor Julian Bates. They discover that several deceased players, including Terry Long and Andre Waters, exhibited similar symptoms for what would later be dubbed CTE.
Omalu wishes to present his findings but is blocked by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Leaving it up to Bates to present before a player safety committee.
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Omalu’s stance on the subject results in racial rhetoric thrown his way, including former NFL Player Association director Dave Duerson telling him to “go back to Africa.”
Well, years later, Duerson, a former player, also commits suicide and, in his note, mentions how Omalu was right.
Omalu eventually becomes a United States citizen, looks into Junior Seau’s death (another suicide), and Congress forces the NFL to take concussion issues more seriously.
7. The Longest Yard
Instead of the original, we’re looking at the newer Adam Sandler version. Perhaps this is my age talking, but this movie is one of the Best NFL films of all time. The 2005 film has a cast comprising Sandler, Burt Reynolds (who was in the 1972 version), Nelly, Chris Rock, Michael Irvin, Joey Diaz, Terry Crews, and even the wrestler Goldberg.
The cast is incredible as we follow Sandler’s character, Paul Crewe, who is accused of points shaving. He lands on probation, but one night he goes out joyriding, violating his probation, and lands in jail.
The warden then wants Crewe to assist the prison guard’s football team, but instead, we wind up with a game of the inmates against the guards.
One of Crewe’s friends in prison, Caretaker, is murdered. This is used against him later. The warden threatens to stick it on Crewe unless they throw the game against the guards.
Crewe initially begins to do so but comes around and helps the teammates rally. They win the game by one point.
The guards in this movie were terrible human beings. Seeing Crewe and his team, “Mean Machine,” stick it to them was the best form of justice.