Below is our pick for the best soccer movies of all time. Great, inspiring stuff.
La gran final (The Great Match)
Directed by Gerardo Olivares
Veteran Spanish documentary film-maker Gerardo Olivares delivers an ingenious story which follows three heroes, none of whom have ever met, but who nevertheless have two things in common: firstly, they all live in the farthest corners of the planet and, secondly, they are all determined to find a way to see the final in Japan of the 2002 World Cup between Germany and Brazil. The protagonists in this global comedy are: a family of Mongolian nomads, a camel caravan of Tuareg in the Sahara, and a group of Indios in the Amazon. They all live about 500 kilometres away from the next town – and the next television – making their task anything but easy.
While to Western audiences, this doesn’t sound like a difficult feat as most of us are spoiled by our subscriptions to cable, Direct TV, internetstreaming or satellite networks equipped with ESPN for soccer matches, but the willpower to achieve their goal makes it quite an amazing journey.
The film succeeds due to it’s great cast of non-pros. All of whom are engaging and handled with a combination of wry amusement and compassion. The movie is fascinating for the glimpses it gives us of worlds we rarely, if ever see, in the movies. Not to mention the visually breathtaking cinematography and exotic landscapes keeping your eyes very busy.
Here’s a film that makes us understand how every four years, soccer really does bring the world together.
Directed by Susan Koch
Using the global appeal of soccer to address the pandemic of homelessness, the Homeless World Cup was first established in 2001 to give homeless people the opportunity to better their lives through sports. Five years later, 20,000 homeless people had competed on street soccer teams, with 500 players selected to represent 48 countries in the fourth annual Homeless World Cup in Cape Town, South Africa, in the summer of 2006.
The movie, which marks the remarkable directorial debut of Susan Koch and is narrated by Colin Farrell, speaks in its own unique way about the potential for empowerment through organized sports teams and events, as well as the need for more solutions to the homeless problem.
Plain-spoken, disciplined, perfectly paced, and ultimately uplifting, Kicking It captures their humanity and ability to overcome adversity through the beautifulgame known as soccer.
There are an estimated one billion homeless people in the world. A seventh of the population is homeless. One billion people are also, apparently, about the number of fans who watch the World Cup.
Directed by Jafar Panah
Girls love soccer too — and love to cheer their team at a World Cup soccer event. But that’s not easy in Iran. Iranian women who are banned from soccer matches masquerade as males to sneak into Tehran’s stadium to see a game between Iran and Bahrain. It’s exhilarating, exuberant, thoughtful and thought-provoking and extremely funny. Director Jafar Panah mixes fiction and documentary so well with a perfect balance of cinema verité and political allegory.
Inspired by an incident in which his daughter was sent home when he took her to a soccer stadium, Panahi’s Offside is shocking in its revelation of the legal oppression of women in Iran. If anything, it proves that soccer is truly an international language, providing an arena where anyone can communicate.
Once in a Lifetime – The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos
Directed by Paul Crowder (co-director)
John Dower (co-director)
For a brief, shining moment in the late 1970s, soccer was a hot ticket in America. Once in a Lifetime chronicles one of the more unusual fads in American professional sports, the sudden rise and precipitous fall of the North American Soccer League, spanning its existence 1968-1984, as seen through the experience of the most famous soccer team in the United States the New York Cosmos led by the greatest soccer player, Pele.
You don’t need to be a soccer fan to enjoy this film. The documentary offers enough color and depth
while combining nostalgic 70s soul and pop music, never-before-seen footage, exciting sports action, newsreels from the summer of ’77 and candid interviews that range from Marv Albert to Henry Kissinger to Mia Hamm, to the former Cosmos players themselves, to entertain just about anyone.
Directed by Paul Crowder (editor of Stacey Peralta’s Dogtown and Z-Boys and Riding With Giants) and John Dower (director of the Britpop documentary Live Forever).
Directed by Stephen Chow
The action comedy Shaolin Soccer has become the all-time most successful Hong Kong production of all time shattering box office figures throughout Asia and winning many awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Visual Effects at the Hong Kong Film Awards.
One of Hong Kong’s top screen comics, Stephen Chow, co-wrote, co-directed, and headlines this three-way blend of sports, action, and humor. Sing (Stephen Chow) is a modern-day Shaolin monk who has become a master of traditional fighting skills, and is renowned for his “leg of steel.” However, these days there isn’t much call for a Shaolin warrior, and Sing and his fellow monks earn their keep working small jobs until a soccer coach gets the bright idea of translating Sing’s talent for kicking to the soccer field.
As goofy action comedies go, Shaolin Soccer is one of the best. Chow’s homages and creative riffs on the genre combined with top-notch special effects and still leaves plenty of room for a tender, offbeat romance.
Maradona by Kusturica
Directed by Emir Kusturica
The two-time Palme D’Or winner Emir Kusturica traces the remarkable story of soccer legend Diego Maradona in this documentary featuring music by composer Manu Chao and Sex Pistols. Maradona’s rags-to-riches tale of a fallen anti-hero is classic Hollywood material yet Kusturica doesn’t deliver a good film here. He is perhaps a great film-maker but a horrible journalist.
Undisciplined, uncritical and an uninformative picture of a legend, by a man who clearly thinks he’s something of a legend himself. In fact director Kusturica seems more concerned with cutting his other films into the action and making sure that he appears on screen at least as much as the Argentine legend. Self-indulgent but fans of Maradona will find something to appreciate and it remains a curiosity for cine-philes.
The Miracle Match
Directed by David Anspaugh
Profiling the famous American victory over England in the 1950 World Cup, writer Angelo Pizzo and director David Anspaugh, who brought audiences to cheer for the basketball team in Hoosiers and for the football player known as Rudy, somehow failed to demonstrate how the game made a difference in their lives. For a movie that had all the makings of a classic underdog tale, it comes up short of a goal. Framed as a flashback story and narrated by Patrick Stewart, although with it’s heart in the right place, the film plays more like a eulogy than an adventure.
The odds at the time for USA beating England was of 500-1. In fact, no one showed any interest in the match except for one American journalist, Dent McSkimming of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, who had taken time off of work to cover the event. His report of the match was the only one to appear in any major American newspaper. When the publications in England received the result they presumed that the 1-0 scoreline was a typing error and so it was reported that England had won on a scoreline of 10-0.
The production of the film was plagued with many problems. Studio executives cut the budget from $65 million to $27 million. Thus, the film’s running time had to be reduced from almost 2 hours 10 minutes to 1 hour 41 minutes leaving no room for character development. Alas, something went very wrong en route to its finished product: composer Jerry Goldsmith, died during production, and the movie had a hard time finding a distributor – fitting, perhaps, for a production chronicling such an unlikely event.
Miracle Match used to be known as The Game of Their Lives and has been re-titled for its DVD release.
Directed by John Huston
In World War II, a group of Nazi officers come up with a propaganda event in which an all star Nazi team will play a team composed of Allied Prisoners of War in a Soccer game. The Prisoners agree, planning on using the game as a means of escape from the camp. Hyped to death during the 1981 NASL season, the film was inspired by the real war-time exploits of Dynamo Kiev (renamed FC Start) who took on the Nazis and won a series of matches in 1942.
The film was directed by John Huston and stars Sylvester Stallone, Michael Caine, Max von Sydow and legendary soccer players including Brazil’s Pele. Unfortunately, this strange hybrid doesn’t quite work leaving you with too many moments which bog down the film’s momentum. There aren’t a great many surprises in the screenplay, but audiences are treated to two superior performances by Mr. Caine and Mr. von Sydow, giving the film some weight with their complicated and intellectual performances. The football scenes are all shot very well, giving the like of Pele and Ardiles a chance to shine with a few slow motion and replays to highlight their talent.
Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait
Directed by Douglas Gordon & Philippe Parreno
Zidane consists of a full-length soccer game (Real Madrid vs. Villareal, April 23, 2005) entirely filmed from the perspective of soccer superstar Zinedine Zidane. Focusing 17 cameras on Zidane, which were scattered all over the stadium, the film-makers recorded images ranging from intimate close-ups to beautiful long shots and unfocused collections of colors to more traditional, televised shots. Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait is the 90-minute compilation of those images. More an art film that a sports documentary, Zidane is an incredibly powerful, deeply emotional experience and something to be seen.
Bend It Like Beckham
Directed by Gurinder Chadha
An energetic, feel-good blend of comedy, romance and goodhearted drama that features excellent performances by Juliet Stevenson, Archie Panjabi, and Bollywood regular Anupam Kher, whose friendship with Keira Knightley’s protagonist carries more spark than the useless love subplot. The film touches on some serious issues like cultural assimilation without feeling heavy-handed. More light entertainment than a “message movie,” Bechham is an above average coming of age tale that delivers a positive message without taxing viewers in the delivery. Avoiding the usual static overhead shots soccer fans are accustomed to, the camera gets inside the game, moving swiftly between players when creating action-packed game sequences. From the opening dream sequence in which 18-year-old Jess, wearing Manchester United colours, scores a goal to the roar of a crowd at the Old Trafford football ground, we know we’re in for a treat.
Directed by Barry Skolnick
In this remake of The Longest Yard, British director Barry Skolnick pulls together a talented and funny cast and changes the resident sport to soccer. Ex pro-footballer English sports god Vinnie Jones energizes the screen with Jason Statham playing a loose- cannon goalie. Very formulaic, extremely predictable but fans of the sport are treated with some great footwork especially by Jones. At a low budget and a small running time, Mean Machine is still above the average sports comedy.