Even though soccer is the world’s most popular sports, there’s a surprising lack of films about the beautiful game. In America, it seems that there are more movies about college football than the soccer variety. But we’ve combed the video stores, e-commerce sites and streaming destinations to pick out the best-of-the-best — everything from documentaries to dramas and even some comedies too.
As with any best-of list, we anticipate some of you may disagree with our top 7. If so, share your recommendations in the comments section below and let us know which titles you don’t rate that should be removed to make place for your winners.
Drumroll please. Here are the seven greatest soccer films of all time:
1. The Two Escobars
The Two Escobars tells the story of two Colombians: One a football player, the other a drug baron. The player, Andres Escobar, led the Colombian national team to unprecedented heights on the soccer pitch, and helped make Colombia a dark horse at the 1994 World Cup. The drug baron, Pablo Escobar, led Colombia into a war on the streets as rival drug cartels fought a bloody battle for supremacy. This documentary tells the tale of two men whose lives crossed paths, and changed a country, national team and sport forever. The documentary is riveting, emotional and powerful. It’s a must-see.
2. Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait
This 2006 documentary follows one of the game’s greatest players, Zinedine Zidane, throughout the 90 minutes of a single match. Zidane was filmed during Real Madrid’s April 23, 2005 match against Villarreal using 17 synchronized cameras that followed his every movement made during the match (even his sending off). The film is set to a soundtrack by Scottish experimental-rock band Mogwai, who contributed a dark-brooding backdrop to the film.
3. Once In A Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos
The rise and fall of the North American Soccer League and The New York Cosmos go hand in hand. Once In a Lifetime tells the story of the original Cosmos beginning in the late-1960s until their untimely ending in 1985. An unbelievable story of greed, goals and girls. The Cosmos had world famous players Pele, Franz Beckenbaur, Carlos Alberto and Giorgio Chinaglia — at the peak of their careers (with the exception of Pele) — and were the original superstar team of world football. This documentary features interviews with many of the North American Soccer League’s former stars, with the exception of Pele. Also featured is plenty of match footage and narration by actor Matt Dillon.
4. Fever Pitch
Not to be confused with the US version about baseball, Fever Pitch is the true cinematic interpretation of Nick Hornby’s seminal novel. Hornby adapted his original work into a fictionalized movie about a man’s love of football and love for a woman. The movie focuses on Colin Firth’s character Paul Ashworth, a north London schoolteacher. Ashworth is a diehard Arsenal fan who falls for a fellow teacher. What follows is Ashworth’s attempts to stabilize his two love lives as they continually clash. Not nearly as good as the book, but the film is still worth watching.
5. The Firm
Gary Oldman stars in this 1988 film about football hooliganism. This is the movie that helped inspire films like The Football Factory and Green Street Hooligans. The film is based on the activities of West Ham’s Inter City Firm, and their mischievous acts during the 1970s and 1980s. Oldman’s character Clive Bissel is a man that is living two lives: Family man and football hooligan. Throughout the movie Bissel is trying to combine the two most important parts of his life to no avail. Over 20 years since it’s original release, The Firm still holds it’s own as the definitive hooligan movie.
6. The Damned United
Based on David Pearce’s 2007 novel of the same name, The Damned United follows eccentric football manager Brian Clough through his success at Derby County and his 44 days in charge of Leeds United. The film stars Michael Sheen as Clough, and Timothy Spall as his right hand man, Peter Taylor. Though the book and film are based on true people and events, it is Pearce’s fictionalization of those events that make this work so enthralling.
7. Escape to Victory (aka Victory)
Sylvester Stallone, Michael Caine, Pele and Bobby Moore come together for this classic football movie from 1981. The film is an interpretation of a 1961 Hungarian film called “Two Halftimes in Hell.” That film was inspired by true events that took place in Ukraine during WWII. In Escape to Victory, however, the story centers around a group of Allied prisoners of war. The prisoners are challenged to a football match by the German officers who believe the match will be a brilliant propaganda move. Unknown to them is an escape plan being hatched by the prisoners to coincide with the match. Corny at times, and dated, it’s still a football classic.
Honorable mention: Pelada
There are few soccer documentaries that are as enlightening and inspirational as this one. Pelada is a documentary following Luke and Gwendolyn, two former college soccer stars who didn’t quite make it to the pros. Not ready for it to be over, they take off, chasing the game. From prisoners in Bolivia to moonshine brewers in Kenya, from freestylers in China to women who play in hijab in Iran, Pelada is the story of the people who play. It’s the type of documentary that will inspire you to pick up a ball immediately after the end credits finish rolling. It’s a joy to watch, and a must-see for any soccer fan.
Agree or disagree with the above list? Voice your opinion in the comments section below.
UPDATE: We’ve now expanded the list to the top 20 soccer movies of all time.