10 Soccer Movies for Americans
By Shane Rivers
Soccer, also known to non-Americans as football, is the most popular sport in the world. In fact, the FIFA World Cup, an event held every four years to determine the best national team on the planet, draws twice the viewers of the Summer Olympics. So why has it had so much trouble gaining a foothold in America?
The biggest reasons are because Americans look at soccer as either (a) a sport played by “foreigners,” or (b) a sport that only U.S. women are good at. It doesn’t help that some of the biggest players in the world carry names like Ronaldinho and Ronaldo. For people far more concerned with where their next fast food meal is coming from, it’s enough to make the head swim.
But even if you aren’t interested in watching little South American guys kick a ball around for hours, you can still enjoy the following selection of soccer movies. Each one features some element which will appeal to American viewers, be it amusing foreigners, a plucky underdog story, or the comic stylings of Will Ferrell.
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Kicking It (2008) – Each year, the Homeless World Cup is held in an effort to spotlight this social problem and give downtrodden men and women a chance to overcome the obstacles in their lives. This documentary follows the efforts of six teams as they compete to win the gold in the 2006 event at Cape Town, South Africa. You’d have to be a pretty heartless bastard not to feel at least a little inspired, and U.S. viewers will have the opportunity to cheer on an American team originating out of Charlotte, North Carolina. Colin Farrell lends his gritty Irish sensibilities to the narration. Normally I’d say something snarky, but these brave souls deserve better than some smart-assed comment. I’ll save those for the rest of the list.
Bend It Like Beckham (2002) – Jess (Parminder Nagra) and Jules (Keira Knightley) are a couple of spunky young London girls who love to play soccer, and their barely-legal good looks will prove more than enough to keep male viewers interested. Besides, how often do you get to see the chick from Pirates of the Caribbean in a sports bra? Anyone who doesn’t think with their penis will no doubt be moved by the heartwarming story of friendship, football, and following your dreams. There’s also plenty of that crazy-ass Indian techno-sounding music thrown in, plus a last-minute cameo from Becks and Posh. The whole thing concludes with a fairy tale ending, something which should please U.S. audiences used to having everything wrapped up nice and neat. Even if you’ve never played soccer in your life, Bend It Like Beckham will make you want to lace up your cleats and hit the pitch.
Kicking & Screaming (2005) - Oh, that crazy Will Farrell is at it again. This time around, he’s playing Phil Weston, a mild-mannered dad who takes over coaching his son’s horrendous soccer team. To complicate matters, the best team in the district is coached by Buck Weston (Robert Duvall), Phil’s overachieving father. Phil becomes obsessed with molding his team into a championship contender, and he even brings in neighbor Mike Ditka (playing himself) to help the team improve. When Ditka introduces Phil to coffee, all hell breaks loose, and fans of Farrell get treated to the familiar site of him running around and acting like a madman. Of course, it all comes down to the league championship, with Phil’s upstart team going against Buck’s powerhouse club. Wanna take bets on who wins?
Green Street Hooligans (2005) – Elijah Wood plays Matt Buckner, a Harvard journalism student who takes the fall for his roommate’s coke habit and gets kicked out of school. After traveling to Britain to stay with family, he meets Pete (Charlie Hunnam), a cocky soccer hooligan who’s a member of the Green Street Elite, a violent “firm“ which spends its time brawling with firms from rival soccer clubs. Matt soon finds himself a member of the GSE, and he travels around for the rest of the film delivering beatdowns to snarling Europeans. If you’ve ever said to yourself, “I’d like to see Mr. Frodo kick a little ass,” then this is the film for you. And there’s no chubby Sean Astin to slow him down.
Shaolin Soccer (2001) – If you haven’t seen a Stephen Chow movie, it’s time to remedy that mistake. The genius behind Kung Fu Hustle also co-wrote, directed and starred in this zany film about a Shaolin monk who reunites with his kung-fu brothers to form a powerful soccer team. With a team comprised of Iron Head, Hooking Leg, Iron Shirt, Empty Hand, “Might Steel Leg” Sing, and Light Weight, Team Shaolin sets out to win the China Super Cup. There’s just one problem: the notorious Team Evil stands in their way, fueled by American drugs and illegal training techniques. What follows is a match of epic proportions, with on-field tornadoes and balls kicked hard enough to send players flying into the stands. It’s not often that you find a film which will appeal to both soccer and martial arts fans, but leave it to Stephen Chow to deliver a delightfully unexpected surprise.
Mean Machine (2001) – A soccer remake of The Longest Yard, with hard man Vinnie Jones in the lead role. The former Welsh footballer stars as Danny Meehan, the ex-captain of England’s national team, who was banned for fixing a match. Things get worse for Danny when he gets drunk, assaults a pair of cops, and finds himself sentenced to three years in prison. Once there, the warden wants him to coach the guard’s soccer team, but Danny instead offers to train a practice team comprised of inmates. This pits the cons versus the coppers, and you can pretty much guess where it goes from there. Besides Vinnie Jones, American viewers will also recognize Jason Statham in the role of a badass inmate named Monk. Fans of Guy Ritchie’s crime films should also rejoice, as everyone from Gorgeous George (Adam Fogerty) to Rory Breaker (Vas Blackwood) put in an appearance.
The Great Match (2006) – Playing like a whacked-out episode of The Discovery Channel, The Great Match follows three men from around the globe as they quest to reach a television and watch the 2002 World Cup final between Brazil and Germany. One’s an Indio from the Amazon, another a Mongolian nomad, and the third a camel-riding tribesman from the Sahara. But despite their vast cultural difference, the documentary shows that all men are the same when it comes to sports. And when it comes to foreigners in crazy-looking attire, no sport is more popular than soccer.
Victory (1981) – Also known as Escape to Victory in other parts of the globe, this film features a group of World War II POWs who agree to take on the all-so-evil German team. What makes this one really special is that the POW team is coached by none other than Michael Caine, while Sylvester Stallone acts as the goalkeeper. That’s right, Rambo is the freakin’ goalie. And for those of you who might actually like soccer, the film features the legendary Pele, as well as Booby Moore, John Wark, Kevin O’Callaghan, and many others. Add in Max von Sydow as the ruthless Major Karl von Steiner, and you’ve got the rare film which appeals to both soccer-hating Americans and everyone else.
A Shot at Glory (2001) – A soccer club from the small fishing village of Kilnockie, Scotland tries to reach the Scottish Cup Final for the first time. If they fail, their greedy American owner may very well move the team to Dublin, so the hopes of the entire community rest upon the club’s veteran coach, Gordon McLeod, and their hotheaded new striker, Jackie McQuillan. While some of our U.S. readers may have gotten drowsy just reading those last few sentences, let me point out a couple of things that might change your mind. First, Robert Duvall plays the team’s coach. That’s right, the same Robert Duvall famous for playing southerners and cowboys. And the oily American owner? That would be none other than Michael Keeton. You might remember him from a little film called Batman. Personally, I like to watch this film and pretend that Bruce Wayne is actually the owner of the team.
Gracie (2007) – We end the list with another inspirational film, this time loosely based on the early life of MILF actress Elizabeth Shue. Set in the late ‘70s, it tells the story of Gracie Bowen (Carly Schroeder), a 15-year-old girl born into a family of soccer fanatics. Her father was a former star, and all three of her brothers pursue the game with a passion. But when eldest brother Johnny is killed in an accident, Gracie decides she wants to honor his memory by taking his place on the high school varsity team. Keep in mind that this was the ‘70s, so a girl participating in a “boy‘s sport“ was unheard of. Gracie must fight the opposition of her father, the school, and many others who think she’d be better off barefoot and pregnant. Will she triumph or end up painting her toenails and reading Seventeen? Watch the movie, dammit.