The 10 best football movies – Far Out Magazine

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The pop-up Christmas shops may be ready to line the streets in the cold and wet centres of every major British city, but the world of football is ready for one of the hottest and most controversial World Cups on record. Awarded to Qatar in 2010, the middle-eastern country has been preparing for the celebrated world festival for the past 12 years, exploiting migrant workers to create a number of distinctive grand stadiums, with over 6,500 people dying in the process. 
Such has created quite a moral conundrum for football fans across the world who want to watch their national team in a rare World Cup tournament but don’t want to engage with the reprehensible actions of Qatar in their preparations for the event. This has prompted us to create a list of the ten best football movies of all time, giving something for football fans to get behind if they can’t bring themselves to engage with Qatar 2022. 
Surprisingly, once we put our fingers to the keyboard, we discovered that there are far more great football films than we gave the niche genre credit for, so much so that we were forced to omit some nostalgic ‘classics’. Danny Cannon’s 2005 movie Goal can’t quite squeeze its way onto our list, with the inferior sequels also left to cinematic obscurity and the dusty DVD cabinets of late British millennials across the nation. 
Despite some shocking omissions, our list of the ten best football movies of all time includes old classics and modern greats, with the films of John Huston, Ken Loach, Tom Hooper and Asif Kapadia each securing a place in the squad. 
A consistent through-line on our list is our slight bias towards nostalgic British family favourites, with John Hay’s There’s Only One Jimmy Grimble being the first of such movies on this list. Telling the story of Jimmy Grimble, a shy Manchester school boy who, through football and a pair of special boots, starts to regain his confidence, Hay’s movie is an utter charm-fest from start to finish. 
Starring a number of British icons, including Robert Carlyle, Ben Miller, John Henshaw and more, we couldn’t make a list of the best football movies and not include There’s Only One Jimmy Grimble. 
Every other movie on this list abides by the laws of physics, featuring fallible players who try to embrace all the magic and grace of the beautiful game. Stephen Chow’s Shaolin Soccer takes things to a whole new level, however, telling the story of a young Shaolin follower who reunites with his brother to form a football team who use their insane martial arts skill to their fantastical advantage. 
Chow’s film is an utter joy, featuring several hilariously enjoyable action sequences, utilising some charming yet admittingly cheap special effects to carry out its comedy.
Half a coming-of-age London-based romance tale and half a compelling social commentary, Bend it Like Beckham embodied the optimistic essence of ‘Cool Britannia’ riding the wave of positivity that had undoubtedly petered out following the dawn of the 2000s. Bright and colourful, fueled on saccharine energy, Gurinder Chadha’s film is an utter delight to watch, telling the story of a young Punjabi girl named Jesminder and her friend Jules who wish to play professional football despite their parent’s wishes. 
Beloved to this very day, Bend it Like Beckham became an inspirational modern classic for countless young footballers, largely thanks to the terrific performances from actors Keira Knightley and Parminder Nagra.
Celebrated so much at the time that it’s now being lined up for a narrative retelling from filmmaker Taika Waititi, the 2014 documentary Next Goal Wins tells the story of the national football team American Samoa, who suffered the worst loss in the history of the World Cup, losing to Australia 31-0 in a qualifying round in 2001. Though it sounds like a gruelling watch, Brett’s documentary is actually inspiring stuff. 
Exploring a squad of complex and charming individuals, Next Goal Wins is an inspiring tale that focuses on the steely determination of a team that just can’t stop losing.
For anyone that has never heard of John Huston’s 1981 movie Escape to Victory before, it may look like a fake practical joke. Starring Hollywood icons Sylvester Stallone, Michael Caine and Max von Sydow alongside a host of football legends including Pelé and Bobby Moore, the film follows allied P.O.W.s who prepare for a football match against the German National Team to be played in Nazi-occupied Paris whilst hatching a plan to ‘escape to victory’. 
Alas, whilst it sounds like a fake movie, Escape to Victory exists, and it’s a great watch, too, thanks to some nifty direction from the mind behind The Maltese Falcon and The Man Who Would Be King. 
One of the most niche movies on our list is the 2018 documentary Kaiser: The Greatest Footballer Never to Play Football, directed by Louis Myles. Telling the extraordinary story of Carlos “Kaiser” Henrique Raposo, a professional footballer who never actually played a real game. Convincing others of his abilities, with help from journalists he was chummy with, Raposo moved from club to club, avoiding playing the game at all costs.
Entertaining, amusing and strangely emotional, Kaiser may just be the best movie about football that you’ve never seen. 
Loach’s 2009 movie Looking for Eric is an inspiring study of how one can find power in a union with friends, family and idols. The film itself follows Eric (Steve Evets), a football fanatic postman whose life is descending into crisis, until a vision of the philosophical player Eric Cantona comes into his life, prompting him to change how he looks at the world around him. More of a powerful drama than a rousing football movie, Loach’s film still fits the bill.
Sweet and whimsical, the film is among Loach’s most uplifting movies, tackling some lighter themes of companionship in the background.
Released the very same year as Ricky Gervais’ Office would change the face of British comedy forever, Steve Barron’s Mike Bassett: England Manager was a satirical mockumentary that riffed on many of the same themes. The film follows Mike Bassett, a scruffy and loud-mouthed lout who finds himself leading the English national football team into a World Cup with hilarious incompetence. 
With a host of famous British faces, including Ricky Tomlinson, Phill Jupitus, Bradley Walsh and Geoff Bell, Mike Bassett: England Manager gets a top spot on our list thanks to its passionate cult fanbase. 
The career of British filmmaker Tom Hooper is peculiarly scattered, having won an Oscar in 2011 for The King’s Speech, only to release the subpar Danish Girl in 2015, followed by the disastrous Cats in 2019. Still, he is a celebrated director for a reason, and the forgotten greatness of the 2009 movie The Damned United demonstrates this terrifically, telling the story of Brian Clough’s 44-day reign as the coach of the English football club Leeds United.
Starring the brilliant Michael Sheen as Clough, Hooper’s movie also features the likes of Colm Meaney, Timothy Spall, Stephen Graham and Jim Broadbent. 
The British filmmaker Asif Kapadia has established himself as one of the greatest documentarians working in modern cinema, having helmed not only the celebrated football movie Diego Maradonna in 2019, but also biographical studies into Ayrton Senna and Amy Winehouse in 2010 and 2015 respectively. His 2019 documentary into the late Argentine footballer is one of his very best. 
Painstakingly constructing a study on the divisive football star from over 500 hours of never-before-seen footage, the documentary centres on the cult of personality that followed the star throughout his career, but especially his time at S.S.C. Napoli in the 1980s.
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