There's an old expression in soccer: "It's the hope that kills you." It perfectly explains why the beautiful game translates to the big screen so well, with all the drama and pain that comes with it.
Soccer is among the world's biggest sports, and for many, the fascination of it stems from the hope and despair that comes when you bond with a team for life and pray endlessly for their success.
From last-minute winners to devastating losses, soccer encompasses the grace of ballet, the thrills of boxing, and the narrative arcs of the greatest novels, all rolled into 90 glorious minutes.
Here are my picks for the best soccer movies of all time that explore the sport from all kinds of angles and do it justice.
7. Goal! The Dream Begins (2005)
Goal! The Dream Begins truly is a movie of its time. Newcastle United was on the decline, yet famous enough to be featured in a worldwide movie. The only issue? The film's soccer scenes look less than perfect.
The story sees a young Mexican man go from abject poverty in his home country to becoming a young soccer superstar at Newcastle United, following a journey across the world.
Looking back, the film isn't great—it severely dates itself—but it's far from terrible, with some real moments of genuine emotion.
6. Kicking & Screaming (2005)
Will Ferrell's comedy film about an anxious man with an overbearing father—who ends up coaching his son's soccer team—is utterly hilarious, as expected from Ferrell's mid-2000s era.
There's nothing wrong with the film, but Kicking & Screaming somehow managed to get buried as a result of his fame.
Kicking & Screaming is brilliant, with American football legend Mike Ditka starring alongside Will Ferrell and Robert Duvall, who all deliver some genuinely fun moments while aptly infusing it all with heart.
5. Bend It Like Beckham (2002)
Bend It Like Beckham is the story of two young women who want to play soccer in the US and get away from their dreary old life in England.
Though it was named for David Beckham, the movie doesn't actually feature the ex-England captain at all—and that's a good thing! It lets the story come to the fore, away from the soccer icon's shadow.
Though the performances are somewhat wooden—especially that of a pre-fame Keira Knightly—the film holds up and gives a well-balanced story with some heavy emotional moments.
4. Mean Machine (2001)
Many say that Mean Machine is the film that gave us career-best performances from Vinnie Jones and Jason Statham—and, when all is said and done, those people are right.
Mean Machine follows Vinnie Jones as Danny Meehan, an imprisoned soccer player who eventually leads the rest of the prisoners in a soccer game agains the prison guards.
Does this sound familiar? You're likely thinking of Adam Sandler's The Longest Yard! As it turns out, both films—this one and that one—are based on the original movie The Longest Yard starring Burt Reynolds.
However, with its fresh new screenplay and its great cast, Mean Machine delivers in all the right ways.
3. The Damned United (2009)
Brian Clough is an iconic soccer name. He's the England manager who won the European Cup twice with Nottingham Forest, and he's widely regarded as one of the greatest soccer managers of all time.
So, of course, he needed a film to showcase his extraordinary career—and that film is The Damned United, which follows Clough through his nightmare stint as manager of Leeds United, where he lasted 44 days before parting ways with the team.
Michael Sheen dominates the screen with his performance as Clough, while Timothy Spall provides ample help as Clough's closest friend and assistant manager, Peter Taylor.
The Damned United makes soccer look real on the big screen—far more so than most other soccer movies manage—but its strength lies in its performances, which hit all the right notes.
2. United (2011)
United didn't have a huge impact when it first came out; however, the way it brought across the emotions of the 1958 Munich Air Disaster is something that shouldn't be forgotten.
When Manchester United's young and talented squad flew back from Belgrade one fateful February, the plane stopped for a refuel in Munich—where icy conditions resulted in the plane skidding off the runway and through a fence, killing multiple people on board.
United brings the disaster into sharp focus, with great performances from Jack O'Connell, David Tennant, and Dougray Scott, while Sam Claflin's Duncan Edwards is a piece of Manchester United history brought back.
1. Mike Bassett: England Manager (2001)
No soccerr movie brings across the spirit of the game quite as perfectly as Mike Bassett: England Manager does. The film shows the story of a lower league manager, who lands the job of leading the England national team following the previous manager's heart attack.
The comedy is at times subtle and at other times outrageous, but the film itself never loses sense of what it is: the story of a team that can't come together and play the beautiful game as one cohesive unit.
Ricky Tomlinson is outstanding as the entrenched manager at the end of his tether, while great comedy moments spring up all around him. And there's even a place for the dearly departed soccer icon, Pele.