Sport has a very particular pathos: it exalts and disappoints us, feeds our hopes, and suddenly knocks them down, it is full of stories of sacrifice, pain, retaliation, and victories. In short, it has all the elements to provide the plot for a good film, and in fact, there are many films that focus on particular sports feats.
Obviously, the ideal list of films of this genre cannot miss those dedicated to football, the most popular sport in the world, even if its historical low popularity in the United States – where cinema is at home – has often held back the making of football films. high-budget, to favor those on baseball, American football, or basketball.
In any case, there are some interesting films, in some cases made in Hollywood but more often in Europe and in particular in Great Britain, where football was invented. Let’s find out together through our usual guide.
1. Escape to Victory
Surely the biggest – and perhaps, in reality, the only – blockbuster in which the game of football is king is Escape to Victory, a 1981 film directed by none other than John Huston, a director at the time now 75 years old but who has a career he had directed authentic masterpieces such as The Mystery of the Hawk, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre or The Asphalt Jungle.
The starting point of the story came from a news story already brought to the cinema in the 1960s in Hungary: during the German occupation of Ukraine, in 1942, the Nazis organized two football matches against inmates in local concentration camps.
The Germans lost both games, despite heavy pressure on Ukrainian players, who were all former Dynamo and Kyiv Lokomotiv players.
For a long time, it was said that the Ukrainian players were shot after the second victory, but in reality, the fate of the various players was more complex and varied, even if they suffered various retaliations from the occupants due to too much commitment in the matches.
Michael Caine, Sylvester Stallone, Max Von Sydow and… Pelé
In the film, the action is moved to France, where a German officer – a former footballer of his country’s national team – recognizes various British colleagues among the prisoners: for this reason he decides to organize a match between a selection of inmates and a representative of German soldiers. a game that was soon taken out of his hand by the hierarchs to make it an occasion for propaganda.
Meanwhile, the Allies make contact with the Resistance and organize the escape during the intermission of the meeting. The undeserved passive after the first 45 minutes, however, will convince the prisoners to return to the field to overturn the result and prove to the Germans that they are the strongest.
The element that made the film famous, in addition to the “heroic” plot, is the presence of numerous professional footballers in the cast.
Alongside Michael Caine, Sylvester Stallone and Max Von Sydow, in fact, played Pele (at the time just over forty, whose overhead kick in the equalizer is remembered) and Bobby Moore (captain of the English national team world champion in 1966 ).
But then there were also Osvaldo Ardiles (at the time still a player of the Argentine national team), Paul Van Himst (former star of Anderlecht), Kazimierz Deyna (a Pole who had just arrived in the American championship at the time), and others.
2. The coach in the ball
Let’s move now to completely different shores from the heroism and drama of Fuga the victory: just three years after the release of that film, in fact, in Italy it achieved great success, becoming even more cult, a new film with professional footballers in the cast, the insane The coach in the ball.
Italian cinema was not new to films of this genre. Already in 1970, Alberto Sordi had interpreted (and partly scripted) The president of the Borgorosso Football Club, a film that went into the grotesque way of understanding football in Italy.
In 1983 – that is, just a year before The Coach in the Ball – Paulo Roberto Cotechiño’s center forward of breakthrough was released, a film in which Alvaro Vitali tried to make fun of the new fashion of foreign footballers who were increasingly imposing themselves in our A league.
The tragicomic story of Oronzo Canà
Sergio Martino’s film was therefore part of an already consolidated trend but was able to win the hearts of Italian spectators, who still consider it perhaps the best film on Italian football and its world.
At the center of the story was the mediocre coach Oronzo Canà, played by a Lino Banfi with a strong Apulian accent, hired by the newly promoted Longobardi with the secret goal – unknown even to the coach himself – to earn relegation quickly to make ends meet better. accounts.
Despite his tactical ignorance, the manager will still manage to save the team, even in this case by deciding to opt for pride rather than give in to the easy lure of money.
In the cast, as mentioned, there are – albeit for brief appearances – many of the greatest footballers who played in Italy in the period: Roberto Pruzzo, Ciccio Graziani, Carlo Ancelotti, Zico, Oscar Damiani, and many others make an appearance, in addition to the coaches Giancarlo De Sisti and Niels Liedholm.
3. Dreaming of Beckham
After seeing an American and Italian production, let’s move to Great Britain, where some of the most significant films dedicated to the game of football have been made in recent years.
If in this sense, Fever at 90 ° (taken from a good book on Nick Hornby’s Arsenal ) had opened the trend at the end of the 90s, it was above all Sognando Beckham, from 2002, that gave him international success.
A forge of future stars
In the film, directed by the English director of Indian origins Gurinder Chadha, there was space for a series of actors who would later make it to Hollywood or in any case in the American show business.
There was the then-unknown Keira Knightley, just seventeen, she would become one of the highest-paid actresses on the market, able, already the following year, to obtain a runaway success with The Curse of the first moon.
The cast also included 25 -year-old Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, who had already starred in some major films like Velvet Goldmine, but from then on he began to get his first leading parts, playing a few years later in Match Point.
Finally, there was Parminder Nagra, the most mature of the group, who would join the cast of ER the following year, remaining there for six seasons, then becoming one of the protagonists of The Blacklist.
When Indian immigrants play women’s football
The story of the film focuses on the Indian girl Jess, who recently moved to London with her family but is intolerant of the traditions of her culture; in fact, she would like, enticed by her peer Jules, to join a women’s soccer team that is playing a summer tournament.
The matter is further complicated on the one hand when something seems to be born between Jess and the handsome coach Joe, which however causes Jules jealousy, and on the other hand when the final of the tournament coincides with the marriage of his sister, placing the young Indian soccer player facing a moral dilemma.
The film, produced on an overall limited budget, was an unexpected success at the box office but was also very well received by critics, who appreciated its progressive vision regarding the role of women and ethnic integration.
In reality, the initial script, written by Chadha herself and her collaborators, was from this point of view even more innovative, since the ending saw the two girls declare mutual love, an idea that was later abandoned for fear of being excessively shocking. the Indian public.
4. My friend Eric
So far we have presented the different faces of football: the heroic side, the comic side, the exciting side. The three films we have already seen, however, all have a happy ending, while we know that sport does not always lead us to rejoice, and indeed for every victory and satisfaction, there is a defeat lurking around the corner.
My friend Eric is also actually a movie with a happy ending, but basically with a much more bitter and sincere look at this great game and what it means to people.
The story introduces us to a middle-aged man from Manchester, Eric, a postman with a rather disastrous life: thirty years ago he abandoned his wife and daughter, and now lives with the two stepchildren left to him by his second ex-wife, one of them who also got into trouble with a gang of drug dealers.
Moreover, he is terrified of confronting his first wife. His only escape is football, as he is a huge Manchester United fan.
Eric Cantona’s life tips
His life changes when, after consuming marijuana found among his stepson’s things, he begins to have hallucinations that make him see none other than Eric Cantona, the former United star.
While he will try to make the former player relive the most extraordinary moments of his career, trying to grasp the secret of those who have been him, a fan, of the magical moments, the Frenchman will begin to give him the advice to straighten his situation, using football as a metaphor for life.
The film, directed by a specialist from the British working class Ken Loach, was released in 2009 and was well received by critics, who emphasized its ability to be touching and funny, thoughtful and light-hearted at the same time.
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Even the takings were all in all good in relation to the budget, even if in America the film had some difficulties due to the choice – common among other things to many Loach films – to have the protagonist act in a strict Manchester accent. , almost incomprehensible to non-English people.
5. The cursed United
Some time ago we dedicated an article to the glorious history of Leeds United, one of the most particular football teams in the varied English landscape.
The team, in fact, went through a period of great success at the turn of the sixties and seventies, coming to excel in England and Europe but also to link its name – perhaps indelibly – to a very masculine style of football and rude, who spared nothing to his opponents.
Right in the middle of that cycle of successes, the team suddenly found itself without a coach: the creator of the “Leeds miracle”, Don Revie, was in fact appointed manager of the England national team in 1974 and the white jersey team was forced to quickly search for a top-tier coach, in order to continue the cycle of successes.
Surprisingly, Brian Clough was chosen for the job, the coach perhaps more poles apart in philosophy and style of play than Revie, and even more surprising was the fact that Clough accepted the job, given that in previous years when he was in charge of Derby County, he had often attacked Revie and his team.
The story of Brian Clough
The stay of Clough – who is considered the best manager in English history, as he managed to win the Scudetto with two provincials taken in the Second Division such as Derby and, subsequently, Nottingham Forest – on the Leeds bench was very short.
After just 44 days, in fact, the team was clearly in the relegation zone and the coach, hated by both the players and the fans, was sacked. Those 44 days, however, have gone down in football history because they are told first in a good book by David Peace, then in a film directed in 2009 by Tom Hooper.
The film, which like the book takes many liberties with respect to the actual unfolding of events, finds its strength in the ability to involve the viewer in a story of sport but also of values, ambition, and failures, and above all in the work of some excellent professionals.
Clough is played by the excellent Michael Sheen (seen in The Queen, where he played Tony Blair, but also in Underworld, Frost / Nixon, some chapters of the Twilight saga, Midnight in Paris, and the Masters of Sex series ), but in the cast there they are also Timothy Spall, Jim Broadbent, and others.
Another 14 films on football, in addition to the 5 already reported
If football is the most popular sport in the world, there must be a reason: it is spectacular, it keeps you breathless, and gives you emotions. A bit like movies. So it should come as no surprise that films dedicated to this sport have grown in number over the years. Here are 14 others, mostly recent, with which to complete your film library.
Fever at 90 degrees
Based on a humorous and passionate novel by Nick Hornby, Fever at 90 ° is an English film directed in 1997 by David Evans. The protagonist has a particularly complicated love relationship with Arsenal, which however is magically resolved in the 1988-89 championship final. To interpret it, among other things, is Colin Firth, in one of his first important roles of him.
Pelé is the 2016 biographical film dedicated to the great Brazilian champion, considered, together with Maradona, the greatest footballer of all time. Written and directed by Jeff and Michael Zimbalist, the film focuses on the attacker’s childhood, right up to his 1958 World Cup victory.
Maradona – The hand of Dios
Diego Maradona represents for many the alternative to Pele: one Argentine, the other Brazilian; one whimsical, the other acrobatic; one nonconformist, the other entered the system. And also Maradona has his beautiful biopic, Maradona – La mano de Dios, directed by Marco Risi in 2007.
Subtitled Referees, Penalties, and Zen Philosophy, Shaolin Soccer is perhaps the most original of the films on our list. Co-written, directed, and starring Stephen Chow, it features a former Shaolin monk who decides to reunite with his old comrades to apply martial arts to football (with comic results).
Heroes of Sunday
The films we have chosen are all quite recent, with the only exception of this Sunday hero, directed in 1952 by Mario Camerini. At the center of the plot is the attempted corruption of the center forward of a provincial, but the various interpreters should also be noted: Raf Vallone, Marcello Mastroianni, Franco Interlenghi, Paolo Stoppa.
Goal! is the first chapter of a trilogy of films produced in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Mexico. Directed by Danny Cannon, this first film introduces us to Santiago Muñez, a Mexican boy who has the opportunity to make it by going to play for Newcastle, England.
Maradona and Pelé were undoubtedly the greatest, but among the most fascinating players also for their human parable, we must certainly also mention George Best. The film Best, directed by Mary McGuckian and starring John Lynch, was dedicated to him in 2000.
The president of the Borgorosso Football Club
We had also mentioned it a few lines above: The president of the Borgorosso Football Club is perhaps the first film that opened the Italian football-comic trend. It was directed in 1970 by Luigi Filippo D’Amico and starring Alberto Sordi and also saw an appearance by Omar Sivori.
Before the penalty kick
It is little known but interesting, if perhaps a little dated, also Before the penalty kick, sometimes also known as The fear of the goalkeeper before the penalty kick. The 1972 film was directed by maestro Wim Wenders and based on a novel by Peter Handke, who also collaborated on the screenplay.
Within the films dedicated to football, there is an interesting line of films that focus on the fans, sometimes even with tragic tones. This is also the case of Ultrà, a 1991 film by Ricky Tognazzi with, among the performers, Claudio Amendola, Ricky Memphis, and the director’s brother, Gianmarco Tognazzi.
Eccezzziunale … really
Italian is also Eccezzziunale… really, but of a completely different kind. Directed in 1982 by Carlo Vanzina, it is a demented film that over the years has become a small cult phenomenon, especially for the characters played with skill by Diego Abatantuono.
4-4-2 – The best game in the world
4-4-2 is an interesting and original 2006 film produced by Paolo Virzì with some young directors intent on directing four different episodes related to the world of football. Among the performers there are Nino D’Angelo, Alba Rohrwacher, Valerio Mastandrea and others.
Maradona of Kusturica
Before closing, we report a second film on Maradona, who in addition to his football career dedicates ample space to his figure, his impact, and even his even political thought. We are talking about Kusturica’s Maradona, a documentary film directed by the great Serbian director Emir Kusturica.
The extra man
We conclude with Man in Plus, the debut – dated 2001 – by Paolo Sorrentino behind the camera. The film, also written by the director and starring Toni Servillo, presents the parallel lives of two finished men: one a footballer vaguely inspired by the figure of Agostino Di Bartolomei, the other a pop singer.