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9 Football Movies Based on True Stories in 2023

Is there anything better than a good football movie?

They often include an inspirational journey by an unlikely success, adversity, teamwork, and redemption.

In addition, these movies do not shy away from unspoken undercurrents that permeate our society and provide valuable historical contexts, such as racism, segregation, and bigotry.

In this article, I explore my nine favorite football movies based on a true story, although in no particular order.

Key Takeaways

  • The list below includes my nine favorite football movies based on true stories.
  • The funniest movie on this list, and my favorite, is the 2005 remake of The Longest Yard.
  • If you’re seeking a guaranteed tear-jerker, go with the 1971 made-for-TV movie Brian’s Song.

#1 Rudy (1993)

Released in 1993 and starring Sean Astin as the titular character, Rudy is one of the great college football movies. It tells the story of Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger, an undersized long shot who walked onto the Notre Dame football team.

While many of the film’s most dramatic moments are questionable at best, it succeeds in evoking the majesty and history of Notre Dame football. [1]

#2 Brian’s Song (1971)

A 1971 made-for-TV movie, the true story of Hall of Fame Chicago Bear Gale Sayers and his teammate Brian Piccolo will threaten your inventory of Kleenex. 

The audience sees firsthand how an unlikely friendship flourishes through racial strife and the unexpected acceptance of mortality when Piccolo discovers that he is dying of Cancer. 

Billy Dee Williams (Sayers) and James Caan (Piccolo) provide enough emotion and humanity in their respective roles to make this film a no-brainer. [2, 3]

#3 Remember The Titans (2000)

In Virginia, high school football is a way of life, an institution revered, each game celebrated more lavishly than Christmas, and each playoff distinguished more grandly than any national holiday.

In 1971 high school football was everything to the people of Alexandria. 

But when the local school board was forced to integrate an all-black school with an all-white school, they put the foundation of football’s great tradition to the test. [4]

#4 The Longest Yard (2005)

In the most laughter-inducing movie on the list and my favorite, Adam Sandler plays disgraced pro football quarterback Paul Crewe. 

Crewe lands in jail, where manipulative Warden Hazen recruits him to advise the institution’s team. This turns into a lead role quarterbacking a crew of inmates in a game against a group of prison guards.

Aided by incarcerated ex-NFL coach Nate Scarborough, Crewe and his team must overcome not only the bloodthirstiness of the opposition but also the corrupt officials trying to fix the game against them.

This movie features a star-studded cast: Sandler, Burt Reynolds, Nelly, Michael Irvin, Chris Rock, Terry Crews, Nicholas Turturro, Tracy Morgan, Steve Austin, and Brian Bosworth, among others. [5, 6]

#5 We Are Marshall (2006)

This 2006 film touches on resilience in the face of tragedy. 

When a plane crash claims the lives of members of the Marshall University football team and some of its fans, the team’s new coach and surviving players try to keep the football program alive. [7]

Matthew McConaughey stars as Jack Lengyel, the man willed to assume head coaching duties for the Marshall University football team after the program lost its original team and coaching staff in a plane crash. 

After its release, the movie received mostly positive reviews and became one of McConaughey’s more notable performances over the last few decades. [8]

#6 Radio (2003)

Radio is a 2003 film directed by Mike Tollin based on the true story of T. L. Hanna High School football coach Harold Jones and a mentally challenged young man James Robert “Radio” Kennedy, who he took under his wing.

The film stars Cuba Gooding Jr. and Ed Harris. [9]

#7 The Blind Side (2007)

This movie tells the touching story of former NFL offensive tackle Michael Oher (played by Quinton Aaron) and his rise out of poverty to football greatness thanks to the charity of a local family. 

This story was initially written as a book. Still, a few years later, the 2009 film adaptation starred Sandra Bullock as the family matriarch Leigh Anne Tuohy, in her best performance ever, an effort that earned her an Academy Award. [10, 11]

#8 American Underdog (2021)

This movie is a heartwarming and unlikely story of triumph and one of my top three movies to crack this list.

This 2021 biopic is about football Hall of Famer Kurt Warner’s unlikely but inspiring rise from a grocery store stockboy to Super Bowl champion with the St. Louis Rams and one of the greatest NFL quarterbacks of the modern era. 

Portraying Warner is Zachari Levi, a heartwarming hero that achieves his lifelong dream of playing football thanks primarily to spirituality and family. [12, 13]

#9 Concussion (2015)

In light of all the recent tragedies attributed to CTE, this movie provides a poignant examination of the subject.

A few years after the NFL made headlines off the field during their 2011 concussion scandal, the 2015 film Concussion was released in response to the heightened awareness around a now well-known disease. 

Will Smith stars as embattled Dr. Bennet Omalu, a forensic pathologist who discovers chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) while studying the brain of former NFL player Mike Webster.

Mike Webster, nicknamed “Iron Mike,” was a former center for the Pittsburgh Steelers who died of a heart attack in 2002 at age 50. 

Like in the Concussion movie, he had spent years battling depression, dementia, amnesia, and severe back pain. 

Bennet Omalu discovered CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) while trying to understand why Webster’s symptoms were present at a young age.

The film received mixed reviews but brought attention to football’s long-term damage that a wide range of society could see apart from just a report on the evening news. [14, 15]

Related reading:

Final Thoughts

On a dreary day with little to do, any of these movies will occupy your mind and stimulate your thoughts.


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