Super Bowl LI kicks off Sunday night. Here are eight great football films to get you properly psyched for game time.
1. Remember the Titans (2000).
Not only is this a fabulous movie, with Denzel Washington as a coach struggling to integrate a Virginia high school team in 1971, but it lends itself to a ridiculous number of repeat viewings. Heartfelt, funny and significant. “We are the Titans! Mighty Mighty Titans!” Look for 19-year-old Ryan Gosling and 10-year-old Hayden Panettiere.
2. Friday Night Lights (2004).
A triple treat. The film is terrific, so was the book it’s based on (by Buzz Bissinger), and they both led to one of the best TV shows of the new millennium. A coach (Billy Bob Thornton) and his team desperately try to satisfy the crazed fan base of Odessa, Texas, where football is a religion.
3. Brian’s Song (1971).
It’s OK, guys, go ahead and cry. The deep friendship between Chicago Bears teammates Brian Piccolo and Gale Sayers (James Caan and Billy Dee Williams) takes a turn when we learn Brian is dying of cancer. What? You don’t like cheesy, made-for-TV movies? (Bonus casting: Dick Butkus plays Dick Butkus.)
4. The Longest Yard (1974).
Who knew felons could be so lovable? Burt Reynolds stars as former pro quarterback Paul Crewe, who organizes a motley team of prisoners to challenge the guards on the field in this funny, and tearful, film. Do not — I repeat, DO NOT — watch the Adam Sandler remake by mistake.
5. North Dallas Forty (1979).
Peter Gent played for the Dallas Cowboys and the film based on his book, with Nick Nolte and Mac Davis as “Dallas Bulls,” is one of the most realistic pro football films ever made. Sex and drugs and contract disputes. The Cowboys weren’t happy about the book. Or the movie.
6. Heaven Can Wait (1978).
Packed with laughs and heart, this comedy-drama spotlights the talents of co-director, co-writer and star Warren Beatty, who plays a pro quarterback “reincarnated” as a recently murdered blowhard. The excellent cast includes Julie Christie, Buck Henry and James Mason. Based on “Here Comes Mr. Jordan” from 1941.
7. Invincible (2006).
A 30-year-old teacher, coach and part-time bartender tries out for the Philadelphia Eagles in the mid-1970s and makes the team. No way? Way! Mark Wahlberg is wonderful in the based-on-a-true-story tale of Vince Papale. For the dreamer in all of us.
8. Rudy (1993).
Long before Sean Astin played Sam, a little guy bucking the odds in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, he played a real-life little guy named Daniel E. “Rudy” Ruettiger, bucking the odds of college football. Proof that unrelenting, dogged determination can get you places. Even at Notre Dame. Directed by David Anspaugh, who also made, arguably, the greatest sports movie ever: “Hoosiers.”