Super Bowl Sunday is the right time to call Hollywood on its football record. Before moving on to the movies themselves, here are my picks for the actors who actually look like they could play football onscreen and those that definitely don’t. Feel free to call a timeout.
BEST FORM ON THE FIELD
Burt Reynolds in The Longest Yard (1974)
Reynolds actually played football in his native Florida and his skills show in this prison flick which has some of the best football action ever.
Nick Nolte in North Dallas Forty 1979
Nolte looks like he could take the abuse and the glory in this lively film version of Peter Gent’s best-selling expose of the NFL.
Jamie Foxx in Any Given Sunday 1999
Foxx captures the grit and the arrogance of a quarterback about to find NFL megastardom in Oliver Stone’s over the top (when is Stone ever subtle?) but entertaining football epic.
WORST SADSACK CASES OF GRIDIRON ACTING
Adam Sandler in The Longest Yard 2005
Sandler as a pro quarterback makes no sense except comically in this retread of the Burt Reynolds jailbreak movie that makes you appreciate Reynolds all the more.
Keanu Reeves in The Replacements 2000
Reeves is a gridiron disaster even in a movie about football losers. Looking like a light breeze could blow him over, Reeves keeps you hoping he’ll cut a few Neo moves. He never does.
James Van Der Beek in Varsity Blues 1999
Are you kidding me? Even as a second stringer, Van Der Beek is pushing it.
OK, now for the football movies themselves. I’m expecting a pissing contest — bring it on.
BEST IN SHOW
FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS 2004
The 1988 season for a high school football team in Odessa, Texas, is the basis for a movie that gets the details — professional and personal — right. From Billy Bob Thornton’s coach to Lucas Black’s player, the movie — directed by Peter Berg — makes you believe. Buss Bissinger’s terrific book found just the right hands. And the TV series isn’t bad either.
ANY GIVEN SUNDAY 1999
Oliver Stone’s movie is to football what Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull is to boxing. Not the real thing, but a visceral hallucination of what’s it’s like to be on the spot and taking punishment. The problems with Sunday come off the field not on it. You want to feel football? Put this on your home entertainment system and duck.
BRIAN’S SONG 1971
Everybody has their favorite inspirational football movie — Rudy, Remember the Titans, Invincible, Friday Night Lights, even Knute Rockne All American with its “win-one-for-the-Gipper” speech from, of all people, Ronald Reagan. But the one that gets me to well up is this TV movie starring James Caan as Chicago Bears hero Brian Piccolo.
WORST FOOTBALL CINEMA EVER
NECESSARY ROUGHNESS 1991
So jaw-droppingly bad it makes you hate the game. Almost.
THE PROGRAM 1993
They eliminated the scene where football jocks lie in the middle of the road facing oncoming traffic to prove their studhood — a teenager was killed doing the same thing — but no one eliminated the sour taste of a script that pretended to examine college football abuses and merely drowned in its own bile.
THE GAME PLAN 2007
It’s really not that awful. What galls me is that The Rock really does have the sand to play a star quarterback, and he’s chosen to do so in a kiddie flick that covers the game in goo.