From Bend It Like Beckham to Diego Maradona: the best films about football

As the belated Euros finally kick off, take a whistlestop tour through the finest cinematic depictions of the beautiful game

Bend It Like Beckham
2002

Gurinder Chadha’s feelgood comedy was really the first film to get the hang of how to show football action on screen with loose-limbed energy and fun. Keira Knightley made her breakthrough as the up-and-coming footballing talent Jules. She befriends Jess, played by Parminder Nagra, whose dad is far from happy about her playing football.

Offside
2006

Jafar Panahi’s comedy is about female football fans desperate to defy Iran’s no-women rule and sneak in to the Iran v Bahrain qualifier for the 2006 World Cup – disguised as men. They find themselves grabbed by the police and herded into a special holding pen, being watched over by a miserable cop who is to suffer a karmic punishment for his sexism.

Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait
2006

Artists and film-makers Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno had the nifty idea of filming Real Madrid v Villarreal in 2005 and keeping the camera close up on Zinédine Zidane for the entirety of the match. In real time, we watch the hypnotic spectacle of Zidane’s great Easter Island statue face filling the screen.

War-zonal marking ... Bobby Moore, Michael Caine and Sylvester Stallone in Escape to Victory.
War-zonal marking ... Bobby Moore, Michael Caine and Sylvester Stallone in Escape to Victory. Photograph: Lorimar Film Entertainment/Allstar

Escape to Victory
1981

John Huston’s all-movie-star, all-football-star drama about a second world war PoW camp in which allied soldiers form a team to play an “exhibition match” against the Germans. Michael Caine plays the coach, with Sylvester Stallone as the US soldier who serves as his trainer. Pele, Bobby Moore and Osvaldo Ardiles also star.

Looking for Eric
2009

Some might say that Ken Loach’s greatest football film is Kes, with Brian Glover as the bumptious PE teacher. But this film had a role for one of the finest examples of a professional player going on to a movie career: the superlative Eric Cantona, playing himself in a vision to a depressed Manchester United supporter.

Leeds much to be desired ... Michael Sheen as Brian Clough in The Damned United.
Leeds much to be desired ... Michael Sheen as Brian Clough in The Damned United. Photograph: Sony/Everett/Rex

The Damned United
2009

Tom Hooper’s film version of David Peace’s novel about Brian Clough and his ill-fated stint managing Leeds United in 1974, with Michael Sheen giving us a classic turn as the great man. Did Clough want to destroy “Dirty Leeds” or did he want to destroy himself, ashamed of having taken Leeds’ shilling?

Kaiser: The Greatest Footballer Never to Play Football
2018

The Brazilian fantasist and conman Carlos “Kaiser” Raposo was given a trial in the 1980s by the Brazilian coach Carlos Alberto and used that one brush with greatness to get briefly signed for a string of Brazilian clubs. But he never actually played football for anyone, becoming a mascot kept around for his party-animal attitude.

Handyman ... Diego Maradona.
Handyman ... Diego Maradona. Photograph: Lifestyle Pictures/Alamy

Diego Maradona
2019

Asif Kapadia’s documentary about footballing great Diego Maradona tells his gripping story purely through TV footage, masterfully chosen and shaped. Maradona causes mass hysteria in Buenos Aires and Naples: goals, nightclubs, goals, gangsters, girlfriends, pregnancies, pregnancy denials, cocaine, weight gain, despair … it’s like a 130-minute Match of the Day title sequence by Sophocles.

Mike Bassett: England Manager
2001

Steve Barron’s mockumentary is about the beleaguered but lovable national boss Mike Bassett (Ricky Tomlinson). Switching between gloomy stoicism and impotent rage, Bassett clearly has something of Graham Taylor while also capable of unleashing a blistering half-time team talk with the passion of Alex Ferguson.

The Arsenal Stadium Mystery
1939

Thorold Dickinson is a British director admired by Scorsese – and here is his football mystery thriller, one of the first to feature football, an Agatha-Christie-ish caper set in Arsenal’s old Highbury ground and featuring real players. Arsenal are playing the fictitious amateur side the Trojans, one of whom drops dead and everyone’s a suspect.

Contributor

Peter Bradshaw

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
From Easy Rider to Sightseers: 10 of the best road trip movies
Freedom, nihilism, countercultural subversion: let these cinematic road trips transport you somewhere far, far away

Simon Wardell

10, Jul, 2020 @8:00 AM

Article image
From Summer Holiday to Midsommar: 10 of the best cinematic summers
The most memorable getaways, from Cliff Richard’s classic to some chilling, perpetual-daylight horror in Sweden

Simon Wardell

28, May, 2021 @8:00 AM

Article image
From GoldenEye to South Park: 10 of the best video games based on films and TV shows
Taking the greatest bits of their source material, these games allow players to enter the worlds they love via epic lightsaber battles and balletic flights of fancy

Luke Holland

10, Sep, 2021 @8:00 AM

Article image
From Gnomeo & Juliet to Baz Luhrmann: 10 of the best Romeo and Juliets
Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers have provided inspiration across stage and screen, via slang-singing gangs and warring garden ornaments

Chris Wiegand

19, Mar, 2021 @2:00 PM

Article image
From Platoon to Winter Soldier: 10 of the best Vietnam war films
As Spike Lee releases new war drama Da 5 Bloods, we look back at the ways cinema has represented the 20-year conflict

Andrew Pulver

05, Jun, 2020 @8:00 AM

Article image
From Ida to The Evil Dead: 10 of the best films under 90 minutes
If you don’t have the concentration for a cinematic epic, here is a selection of movies clocking in at less than an hour and a half

Andrew Pulver

25, Sep, 2020 @7:00 AM

Article image
Thumb-breaking gangsters to sadistic androids: 10 of the best hired goons
From Bond to Kill Bill and beyond, we ask culture’s best heavies to form an orderly queue

George Bass

14, May, 2021 @8:00 AM

Article image
From Get Out to Goodfellas: 10 of the best films that didn’t win best picture Oscar
Orson Welles’s classic, Sofia Coppola’s platonic meet-cute and Ang Lee’s cowboy masterpiece – here are the greatest losers in Hollywood

Peter Bradshaw

23, Apr, 2021 @8:00 AM

Article image
From Beethoven’s Ninth to Theme from Shaft: the best exercise anthems
Soul classics, German film soundtracks and chugging rap – here’s a workout of bangers to get you off the couch

George Bass

16, Apr, 2021 @8:00 AM

Article image
From Pressure to The Last Tree: 10 of the best black British films
A celebration of the pioneering films reflecting black life in Britain over the last 40 years

Ashley Clark

19, Jun, 2020 @8:00 AM