The 2014 FIFA World Cup kicks off in less than three weeks when the host country Brazil faces Croatia on Thursday, June 12, in the first game of the month-long tournament. While it’s hard to match the excitement of seeing a live game with the best players in the world competing against one another for their respective countries, there are some great movies that have been made about “the beautiful game” that can be nearly as thrilling. Just like the thirty-two teams featured in this year’s World Cup use a variety of playing styles, the many films about soccer — or football as it is more commonly referred to around the world — encompass a wide variety of genres, from comedy and tragedy, to documentary and fantasy. With that in mind, here are seven great soccer-themed movies in no particular order that fans can enjoy as they wait for the World Cup to start next month.
7. Pelada (2010)
When it comes to inspiring films about the world’s most popular sport, it’s hard to top Pelada. This documentary film follows Luke Boughen and Gwendolyn Oxenham, two talented American college soccer players, as they travel around the world and play pick-up games with other amateurs who play simply for the love of the game. As noted on the official Pelada movie website, “From prisoners in Bolivia to moonshine brewers in Kenya, from freestylers in China to women who play in hijab in Iran, Pelada is the story of the people who play.” Although Pelada was a small-budget film with a limited release; it has proven popular with audiences and currently has an 86 percent approval rating from viewers at Rotten Tomatoes.
6. Bend it Like Beckham (2002)
Starring Parminder Nagra and Keira Knightley, this critically-acclaimed comedy tells the story of a young British woman of Indian heritage who defies her parents’ conservative restrictions on her lifestyle in order to participate in a local soccer league. Although the film’s title refers to David Beckham’s ability to curve the trajectory of his soccer ball kicks, the famed British player never makes an appearance in this feel-good movie. As noted by Rotten Tomatoes, Bend it Like Beckham was a significant commercial success in Europe and currently has an 85 percent “Certified Fresh” approval rating from the critics.
5. The Firm (1988)
Not to be confused with the 1993 legal thriller of the same name starring Tom Cruise, this made-for-television film directed by Alan Clarke is unflinching portrayal of football hooliganism in the U.K. In this sense, The Firm may make a good companion film to view alongside Pelada, as it portrays an aspect of soccer culture that is the polar opposite of the feel-good unity portrayed in that film. Gary Oldman’s portrayal of “Bexy,” a psychopathic leader of a violent football “firm” that attacks fans of rival teams, has been hailed by some critics as one of his finest performances. Although director Alan Clarke primarily worked in television, his films are highly regarded by critics today and many renowned actors had breakout roles in his films, including Gary Oldman, Tim Roth, and Ray Winstone.
4. Fever Pitch (1997)
Fever Pitch is based on a best-selling book of the same name that also inspired the 2005 Farrelly brothers romantic comedy movie in which the Arsenal Football Club is substituted with the Boston Red Sox. However, the original 1997 British film tells the story of Paul Ashworth — played by Colin Firth — an English teacher whose lifelong obsession with a sports team starts to threaten his romantic relationship with a fellow teacher.
3. Shaolin Soccer (2001)
This offbeat Stephen Chow-directed comedy-fantasy film tells the story of a Shaolin kung fu master who partners with a washed-up former soccer player in order to form an unstoppable soccer team that will promote the value of Shaolin kung fu. However, even with its impressive martial arts skills, the Shaolin soccer team is considerably challenged when it takes on the steroid-enhanced “Team Evil” in the Hong Kong championship game. Shaolin Soccer has become a cult favorite among movie fans who appreciate Chow’s unique brand of cartoonish comedy and the film currently has a 91 percent “Certified Fresh” approval rating from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes.
2. The Two Escobars (2010)
This documentary film tells the loosely intertwined stories of two famous Columbians with the surname of “Escobar” — one a ruthless gangster and the other a respected athlete. Pablo Escobar became one of the world’s richest men through his cocaine trafficking empire, while Andrés Escobar gained fame as a player on Columbia’s national soccer team. However, when Andrés scored an unintentional own goal during the run-up to the 1994 World Cup, his connection to a country plagued by drug-related violence leads to a tragic outcome. The Two Escobars currently has an 85 percent approval rating from the critics on Rotten Tomatoes.
1. Victory (1981)
Also known as Escape to Victory, this John Huston-directed film will delight cinephiles and sports fans alike with its impressive cast of Hollywood heavyweights and famous soccer players. Besides starring well-known actors such as Michael Caine, Sylvester Stallone, and Max von Sydow; this film is also packed with professional players such as the legendary Brazilian footballer Pelé, famed English player Bobby Moore, and many others. The film tells the story of a group of prisoners of war during World War II who participate in a soccer match against their German captors in order to facilitate their escape.
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