Whenever a large enough group of people here about my list and ranking criteria, they always ask me to name my top rated…something. What is your top Nicolas Cage film? What is the highest rated teen comedy? (For the record, those are Adaptation at 134 and Fast Times at Ridgemont High at 190.) In keeping with my theme for 2023 – and to answer one of those questions preemptively – today we review my highest rated football movie as the Super Bowl approaches. Surprisingly to me, that turned out to be Any Given Sunday (1999, dir. Oliver Stone).
Any Given Sunday is the story of the Miami Sharks – a middling professional football team trying to get into the playoffs on the strength of their legendary head coach Tony D’Amato (Al Pacino) and their veteran quarterback Cap Rooney (Dennis Quaid). Unfortunately, Cap gets injured in the first game we see as does his backup, meaning third string quarterback Willie Beamen (Jamie Foxx) is next man up. Along the way, the huge ensemble brings us Christina Pagniacci (Cameron Diaz), the new young female owner trying to make it in the boys club of professional football, star running back Julian Washington (LL Cool J), trying shed his image of being obsessed by his individual statistics over team success, team doctor Harvey Mandrake (James Woods) from the old school of sport medicine dictating “get the guys back on the field at all costs,” who is challenged by his new assistant trainer (Matthew Modine) who focuses more on the long-term health of the players, and several more.
Let me clear – Any Given Sunday is an average movie overall, but it does bring the most realistic look at on field football that I can recall ever seeing. Too often, movie football teams have actors out there who clearly are not football players. You can get away with this in other sports movies, but if you don’t move like a linebacker, we can all tell. Stone mostly gets that right here. Unfortunately, the bloated cast offers too many storylines and we are forced to focus on the least believable part of it – that their third best quarterback was this diamond in the rough all along who somehow becomes the savior of the team, writes/produces/films a music video for a chart-topping rap song mid-season, and yet throws up on the field in every single game out of nerves. What? We are treated to Pacino at his hollering peak – randomly yelling words in that oft-imitated Pacino way fits really well in a football locker room – but on the whole this is an average movie with average performances that is fairly predictable at every turn.
So how is this totally average movie my top rated football movie? First, I did exclude Jerry Maguire as a football movie. It’s a romantic comedy that happens to feature a football player in a large role. Beyond that, it speaks to other contenders in this category. While I have not seen potential contenders for the top slot Friday Night Lights or North Dallas Forty, try to pick a better movie from this list of equally average football films: The Program (807 on my list), Remember the Titans (900), the Burt Reynolds The Longest Yard (959), The Replacements (963), Necessary Roughness (1047), or Rudy (1052). Yeah. It is bleak for football movies. Oddly enough, in a rough search of 787 films ahead of Any Given Sunday, I counted six baseball movies and at least as many from the other major sports combined, plus two non-football movies with awesome football scenes (Fast Times at Ridgemont High and M*A*S*H). Watch one of those instead.
FUN FACT – All of these opposing coaches are played by former NFL players, including hall of famers Y.A. Tittle, Johnny Unitas, Dick Butkus, and Warren Moon. Many former NFL players also feature as football playing extras, including Terrell Owens – who was active in the NFL at the time and appeared despite being told the NFL would not allow current players to appear in the film.
Just Watch says that Any Given Sunday is not currently streaming on any platform. It is also to rent or buy on most platforms, including AppleTV, Redbox, and Amazon Prime.