Victory movie - still frame
Bobby Moore, Michael Caine, Sylvester Stallone in "Victory" - Paramount Pictures (1981)

A comprehensive list of soccer films to get you through life without matches | Greg Seltzer

With soccer here and abroad on hiatus due to measures intended to stem COVID-19's spread, fans jonesing for action may be feeling a little lost right now.

Since everybody will be spending much of the coming weeks at home, there are bound to be a large number of movies viewed across the US and Canada. So, why not get your soccer fix from cinema?

If you asked Kicking + Screening film festival co-founder Rachel Markus, she'd certainly champion the idea. Since starting the festival in 2009, she's watched over over 500 soccer films of all sorts – fiction, non-fiction, feature-length, shorts, subjects great and small, you name it. However, it doesn't take long to realize she's especially moved by the documentaries.

"Les Yeux dans les Bleus was the first film we ever showed at the festival," Markus recalled fondly. "It was fly-on-the-wall access to a team nobody thought would win [World Cup '98]. That brings me tears every time."

The Last Yugoslav Football Team and 3 Million also stand out as among her most memorable K+S features.

Much has changed over the course of arranging what Markus figures is at least 25 K+S gatherings around the globe. In addition to the annual New York City edition, the festival has also played in cities such as Amsterdam, Kerala, London, Portland and Prague.

"There's just so much content out there, and it only gets better and better," she said. "There's always new stories and fresh takes on stories you've heard about.

"For sure, there's more US-themed films coming. In the beginning, it was a given that everything would have subtitles. And though it's not enough yet, there's definitely more stories about women in soccer."

One of her recent favorites, Football For Better Or Worse, fits the latter category. That film is among the movies now available on the K+S streaming platform, along with other Markus darling picks such as Messi & Me and Soka Afrika.

In a move that gained the Markus seal of approval, I've come up with 23 selections for everyone to binge while hunkered down in their friendliest of confines. Each pick below comes complete with a handy streaming option, a trailer link and a quick description to pique interest.

We're sticking to motion pictures and documentaries that are significantly tied to the game itself or some pertinent societal connection. In other words, otherwise solid offerings such as Green Street Hooligans (plot: an American gets caught up with a rough West Ham United crowd) or Final Score (an American tries to squash a terrorist plot at a West Ham game) that are only tangentially related to soccer don't qualify.

Before we start wondering what filmmakers think really goes on at West Ham, let's lace 'em up and kick off my personal list of suggestions.

THE STARTING XI

Forever Pure

(available on Netflix)

Most soccer movies are quite uplifting. This Emmy Award-winning Israeli documentary about what transpired when Beitar Jeruslaem signed a couple of Muslim players on loan back in 2013 is anything but. You're bound to be left disturbed as the insistently childish blind hatred of ultras – and the behavior of capitalizing figures in and around the club – tears apart a talented squad, derails a promising season and threatens to doom one of the country's top outfits to relegation.

Mike Bassett: England Manager

(available on Prime Video)

Soccer movies don't wade into purely comedic waters very often, but this one dove in head first singing loud and proud with a Lancashire accent. With several characters poking fun at 90's era England stars (be sure to check the movie's Wikipedia page after viewing to connect those dots), this knee-slapper about a clumsy, overmatched manager suddenly thrust into the England job satirically hits the bullseye on numerous aspects of the country's relationship with soccer.

Diego Maradona

(available on HBO)

Fans are actually spoiled for choice when it comes to Maradona docudramas, but the most recent one takes the cake. Using scads of never-before-seen footage, this acclaimed film centers around the goals, drugs, gangsters and championship glory that colored The Golden Boy's Napoli days.

Next Goal Wins

Full movie on YouTube

What happened when former MLS and US Under-20 coach Thomas Rongen took the manager's job with a perpetually-woeful American Samoa national team striving for nothing more than to win a single game, any game? An irrepressibly delightful documentary rife with compelling subjects tells the tale.

Rise & Shine: The Jay DeMerit Story

(available on Netflix)

If you've ever wondered how a plucky Wisconsin kid managed to go from backpacking around the English non-league seventh flight to playing Premier League promotion final hero to World Cup starter, this pleasant documentary has the answers.

Summer of '92

(available on Netflix)

Who doesn't love a great underdog tale? This movie definitely has its early 90's vibe down pat as it recounts how routinely disrespected Denmark boss Richard Møller Nielsen turned a talented but unmotivated Denmark side into national legends at the 1992 European Championship. It's a classic story that unfolded in a long string of extraordinarily peculiar ways.

The Damned United

(available on iTunes)

This semi-fictional take on a true story isn't just one of the greatest soccer flicks of all time, it's among my favorite movies of any kind. Covering the before, during and after of Brian Clough's rough 44 days in charge of Leeds United, Michael Sheen is outstanding as the late great and charismatic manager.

The Referee

Full movie with English subtitles on Vimeo

I haven't watched nearly as many soccer-related short films as Markus, but this is officially my favorite until further notice. A trio of Swedish filmmakers decided to follow Allsvenskan referee Martin Hansson for a full year as he progressed to officiating at the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Little did they know that Hansson would make the blunder of his career along the way in the infamously decisive Thierry Henry-handball qualifier. 

The Two Escobars

(Available on EPSN Video)

Aired during the first season of ESPN's 30 for 30 documentary series, this entry expertly drew the unfortunate lines that connected notorious drug kingpin Pablo Escobar to his namesake, beloved Colombia defender Andres Escobar. The latter, of course, was senselessly shot to death in the street not long after scoring the own goal in Colombia's 1994 FIFA World Cup loss to the United States that contributed to the pre-tourney favorites failing to reach the knockouts.

We Must Go

(available on FuboTV)

After being let go by the US men's national team back in 2011, Bob Bradley shocked many by taking the Egypt reins. This engrossing documentary depicts the now-LAFC coach's mission of snapping the Pharaohs' 24-year World Cup qualification drought. The Egyptian Crisis, coup and resulting aftermath all serve as a tumultuous backdrop.  

Victory

(available on iTunes)

Any fan who grew up in the 80's has surely seen this popcorn movie countless times, thanks to its ubiquity on cable movie channels back in the day. For those who haven't seen it, Sly Stallone, Michael Caine, Max von Sydow, Pele and a throng of old school soccer icons star in a story about war prisoners disguising a plan to escape the Nazis inside what German officers imagine as a propaganda match. 

WARMING UP ON THE SIDELINE

Becoming Zlatan

(available on Netflix)

An engrossing emotional rollercoaster of a movie that details through archival footage how everyone's favorite former LA Galaxy lion transformed from a troubled son of immigrants to a mercurial world superstar.

Bend It Like Beckham

(available on iTunes)

The surprise smash hit dramedy introduced us to Parminder Nagra and Keira Knightley, who play a pair of best buddies aiming to prove girls have a place in the beautiful game. The film's title, of course, takes inspiration from David Beckham, owner and president of soccer operations for Inter Miami CF.

Campo de Jogo

(available on Fandor)

Much more show than tell, this is not your average soccer documentary. The film swims in social commentary without much dialogue, taking you into the action of a favela youth tournament scored by symphonic music and the naked sounds of the game on the field.

Das Wunder von Bern

(Full movie with English subtitles on YouTube)

A compelling look at one fictional family through the true story lens of how Die Mannschaft pulled off a 1954 World Cup stunner against mighty Hungary and gave post-World War II Germany a lift.

Hermano

(available on Prime Video)

The tense, dramatic story of two brothers with differing personalities as they struggle to rise above the criminality, violence and tragedy of their Caracas slum to earn pro contracts.  

Istanbul United

(available on Prime Video)

This lively documentary tells the story of how bitter animosity between ultras from Istanbul's three biggest clubs – Besiktas, Galatasaray and Fenerbahce – was pushed aside when they came together to help spur protests against creeping fascism in Turkey back in 2013.

Johan Cruijff: En un momento dado

(Full movie with English subtitles on YouTube)

Through highly-personal interviews with several club and local figures, and eventually Cruijff himself, this quaint documentary paints a picture of the legendary player's glorious Barcelona years.

Offside

(available on iTunes)

This gently satirical film, which follows a group of girls caught trying to break the rules by sneaking into the clinching win that sent Iran to World Cup 2006, landed on the year-end top 10 of several critics.

Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos

(available on Netflix)

An entirely enjoyable look back at the how the Cosmos got past a rough start to become a true cultural touchstone of American soccer.

Our Way: The Exclusive Behind the Scenes Story of the USA's 2002 World Cup Journey

The only reason this one doesn't make the starting line-up is that it's extremely hard to find. Not to set off a race, but eBay had one DVD copy going for about 50 bucks the last time I checked. The joyous trip down USMNT memory lane is well worth the difficult chase, and satisfying on every level.

Shaolin Soccer

(available on Netflix)

While I'm not quite so high on this live-action anime comedy as many critics and fans are, there's no denying that it has a wacky, entertaining charm.

The Game of Their Lives

(available on Prime Video)

As most of us weren't around back when the USMNT pulled off a stunning World Cup upset of England back in 1950, this well-acted movie is a nostalgia primer for today's fans.

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