“Rudy”, “The Longest Yard”, “Friday Night Lights”—cinema has a library full of collegiate and prison football films worth a spin. But, for some reason, Hollywood just cannot make a decent, realistic, grind-it-out pro-football movie. “Any Given Sunday”? Please. Even though the movies have yet to capture the heady excitement of the Super Bowl on film (and the fact that pro-football flicks never, ever make money internationally) here are a few genuinely enjoyable pigskin pictures you might have missed perfect for viewing before your Super Bowl party.
“Black Sunday” (1977)
Not to be confused with the amazing Mario Bava Italian horror flick of the same name, John Frankenheimer’s “Black Sunday” is not technically what you and I would call “good cinema”. Yet, this not-so-farfetched yarn about a terrorist attack (by blimp!) of the Super Bowl is far more engrossing than “Any Given Sunday” and much more fun than Dallas’s 30-10 shellacking of Buffalo in the 1994 championship game. Did I mention the blimp?
“North Dallas Forty” (1979)
Perhaps the dirtiest, nastiest, most fully rounded pro-football movie of them all, “North Dallas Forty” is a look into a Texas-based team that is all but a stand in for Tom Landry’s “work hard, play hard” Cowboys of the 1970s. Drugs, booze, sex, and Nick Nolte as a pill-addicted wide receiver make this an ideal warm-up flick at any Bowl party.
Burt Reynolds has never met a football movie he didn’t like. “Semi-Tough” is a “North Dallas Forty” without the drama and with a lot more New-Age satire. More about swagger, sex, cults, and other 1970’s subjects than football itself, the film still has a Pro Bowl’s worth of old timers including John Matuszak, Kapp, and Ed “Too Tall” Jones.
“Heaven Can Wait” (1978)
In this Warren Beatty gem, a backup quarterback for the L.A. Rams (yes, there was once a team out there) gets squished by a car, only to come back in the body of an older millionaire who was murdered by his gold-digging wife. He then buys the Rams and leads a cast of actual NFL players, to a Super Bowl win. Implausible yes, but no less so than the fact that the very next year the Rams made it to the championship game, playing against their foe in the movie, the Pittsburgh Steelers. Facing Terry Bradshaw and Pittsburgh’s “Steel Curtain”, however, the Rams could not repeat their fictional win, losing 19 to 31.
The critical establishment and moviegoers gave this George Clooney helmed wannabe madcap take on 1920s professional football a unified “meh”. Still, the authentic period details, comic timing, and well-choreographed game scenes are all there. Even though “Leatherheads” takes place before the advent of the Super Bowl (or most of the NFL for that matter) it’s one of the better “on-field” films out there. Just go for some chips and dip whenever Renée Zellweger shows up.
Above: John Krasinski runs the ball in “Leatherheads”, image courtesy of Universal Pictures.