En español | It may look a little bit different with fewer fans in the stands, coaches wearing protective masks on the sidelines as they call plays, and synthetic crowd noise being piped in via stadium PA systems, but the NFL is finally back. And not a moment too soon. But since every day can't be Sunday (or Monday night, for that matter), we've got a list of the 15 best football movies for you to stream while you're waiting for the next slate of games to kick off.
High on any sports junkie's list of the greatest sports movies ever made, Rudy is the kind of film that wears its heart unabashedly on its sleeve. And if you find that sort of emotional arm-twisting to be manipulative, you may want to look elsewhere. But if it's a lump in your throat the size of a beach ball you're after, then this is the football flick for you. Sean Astin (now 49) stars as Rudy Ruettiger, a runty blue-collar dreamer whose only aspiration in life is to play football for his beloved Notre Dame. He gets his wish … well, sort of … when he's chosen to basically be the team's tackling dummy at practice. Eventually, all of his teammates grow so fond of Rudy that he gets a chance to take the field. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have something in my eye.
Draft Day (2014)
Kevin Costner has starred in some of Hollywood's greatest sports movies (Bull Durham, Tin Cup, Field of Dreams), but for some reason this one gets overlooked. It deserves better. In director Ivan Reitman's Moneyball-esque procedural about the ins and outs of the NFL's annual search for the next franchise superstar, Costner (now 65) plays Sonny Weaver, the harried general manager of the Cleveland Browns. Toggling back and forth between his messy personal life and the high-stakes ticking-clock drama of draft day, this white-knuckle-tense drama gives us Costner just the way we want him: a cocky, aging jock with a mischievous twinkle in his eye and a screw-it-all air of defiance.
The Blind Side (2009)
Sandra Bullock (now 56) won an Oscar for her performance as Leigh Anne Tuohy, an opinionated Southern woman with a hard-candy shell and a soft, chewy center whose well-off family takes in a homeless Black high school football phenom (Quinton Aaron). Based on Michael Lewis’ best seller about Michael Oher (who would go on to become a first-round draft pick for the Baltimore Ravens the same year that this film came out), The Blind Side teaches us that, yes, football is just a game, but it can also be viewed as a metaphor for life and looking out for the welfare of others — both on and off the field.
North Dallas Forty (1979)
Based on former Dallas Cowboy Peter Gent's Peeping-Tom insider's account of what trouble professional football players get up to when they're not on the field, North Dallas Forty is a raucous celebration of brotherhood and bad behavior, 1970s style. Which means, there's plenty of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll to go along with the pads and pigskin. Nick Nolte (now 79) and country singer Mac Davis (now 78) play NFL journeymen who sacrifice their bodies every Sunday for money and fame. (You can actually feel Nolte's bones crack as he gets out of bed the morning after a game.) Symbolic of its era, the film is about rebelling against the authority and greed of ownership while reveling in serious bouts of pill-popping, hot-tubbing hedonism. But beneath its period trappings, this is a timeless story about a profession that more often than not is over before you even have a chance to enjoy it.
RELATED: If you love football movies, we're going to bet you also love baseball movies. Which is why AARP critics went to bat and collected the best baseball movies to stream. Get on base here: 17 Great Baseball Movies to Watch at Home Right Now
We Are Marshall (2006)
Based on the tragic true story of the Marshall University Thundering Herd football team who perished in a plane crash while coming home from an out-of-state game in 1970, this inspirational drama stars Matthew McConaughey (now 50) as Jack Lengyel, the coach who was hired not only to rebuild the team but to heal the community's shattered soul in the wake of unspeakable loss. Lost's Matthew Fox (now 54) is outstanding as the assistant coach who narrowly missed the doomed flight and still carries survivor's guilt. We Are Marshall is less about X's and O's than grief and resilience. And yet it's rousing, thanks to McConaughey's simmering, low-key performance. He knows better than to be showy, allowing the heavy weight of real life to tell the story.
The Longest Yard (1974)
Forget the dopey 2005 Adam Sandler and Chris Rock remake; director Robert Aldrich's down-and-dirty original is one of the peak entries in Burt Reynolds’ ‘70s prime. Here, he plays quarterback-turned-convict Paul Crewe, who's strong-armed by a sadistic warden (Eddie Albert) to assemble a team of inmates to take on the prison's guards in a football game. Crewe is supposed to take a dive in order to secure a pardon, but of course the rebel in him can't and won't. In real life, Reynolds had been a football star at Florida State before an injury led him to acting, and he was rarely as comfortable on camera as he is in this gridiron riff on Cool Hand Luke. As a bonus, keep an eye out for NFL players Mike Henry (now 84), Joe Kapp (now 82), Pervis Atkins and Ray Nitschke, who drop by to lend some authenticity.
Friday Night Lights (2004)
Before H.G. “Buzz” Bissinger's best seller about the rites and rituals of high school football in the heartland was turned into a hit TV series, it was a film starring Billy Bob Thornton. And it deserves better than its current also-ran status. Thornton (65) lends his signature surly, Southern-fried gravitas to the role of the team's head coach, who's fighting to keep the team (and the town of Odessa, Texas) together after his star player is injured. Friday Night Lights is, of course, about football and the kids who play it. But it's also a poignant snapshot of a struggling community desperately trying to stay alive — even if it's just through the lives of its young hometown heroes one night each week.
Brian's Song (1971)
Time to bust out the Kleenex. Originally shown as an ABC Movie of the Week, this seminal three-hankie tearjerker stars Billy Dee Williams (now 83) as Chicago Bears great Gale Sayers and a pre-Godfather James Caan (now 80) as his teammate Brian Piccolo, who learns that he is dying from cancer. Yes, the movie lays the sentimentality on so thick that you'd think it was applied with a trowel — but you'll hardly care, thanks to the moving friendship between the two outstanding leads.
Any Given Sunday (1999)
It wasn't shocking that the NFL chose not to cooperate with troublemaker director Oliver Stone (now 74) when he set out to peel back the curtain on professional football. As a result, the team uniforms in Any Given Sunday look like a bowl game matchup between rival clown colleges. But the rest of the film is so entertainingly over the top that it's hard to complain. Especially Mr. Over the Top himself, Al Pacino (now 80), who hams it up mightily as the old-school head coach of the Miami Sharks. Stone's film is a jeremiad against the money-mad corporatization of professional sports, but even so, its amped-up football scenes are so MTV kinetic and Shakespeare dramatic that resistance is futile. It's a movie that's impossible not to love in spite of itself.
The Replacements (2000)
Inspired by the 1987 NFL players’ strike, this bighearted comedy traces the ups and downs (mostly downs) of the woeful — and fictional — Washington Sentinels. Gene Hackman (now 90) stars as a crusty veteran coach who's forced to whip a ragtag squad of scabs into some semblance of shape. It helps that this particular band of misfits includes Keanu Reeves (now 56), Jon Favreau (now 55), Orlando Jones (now 52), and Notting Hill's scene-stealing Rhys Ifans (now 53) as a chain-smoking Welsh soccer player moonlighting as the team's kicker. These picket-line-crossing replacements may not be “good” in the conventional sense, but their love of the game is infectious. Think of this as the football equivalent of Major League.
Jerry Maguire (1996)
Thirteen years after Tom Cruise (now 58) suited up in shoulder pads for All the Right Moves, the star returned to football, this time as a high-powered sports agent who has a late-night revelation in which he finds his moral compass and loses his cushy, high-paying gig. With just one client standing by him (the Oscar-winning Cuba Gooding Jr., now 52), Cruise's Jerry Maguire rediscovers his soul, thanks in no small part to a single-mom colleague (Renée Zellweger, now 51) whom he has at “Hello.” Written and directed by Cameron Crowe (now 63), Jerry Maguire is a great love story about doing the right thing, starting over from scratch and seeking moral redemption. Granted, that may sound like heavy stuff, but Crowe understands that only part of the reason why we love sports is because of what happens on the field.
RELATED: Where do you rank Jerry McGuire among Tom Cruise's best movies? Better than Risky Business? What about Rain Man? Good thing our critics hand-selected the best Tom Cruise movies, and then ranked them. Because you can handle the truth: The Best Tom Cruise Movies of All Time, Ranked
Horse Feathers (1932)
In their second feature for Paramount, the madcap Marx Brothers tackle the world of academia, including, yes, college football. Beneath the shoe-polish mustache and waggling cigar, Groucho plays Professor Quincy Adams Wagstaff, the president of Huxley College, who unleashes a blistering barrage of puns and merry vaudeville anarchy while trying to help the university win its first game since 1888. On Zeppo's typically awful advice, Harpo and Chico (playing a dogcatcher and an iceman, respectively) wind up as hapless and hopeless ringers on the team. Needless to say, the Marx Brothers and Huxley earn a hard-won victory, thanks to a well-placed banana peel. Note to self: Rewatch every Marx Brothers movie.
Watch it here: Peacock
Remember the Titans (2000)
With Denzel Washington (now 65) stalking the sidelines, it's hard to argue with this crowd-pleaser. Based on a true story about a small Virginia town in the early 1970s where football is treated like a religion, the film traces what happens when a white high school team is forced to integrate and the locals have no choice but to face their prejudices. Washington, as the team's fiery head coach, gives the sort of rousing, righteous performance that has become his stock in trade over the years as his character builds a stronger, more tolerant community in the process. On paper, that may sound a bit pat. But trust us, on the screen it really delivers.
Heaven Can Wait (1978)
OK, this is not so much a football movie, per se. But you do get to see Warren Beatty in a groovy, throw-back L.A. Rams uniform. In this loose remake of 1941's Here Comes Mr. Jordan, Beatty (now 83) plays Joe Pendleton, an NFL quarterback who's whisked off to heaven by an over-eager angel played by Buck Henry (who codirected with Beatty). The film, which reunites the star with his Shampoo leading lady Julie Christie (now 80), is about second chances — about making a mess of things and getting another shot to do it all over again. Which, come to think of it, does sound a bit like football after all. Or at least repeating fourth down and long after the ref blows the whistle and calls a penalty.
Knute Rockne, All American (1940)
Before he entered the arena of politics and went on to become our 40th president, Ronald Reagan was probably best known for his performance as George “The Gipper” Gipp in this rousing tribute to the legendary Notre Dame football coach, Knute Rockne. While Pat O'Brien plays the gung-ho title character, it's Reagan, as the famous player who died young from pneumonia, who delivers the film's most iconic line: “Some day, when things are tough, maybe you can ask the boys to go in there and win just one for the Gipper.”