A-List | The Top 10 College Football Movies of All Time

A-List | The Top 10 College Football Movies of All Time

It’s as if people are walking out of a cornfield. A malaise has warmed over a plethora of people in this country but that peak of heavenly light on the horizon is the scenery of a kickoff, the sounds of an orchestral movement in the bleachers, and the smell of whatever divine goodness is in a tailgate scene.

It is officially time for College Football!

Sports have created countless storylines for film, both fictional and biopic. Many fans know those movies. Others just enjoy them. But have you ever ranked them?

Here are the Top 10 College Football movies ever. 

10. Johnny Be Good

A lighthearted movie that takes a tongue-firmly-planted-in-cheek approach to the controversial college football recruiting scene, Johnny Be Good stars some familiar faces in ’80s notable Anthony Michael Hall, a young Uma Thurman in only her third film, and some blossoming superhero…eh, actor named Robert Downey, Jr.

If you have seen this, most of the football scenes are from Johnny’s high school career, but the heart of this film is what happens to five-star recruits in college. The writing is ham-handed. The acting is schmaltzy. The scenarios are laughable. And the editing? Woof. But, it’s still a college football movie that I would watch again…when I can’t sleep at 3 a.m.

9. Necessary Roughness

This is what happens when you take an age-old concept — hail to the underdogs — and not make it more than it’s not. Necessary Roughness, stars Scott Bakula, Hector Elizondo, Robert Loggia, and Sinbad, about the Texas State Fightin’ Armadillos.

The catch is this patchwork team has to come from the student body (and a few old alums with a year of eligibility) since they don’t have any scholarships to give following the NCAA taking them away. The movie ends as you think. The laughs take place where you think. And it’s good fun and a good watch no matter what you think.

(Fun fact: This was filmed at the University of North Texas. I was an extra in a couple of scenes thanks to going to journalism classes. My payment? $75 and three free lunches. Suck on that, DiCaprio.)

8. The Waterboy

This could be fodder for our series of underrated films. One of Adam Sandler’s most popular and productive films, The Waterboy introduces us to Bobby Boucher, a young simpleton somewhere on the “spectrum” who has this other worldly knack for tackling the crap out of someone when urged to do so. He’s the ‘Forrest Gump’ of defense.

Of course, as the waterboy of the South Central Louisiana State Mud Dogs, Boucher finds a friend in Coach Kline (played by Henry “The Fonz” Winkler). Yada, yada, yada. We know how this ends. Hero gets the girl and the adulation of the fans. It’s the prototype for Sandler films, but this one works.

7. The Blind Side

This is the first biopic of collegiate football films focusing on the heart-gripping tale of Michael Oher, a product of a broken home and son of a murdered father who found himself on the wrong side of the tracks in every way — until football.

Starring an Oscar-winning role of Sandra Bullock as Leigh Anne Tuohy, her plight of reaching out to–and finally adopting–a homeless Oher (played by Quinton Aaron) and motivating him to the NFL. Who saw his talent? She did. Who got him to football? She did. Who became family? Yeah, they did. An amazing true story full of sports tears.

6. The Express

This biopic is more of a grim reflection of life and how sports can help us all leap insurmountable obstacles, like deep-seeded racism. The Express is the true-to-life story of Ernie Davis (played by Rob Brown), the first black Heisman Trophy winner. The movie — and life — of Davis takes a tragic turn.

Following his recruitment to Syracuse, Davis was drafted on top of the first round of both the Washington Redskins and Buffalo Bills (NFL and AFL, respectively). However, Davis was diagnosed with leukemia in 1962 and died less than a year later at age 23. He never played a professional game. The story of the Elmira Express could also be an “Under,” because it should be seen by more than just college football fans.

5. Pony Excess

This is a documentary, a 30-for-30 made by ESPN, and it is incredible. This is the story of the “Death Penalty” SMU Mustangs — the only collegiate team to ever receive this harsh punishment in 1987. In Dallas/Fort Worth (my home), this story is infamous.

The illegal gifts to athletes. The bribing of parents. The bloodlusting boosters. And the unmitigated gall of the athletics program to snub their nose at the NCAA is insane. This crap really happened and it took SMU more than 30 years to recover. If you love a captivating documentary, this is a must-see.

4. We Are Marshall

A movie starring now “Professor” Matthew McConaughey of the University of Texas Austin Moody College of Communication, this is another biopic that tells a story of triumph. In 1970, there was a plane crash that killed 37 members of the Marshall Thundering Herd, and 38 other coaches and boosters. It is the most horrific thing to ever happen to collegiate sports, but someone had to rebuild more than the school, but the city and its people. Coach Jack Lengyel was (mostly) that source of inspiration and this is that visceral story.

3. Rudy

C’mon! That stimulating and awakening score by Jerry Goldsmith. The rich tradition of the college. The moving and heart-wrenching story of the total underdog. And, please, that jersey scene. I mean, if you didn’t cry, you’re a soulless bastard and we can’t be friends. Sports movies aside, when movie goers think of biopics, this very well may be on their top list.

Of course, Ruettiger avoids has always avoided the controversy. Joe Montana (maybe you’ve heard of him) was a freshman, and on his way to a Heisman Trophy a couple of years later, during Ruettiger’s senior year. He pretty much spoiled the ending: “The crowd wasn’t chanting … nobody threw in their jerseys.”

So there’s that, but still…that damn scene. The tears. The story. Fact or (some) fiction: this is pretty good.

2. Knute Rockne: All American

So, there’s this guy named Ronald Reagan. He was a respected actor in the 1940s until one day, he grew some political aspirations. Who knows how that ended up, but this is easily his most respected role in film as Notre Dame player George Gipp (yes, that’s where we get “Win one for the Gipper”) who was dying of pneumonia.

This is a timeless movie, much like several from the black-and-white genre of storytelling. The focus on history, the dedication to the story, and the craft of the actors make you believe you are watching the movie through a mirror — and truly experiencing the real-life saga of arguably one of the best coaches in collegiate sports history, played by Pat O’Brien. When you think of “iconic” roles in film, this is one to see.

1. The Program

In 1993, we got an introspective look into some of the seedy underbelly of college football. Think Johnny Be Good but with a grim and authentic filter. If you know a college athlete, namely one who has been recruited, odds are this spoke to them in a way you can’t imagine.

Attracting top talent, James Caan stars as Coach Sam Winters, along with a young Halle Berry, Omar Epps, Craig Sheffer, and Kristy Swanson, it was as realistic as you can imagine — a fictional movie blamed for real death. A movie so transparent and evocative that it convinced an Irish journalist David Walsh Lance Armstrong was doping (and yeah, he is credited for uncovering the scandal that took 13 years to reveal).

When sports idols fall, they arguably make the loudest thud. The Program shows the cause behind that deafening sound and worth your time to look beyond the characters and experience the reality.


Written by:

437 Posts

I write for a living, among other things in the digital journalism and analytics universe. So I'm a little like a nerd unicorn. But no bronies. Move along.
View All Posts
Follow Me :

One thought on “A-List | The Top 10 College Football Movies of All Time

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.