In honor of the 2014 World Cup, here are movies with a soccer theme

By Eleanor Ringel Cater

Has the World Cup given you a taste for the world’s greatest sport?

If so, do you have any idea how hard it is to find world-class soccer again once the Cup is won?  In the U.S, I mean.  Everywhere else in the universe, God’s Chosen Game will continue at the same feverish pitch

So here’s what I thought. Maybe it would help to suggest several soccer movies to help you through the inevitable withdrawal period.

“Bend It Like Beckham” may be the only soccer movie that almost everyone has heard of. That’s because its two stars, Parminder Nagra and Keira Knightley have gone on to stellar acting careers, the former in “ER” and “The Blacklist,” the latter in just about everything, — from a trio Caribbean-based pirate movies to “Anna Karenina.”

However, “Bend It Like Beckham” is far more than a mere launching pad. This sunny, crowd-pleasing Brit import is alive and kicky; a lot like “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” only smarter. Lots. Think, “My Big Fat Sikh Soccer Match.”

A soccer-mad high-school senior named Tess (Nagra) is caught between her love of the game and her traditional Indian family who’d rather see her learn to cook alloo gobi and get married than run around a field with a bunch of other girls. Her teammate and best pal, Jules (Knightley) also faces opposition on the home front. Her mom (Juliet Stevenson) thinks all this soccer stuff means her daughter might be — gasp — lesbian.

“There’s a reason Sporty Spice is the only one without a fellow,” she cautions (remember, the movie was released when the Spice Girls were taking over the world).

The plot is pure “Rocky” Redux, but it’s played out so exuberantly and with such a good heart, it hardly matters. And the kinky-sounding title is nothing of the sort. It refers to Mr. Posh Spice, aka, David Beckham.  You know, putt it like Tiger or Shoot it like Shaq.

Conversely, almost no one has heard of  “Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos.”

This flashy, funny documentary (from the directors of “Dogtown and Z-Boys”) achieves the minor miracle of making you mourn a sports team you likely never knew existed in the first place.

Chronicling the improbable rise and disappointing fall of the New York Cosmos, the film captures those few heady years in the ‘70s and early ‘80s when America teetered on the brink of joining the rest of the planet in its passion for football (the kind that doesn’t call for helmets and 43-inch necks).

Launched in 1971, the Cosmos’ up-and-down fortunes seemed to mirror the wavering fortunes of American soccer. After a rocky start — they played on a litter-strewn field on Randall’s Island that had previously housed a prison and an insane asylum —the team pulled itself together. By 1977,they were playing in the New York Giants stadium, cheered on by almost 80,00 fans.

However, “Once in a Lifetime” is more than an underdog story. It also reflects the wavering fortunes of NYC during those turbulent years. The Cosmos had their problems; so did the Big Apple. The 1977 Blackout.  Son of Sam. The infamous (and glorious) Daily News headline in 1975: “Ford to City: Drop Dead.”

“Once in a Lifetime” — an Anthony Newley song, by the way, — is one of those sports films that transcends its particular athletic passion. Jazzy and irreverent, it’s a chronicle of an era as much as it is of a once-in a-lifetime team and its untimely demise.

A few other titles to check out:


Here’ a picture that really mixes the culture of the times with the beauty of the sport (a culture, I fear, that still exists).  Six soccer-mad Iranian girls want  to get into one of their country’s play-off games for the World Cup. They try everything from disguises to outright rebellion. Still they all end up in a kind of holding pen where they can hear what’s going on but are forbidden to see it. (Ah, how do I love the treatment of women in the Middle East? Let me count the ways….)

Anyway, the film has a great sense of humor, even about something so horridly bigoted, turning, at times, into a lively version of ”The Great Escape” as our heroines try to get out of their pen and back inside the stadium.  Less amusing:  the Iranian director, Jafar Panahi, has been sentenced to six years in prison for his political filmmaking.

“Escape to Victory”

It’s hard to believe this movie ever happened, but it did.  I was at the press junket and got to interview the stars. However, director John Huston doesn’t even mention it in his autobiography.

Anyway, sometime in 1980 or ’81, Huston decided to make a movie about a soccer match between some POWs and their Nazi captors.  The game is to take place in Paris and the prisoners hope to use the event as a cover for their escape. Sort of “The Great Escape” (again) meets “The Longest Yard.”

Playing for the “Americans” are Sylvester Stallone, Michael Caine and Pele. Yes, Pele, perhaps the greatest soccer player who ever lived. The move was expected to be a huge hit.  Instead it tanked. I didn’t care.  I still got to talk to Caine, Stallone and Pele….

Eleanor Ringel, Movie Critic, was the film critic for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for almost 30 years. She was nominated multiple times for a Pulitzer Prize. She won the Best of Cox Critic, IMAGE Film & Video and Women In Film awards. An Atlanta native, she graduated from Westminster and Brown University. She was the critic on WXIA’s Noonday, a member of Entertainment Weekly's Critics Grid and wrote TV Guide’s movie/DVD. She is member of the National Society of Film Critics and currently talks about movies on WMLB and writes the Time Out column for the Atlanta Business Chronicle.

3 replies
  1. sharon says:

    I was glad to see the movie Victory made the list.  It may have done poorly at the box office – but it was an amazing film for the time.  The famous Pele kick – which today would be slow motion and full of special effects – was a kick that inspired soccer players the world over to emulate.  And – like The great Escape, you think you had it figured out – and it had a great but different ending.  Definitely a great film to recommend.Report


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