Many criticisms have been raised against soccer movies in general. For starters, in the US the sport has never achieved the high status it has achieved in the rest of the world; this has, unfortunately, affected how soccer movies have fared to American audiences.
The two other problematic areas are the fact that soccer movies often have difficulty defining themselves as a documentary or a movie; secondly, some people find that soccer movies either have too much soccer or not enough of it (of the high quality usually expected).
In spite of the criticisms, some excellent films have been produced about soccer. Although whether these films are the best ever produced is a matter of opinion, there is enough good material in each of these to merit the highest grades possible.
Once in a Lifetime—the Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos (2006).
This film details the true story of the risky and daring move to popularize soccer with American audiences in the 1970’s. In an attempt to get Americans to like soccer as much as the rest of the world, some investors put together a new team, The New York Cosmos. Bringing the greatest soccer player of all time out of retirement, Pele, gave the team visibility and helped draw in a fan base. Unfortunately, the team disbanded in 1985 due to lack of interest. Matt Damon narrates this documentary that interviews the players and tells the story of how soccer almost became a mainstream sport in North America.
Green Street (2005)
It’s no secret that soccer fans are some of the most devoted fans in the world of sports, but how far would you go for your favorite team? This film follows a group of soccer hooligans, the Green Street Elite, as they fight rival hooligan firms for bragging rights. The theme of this movie is the exploration of loyalty and standing up for yourself in the face of adversity. Which team actually plays better isn’t as important as the desire to defend their name.
Escape to Victory (1981)
Taking place in Nazi Germany during WWII, this film follows a group of POW’s as they plan an escape from their Nazi captors. The POWs form a football club to play against the German team. Eventually they hatch a plan to use an upcoming match as cover to escape. As true fans of the sport however, the POWs want to play out their match against the Germans rather than run and escape.
Looking for Eric (2009)
Many soccer fans turn to the sport as a means of escaping the doldrums of everyday life. For one fan this goes to a whole different level when he begins imagining he is talking to Eric Cantona, one of Manchester United’s greatest players ever. Cantona offers advice to the protagonist about how to improve his relationship with his family as well as deal with a drug lord who is threatening his son. Indeed, soccer can inspire its fans to greatness, even if it’s all in their head.
Mean Machine (2001)
Danny (Vinnie Jones) is a football captain who is sent to prison for fixing a match. Inside he is recruited by the prison warden to coach his guard’s team. Danny comes up with a better idea, he will coach an all inmate team to play against the prison guard’s team. The warden is in debt for gambling problems, and asks Danny to throw a match between the two teams so he can win a bet. Based off an American football movie, The Longest Yard, that film’s plot was retooled into this star vehicle for Vinnie Jones.
Although soccer may not have reached the highest levels of interest in the US, it continues to be one of the most popular sports on earth.