With the World Cup over for another four years, you might be about to go into withdrawal for your soccer fix. Here are four of the best soccer movies to tide you over until the season starts again.
Whether you’re looking for a story of female empowerment in an environment that is built to work against them, a rags-to-riches story as an immigrant finds a path to playing professionally against all odds, or a unique bled of martial arts and soccer that is oddly the perfect combination, there’s something for all tastes on this list.
‘Bend it like Beckham’
This coming-of-age comedy follows Jesminder Kaur “Jess” Bhamra and Juliette “Jules” Paxton and their tight-knit friendship as they navigate the tumultuous landscape of women’s soccer.
Jess, though expressly forbidden by her Punjabi Sikh family, pursues her love of soccer by joining a local team. Her family have certain cultural expectations of Jess, especially as her sister is getting married, but she also has to contend with the stereotypes and racial tension of her community while playing for the team.
Few movies really tackle the true divide between the men’s and women’s leagues, particularly how talent is developed, nurtured, and compensated at the professional level, but Bend it like Beckham addresses it head on – and, in fact – makes it a central part of its narrative, as both Jess and Jules try to make it in that world, and the sacrifices they have to make in order to become professional athletes.
Bend it like Beckham has an underlying romantic plot too, as both Jess and Jules have feelings for their coach, Joe, however, the ultimate message is that no matter what society’s expectations are, you should always persist in following your dreams and passions.
‘She’s the Man’
Modern adaptations of classic stories always put an interesting slant on a well-covered narrative. She’s the Man takes Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and sets it against the backdrop of playing for an elite school soccer team.
Viola, after her own team is disbanded, masquerades as her twin brother Sebastian in order to continue playing soccer. Much like Bend it like Beckham, it tackles the stereotypes of women pursing the sport, but with Viola as the lone female player, as opposed to Jules and Jess playing on a team comprised entirely of women.
There is a romcom element to She’s the Man as well, with Viola falling for Duke, who also plays on the team – but the dual-identities that Viola is playing means that several hijinks ensue, in her pursuit to just play soccer.
Though somewhat slapstick at times, at its heart, She’s the Man is all about love of the sport. And, really, when it comes to soccer, passion is practically in its name, whether you play or are a fan.
The movie that launched the Goal! trilogy, The Dream Begins follows Santiago Muñez, the son of Mexican immigrants, as he embarks on his dream of playing professional soccer.
Muñez, who initially plays for a small, local team, doesn’t believe that his dream will come true – until a former Newcastle United player, Glen Foy, spots him and arranges a trial for him with his former club. He joins the club as part of their reserve team, while the Premier League – then Premiership – team attempts to qualify for the UEFA Champions League.
The Dream Begins documents the struggles of talented players in poverty attempting to make a name for themselves, whilst also dealing with grief, as well as how medical conditions like asthma can complicate things, but not make it impossible to achieve a sporting dream.
There are, of course, several emotional ups-and-downs, including last minute goals, tense, slow-motion moments, and enduring friendships as the team come together to support each other to reach their ultimate goal together – because it’s not always about scoring.
The movie was made with full cooperation with FIFA, and stars several popular soccer players throughout the trilogy – sometimes through stock footage provided by the Association – which grants it just a touch more authenticity.
What’s better than a movie about soccer? One that combines it with incredible feats of skilled martial arts, and takes it to a whole other level.
Shaolin Soccer, on the surface, can appear to verge on the more ridiculous side, but much like the other movies on the list, it has the true heart and passion of the game at the center of it.
The movie stars Stephen Chow as a Shaolin monk named Sing, who seeks to promote kung-fu via soccer, after meeting an injured, former star player called Fung. Together, Sing and Fung form a team that is near-unbeatable, until they come face-to-face with Team Evil.
While a blending of martial arts and the classic underdog sports movie might seem like an odd match, several of the story beats follow the same path, instead making it a match made in heaven. Shaolin Soccer pays tribute to the best parts of both martial arts and soccer, and genuinely provides inspiration to pursue either, or both.