There’s a surprisingly deep roster of soccer movies available to stream on Netflix Instant—more than enough to field a full football team. In limiting this list to a top 10 we’re aiming to keep the quality high. Sorry Air Bud: World Pup, but we demand a little more from our footie flicks.
In researching this list and weighing the pros and cons of various soccer films, I stumbled across one important truth: The best soccer movies are about more than just soccer. The best soccer movies use soccer as the way in to a bigger story, whether it’s romance, greed, fighting the odds, Colombia’s drug-fueled economy, or a government cover-up.
Here are the 10 best football films you can stream on Netflix Instant right now:
10. Fever Pitch
Director: David Evans
Nick Hornby adapted his hugely successful autobiographical novel Fever Pitch to write the screenplay for this romantic comedy about a man (Colin Firth) who’s in love with both a woman (Ruth Gemmell) and Arsenal Football Club. It’s charming enough, because Colin Firth can’t not be charming, but the rom-com formula robs the movie of the book’s more introspective moments, as well as the inimitable way Hornby describes his experiences at Highbury.
9. The Beautiful Game
Director: Victor Buhler
Inspirational documentary about the role soccer can play in improving the lives of individuals and entire nations in Africa. The Beautiful Game mixes the story of six players—one each from Kenya, Egypt, South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana, and Ivory Coast—with insights from celebrity talking heads like Samuel Eto’o, Kolo Toure and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The young players stories are intriguing, but The Beautiful Game is a little too optimistic, overselling what can be achieved through the beautiful game and failing to examine the downside of chasing a dream.
8. Gregory’s Girl
Director: Bill Forsyth
Charming and innocent Scottish romantic comedy starring John Gordon Sinclair as Gregory—an awkward young man whose lack of goals for his terrible terrible high school soccer team parallels his lack of success with the ladies. The team’s fortunes improve when Dorothy (Dee Hepburn) makes the team, and Gregory is smitten with the team’s new striker. Awkward wooing ensues.
7. White, Blue and White
Director: Camilo Antolini
In this ESPN 30 for 30 documentary, Argentinean players Ossie Ardiles and Ricky Villa recall their time in England with Tottenham Hotspur, which was notable for two reasons. First, when they both joined Tottenham Hotspur in 1978, they became the first South Americans to play in the rough and tumble of England’s first division. Second, just as they were acclimatized and reaching their peak, England and Argentina went to war over the Falkland Islands. Like any good sports documentary, White, Blue and White uses soccer as a lens to look at that war.
Director: James Strong
Dramatic retelling of the 1958 Munich Air Disaster, which killed 20 of the 44 passengers, including eight members of the famous Manchester United “Busby Babes” team. The film centers on the relationship between Manchester United’s assistant manager Jimmy Murphy (Doctor Who and Broadchurch’s David Tennant) and young player Bobby Charlton (Skins’ Jack O’Connell), who emerge to lead the team in the aftermath. United has been criticized for a lack of historical accuracy (some of the players who died are not featured, and the son of Manchester United manager Matt Busby was unhappy with Dougray Scott’s portrayal of his father) but the narrative liberties help to construct a powerful film about the glory and tragedy of the Busby Babes.
5. Kicking It
Directors: Susan Koch and Jeff Werner
Colin Farrell narrates this documentary, which follows the 2006 Homeless World Cup in South Africa. Instead of focusing on the action, Kicking It offers intimate profiles of six players, delving into their history and showing how soccer has helped them improve their lives.
4. Shaolin Soccer
Director: Stephen Chow
Chow wrote, directed and starred in this famous melding of classic martial arts story (big bad bossman needs taking down) and classic sports story (underdog team learns to work together and win). The all-action kung-fu soccer scenes have all the technical virtuosity, imagination and humor you expect from a Stephen Chow movie, and are probably what Zlatan sees when he closes his eyes at night.
3. The Two Escobars
Directors: Jeff Zimbalist and Michael Zimbalist
Most people remember Andrés Escobar as “the guy who was shot for scoring an own goal at the World Cup.” But there’s a lot more to the story than that, and this ESPN 30 for 30 documentary tracks the rise and fall of Andrés’ namesake, drug kingpin Pablo Escobar, and how his support for soccer both helped and hurt the Colombian team and nation. It’s also a moving tribute to Andrés Escobar the man, and a celebration of his career.
2. Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos
Directors: Paul Crowder and John Dower
The rise and fall of the New York Cosmos in the late 1970s and early 1980s is the stuff of legend. This first half of this entertaining documentary charts the exhilarating rise of the team from semi-pro no-marks to worldwide phenomenon, with Pelé leading the way and making it look like soccer had finally had the big-time. Then you brace for impact as everything crashes in the second half. Pelé declined to be involved, and Steve Ross, who bankrolled the Cosmos, passed away in 1992, but the absence of the two men who could have made definitive statements gives room for everyone else’s theories and accusations, which ultimately makes for more entertaining viewing—the musings of the Cosmos’ Italian striker Giorgio Chinaglia alone, very much the Zlatan of the 1970s, make this movie worth your time.
Director: Daniel Gordon
This ESPN 30 for 30 documentary will make you cry, it will make you angry and it will make you punch the air in triumph. The tears will be for the 96 football fans who died in the Hillsborough Disaster in 1989, and for the suffering of their families in the aftermath. Your anger will be directed at the authorities who allowed the stadium crush to happen and then attempted to cover up their culpability by blaming the victims. The triumph comes when those families finally get the government to apologize and admit what happened.