Depths of Obscurity: Three Soccer Movies to Watch Instead of FIFA’s “United Passions”
The soccer movie United Passions is making headlines for all the wrong reasons. Despite a cast that includes notable names like Gérard Depardieu and Sam Neill, its entire North American box office take was $918. That’s nine hundred and eighteen dollars, with no elided zeroes.
Moreover, the movie was backed by FIFA, the private governing body of world soccer, and its release coincided with the high-profile arrest of several current and former FIFA executives on corruption charges. FIFA’s malfeasance was already well-known to soccer fans, and to human rights watchers who are tracking the deaths of migrant workers in Qatar as they construct future white elephant stadiums for the 2022 World Cup. The bottom line is, anybody in the United States who cares enough about soccer to see United Passions is too well-informed to shell out money for a FIFA-backed propaganda piece.
Tim Roth, who in the movie plays longtime FIFA president Sepp Blatter, focal point of recent criticisms and allegations, has reportedly apologized for not questioning the pro-FIFA slant of the production. Even the director, Frédéric Auburtin, has acknowledged the film’s artistic, financial, and moral failings.
While you’re avoiding this bomb, consider checking out some less-odious soccer movies you may have missed. Here are a few of the better ones:
The 2015 Women’s World Cup is going on right now, making this an excellent time to revisit Keira Knightley and Parminder Nagra’s 2002 romantic dramedy about a girl’s soccer team. The title refers to David Beckham, the real-life free kick specialist and bonafide soccer celebrity whom the girls idolize. Yet Bend it Like Beckham is only incidentally about soccer, and it is perfectly accessible to viewers who don’t care about the sport or know the meaning of “bend” in a soccer context. The movie’s primary aims are to explore generational gaps in England’s South Asian community, and homosexuality at what we now know was the threshold of the 21st century gay rights revolution. It does these things through humor, sweetness, and characteristically strong performances from two British actresses who have gone on to enjoy substantial success in film and television. And for Spice Girls fans, the soundtrack features the music of Victoria Beckham, a.k.a. Posh Spice, who wedded David in 1999.
Of course, if you’re brave, you can skip the movie and head straight for the fanfiction.
- Global ranking: #3363
- Wins 31% of matchups
- 229 users have it in their top 20
For a more American lens on the world’s most popular sport, check out this 2006 documentary about a New York team that was once home to some of the biggest names in the history of the game. Pelé is familiar even to soccer-illiterates, while Giorgio Chinaglia, Carlos Alberto Torres, and Franz Beckenbauer are names that light up the eyes of aficionados. During the 1970s they all spent time with the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League, selling out old Yankee Stadium and Giants Stadium in defiance of the dictum that Americans don’t watch soccer. It turned out to be a bubble; the league eventually folded and soccer once again went underground in America, but the heights the Cosmos reached – and the decadence and excesses of its stars – continue to serve as both a promise and a warning for today’s Major League Soccer franchises. The documentary captures the good, the bad, and the retro charm of the Cosmos dynasty.
- Global ranking: #34985
- Wins 33% of matchups
- 0 users have it in their top 20
Michael Sheen, Timothy Spall, Colm Meaney, and Jim Broadbent. Enough said, especially if you’re a fan of Star Trek, Harry Potter, and Showtime dramas. In terms of acting and nitty-gritty historical detail, 2009’s The Damned United might be described as a British Moneyball. Both are based on popular but controversial books, and both received a lot of love from critics on both sides of the pond. There may be no better window into the high-stakes world of English soccer than the story of Leeds United, a thuggish team that enjoyed great success in the 1970s before hitting a rough patch that continues to the present day. Whether you’ve got a throwback Leeds United jersey purchased off eBay hanging in your closet, or have never heard of Leeds until now, The Damned United is an engaging yarn that hits all the beats a great sports movie should.
- Global ranking: #2416
- Wins 58% of matchups
- 11 users have it in their top 20
Got a favorite soccer movie that people ought to watch instead of United Passions? Share in the comments.
And if you’re one of the few who’ve seen United Passions, rank it here.