Deseret News archives
Judging by ESPN’s ratings for the current World Cup in Brazil, the soccer bandwagon might have finally made its way to America.
According to data by the Nielsen ratings company, the U.S.-Portugal match two Sundays ago averaged 24.7 million viewers on ESPN and Univision.
That puts it way ahead of this year’s NBA Finals (15.5 million viewers), as well as the 2013 World Series (14.9 million). It also marks the highest-rated soccer-related broadcast in ESPN history.
Unlike other sports that have all had great movies made about them, though, including baseball (“Field of Dreams,” “The Rookie,” “The Natural”), football (“Remember the Titans,” “Friday Night Lights,” “Any Given Sunday”), basketball (“Hoop Dreams,” “Space Jam” and, uh “Teen Wolf”) or even hockey (“Miracle”), there just aren’t all that many soccer movies, period, let alone many classics.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t a few worth checking out, though, especially for soccer fans who need to feed World Cup fever in between games.
With that in mind, here’s a look at some of the best soccer-related films that might appeal to soccer fans of all ages.
“Shaolin Soccer” — Writer/director/star Stephen Chow might not be a household name in the U.S., but he should be. Along with some of his other films like “Kung Fu Hustle” and the recently released “Journey to the West,” “Shaolin Soccer” is just a blast to watch.
For anyone unfamiliar with Chow’s style, imagine something halfway between a live-action Looney Tunes episode and cheesy, old-school Shaw Bros. martial arts movies, except better than that probably makes it sound.
In “Shaolin Soccer,” Chow plays Mighty Steel Leg Sing, a Shaolin monk who comes up with the idea of using soccer as a missionary tool to promote the art of kung fu. Along with his five superhumanly gifted brothers and a disgraced former soccer star named Golden Leg Fung, Sing begins assembling a kung fu/soccer dream team to compete against the appropriately named Team Evil.
“Escape to Victory” — Loosely based on a true story, this movie is something of an oddball (no pun intended), as one could probably guess just based on its cast. Directed by John Huston, it stars Michael Caine, Sylvester Stallone and Pelé as allied POWs who get roped into playing against an all-star Nazi soccer team as part of a German propaganda effort. With the help of the French Resistance, though, the exhibition match becomes the basis of an ambitious escape plan.
“The Game of Their Lives” — It says a lot about how much less exposure soccer has in the U.S. versus other sports that almost nobody has heard of this movie.
Directed by David Anspaugh, the man responsible for one of the greatest basketball films ever made (“Hoosiers”) and one of the greatest football films ever made (“Rudy”), this fact-based period drama disappeared pretty much as soon as it was released. Even with big names like Gerard Butler and Patrick Stewart, it earned less than $400,000 at the box office.
Nevertheless, the story it tells is a pretty remarkable one. Set during the 1950 World Cup in Brazil, “The Game of Their Lives” portrays the U.S.’s incredible 1-0 victory against England, a feat so unexpected that The New York Times refused to even publish the score, thinking it was a hoax. Other than star Wes Bentley (“The Hunger Games”), the majority of the cast, including Butler (who once dreamed of becoming a pro soccer player himself), was selected first and foremost for their skills on the pitch.
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