This month, Disney will finally start principal photography on their first big budget football film.
The project is a remake of, what we believe to be, the greatest ever football film, Next Goal Wins, a documentary released in 2014 that followed the American Samoa international team (harshly known as the worst team in the world after losing 0-31 to Australia) after the arrival of coach, Thomas Rongen.
Taika Waititi is on directing duties (before he makes Thor 4) and Michael Fassbender will star as the inspirational Dutch manager.
Football is the most popular sport in the world, nearly four billion people watched The FIFA World Cup in 2014. So how come Hollywood have never capitalised on the global love of the beautiful game?
Following the recent collapse of Fearless, the Jamie Vardy biopic, it’s high time we investigated why football and film rarely correlate.
It’s hard to pin down one outstanding reason, there are multiple. It could be that trying to capture the sheer scale of a match on film is impossible, or that attempting to film people pretending to play football always looks horrible, or that Americans for have never fell in love with the game of ‘soccer’.
Chris Fennell, writer for the British Film Institution once quipped that “Many movies have tried to exploit football’s universal popularity (and therefore potential box-office appeal), but come unstuck when trying to recreate the thrill and excitement of the game.”
Let’s take a closer look.
Sport + Film = $$$$
There have been thousands of big budget sport films that have resulted in box office gold. The most successful sport to be exploited by the film industry is boxing.
Films like Rocky, Creed and Million Dollar Baby all made over $100 million. A mano-a-mano fight is far easier to translate to the big-screen than a fast paced, big-pitch game with 22 different characters involved.
Although a slow motion bicycle kick is cinematic it’s not the equivalent of a knock-out punch which culminates a fight. The documentary format suits the transition far better, e.g. Next Goal Wins, Two Escobars and Once in a Lifetime.
The most successful football movies have very little to do with football. The two highest grossing “soccer” movies have been broad comedies, Kicking and Screaming and She’s the Man (a film in which Amanda Bynes pretends to be a boy to make the school football team and at the very end proves she’s actually female).
But with the game continuing to escalate in popularity at an exponential rate you’d think movie studios would be looking for ways to tie in the two industries. It could be because Hollywood have had its fingers burnt after the disaster that was, Escape to Victory.
Escape to Failure
On paper Escape to Victory sounded like a sure-fire recipe for success. This was going to be Paramount’s football Blockbuster. The story was a rip-off of The Great Escape: they cast the biggest stars of the time from both the movie and football world (Sylvester Stallone, Michael Caine, Bobby Moore, Pelé) and even convinced Tinsel-town royalty to direct (John Huston). What could go wrong?
The release of the POW football film was considered good timing. Millions had been pumped into The New York Cosmos as the thought was that football was eventually going to take off in the USA. They even recruited Franz Beckenbauer and Pelé. But like Escape to Victory, American audiences never showed up and the club had to fold.
Hollywood Will Wake Up
The ultimate reason film studios haven’t bankrolled big budget football films is that they have no faith that American audiences will ever fall in love with the beautiful game.
In 2017, The English Premier League clubs’ revenues exceeded over £4.5 billion meaning that for the first time in history the football industry is richer than Hollywood.
With Hollywood now investing in a football film with Next Goal Wins, starring a two time Oscar nominee, do not be surprised if we see an all-star remake of Escape to Victory in the next few years.