Soccer is a genuine universal sport and the passion of its fans is indisputable. Yet for all of its popularity, rabid supporters, stunning athleticism and movie-star-esque players like Cristiano Ronaldo and David Beckham, Hollywood has failed to make a single great soccer movie.
- There are fantastic and Oscar-winning boxing films: “Rocky” and “Raging Bull.”
- If you lean toward baseball, you’ve got “Field of Dreams,” “The Natural” and “Bull Durham.”
- Hockey has “Slap Shot” and “Miracle.”
- There are even landmark movies about high school basketball (“Hoosiers”), long distance running (“Chariots of Fire”), billiards (“The Hustler”), cycling (“Breaking Away”) and, in a classic comedy, golf (“Caddyshack”).
But when the focus is soccer, the movie business hasn’t been able to make a critically acclaimed film that is also a hit with moviegoers.
Instead, Hollywood typically uses the world's favorite game as a comic foil, with the sport as the backdrop to lowbrow fare like Will Ferrell’s “Kicking & Screaming,” Rodney Dangerfield’s “Ladybugs” and the true dog of a movie, “Air Bud: World Pup.”
A lot of people like “Bend it like Beckham,” but the coming-of-age film was hardly a blockbuster at the box office, grossing just $32.5 million in domestic release. Some people remain fond of Sylvester Stallone’s World War II soccer drama “Victory,” but the film today plays like a campy relic: “The Dirty Dozen” with shin guards (it's now being re-made by Warner Bros).
The most enthusiastically reviewed soccer movies barely made a dent at the ticket counter: “The Damned United,” “Fever Pitch” (the British one, not the American adaptation that changed the sport to baseball), "Rudo y Cursi" and “Looking for Eric” are almost all unknown to American moviegoers.
So, why hasn’t a great soccer movie been made?
Daniel Battsek, a longtime British soccer fan and president of the movie company Cohen Media Group has doubts about how the sport fits the big screen.
"Football, or 'soccer' as you insist on calling it, is a free-flowing game. It's not really possible to isolate incidents and re-create them nearly as well as it is in American sports, baseball and football in particular. There's also a different sort of mythology about football. Football is a lot about the experience of the fans at the time of the game."
One of the next attempts to make a great soccer film will come from Michael Zimbalist, a co-writer and co-director of "Pele," a film that wrapped shooting this year about the Brazilian soccer legend. Zimbalist says they've gone through extra effort to work on how the sport would appeal to American audiences.
"We spent a lot of time looking at the way the actual play action was filmed and trying to think of where it had fallen short in previous soccer films. We spent a lot of time sort of inventing new ways to put ourselves in the perspective of the player and the team, so that someone who wasn't as familiar with this sport might be able to get very absorbed."