The Euros 2024: the 12 best football films of all time, from Bend It Like Beckham to Gregory's Girl

The Euros officially kick off on Friday (June 14), marking the start of a month of non-stop footballing fun.

And with England’s first match taking place on Sunday (June 16) – the Lions will face Serbia at 8pm – footie fever is about to take hold here, too. We’re thrilled about it.

If you too cannot wait for all the nail-biting drama coming our way, why not get in the mood by watching a fantastic football film?

Here’s our round-up, in no particular order, of the top 12 best cinematic kickabouts.

Bend It Like Beckham (2002)

Gurinder Chadha’s 2002 flick remains the highest grossing football film of all time, an amazing feat for this British indie film about a young woman with Indian Punjabi Sikh heritage who has ambitions to be a professional football player.

Parminder Nagra plays Jess, a young woman obsessed with football. One day when she’s practicing her skills, she’s spotted by Jules (Keira Knightley) who plays for an amateur football team. Jess secretly signs up to play for the team even against her family’s wishes.

The comedy sometimes borders on cheesy, but the film’s depiction of a young British Asian woman rang true to many, and had a long lasting impact. The 2022 BBC Three three-part documentary, Bend It Like Beckham: 20 Years On was testament to this.

Offside (2006)

This film from the now-imprisoned Iranian director Jafar Panahi could not be more relevant. Panahi was inspired by his daughter when he made this film about a group of young women who want to go to a football match, though they are forbidden by the state. The story follows one girl’s attempts to support her team anyway. In 2006, the film won the Silver Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival and was the official selection for both the New York and Toronto International Film Festivals the same year.

In August 2022, one of the minimal concessions Iran made in the response to the country-wide protests was letting a limited number of women in Tehran into a stadium to watch a football match (where they were seated separately from the men and asked to wear headscarves).

The Damned United (2009)

From award-winning director Tom Hooper (before the Cats debacle), and adapted by Peter Morgan (now best known as the showrunner of The Crown), this sports drama based on David Peace’s 2006 best-selling novel, is a reimagining of Brian Clough’s short tenure of Leeds United – just 44 days – in 1974.

While it didn’t prove a box-office smash, it has built a real fanbase over the years. It stars Michael Sheen as Brian Clough, Timothy Spall as assistant manager Peter Taylor, Colm Meaney as England manager Don Revie and Jim Broadbent as Derby County chairman Sam Longson.

Gregory’s Girl (1980)

Once you’ve watched Gregory’s Girl it will forever have a place in your heart. Written and directed by Bill Forsyth and starring John Gordon Sinclair as Gregory, the film is about an awkward teenager who is replaced by a woman on his school football team. Luckily, he doesn’t mind so much as he fancies her, but so do the other boys on the team.

Scottish coming-of-age romantic football comedies are somewhat thin on the ground, but given how enduringly brilliant Gregory’s Girl is, we have to ask why? The film ranked at number 30 in the BFI’s top 100 British films of the 20th century.

The Arsenal Stadium Mystery (1939)

For those who like their football with a little bit of mystery, this story of a murder that takes place at the original Arsenal Stadium on Gillespie Road in London is a real winner. Arsenal and the fictitious team The Trojans are playing a friendly game, but when one of the players from the Trojans drops dead, and it’s revealed he was poisoned, the real game begins.

The excellent Leslie Banks plays Inspector Anthony Slade, who sets out to track down the killer. The film involved some real-life Arsenal players and staff, and even includes the voice of the Gunners’ second-longest serving manager, George Allison.

When Saturday Comes (1996)

Sean Bean playing a heavy-drinking brewery worker who meets the lovely Annie (Emily Lloyd), gets scouted and becomes a football player for his beloved Sheffield United – what’s not to love? The film also has a great soundtrack which includes original songs from Spandau Ballet’s Tony Hadley and Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott.

Fever Pitch (1997)

Colin Firth and Ruth Gemmell (Bridgerton’s Lady Violet) star as two teachers who start falling for each other, in this football romance loosely based on the best-selling memoir by Nick Hornby (who also wrote High Fidelity and About a Boy). But football comes between them as Paul is utterly obsessed with Arsenal. It also stars Mark Strong, Neil Pearson, Lorraine Ashbourne and real-life football commentator and broadcaster Mike Ingham.

Looking for Eric (2009)

This film from director Ken Loach is about postman Eric Bishop (played by The Fall’s former bass guitarist Steve Evets) whose life has taken a turn for the worse: his wife has left him, his kids don’t think much of him; he ends up in the hospital contemplating suicide. But after smoking marijuana he has a vision of his hero, the Manchester United footballer Eric Cantona (who is, brilliantly, played by Cantona himself), and it drives Bishop to sort out his life.

Shaolin Soccer (2001)

This Stephen Chow-directed film could be best described as a football and martial arts crossover film – a genre which certainly piques our interest. It tells the story of Sing, a Shaolin Kung Fu master, who meets legendary Hong Kong football player, “Golden Leg” Fung, who agrees to coach Sing into becoming a footballer. Sing wants to promote the spiritual and practical benefits of his beloved Kung Fu and believes that he may be able to do this through the popular game. Film critic Roger Ebert said: “It is piffle, yes, but superior piffle.”

Escape to Victory (1981)

Sylvester Stallone, Michael Caine, Max von Sydow and football great Pelé all star in this superb film about a group of allied prisoners in 1942 who play a football match against the German national team. Caine is their coach, Captain John Colby, and under his leadership, the team do better than expected. The trailer goes, “The Nazis thought they were sitting on top of the world, never suspecting that they could be toppled in one conflict: the most unusual battle of the war” – a pretty ballsy set-up, to say the least.

The Miracle of Bern (2003)

Watching Germany win football matches is something that we Brits have experienced many times, but rarely taken pleasure in. However, this film from German director Sönke Wortmann offers something different. The award-winning film tells the story of how the unfancied West Germany team won the 1954 World Cup final against tournament favourites Hungary. Remarkably, it’s an enjoyable watch.

Heleno (2011)

Heleno de Freitas (1920-1959) was one of Brazil’s greatest football players, but his career was marred by his addictions to drink and drugs. In Heleno, director José Henrique Fonseca (The Man Of The Year) depicts his life, with Rodrigo Santoro playing the tragic player. “The road to ruin is blindingly beautiful in Heleno,” said one critic. “Equal parts temper and tenderness, lust and incaution, Heleno is short on specifics but long on impression.”

The Euros start on Friday June 16