The Women’s World Cup 2023 starts today: our pick of the 12 best football films of all time

The Women’s World Cup officially kicked off this morning, with co-hosts New Zealand storming to a shock victory over Norway. With the tournament, which takes place in Australia and New Zealand, now in full swing, footie fever is about to take hold here, too. We’re thrilled about it.

England’s first match takes place on Saturday July 22, when the Lionesses will face Haiti.

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

Here’s our round-up, in no particular order, of the top 10 best cinematic kick-abouts.

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, 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. Starring 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, Dee Hepburn as Dorothy and Clare Grogan as Susan, the film is about awkward teenager Gregory who is replaced by Dorothy on his school football team. 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.

Leslie Banks plays Inspector Anthony Slade, who sets out to track down the killer, and the film involved some real-life Arsenal players and staff, and even includes the voice of Arsenal’s 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 pieces from Spandau Ballet’s Tony Hadley and Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott.

Fever Pitch (1997)

Colin Firth and Ruth Gemmell (Bridgerton’s Lady Violet Bridgerton) star in this football romance loosely based on the best-selling memoir by Nick Hornby (who also wrote High Fidelity and About a Boy). The story follows the burgeoning romance between Firth’s character Paul Ashworth, a teacher, and Gemmell’s character Sarah Hughes, who joins the school. But football comes between them, as Paul is utterly obsessed with Arsenal. It also stars Mark Strong, Neil Pearson (Bridget Jones), Lorraine Ashbourne (Bridgerton’s Mrs Varley) and real-life football commentator and broadcaster Mike Ingham.

Looking for Eric (2009)

This film from director Ken Loach, who also made I, Daniel Blake, is about Eric Bishop, a postman (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 and he even contemplates 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 the interest. Shaolin Soccer tells the story of Sing, a master of Shaolin Kung Fu, 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. Acclaimed 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 somewhat extraordinary 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 enjoyed. However, this film from German director Sönke Wortmann is perhaps 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.

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, drugs and women. 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 The New York Times. “Equal parts temper and tenderness, lust and incaution, Heleno is short on specifics but long on impression.”

The FIFA Women’s World Cup starts today, July 20