When it comes to soccer, though, the sport's most memorable Hollywood movie probably has been Sylvester Stallone, Michael Caine and Pelé's cheesy 1981 World War II drama "Victory" — only a marginally better treatment of the sport, in some detractors' view, than "Happy Gilmore" was for golf.Horn ignores a lot of films and seems to accept that we all agree on the "Hollywood soccer movie" as something we want. First off - as far as Hollywood soccer movies go, Victory is totally worth watching. The cinematography is excellent, especially the game footage, and, well - it was directed by John Huston. It's not half bad. The comparison to Happy Gilmore is unfair. Happy Gilmore does not feature footage of one of the best athletes in any sport (Pelé) practicing his craft. Sure, it's cheesy - but so is Hoosiers. Few mainstream sports movies evade the cheesy (Lindsey Anderson's 1963 This Sporting Life does, and is worth watching - it stars Richard Harris as a troubled working class rugby player.)
Hong Kong comedy Shaolin Soccer. And we have the wonderful independent film Gracie (2007), a traditional sports narrative excepting that it is about a girl who wants to play soccer in the late 1970s, and has no option but to play on the boys team. Neither film is mentioned in this article - both are excellent and interesting. Looking for Eric and The Damn'd UTD are also great. But, no, they aren't "Hollywood". Having just seen Clash of the Titans, Robin Hood, Prince of Persia and Sex and the City 2 - none of which are as good as Victory - I am not sure that is something we should lament.
Most sports are hard to incorporate into a film. Boxing and martial arts are easier - convincing fight scenes can be choreographed and a fight makes for great cinema spectacle (which is why Shaolin Soccer works). Most sports films avoid showing extended play, and center the drama on the stories off the field (eg Hoosiers and Friday Night Lights). If we care about a completed pass, or a botched free-throw, it's because we've been made to care about the character. In terms of watching sport (rather than a movie) such cinematic moments are never as satisfying or as complex as a game. You don't watch Jerry McGuire because you want to see a football game.
Jafar Panahi's Offside (2006) - about women masquerading as boys to watch a World Cup qualifier in Tehran. You don't see soccer in that film, but you see fandom - and because of this focus on passion and politics, it's one of the best soccer films ever made. (Jafar, arguably Iran's most important film-maker, was thankfully just released from prison.)
Horn mentions that Gurinder Chada, director of Bend it Like Beckham, struggled to get financing for her film - he implies that this was because the film is about soccer. Perhaps whatever difficulties she may have had finding backers had more to do with the fact that it is about women players in England (where the women's game was banned for 50 years) and because the original script had a lesbian love story in it. The actual soccer in Bend It Like Beckham is, by the way, kind of lame - but it doesn't matter. It was a huge hit. Why doesn't Bend It Like Beckham count as soccer's Hoosiers? Because it is about women? (If Hollywood ignores soccer, it's because it ignores women and people of color. That's the story implied but not explored by this Los Angeles Times article.)
Many, like Ken Loach (director of Looking for Eric), assert that soccer demands an experimental eye - the sport is by definition hard to incorporate into traditional film narrative. I disagree - only because one can say this about a range of sports. That said, some of the best soccer films out there are experimental.
On July 6, Douglas Gordon and Phillipe Parreno's art house film Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait will be screened at UCLA's Billy Wilder theater. It will be the city's first public screening of this celebrated film - a total cinema experience, in which seventeen cameras track Zidane across a Real Madrid match. Mogwai did the soundtrack, and it's gorgeous (best on the big screen). It is, perhaps, the sport's Raging Bull. And, no, it isn't a Hollywood film. But then again, filmed in black and white and with its disturbingly blank approach to violence and relatively modest box office, neither was Raging Bull.