With the amount of simulation in the modern game, one would think that many footballers would do quite well as actors. But as the following list shows, very few have made the transition into film and the results, to be generous, have been mixed. From Pele to David Beckham, we profile some of the more memorable moments when footballers have featured on the silver screen.
Widely regarded as the greatest player of all time, Pele was also one of the first footballers to star in a half-decent movie. Indeed, while the 1981 film “Escape to Victory” in which Pele plays a World War II prisoner trying to escape from camp with a group of allies by luring their German captors into a game of football can hardly be called a classic, it did feature Hollywood heavyweights Sylvester Stallone and Michael Caine. Also on the team were Bobby Moore, Ossie Ardiles and multiple members of Bobby Robson’s UEFA Cup winning Ipswich Town side.
The allies manage to escape amidst crowded celebrations, but not before a Pele scores with a bicycle-kick and Stallone makes a stunning penalty save. This scene might explain why Pele never went into management:
Review: Pele gets three stars out of five for some excellent unintentional comedy.
Many people were expecting David Beckham to at least play some part in the movie “Bend It Like Beckham” but the England superstar had to wait until he left Manchester United before making it into a big-budget film. Upon his transfer to Real Madrid, Beckham starred as himself alongside fellow Galacticos Raul and Zinedine Zidane in the brainless but fun movie “Goal!”, apparently providing insight into the life of a football superstar to inspire the fictional main character, Santiago Munez.
A host of other football players also featured in the movie and the two follow-ups (named horribly “Goal! 2: Living The Dream…” and “Goal! 3: Taking on the World”) to give the Goal! series some serious prestige, if not a decent script. Here’s Beckham’s cameo from the first film, playing himself:
Review: Only two stars out of five for Becks, because looking unnatural while playing yourself is never a good thing.
Given his charismatic performances on the pitch it came as no surprise when Eric Cantona made the move into the world of acting. What did come as a surprise was the nature of his debut feature film performance: portraying Monsieue de Foix alongside the beautiful and talented Cate Blanchett in the 1998 drama “Elizabeth”.
Cantona has also appeared in multiple French films, playing an overweight police superintendent in 2003 comedy “The Overeater” and a dancing trucker in 2005’s “Life is Ours”. Cantona recently played himself in Ken Loach’s bizarrely beautiful 2009 film “Looking For Eric”, about a Manchester United supporting postman obsessed with Eric Cantona.
Review: Four stars out of five. Cantona shows Beckham how it’s done, and gets extra credit for doing the Robert De Niro thing and putting on weight for his role in “The Overeater”.
Arguably the greatest player of the last 20 years, Zinedine Zidane’s brooding and introverted personality made for fascinating viewing in the 2006 documentary “Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait”. The concept was simple: film a full 90 minutes of the French playmaker doing what he does week-in, week-out at Real Madrid and see what happens.
Zidane made sure to light up what could have been a dull one-and-a-half hours by beating three players to assist the first goal and (spoiler alert!) getting sent off in a brawl late in the game. Zidane made cameos in the “Goal!” films but had no intention to be an actor. Didn’t matter. By simply being himself, Zidane created a drama found in very few films.
Review: We’ll give Zizou three out of five. This isn’t proper acting, but credit to him for giving the match they filmed a dramatic ending.
The ex-Wimbledon midfielder has made arguably the best transition into acting of any footballer in history, converting his hard-as-nails play on the pitch into a number of hard-as-nails performances on the silver screen. He debuted in Guy Ritchie’s cockney-tastic 1998 film “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” as Big Chris, earning a bigger role alongside Brad Pitt in Ritchie’s follow up film “Snatch” Bullet Tooth Tony.
Somewhat hilariously given his reputation as a footballing thug and member of ex-member of Wimbledon’s Crazy Gang, Bullet-Tooth Tony is a hit-man who survives multiple gunshot wounds throughout the film. Since “Snatch” Jones has appeared in films like “Gone in 60 Seconds”, “Mean Machine” and the latest “X-Men” movie to maintain his reputation as a surprisingly competent actor.
Review: Four stars out of five. People complain that Vinnie is only playing himself in these roles, but – as Beckham proves above – that’s not as easy as it sounds.
Defender/midfielder Paul Breitner played for Bayern Munich and Real Madrid, and also won the World Cup with West Germany in 1974. In 1976 he took a role As Sergeant Stark (pictured, below right) in a spaghetti western film called “Potato Fritz”, about a group of Germans that move to the American Wild West. Breitner waited 10 years until his second film appearance, in a German filmed called “Kunyonga – Murder in Africa”. Let’s just say he was better at football.
Review: Two stars out of five, based on the little amount of footage available. Kudos for forcing that big ’70s hairdo under a hat though.
As many wobbly free-kicks that he scores, as many step-overs that he does, as many Armani adverts that he stars in, Cristiano Ronaldo will never be the real Ronaldo. That honour goes to Ronaldo Luis Nazario de Lima, the chunkier, World-Cup winning striker who scored bucket-loads of goals for Barcelona, Inter Milan, Real Madrid, AC Milan and the Brazilian national team. And while Cristiano can point to his Simpsonisation in Nike Football’s “Write The Future” World Cup marketing campaign as a sign of his immense pop-culture influence, the original Ronaldo can retort that he got their first too, playing a very peculiar version of himself on the show a number of years ago. It seems that anything Cristiano can do, Ronaldo has done better.
Ronaldo has also appeared on the big screen in the “Goal!” movies, but debuted with a brief one-word cameo as himself in the 2001 mockumentary “Mike Bassett: England Manager”:
Review: One star, for the one word Ronaldo delivers. Unconvincingly.
While it would surprise no-one to see the enigmatic Argentinean legend making some waves on the acting scene, Diego Maradona was caught unawares by his first appearance on the silver screen. Indeed, in the 2007 documentary ‘In the Hands of the Gods’ the Argentinean is the major focus of a film that features him for only a few seconds as five young English freestylers travel skint through North and South America to try and meet their footballing idol. Maradona’s appearance on camera goes no further than a rushed conversation at his front door but little wizard’s willingness to let the boys into his home for a non-filmed conversation brought the story to a satisfactory conclusion.
El Diego was also the subject of the 2008 film “Maradona” by Serbian filmmaker Emir Kusturica. The film covered all aspects of Maradona’s life and premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2008.
Review: Three stars out of five for being nice enough to meet with the freestylers after their long journey. Also, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise it turned Maradona’s entire life was one big Hollywood movie.
The former Liverpool, Aston Villa and England striker might have thought he was the new Vinnie Jones after being cast in “Basic Instinct 2” alongside Sharon Stone. Or maybe the new Michael Douglas. Collymore does share the screen with Stone in his film debut, but is only on-screen for the first three minutes, is semi-conscious and meets a watery grave after he and Stone get a little over-excited in the car. Click the image to see Collymore in action, but be warned it gets a bit graphic and is definitely NSFW.
Review: One star out of five, because Collymore basically played a corpse.
Former Barcelona and Denmark striker Allan Simonsen appeared as himself in the 1977 Danish film “The Marksman”. The plot centers around an out of control sniper on a killing spree, with the high-profile Simonsen being one of his victims. The striker is gunned down while playing for Denmark, and apparently the filmmakers used real footage of Simonesen playing an international match for Denmark, during which they asked him to lie still for an extended time so they could film his death scene. Enjoy the scene, but don’t get any ideas:
Review: Two stars our of five. He looks more injured than dead
In the 2001 film “A Shot at Glory”, McCoist plays “Scotland’s most notorious star soccer player” Jackie McQuillan, who joins hilariously named fictional Scottish team Kilnockie. McCoist stars alongside some big name actors like Robert Duvall (sporting a Scottish accent) as his manager and Michael Keaton as Kilnockie’s obnoxious American owner.
McQuillan is supposed to be an ex-Celtic star, which raised a few eyebrows given McCiost’s status a Rangers legend. Nevertheless, it seems from the trailer that McCoist gives a passable performance in an otherwise ropey movie:
Review: An encouraging three stars our of five, if only because he managed not to laugh when Duvall does his Scottish accent.
Can you think of any other footballers who have made the transition into film? Let us know in the comments.