Top Five Rugby Flims of All Time

Few decent rugby movies have been released—in fact, few rugby movies at all. Granted, making a good sports movie that doesn’t descend into cliché or follow a pat formula is difficult. Still, with a little digging, it's possible to turn up movies that either focus on rugby entirely or use rugby as an integral part of their plots, including several that are emotional and very realistic. Read on to find out what are the top five rugby movies.

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Revelations Entertainment/Malpaso Productions/Spyglass Entertainment/Warner Bros. Pictures

Clint Eastwood’s 2009 adaptation of the book “Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Changed a Nation” is a great movie about rugby, although it’s about much more. “Invictus” is a long, leisurely-paced meditation on manhood, violence and heroism with a fanatical attention to detail. The film focuses on the 1995 Rugby World Cup and how South African president Nelson Mandela used the country's national team—and its success in the tournament—to unite a fragile nation emerging from apartheid. Matt Damon plays Springbok captain Francois Pienaar as he undergoes the typical Eastwood hero’s journey from failure and ignorance to triumph and understanding. Unlike most of the other movies on this list, there is a lot of rugby in “Invictus” and Eastwood makes sure viewers understand just how physical the sport can be.

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'The Departed'

Italy - 1st Rome Film Festival - Photo Call 'The Departed'
Corbis via Getty Images / Getty Images

Though there are only about two minutes of rugby in Martin Scorsese’s 2006 film "The Departed," they are effective, showing an informal match between Boston policemen and firefighters in a leafy park. In the scene, protagonist Colin Sullivan scrums down as a flanker, runs with the ball, and later taunts his opponents for being firefighters. The scene is part of a montage showing Sullivan's development from a childhood spent in the shadow of mob boss Frank Costello into a police officer, and Sullivan’s derisive comments toward the firefighters at the end of the match suggest that maybe he's not an ideal public servant. Sullivan is played by Matt Damon, marking the first time audiences see the actor play rugby on film, but not the last.

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ThinkFilm party for Murderball
Mark Mainz / Getty Images

"Murderball" is a brilliant documentary spotlighting the members of the U.S. wheelchair rugby team and their journey to the 2004 Paralympics, as well as their heated rivalry with the Canadian team. The movie shows what it means to be an athlete, what meaning sports give to the subjects’ lives and how quadriplegia does not have to mean the end of life. It’s also an exciting movie, almost entirely devoid of cheap sentimentality and melodrama. Caution: Watching this film may make you feel guilty about just hanging around on the couch.

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'The Meaning of Life'

Monty Python's The Meaning Of Life
Stanley Bielecki Movie Collection / Getty Images

Granted, this 1983 film was not one of Monty Python’s finest, but it's the only one with a rugby-themed skit. In the film, a boy who is caught daydreaming through a sex education class at a British public school is punished by having to play rugby “against the masters.” There follows about a minute’s worth of grown men gleefully running roughshod over a team of little boys to the strains of Bach’s “Toccata und Fuge in d-Moll, BWV 565.” The end of the skit segues from the ritualized combat of rugby to the actual combat of the war, clarifying in no uncertain terms rugby’s place in the English public school system, especially in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

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'This Sporting Life'

Richard Burton
Evening Standard / Getty Images

This Richard Burton vehicle from the early 1960s tells the story of a young Yorkshireman who finds an outlet for his anger on the local rugby league club and features many actual rugby players in its cast, as well as a healthy dose of realistic rugby action. When he’s not playing rugby, Burton’s character, Frank Machin, "senses the emptiness of his life," as IMDb notes, and tries to compensate by wooing his landlady  (played by Rachel Roberts). These angst-ridden scenes cause the film to drag, but whenever Burton takes to the field, the rugby scenes are aggressive, brutal—and quite realistic.