Ever since 1954, every World Cup has been covered by an official film, telling the story of the tournament with exclusive match footage, video from behind the scenes and interviews with key players and fans.Many famous directors have been involved in compiling the films and some big name actors have lent their voices for the narration.
But a bit like World Cups themselves, the official films are a bit of a mixed bag. Even a good tournament can be made to look bad by bad editing, a disinterested narrator or a general lack of focus.
So to help you decide which ones to watch, I’m presenting my 100% definitive rating of the World Cup films which are available to watch on Amazon Prime Video.
German Giants – Switzerland 1954🇨🇭
The very first official World Cup film is clearly a product of a different era. It’s impossible to escape the old-timey newsreel vibe (mostly thanks to the jaunty background music which runs throughout) although the most obvious comparison in my mind is the old Harry Enfield Mr Cholmondley-Warner football sketch.
The narration is mostly just commentary on the match action and for some reason a lot of the match action appears to have been artificially sped up. I imagine the behind the scenes footage of teams at their training camps and relaxing at their hotels was groundbreaking at the time, even if it looks horribly dated now.
The action is broken up by the adventures of a Swiss boy named Marco who is determined to get to the World Cup Final – one of which involves him trying to row across a lake on his way, but he ends up having to be rescued before falling into the lake and ending up outside Charlie Chaplin’s house.
It’s worth a watch once – not just to see the football of a bygone age where big scores were common (Austria’s 7-5 quarter final win over the hosts which was 5-4 at half time being a prime example) but to see the legendary Hungarian team of Puskas et al, widely regarded as one of the best to never win the World Cup.
Spoiler alert – Marco eventually makes it to the World Cup final, only to discover he has left his ticket behind. His response to this setback? Get a complete stranger to smuggle him into the stadium inside the boot of his car. Again proof that this is from a bygone, more innocent age.
Hinein – Sweden 1958 🇸🇪
Only four years had passed since the last film but the production has already taken a big step forward.We have graphics now! Or at least a map which shows all the nations who qualified.
No longer soundtracked by old-timey newsreel music, this time we’ve got what sounds like lift music instead, although it dies out during the match action to be replaced by what sounds like a low-flying plane going over the narrator’s microphone, which does frequently make it difficult to hear what he is saying – or is it an early Swedish prototype of the vuvuzela?
It’s still a world away from the modern day tournaments though, there’s footage of people climbing trees outside to get a look at the action, Harry Gregg wearing a flat cap, supporters bringing binoculars to the games, one of the stadiums basically seems to consist of a few rows of benches around the pitch! The narrator even takes time to remark on Brazil’s revolutionary use of the 4-2-4 system, while most of the world persisted with the tried and tested W-M which had been almost the default setting since the 1930’s.
This is the tournament which marks the debut on the world stage of Pele, Lev Yashin but most importantly Northern Ireland! On the only occasion when all four parts of the UK qualified, Northern Ireland and Wales both reached the quarter finals.
What the film doesn’t explain is the meaning of its title. I assumed it was something in Swedish, but Google tells me it is a German word meaning ‘inside’. I don’t get the significance.
While the match footage is definitely interesting, the whole thing runs at a glacial pace and feels much longer than the one hour and 22 minutes it lasts. I even missed an equivalent of Marco from the 1954 edition to liven things up a bit!
Viva Brazil! – Chile 1962 🇨🇱
At least this time they’ve got rid of the monotonous drone under the narration…
This is essentially the same film as the 1958 effort. Overlong highlights of almost every match, dull narration, mixed in with footage of the players in their downtime (the Germany squad go to watch a bizarre ice-skating show) and of supporters at the game, such as fans queuing up to pay at the gate (while the narrator comments that attendances weren’t quite what the organisers had been hoping for) and quite obviously sped up footage of drinks being served at the kiosk at half time in one game – I’ve certainly never been served that quickly at a match before!
Just before the semi-finals, the film decides it is vital to show an excerpt from a strange football-themed cabaret show with women singing while waving footballs around. “I wouldn’t mind a game with them” says the narrator in a cringeworthy fashion.
The match action is worth watching – from the sublime skills of Garrincha to Jimmy Greaves taming a canine pitch invader and of course, the infamous ‘Battle of Santiago’ between the hosts and Italy – even if the footage is occasionally grainy and poor quality.
But the whole thing is so dry that I doubt I’ll ever find myself watching it again.
Goal! – England 1966 🏴
A dramatic underdog story sees aspiring footballer Santiago Muñez earn a shot at the big time with a trial at Newcastle United.
There’s a huge leap forward in quality with this one. Firstly it is the first of these films to be shot in colour, which really does make a big difference, everything stands out so much more, particularly when showing the colours of the beautifully simplistic kits and adding a bit more life to the non-footballing shots of England.
The narration has gone up a notch too. Provided by English actor Nigel Patrick, reading a script written by legendary football journalist Brian Glanville, it doesn’t simply describe everything happening on the screen like in the previous films, but actually adds tension to the narrative. Glanville may well have been the very first “Against Modern Football” person, given the frequent scornful references to defensive tactics, 0-0 draws and the overly physical marking of Pele during the group stage.
The editing is a lot better too – the groups are tackled individually with relevant action from a few key games, although this does mean a lot of games aren’t featured at all with Group B limited to only one game – the bruising encounter between West Germany and Argentina.
There’s plenty of coverage of tournament outsiders North Korea, including their famous win over Italy and their eventual exit to Portugal after going 3-0 up. But fittingly, a large part of the runtime is devoted to the final – one of the most dramatic and controversial ever. The most enjoyable film so far!
The World At Their Feet – Mexico 1970 🇲🇽
1970 is an iconic World Cup – the first one to be broadcast in colour, Banks’ save from Pele, the ‘Match of the Century’ between Italy and West Germany and the eventual triumph of a Brazilian team playing in the joga bonita style the country is famous for. It looks brilliant too, especially the neon lights of Mexico City as everyone spills out onto the streets to celebrate their qualification for the quarter finals.
Sadly the film takes a leaf out of the 58 and 62 films rather than Goal! – it’s back to a glacial pace, overlong highlights of group matches and dull, often patronising narration.
There are a lot of strange mistakes in the film too, such as claiming Israel were the first Asian team to qualify for the World Cup and the Belgian flag including green instead of red in the opening sequence.
Also Marco is back! Except this time his role is filled by a young boy who runs away from home with little more than a football, a blanket and a bad Mexican accent to hitch-hike his way to the Estadio Azetca for the opening game. This takes up about five minutes at the start of the film and then he reappears periodically in crowd shots throughout the film, until his mum, who seemingly hadn’t noticed him being gone until she spotted him at a game on TV, catches up with him just before the final and takes him home – although they then appear in the crowd at the final a couple of minutes later and then again leaving the stadium at the end of the film where he asks her ‘How far is it to Munich?’ Cut to Credits.
Heading for Glory – West Germany 1974 🇩🇪
The 1974 film pulls a bit of a surprise as it begins with the final whistle being blown in the final and continues through the – Spoiler alert – West German celebrations and the Dutch team mournfully boarding their plane home before flashing back to the beginning of the tournament.
Here we see the Netherlands’ impressive start (minus the debut of the Cruyff turn), the only meeting of the two Germanys (won by the East of course), another ignominious exit for Italy – before, without warning, it jumps straight ahead into the second round, where it shows the two finalists’ path to Munich.
The remaining hour or so is focused around the day of the final itself. A behind the scenes look at the stadium is followed by referee Jack Taylor, in a shocking pink shirt, having breakfast with his linesmen. Then we see Dutch and German fans gathering in the city and get our first look at the brand new FIFA World Cup trophy, before settling in for the closing ceremony and then forty minutes of highlights from the final. It then ends as it began – with the final whistle, very arty.
This one is narrated by Joss Ackland, the actor who is probably most famous for having ‘diplomatic immunity‘ in Lethal Weapon 2. Sadly he doesn’t narrate this in his dodgy South African accent from that film – what he does is make use of is the huge number of clichés written down in his script – copious references to voodoo when Haiti are on the screen, similes comparing Dutch players to windmills, talking of Scotland ‘knocking spots’ off the leopards of Zaire and so on – along with some barely-concealed anti German jibes.
Heading for Glory definitely gets credit for doing something a bit different and shaking up the formula a bit but it loses momentum badly once the focus switches to the final, it moves at a pretty good pace up until then but afterwards incorporates far too many slow motion shots, Johan Cruyff looking frsutrated accompanied by mournful music and footage of irrelevant incidents. Overall, better than the 54, 58 and 70 efforts but not quite up to 66’s high standards.
Campeones – Argentina 1978 🇦🇷
Onto one of the most controversial World Cups of them all. The film is barely underway before acknowledging that Argentina was under a military dictatorship at the time and that they had poured millions into the World Cup while their own people were oppressed. One of the interesting facts it brings up was while the government build a state-of-the-art broadcast centre to beam the matches around the world, most people in Argentina were watching on black and white television sets.
The group-by-group format of the 1966 film is back and it includes plenty of highlights from the group stage before moving on to the second group stage where it pops back and forth between the two groups, culminating in the not at all questionable 6-0 win over Peru which saw Argentina qualify for the final. The final isn’t drawn out too long this time either, all the action is there along with the legendary ticker tape displays from the crowd.
There’s very little non-football footage in it, bar some scenes of Argentina fans celebrating in the streets, making it a very straightforward tournament review. And I enjoyed it, even though there’s nothing overly special about it. In fact, I’d probably put this one second behind Goal! so far.
G’Olé! – Spain 1982 🇪🇸
My eyes have seen the glory of España 82, where little Northern Ireland showed the world what we could do…
I was looking forward to this one!
Northern Ireland’s greatest moment on the World stage is of course featured along with the emergence of Diego Maradona, the brilliant Brazil team and of course, Paolo Rossi returning from disgrace to fire Italy to glory.
It also looks at some of the smaller nations, Cameroon who impressed on their World Cup debut, New Zealand who has played more games than anyone to qualify and Kuwait, whose involvement is mostly remembered for a pitch invasion by their crown prince protesting against a controversially awarded goal.
Narration comes from Sean Connery, whose script includes a few cheesy one-liners that wouldn’t have been out of place in one of his James Bond movies (or maybe Roger Moore’s) but wisely, at the times of greatest drama, such as the semi-final penalty shootout between West Germany and France, the narration falls silent and lets the football do the talking.
I’d have loved to have been around in Spain to go to this World Cup! It was cool seeing the old footage of familiar places in central Madrid and around the Santiago Bernabéu where I now live. And the film is my new number one!
That seems as good a place as any to leave things for now!
Part Two, covering the films from 1986 to 2018 and featuring the Hand of God, Gazza’s tears, Zidane’s headbutt and much more besides can be found HERE.