Soccer (or, in some places, “association football,” “futbol,” “calcio,” “fussball,” “voetbal,” and “more like SUCK-er”) has been around for quite some time. Although many people have tried to put modern twists on it, the central theme of the game remains the same – put the ball in the goal more times than your opponent does.

People have been writing books since at least 1859, when Charles Dickens published A Tale of Two Cities. And, just like soccer, the timeless themes of classic literature have survived many attempts at modernization.

Ultimately, soccer and literature (like all art) have one foundational thing in common – they’re all about ideas. So what better use of my and everyone else’s time than to create a Best XI of works of classic literature?

Well, I came up with one better use. I’m informed that people don’t read anymore. Instead, they watch “movies” on “DVD.” It turns out, a lot of these “movies” are based on works of classic literature. So your average American man looking for the latest Renee Zellweger movie might accidentally find himself getting some culture – the old bait and switch, if you will.

With that in mind, the following is the Best XI (in a 4-4-2diamond) of movies that were modern adaptations of old stories.


O (2001)

Everyone has seen the early 2000s movie about the talented inner-city kid who gets recruited to play basketball at a fancy prep school, falls for a rich girl at the school, and ultimately is undermined by the jealousy of an overprivileged villain who had been forced, by the protagonist's excellence, to face his own mediocrity.

But that movie was Finding Forrester.

O, on the other hand, is a little-seen adaptation of Shakespeare’s Othello, except where Othello was about an African-Italian military leader, O is about Mekhi Phifer. I’d say more, but I’m kind of annoyed that I’ve seen the movie in the first place.

Although a bad movie, O will make a great goalkeeper in that it lasts for 90 minutes and no one can get through it.

Right Back

She’s the Man (2006)

I like a right back who can stretch the field and challenge the defense. With She’s the Man, we get both: It’s a total stretch to buy Amanda Bynes as a girl posing as a boy who is better at soccer than Channing Tatum and defending it as a good movie is incredibly challenging. So, slot this adaptation of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night on the right side of the defense but do not slot it into your Netflix queue.

Right Center Back

The Fugitive (1993)

Your dad’s fourth-favorite movie to watch on basic cable (after The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, and, to his credit, Ang Lee’s 1995 adaptation of Sense and Sensibility), The Fugitive is an adaptation of a TV show that itself was self-consciously inspired by Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. Solid from start to finish, The Fugitive is a real lunch pail movie that pulls out every move possible to defend wrongfully accused Dr. Richard Kimble from getting caught out of position by the U.S. Marshalls and giving up a goal (going to prison). I’m slotting this on the right side of the defense because even though it’s about a wrongful conviction, there’s a reading of the movie that it’s pro-police (i.e., Tommy Lee Jones’s character is very good and cool).

Left Center Back

O Brother, Where Art Thou (2000)

Another classic about men on the run from the law, this adaptation of The Odyssey sees George Clooney and his friends use their wiles to bail themselves out of jam after jam. That track record of escaping tough situations will come useful on the backline. I’m putting this one on the left side, given the pro-labor, anti-establishment, and anti-racist themes.

Left Back

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Christopher Nolan is on record saying that the third of Christian Bale’s Batman movies was inspired by A Tale of Two Cities, which seems both stupid and untrue, but also makes the movie eligible for this list.

But why left back? I don’t know, sometimes you just need a left back. Think of The Dark Knight Rises as this team’s Dom Badji.

Defensive Midfield

Apocalypse Now (1979)

Specifically, the “Redux” cut, which is a robust 202 minutes. That’s a big body anchoring the midfielder, a Victor Wanyama-type just blowing up the opponent’s attack like napalm. An update of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness for the Vietnam War era, Apocalypse Now will prove to be effective at holding the line, but not so much useful in advancement. It will, however, occasionally let attackers get in behind and catch it by surprise, but I’m still going for overwhelming force over agility with this pick.

Right Midfield

Cruel Intentions (1999)

Cruel Intentions (based on the French novel Les Liaisons dangereuses) is a pretty important movie for a lot of junior highboys, primarily because you can show it on cable without as much editing required as, say, Wild Things. But the movie is also about having tactical intelligence, as the characters frequently try to out-scheme each other, which is important for a midfielder. I’m putting Cruel Intentions on the side of the diamond because it’s capable playing both ends of the field, and anyone who has seen the movie can take that inference any way they want to.

And Cruel Intentions goes on the right because, its various provocations aside, Cruel Intentions ultimately comes down on the conservative side of sexual politics, but that’s a conversation for another day.

Left Midfield

Rent: Filmed Live on Broadway (2008)

Had to do it to ‘em. Had to sneak a musical on this list, but I couldn’t bring myself to include Chris Columbus’s terrible film adaptation from 2005.

Rent, admittedly, tries to do way too much and is a bit all over the place, but also, you want a midfielder who can cover a lot of ground, from Bertolucci to Pee Wee Herman. As I said above, soccer is about ideas, and you have to admit – Rent (an update of Puccini’s La Boheme) certainly has ideas. Also, the movie/musical is strongest in supporting roles and, like its “lead” character Mark, is a bit of a dud if asked to carry the performance itself.

Attacking Midfield

William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet (1996)

So far, what this team has been missing is some creativity, that bit of flair to propel the attack. Romeo + Juliet has that in spades. Baz Luhrman’s direction sees the camera cutting frenetically and winding up in unpredictable and unexpected places, bringing a key energy that will always keep the defense guessing. And you know this is one player who will happily sacrifice itself for the sake of the team. But, like Lucho, it doesn't always pick the best moments to go between the legs, leading to bad consequences.

Second Striker

10 Things I Hate About You (1999)

What’s the thing you want from a striker? Scoring. And this 90s version of Taming of the Shrew shows that it will go through any length to score, like pretending to know French or hiring Heath Ledger to date your girlfriend’s sister.


Clueless (1995)

This adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma is a pure luxury striker. Do not expect it to put in a lot of defensive work or cover a lot of ground. What it brings, however, is pure finishing class. Just as Alicia Silverstone’s Cher never allows even one hair out of place, Clueless will not put a foot wrong. You just need to make sure it gets proper service (and it requires a lot of service).


So there we have it, an unbeatable XI.