• Craig Stott as John Caleo on the field in 'Holding the Man'. (Holding the Man)Source: Holding the Man
Here's our list of films where Aussie Rules matches have crashed the pack and made their mark.
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11 Sep 2015 - 5:07 PM  UPDATED 11 Sep 2015 - 5:08 PM

While a minority who live above “the Barassi Line” are – still – reluctant to admit it, the fact is that Australian Rules Football is our national sport*, and these movies prove it.

In his 1995 book, The Winter Game, Robert Pascoe mused that it was “a historical puzzle how such a unique game could have developed in Australia – a small nation... and derivative in most things”. Regardless of how it developed, with roots that stem from Australia’s indigenous and Celtic heritages, the game continues to bring out the best and the worst in Australians as this year’s Adam Goodes controversy proved.

With the offensive behaviour of a minority of vile barrackers hopefully in the game’s past, the true Aussie Rules fan will be looking to get as much out of the AFL Finals season before the umpire blows the last whistle on 2015. If too much football is barely enough for you as H.G. Nelson used to say, then you’ll want to look at some of the ways that Australian Rules Football has graced feature films over the years.

The Great Macarthy (1975)

As most people know, the Sydney Swans were a NSW reboot of the South Melbourne Football Club after that club’s finances and status became untenable (in the eyes of the ambitious Victorian Football League). To get an inkling of how desperate the Swans were in those days, take a look at 1975’s The Great Macarthy. Would any but the most distressed of clubs have put their name to this manic ‘satire’ about a country football player (John Jarratt in his debut) who is kidnapped by a major football team? The South Melbourne Football Club did and the Swans are appropriately embarrassed any time someone brings it up. Hoping to catch the ocker comedy market created by Alvin Purple and The Adventures Barry McKenzie, the film takes an overly irreverent approach to everything including footy and fumbles the ball on almost every occasion despite a supporting cast that includes Judy Morris, Barry Humphries, Kate Fitzpatrick, Max Gillies and the ever-reliable, long gone (but never forgotten) Cul Cullen.

Watch a trailer for The Great Macarthy:

The Club (1980)

The Great Macarthy flopped, but according to David Stratton’s book The Last New Wave it did have one admirer: playwright David Williamson. Coincidence or not, Williamson soon after wrote his landmark play The Club about the boardroom dealings of an Australian Rules team. While off the field the corporate world manipulates every outcome it can, weary coach (Jack Thompson channelling Tom Hafey) struggles to bring a troublesome, dope-smoking player (John Howard) to heel. Like the stage play before it, Bruce Beresford’s film version of The Club tapped into fears held by football fans who were beginning to realise the consequences of the sport’s corporatisation.

Watch the trailer for The Club:

Gallipoli (1981)

If you think The Club is David Williamson’s sole contribution to bringing Australian Rules Football to movie screens, you need to take another look at Gallipoli. At the base of Egypt’s Pyramids, Peter Weir’s film shoehorns in a footy contest between soldiers from West Australia and the Eastern States. When Mel Gibson says to Robert Grubb about the opposing side’s ruckman, “Something’s gotta be done about that lofty bastard”; who is he talking about? It’s bloody Williamson who managed to sneak in a cameo role for himself when he wrote the script!

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Watch the trailer for Gallipoli:

The Hit (1984)

If you thought this list was only going to consist of Australian movies, you’ll have to be dropped down to the Reserves. Other than the “and Bill Hunter” credit at the film’s beginning, there’s nothing to prepare audiences for the sudden arrival of Aussie Rules in Stephen Frears’The Hit. Featuring Terence Stamp, John Hurt and a very young Tim Roth, this low-budget gangster movie shot in Spain is about three English crims who are not as smart as they think they are. En route to the Spanish/French border so they can ensure that a grass (Stamp) is bumped off by his former mates, assassin Hurt instructs his driver Roth to take a detour to Madrid so they can hide out in an expatriate gangster’s apartment. In said luxurious abode, the trio find Aussie grifter Bill Hunter sinking a tinny or two while illicitly watching Hawthorn play Fitzroy on the absent gangster’s TV. Harry’s knows the jig is up when the English crims arrive. When he points out to the hitman that Hawthorn is his team and “they’re losing”, it isn’t just the Hawks supporters who will feel the pain.  

Watch the trailer for The Hit:

Hotel de Love (1996)

The main action of Craig Rosenberg’s romantic comedy Hotel de Love (Craig Rosenberg) centres on two brothers (Aden Young and Simon Bossell) vying for the attention of their childhood sweetheart.  When the brothers’ parents Jack and Edith (Ray Barrett and Julia Blake) check into the titular hotel to celebrate their wedding anniversary, they get the Aussie Rules suite. The room places a bed at the centre of the field/room. The walls are adorned with a crowd of onlookers viewing from the ‘grandstand’ and the room even has a white-hatted umpire brandishing erect twin flags in acknowledgement of every “goal” (nudge, nudge, wink, wink).

Watch the original Movie Show review of Hotel de Love:

Watch an interview with director Craig Rosenberg:

Australian Rules (2002)

While changing the title of Phillip Gwynne’s novel Deadly Unna?, there was still no mistaking the barbed aura around the name of Paul Goldman’s film Australian Rules.  Football uneasily masks tensions in a racially stratified South Australian seaside town, but after the local league’s Grand Final, when it’s clear that not everyone is getting their due, things get really ugly. Prospect Bay’s first Grand Final rips the town apart and a white boy called Blacky (Nathan Phillips in his film debut) finds himself caught between “his own kind” and his team-mates from the Aboriginal Mission who make up more than half the premiership team. The game itself, which takes place at about the film’s halfway mark is a corker, with Blacky’s mum (Celia Ireland) proving a lot smarter than the coach when it comes to on-ground tactics.

Watch the original Movie Show review of Australian Rules:

Watch an interview with director Paul Goldman:

The Heartbreak Kid (2007)

In The Heartbreak Kid a high school teacher (Claudia Karvan) has a steamy affair with an athletic, soccer-loving student of Greek extraction (Alex Dimitriades). The film’s heavy is a macho schoolteacher (William McInnes) whose fierce belief in Australian football and only Australian football is regarded as indicative of his sexism, racism and parochialism (he hates soccer!). As Greece had already made contributions to Aussie Rules with players like Collingwood’s Peter Daicos ('The Macedonian Marvel'), the Sydney Swans’ Gary Franglas and even legendary Lou Richards could claim Greek heritage by the time The Heartbreak Kid was released in 1993, the film was perhaps over-simplifying cultural tensions of the time. At least these days there seems to be a greater acceptance of watching multiple football codes.

Watch the original Movie Show review of The Heartbreak Kid:

Watch an interview where director Michael Jenkins and producer Ben Gannan talk discovering new talent Alex Dimitriades:

Funny People (2009)

Sooner or later, every Aussie Rules fan finds themselves in the position of having to explain how the game works to a foreigner (or someone from Penrith who worships at rugby’s shrine of English imperialism). Here’s hoping you do better than Clarke the Mandarin-speaking, LA-based St Kilda barracker played by Eric Bana in the last 40 minutes of Judd Apatow’s Funny People. Not knowing that Adam Sandler has slept with his wife (Leslie Mann) earlier that afternoon, Clarke jovially, but incompetently tries to explain the flow of the game - “Saints versus Maggies. None of that American shit” - to Sandler and his stooge Seth Rogen. Neither of them would know a “stab pass” from a “screamer”. Originally scripted as the American husband of the film’s love interest, Bana convinced Apatow to change the character’s nationality. The result is an extremely accurate portrait of a boisterous, friendly, naively though unashamedly racist, Australian male who can turn violent in a split second. Painfully familiar.

Read the review:
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Watch a scene from Funny People:

Watch the SBS Movies interview with Judd Apatow:

With an honourable mention going to: Holding the Man (2015)

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Watch the Holding the Man trailer:

*Ed's note: That's debatable.