Varsity Blues (film)

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Varsity Blues
Varsity Blues (1999 film) poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byBrian Robbins
Produced byBrian Robbins
Michael Tollin
Tova Laiter
Written byW. Peter Iliff
Narrated byJames Van Der Beek
Music byMark Isham
CinematographyChuck Cohen
Edited byNed Bastille
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
January 15, 1999
Running time
106 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$16 million
Box office$54.3 million

Varsity Blues is a 1999 American coming-of-age sports comedy-drama film directed by Brian Robbins that follows a small-town high school football team and their overbearing coach through a tumultuous season. The players must deal with the pressures of adolescence and their football-obsessed community while having their hard coach on their back constantly. In the small (fictional) town of West Canaan, Texas, football is a way of life, and losing is not an option.

The film drew a domestic box office gross of $52 million against its estimated $16 million budget despite mixed critical reviews.[1]


Jonathan "Mox" Moxon (James Van Der Beek) is an intelligent and academically gifted backup quarterback for the West Canaan High School varsity football team. Despite his relative popularity at school, easy friendships with other players, and smart and sassy girlfriend Jules Harbor (Amy Smart), he is dissatisfied with his life. He wants to leave Texas to go to school at Brown University. He is constantly at odds with his football-obsessed father Sam (Thomas F. Duffy), and dreads playing under legendary coach Bud Kilmer (Jon Voight), a verbally abusive, controlling authority who believes in winning "at all costs." Kilmer has a strong track record as coach, remarking in a speech that "in my thirty years of coaching at West Canaan, I have brought two state titles, and 22 district championships!"

His philosophy finally takes its toll on the Coyotes' star quarterback Lance Harbor (Paul Walker), Mox's best friend and Jules' brother. Lance is manipulated into taking anesthetic shots into an injured knee that finally succumbs to failure and results in even greater injury during gameplay. He is rushed to the hospital, where doctors are appalled at the massive amount of scar tissue found under his knee. The doctors say that he shouldn't have been playing football and this injury would take "minimum a year and a half, if ever" to recover from. This costs Lance his football scholarship to Florida State.

Mox, who has accompanied Lance to the hospital, is shocked when Kilmer feigns ignorance to Lance's doctors about his knee problems, when in fact it was him who ordered the trainer to use the anesthetics. In need of a new quarterback, Kilmer reluctantly names Mox to replace Lance as team captain and starting quarterback. The move brings unexpected dividends for him, one of them being Darcy Sears (Ali Larter), Lance's beautiful cheerleader girlfriend, who is interested in marrying a football player in order to escape small-town life. She even goes so far as to attempt to seduce Mox, sporting a "bikini" made of whipped cream over her otherwise naked body, but he rebuffs her as gently as he can, telling Darcy that she can get out of West Canaan on her own.

Disgusted with Kilmer and not feeling a strong need to win, Mox starts calling his own plays on the field without Kilmer's approval. He also chides his father, screaming at him, "I don't want your life!" Sam had been a football player at West Canaan, and although Kilmer dismissed him for a lack of talent and courage, Sam still respected and obeyed him. When Kilmer becomes aware that Mox has won a full scholarship to Brown, he tells Mox that if he continues to disobey and disrespect him, he will alter his transcripts in order to reverse the decision on his scholarship.

Kilmer's lack of concern for players continues, resulting in a dramatic mental collapse of Mox's friend, offensive lineman Billy Bob (Ron Lester). He had suffered a concussion in an earlier game and after Kilmer pressured him to play, Billy Bob collapsed on the field. This allowed the career-ending hit on Lance, for which Kilmer blames Billy Bob.

When star running back Wendell Brown (Eliel Swinton) is injured in the district title game, Kilmer persuades him to take a shot of cortisone to deaden the pain in his knee, allowing Wendell to continue playing at risk of more serious injury. Desperate to be recruited by a good college, Wendell is about to consent when Mox tells Kilmer he will quit if the procedure continues. Undaunted, Kilmer orders wide receiver Charlie Tweeder (Scott Caan) to replace Mox, but Tweeder refuses. Mox tells Kilmer that the only way the team will return to the field is without him.

Kilmer loses control of his temper and physically assaults Mox. The other players intercede and then refuse to take to the field. Knowing his loss of control has cost him his credibility, Kilmer tries in vain to rally support and spark the team's spirit into trusting him, but none of the players follow him out of the locker room. Kilmer continues down the hall, and seeing no one following him, turns in the other direction and into his office. The Coyotes use a five-receiver offense in the second half, and go on to win the game and the district championship without Kilmer's guidance, thanks in large part to Lance calling the plays from the sideline, and Billy Bob scoring the game-winning touchdown on a hook-and-ladder play.

In a voice-over epilogue, Mox recounts several characters' aftermaths, including the fact that Kilmer left town and never coached again. In the aftermath of the game, Tweeder drank beer "because Tweeder drinks beer" and Billy Bob cried in celebration because "he's a bit of a cryer." Lance became a successful coach, Wendell received a football scholarship to Grambling State University, and Mox went on to enroll at Brown on an academic scholarship.


  • James Van Der Beek as Jonathon "Mox" Moxon, an academically successful, yet rebellious backup quarterback.
  • Jon Voight as Coach Bud Kilmer, the Coyotes' 30-year head coach.
  • Paul Walker as Lance Harbor, the original captain and starting quarterback of the Coyotes.
  • Amy Smart as Jules Harbor, Mox's girlfriend and Lance's younger sister.
  • Ron Lester as Billy Bob, an overweight but powerful offensive guard.
  • Scott Caan as Charlie Tweeder, a wild, cocky and hard-partying wide receiver.
  • Eliel Swinton as Wendell Brown, the star running back and one of only three African American players on the Coyotes.
  • Ali Larter as Darcy Sears, Lance's girlfriend and the captain of the cheerleading squad.
  • Richard Lineback as Joe Harbor, Lance and Jules' father.
  • Thomas F. Duffy as Sam Moxon, Mox's football-obsessed father.
  • Joe Pichler as Kyle Moxon, Mox's younger brother who is into religions rather than football.
  • Tonie Perensky as Miss Davis, a teacher at West Canaan High School who moonlights as a stripper at the local strip club The Landing Strip.


The film opened at #1 at the North American box office making $17.5 million USD in its opening weekend.[2] Though it had a 39.6% decline in earnings, it was still enough to keep it at the top spot for another week.[3]

Critical reception was mixed; the film has a 40% ("Rotten") approval rating from 52 reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, with the consensus "This is a predictable football movie that lacks intensity." Roger Ebert noted in his Chicago Sun-Times review that "Scenes work, but they don't pile up and build momentum."[4] ReelViews online film critic James Berardinelli's summary was that although it "takes a worthwhile detour or two, it ultimately finds its way back to the well-worn track of its genre."[5]

The film was later parodied in the 2001 film Not Another Teen Movie, in which Ron Lester reprises his role of Billy Bob by playing a nearly identical character named Reggie Ray. Ali Larter's whipped cream bikini was also parodied. It was also quoted in the 2004 film Mean Girls as being Regina George's favorite movie.

On January 21, 2002, Nelvana and MTV announced that they would co-produce a television series based on the film. Screenwriter Peter Iliff and producer Tova Leiter signed on to produce the series. The cast included Sean Dwyer as Stick and Charlie Talbert as Billy-Bob.[6]


Being a production of MTV Films, "Varsity Blues" was filled with a soundtrack of well known bands and little known songs. The soundtrack album was published by Hollywood Records and contained:


1999 Teen Choice Awards
1999 MTV Movie Awards
  • Best Breakout Performance: James Van Der Beek (won)
  • Best Movie Song (nominated)
2000 Blockbuster Entertainment Awards
  • Best Male Newcomer: James Van Der Beek (nominated)


  1. ^ Varsity Blues at Box Office Mojo
  2. ^ "Moviegoers Get the 'Blues,' Big Time - Los Angeles Times". 1998-08-02. Retrieved 2014-02-03.
  3. ^ "'Varsity Blues' Runs to Daylight to Stay No. 1 - Los Angeles Times". 2009-10-30. Retrieved 2014-02-03.
  4. ^ Sobczynski, Peter (1999-01-15). "Varsity Blues Movie Review & Film Summary (1999)". Roger Ebert. Retrieved 2014-02-03.
  5. ^ "Reelviews Movie Reviews". 1999-01-15. Retrieved 2014-02-03.
  6. ^

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