Varsity Blues (film)

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Varsity Blues
Varsity Blues (1999 film) poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Brian Robbins
Produced by Brian Robbins
Michael Tollin
Tova Laiter
Written by W. Peter Iliff
Music by Mark Isham
Cinematography Chuck Cohen
Edited by Ned Bastille
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date
  • January 15, 1999 (1999-01-15)
Running time
106 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $16 million
Box office $54,294,169

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 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 it under legendary coach Bud Kilmer (Jon Voight), a verbally abusive, controlling authority who believes in winning "at all costs". He has a strong track record as coach, in thirty years of coaching at West Canaan, he has won two state titles, and 22 district championships. His philosophy finally takes its toll on quarterback, Lance Harbor (Paul Walker), Mox's best friend and Jules' brother who has earned a full scholarship to play for Florida State. He 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.

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 Kilmer ordered the trainer to inject the shots. In need of a new quarterback, he reluctantly names Mox to replace Lance as captain and starting quarterback. The move brings unexpected dividends for him, one of them being Darcy Sears (Ali Larter), Lance's beautiful blonde 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.

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, Sam, screaming at him, "I don't want your life!" He had been a football player at West Caanan, and although Kilmer dismissed him for lacking talent and courage, he still respected and obeyed him. When Kilmer becomes aware that Mox has won a full scholarship to Brown, he threatens him 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 collapse of Billy Bob (Ron Lester), who had suffered a head injury weeks earlier. When Wendell Brown (Eliel Swinton), another friend of Mox's, is injured on the field during the final game of the season, Kilmer pressures him to take a shot of cortisone to deaden the pain from his injury, allowing him to continue even in the face of a permanent injury. Desperate to be recruited by a good college, he grants his consent. At this moment, Mox tells Kilmer he'll quit the team if the needle enters Wendell's knee. Undaunted, he orders Charlie Tweeter (Scott Caan), a friend of both Mox and Wendell, to replace Mox, but he refuses. Mox tells Kilmer that the only way they will return to the field is without him. Realizing that he will be forced to forfeit the game, he loses control 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. He continues down the hall, and seeing no one following him, he turns the other direction and into his office. After a rallying speech from Mox the team instead takes the field under the leadership of Lance, replacing Kilmer as coach for the second half, and manage to win the game.

In a voice-over epilogue, Mox recounts several characters' aftermaths, including the fact that Kilmer left town and never coached again despite his statue still standing (only because it was too heavy to move). Lance became a successful coach, Wendell earned a football scholarship to Grambling, and Mox took his scholarship and graduated from Brown University.


  • James Van Der Beek as Jonathon "Mox" Moxon, an academically successful, yet rebellious backup quarterback.
  • Jon Voight as 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 Tweeter, a wild, cocky and hard partying wide receiver for the Coyotes.
  • Eliel Swinton as Wendell Brown, the running back and the only African American player on the team.
  • Ali Larter as Darcy Sears, Lance's girlfriend and the cheerleader captain.
  • Richard Lineback as Joe Harbor, Lance's and Jules's 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.

Reception and legacy[edit]

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 movie, 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 teen comedy film Mean Girls as being Regina George's favorite movie.


The soundtrack album was published by Hollywood Records.


1999 Teen Choice Awards
  • Choice Movie: Breakout Star — James Van Der Beek (won)
  • Choice Movie: Drama (nominated)
  • Choice Movie: Soundtrack
1999 MTV Movie Awards
  • Best Breakout Male Performance: James Van Der Beek (won)
  • Best Movie Song: Nice Guys Finish Last by Green Day (nominated)
2000 Blockbuster Entertainment Awards
  • Best Male Newcomer: James Van Der Beek (nominated)

TV series[edit]

On August 16, 2016, CMT is developing a TV series inspired by the movie.[6]


  1. ^ Varsity Blues at Box Office Mojo
  2. ^ Welkos, Robert W. (1998-08-02). "Moviegoers Get the 'Blues,' Big Time". Los Angeles Times. 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. ^ Andreeva, Nellie. "'Varsity Blues' TV Series Adaptation In Works At CMT From Paramount TV". Retrieved 24 August 2016. 

External links[edit]