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Varsity Blues (film)

Varsity Blues is a 1999 American satirical comedy sports drama film directed by Brian Robbins and starring James Van Der Beek, Jon Voight, Paul Walker, Ron Lester, and Scott Caan. It follows a small-town 3A 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.

Varsity Blues
Varsity Blues (1999 film) poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byBrian Robbins
Produced by
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 (1999-01-15)
Running time
106 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$16 million
Box office$54.3 million

The film broached many broad topics including underage binge drinking, obesity, football related injuries/concussions and the improper treatment of said injuries, coaches bullying kids, and the prioritization of athletics over academics. Varsity Blues had 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 authoritarian who cares only for winning, and at all costs. In 30 years of coaching at West Canaan, Kilmer has won two state titles and 22 district championships. His philosophy finally takes its toll on the team's all-state starting quarterback, Lance Harbor (Paul Walker), Mox's best friend and Jules' brother, who has earned a football scholarship to play for Florida State. Harbor is manipulated by Kilmer into taking anesthetic shots on an injured knee that is further injured during a game after offensive guard, Billy Bob (Ron Lester), passes out on the field and misses a block due to a concussion suffered weeks earlier, and, under pressure from Kilmer, continued to play despite this. Lance is rushed to the hospital, where doctors are appalled at the massive amount of scar tissue found under his knee and determine that the effects of the injury are permanent and will prevent him from being able to play football for a year and a half, costing him his FSU scholarship.

Mox is shocked when Kilmer feigns ignorance about Harbor's knee problems, yet accepts his role as replacement captain and starting quarterback. The move brings unexpected dividends for him, one of them being Darcy Sears (Ali Larter), Lance's cheerleader girlfriend, who wants to marry a football player to escape small-town life. She attempts to seduce Mox, sporting a "bikini" made of whipped cream over her otherwise naked body, but he rebuffs her as politely as he can and helps to cheer her up by telling her that she can get out of West Canaan on her own without anyone's help.

Disgusted with Kilmer and not feeling a strong need to win, Mox starts calling his own plays on the field without Kilmer's approval and takes his group of friends and teammates, including Lance, out to a strip club on the night before a game, which they subsequently lose due to poor play from still being hungover. He also chides his father, Sam, screaming at him, "I don't want your life!" Sam had played football at West Canaan under Kilmer, who dismissed him as cowardly and talentless and yet still commanded Sam's respect and obedience. When Kilmer learns that Mox has earned a full academic scholarship to Brown, the coach threatens to scuttle the student's scholarship if he continues to disobey and disrespect him.

Kilmer's lack of concern for his players continues, resulting in an emotional breakdown of Billy Bob, who Kilmer blames for Lance's knee injury. When starting tailback Wendell Brown (Eliel Swinton), another friend of Mox's, is injured on the field during the final game of the season, Kilmer pressures him during halftime into taking a shot of cortisone to deaden the pain from his injury and allow him to continue - just as he had done with Lance - at the risk of permanent injury. Desperate to be recruited by a good college, Wendell agrees. Mox intervenes and threatens Kilmer that he'll quit the team if the needle enters Wendell's knee. Undaunted, Kilmer reminds him about altering his transcripts and orders Charlie Tweeder (Scott Caan), starting wide receiver and friend of Mox, Lance and Wendell, to replace Mox, but he also quits. Billy Bob also steps in to defend his teammates. Mox tells Kilmer that the only way they will return to the field for the second half 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 upon seeing that no one following him, turns the other direction and into his office. After an inspiring speech from Mox to rally the team, they take the field under the leadership of Lance, who takes over coaching duties 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 (presumably Head Coach for the Coyotes after Kilmer's departure), Wendell earned a football scholarship to Grambling, and Mox took his scholarship and would graduate from Brown University, but he never played football again.


  • James Van Der Beek as Jonathon "Mox" Moxon, an academically successful, 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, and Jules's older brother
  • Amy Smart as Jules Harbor, Mox's girlfriend and Lance's younger sister
  • Ron Lester as Billy Bob, an overweight, powerful offensive guard
  • Scott Caan as Charlie Tweeder, a wild, cocky and hard partying wide receiver for the Coyotes
  • Eliel Swinton as Wendell Brown, starting running back and a friend of Mox’s
  • Ali Larter as Darcy Sears, Lance's girlfriend and the head cheerleader
  • 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 religion rather than football


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]

As of March, 2019, the film had a 41% ("Rotten") approval rating based on 53 reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, with the consensus "This is a predictable football movie that lacks intensity."[4]

Roger Ebert said in his Chicago Sun-Times review that "Scenes work, but they don't pile up and build momentum."[5] 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."[6]

Legal issuesEdit

In early 1999, Paramount Pictures was sued by the University of Toronto for trademark infringement, as Varsity Blues is the registered trademark and name of the university's intercollegiate athletic teams.[7] The university alleged that the movie conveyed a poor depiction and negative stereotypes of collegiate sports, and asserted that the university did not wish to be associated with such a production. Bruce Kidd, Dean of the Faculty of Physical and Health Education, further noted that the movie demonstrated an abusive approach to sports in an educational setting. An out-of-court settlement was reached between the two parties, which involved Paramount providing the university with a significant but undisclosed sum; as a consequence, funding was made available for eight scholarships, intended for those university athletes in need of financial assistance.[8] Additionally, a video disclaimer was inserted in every DVD, and a written disclaimer in every book, noting that the movie was not associated with the athletic programs of the University of Toronto. As Kidd remarked, "We hope the disclaimer will make it clear the university has no formal association with the film."[citation needed]


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 seriesEdit

On August 16, 2016, CMT began developing a TV series inspired by the film.[9]


  1. ^ Varsity Blues at Box Office Mojo
  2. ^ Welkos, Robert W. (August 2, 1998). "Moviegoers Get the 'Blues,' Big Time". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 3, 2014.
  3. ^ "'Varsity Blues' Runs to Daylight to Stay No. 1 - Los Angeles Times". October 30, 2009. Retrieved February 3, 2014.
  4. ^ Varsity Blues at Rotten Tomatoes, accessed March 13, 2019.
  5. ^ Sobczynski, Peter (January 15, 1999). "Varsity Blues Movie Review & Film Summary (1999)". Roger Ebert. Retrieved February 3, 2014.
  6. ^ "Reelviews Movie Reviews". January 15, 1999. Retrieved February 3, 2014.
  7. ^ Somerville, Becky (March 10, 1999). "U of T cashes in Varsity Blues rights". UWO Gazette. Retrieved June 26, 2017.
  8. ^ "U of T may feel blues again as 'Varsity Blues' comes to TV". Pop Goes The News. August 16, 2016. Retrieved June 26, 2017.
  9. ^ Andreeva, Nellie. "'Varsity Blues' TV Series Adaptation In Works At CMT From Paramount TV". Retrieved August 24, 2016.

External linksEdit