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Taika Waititi’s Embattled Next Goal Wins Lands Major Festival Premiere

The soccer comedy overcame COVID delays and an Armie Hammer scandal. Now it’s headed to Toronto for a potential awards run.
The cast of NEXT GOAL WINS. Photo by Hilary Bronwyn Gayle. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2022 20th Century Studios...
The cast of NEXT GOAL WINS. Photo by Hilary Bronwyn Gayle. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2022 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved.Hilary Bronwyn Gayle/Searchlight Pictures

The road has not been easy, but a happy ending may finally be in sight for Next Goal Wins.

On Wednesday, the Toronto International Film Festival announced the film, which is directed and cowritten by Oscar winner Taika Waititi, as its first confirmed world premiere. With TIFF a few months out, the news indicates some confidence. This late-June timing is similar to that of Toronto’s first big announcement from last year, when the festival revealed that Glass Onion would have its grand unveiling there. That was not a surprising move, given that director Rian Johnson’s previous feature Knives Out had launched in Toronto, and of course Glass Onion went on to garner huge commercial success for Netflix as well as an adapted-screenplay Oscar nod. Similarly, this news feels like it was somewhat inevitable for the Michael Fassbender–led Next Goal Wins, since Waititi’s last non-MCU movie, Jojo Rabbit, bowed at TIFF before winning the festival’s coveted People’s Choice Award and going on to take the Oscar for best adapted screenplay. 

But this seems particularly significant considering Next Goal Wins’s long, difficult road to release. Production was originally completed at the top of 2020. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, keeping the film off of distributor Searchlight Pictures’ release calendar. Then costar Armie Hammer was entangled in major controversy, leading Waititi to replace the actor with Will Arnett at the end of 2021. The following fall, the movie was dated for April 21, 2023. A few months later, Searchlight pushed the movie to September 22. Then this past April, the date shifted yet again, to November 17. Given this splashy TIFF announcement, we can expect that awards-friendly date to stick.

Based on the 2014 documentary of the same name, helmed by Mike Brett and Steve Jamison, Next Goal Wins stars Fassbender as a Dutch American football coach who takes over the underestimated American Samoa national team in the hope of transforming it into a top-ranked squad. (Amazingly, initial filming on this *Ted Lasso–*esque story was completed before the Apple TV+ comedy’s first season premiered.) Elisabeth Moss also features in the ensemble cast, while Minari DP Lachlan Milne handles cinematography. For Oscar nominee Fassbender, Next Goal Wins headlines an anticipated comeback year, as he has not appeared in a feature film since 2019’s X-Men: Dark Phoenix. David Fincher’s upcoming Netflix thriller, The Killer, in which Fassbender also stars, is expected to figure into the fall film landscape as well. 

“We’re thrilled to welcome Taika back to the festival and share his audacious take on the most popular sport in the world,” Cameron Bailey, CEO of TIFF, said in a statement. “Next Goal Wins is perfect for TIFF fans of the beautiful game looking for their football fix until the 2024 World Cup arrives.”

This is the first major fall-festival premiere announcement of the year. Venice will roll out its lineup next month, while Telluride keeps its selection confidential until just before kicking off over Labor Day weekend. Expect TIFF to slowly trickle out some of its bigger picks over the next few months, until the festival begins on September 7.

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