Varsity Blues is painful in 2024. As expected, some of the dialog goes beyond social norms, but that’s not the cause of that pain. Rather, it’s the brutality in the CTE era, with high school kids told to keep going even as they pass out on the field from a concussion. The casual approach turns gruesome with modern perspective, and even for the stunt team to take these hits, it’s still egregious.

But, that’s Varsity Blues, a movie about changing standards in the late ‘90s, diminishing the gruff, tough-it-out attitudes that even the kids in this movie know is ludicrous for high school, let alone any level of sports. Produced by MTV, the litany of Gen X’ers drinking and casually sucking down pills (or forcing others to) backed by a pure ‘90s soundtrack ensured Varsity Blues success. That impression has proven lasting.

Varsity Blues breaks down the deep south culture’s faults better than most

Like the parents in this movie, the ones treating high school football as a religion and pushing (and punishing behind a veil of denial) their kids to an edge, the same is true of parents trying to get their current teens to watch Varsity Blues, minus the physicality. Varsity Blues deals in date rape casually in addition to hateful epitaphs. Time hasn’t been kind to this script.

This is a drama, mostly. It’s about kids rising up, taking control from an abusive mentor, and trying to experience high school as they see fit. However, as if to soften the truth – dare a film honestly knock Texas for its guns, God, and football pride – comedy slips in, but it’s just early teenage funny. Stuff like a sex ed class rifling off penis names or a teacher moonlighting as a stripper, it’s immaturely titillating, softening Varsity Blues’ core attitude toward unnecessarily pushing kids for what are, for most of them, meaningless wins.

As a time capsule, or an example of what not to do, Varsity Blues breaks down the deep south culture’s faults better than most. James Van Der Beek plays a stoic hero, the only one willing to break the cycle, even if the others see the same problems. That’s an inspiring moment for a film most famous for putting Ali Larter on screen in nothing but whipped cream. Surely, that’s a way to draw a crowd and if there’s a chance those viewers take the right message home with them, that’s great. More likely though, it’s the rowdiness and general rebellion that sinks in, not the core message.

Varsity Blues 4K UHD screen shot


Paramount has a winner here. Varsity Blues immediately impresses with its sharpness. The precision looks exquisite, behind a crisp, easily resolved grain structure. Facial definition looks remarkable in close, completely natural with rich definition. Shots of the town from afar appear just as precise as those shots in close.

Blue dominates this palette thanks to the school colors. The jerseys, signage, and interiors are full of dense, saturated blues. Flesh tones look spot-on.

A Dolby Vision pass helps lighten things up, although the peak brightness isn’t anything spectacular for the format. At least the black levels stick out, bold, steady, and hearty.


Paramount hands over the TrueHD mix from the Blu-ray. In 5.1, channel separation sounds great, especially the stereos. Small things like Voight throwing a book off-screen (landing in the right front) is handled well. Crowds in the stadium push into the surrounds, although the effect is lean at best.

Range comes primarily from music, and even that’s lean. The mix isn’t bad, just dated by current standards.


Paramount keeps bonuses on the included Blu-ray, beginning with director Brian Robbins on commentary, joined by producers Tova Laiter and Mike Tollin. A few featurettes and a making of round out these extras.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

Varisty Blues
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Sometimes painfully dated, Varsity Blues works as a nostalgia dump but little else.

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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 44 full resolution uncompressed 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD:

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