The film was released on October 15, 1993, by TriStar Pictures. It stars Sean Astin as the title character, along with Ned Beatty, Jason Miller and Charles S. Dutton. The script was written by Angelo Pizzo, who created Hoosiers (1986), which was also directed by Anspaugh. The film was shot in Illinois and Indiana.
In the late 1960s, Daniel Eugene "Rudy" Ruettiger grows up in Joliet, Illinois, dreaming of playing college football at Notre Dame. Though he is achieving some success with his high school team at Joliet Catholic, he lacks the grades and money necessary to attend Notre Dame, as well as the talent and physical stature to play football for a major intercollegiate program.
Rudy takes a job at a local steel mill like his father, Daniel Sr., a Notre Dame fan, and two of his older brothers who worked there after high school. When his best friend Pete, who supports his dream of playing football for Notre Dame, is killed in an explosion at the mill, Rudy decides to follow his dream of attending Notre Dame and playing for the Fighting Irish.
In 1972, Rudy travels to South Bend, Indiana to the campus, but fails to be admitted to Notre Dame. With the help and sponsorship of a local priest, Rudy enrolls at Holy Cross College, a nearby junior college, hoping to get good enough grades to qualify for a transfer. He approaches a Notre Dame stadium groundskeeper named Fortune, and volunteers to work for free. Fortune offers a job at minimum wage. Currently homeless, Rudy sneaks in and out of Fortune's office at night through a window, and sleeps on a cot. At first, Fortune is indifferent toward Rudy, but later provides him with blankets for the cot and a key of his own to the office, even though Fortune later denies it. Rudy learns that Fortune has never seen a Notre Dame football game from the stands, despite having worked at the stadium for years.
Rudy befriends D-Bob, a graduate student at Notre Dame, and a teaching assistant at Rudy's junior college, who offers to tutor Rudy in exchange for help in meeting girls. Suspecting an underlying cause to Rudy's previous academic problems, D-Bob has him tested, and Rudy finds out that he has dyslexia. Rudy learns how to overcome his disability and becomes a better student. During Christmas vacation, Rudy returns home to his family's appreciation of his report card, but is still mocked for his attempts at playing football, and loses his fiancée to one of his brothers.
After two years and three rejections, Rudy is finally admitted to Notre Dame during his final semester of transfer eligibility. He goes home to tell his family, with his father announcing the news to his steel mill workers over the loudspeaker. Rudy persuades Fortune to promise to come see his first game if Rudy is permitted to suit up. After "walking on" as a non-scholarship player for the football team, Rudy convinces coach Ara Parseghian to give him a spot on the practice squad. An assistant coach warns the players that thirty five "scholarship" players will not even make the "dress roster" of players who take the field during the games, but notices that Rudy exhibits more drive than many of his scholarship teammates.
Coach Parseghian agrees to Rudy's request to suit up for one home game in his senior year so his family and friends can see him as a member of the team. However, Parseghian steps down as coach following the 1974 season, and is replaced by former NFL coach, Dan Devine. Coach Devine keeps Rudy on the team, but refuses to list him on the active playing roster. When Rudy sees that he is not on the dress list for the team's next-to-last game, he becomes distraught, and leaves the team.
Fortune sees Rudy at the stadium, and chastises him for feeling down. Rudy learns that Fortune has seen his share of Notre Dame games because he was once on the team, but has never seen one from the stands. Fortune left the team because he felt that he was not playing due to his color. Fortune reminds Rudy that he has nothing to prove to anyone but himself, and that not a day will go by when he will not regret quitting. With that, Rudy returns to the team.
Led by team captain and All-American Roland Steele, the other seniors rise to Rudy's defense, and lay their jerseys on Devine's desk, each requesting that Rudy should be allowed to dress in his place for the season's final game. In response, Devine lets Rudy suit up for the game against Georgia Tech.
Steele invites Rudy to lead the team out of the tunnel onto the playing field. Fortune is there to see it, as promised. As the game nears its end with Notre Dame up 17–3, Devine sends all the seniors onto the field but not Rudy, despite urging from Steele and the assistant coaches. As a "Rudy!" chant begins in the stadium, the offensive team, led by tailback Jamie O'Hara, overrules Devine's call for victory formation and scores another touchdown instead, providing defensive player Rudy with one more chance to get into a game and thus be entered onto the official roster of Notre Dame football players.
Devine finally lets Rudy play on the final kickoff. Rudy stays in for the final play of the game, sacks the Georgia Tech quarterback, and to cheers from the stadium, is carried off the field on his teammates' shoulders.
An epilogue text states that since 1975, no other player for Notre Dame has been carried off the field (In 1995, two years after the film's release, fullback Marc Edwards became the second Notre Dame player to be carried off the field by his teammates following their upset win over the USC Trojans). Rudy graduated from the university in 1976, and all his younger brothers later went on to college to earn degrees.Sean Astin as Daniel E. "Rudy" Ruettiger
Jon Favreau as D-Bob
Ned Beatty as Daniel Ruettiger, Sr.
Charles S. Dutton as Fortune
Robert Prosky as Father John Cavanaugh
Jason Miller as Coach Ara Parseghian
Lili Taylor as Sherry
Mitch Rouse as Jim
Chelcie Ross as Coach Dan Devine
Ron Dean as Assistant Coach Joe Yonto
John Beasley as Assistant coach Warren
Vince Vaughn as Jamie O'Hara
Rudy Ruettiger – Cameo in a picture at the end of the movie, and in a crowd scene at the Georgia Tech game, behind Ned Beatty
The soundtrack to Rudy was composed and conducted by veteran composer Jerry Goldsmith. Goldsmith had previously worked with filmmakers Angelo Pizzo and David Anspaugh on their successful 1986 film Hoosiers, garnering the film an Oscar nomination for Best Original Score and thus making Goldsmith their first choice to compose a soundtrack for Rudy.
- "Main Title" (3:35)
- "A Start" (2:27)
- "Waiting" (2:35)
- "Back on the Field" (2:07)
- "To Notre Dame" (6:55)
- "Tryouts" (4:27)
- "The Key" (3:55)
- "Take Us Out" (1:51)
- "The Plaque" (2:36)
- "The Final Game" (6:16)
According to Soundtrack.net, "Tryouts" has been used in 12 trailers, including those for Angels in the Outfield, The Deep End of the Ocean, Good Will Hunting, Seabiscuit and Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron.
In 2008, Senator John McCain used "Take Us Out" as an official anthem during his presidential run. The piece of music was played at major events such as after Senator McCain's acceptance speech to the Republican National Convention and after John McCain announced Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate in Dayton, Ohio.
"Take Us Out" was played in the pilot episode of About a Boy, based on the 2002 film of the same name.
Also recorded in the film are performances of various Notre Dame fight songs by the Notre Dame Glee Club.
In reality, Coach Devine had announced that Rudy would dress for the Georgia Tech game during practice a few days before. The dramatic scene where his teammates each lay their jerseys on Coach Devine's desk in protest never happened; according to Ruettiger, Devine was persuaded to allow him to dress only after a number of senior players requested that he do so. Devine had agreed to be depicted as the "heavy" in the film for dramatic effect but was chagrined to find out the extent to which he was vilified, saying: "The jersey scene is unforgivable. It's a lie and untrue." As a guest on The Dan Patrick Show on September 8, 2010, Joe Montana, who was an active member of the team when Ruettiger played in the Georgia Tech game, confirmed that the jersey scene never happened, stating: “It’s a movie, remember. Not all that’s true. The crowd wasn’t chanting, nobody threw in their jerseys. He did get in the game. He got carried off the game."
Rudy received primarily positive reviews from critics. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote that the film "has a freshness and an earnestness that gets us involved, and by the end of the film we accept Rudy's dream as more than simply sports sentiment. It's a small but powerful illustration of the human spirit." Stephen Holden of The New York Times observed that "For all its patness, the movie also has a gritty realism that is not found in many higher-priced versions of the same thing, and its happy ending is not the typical Hollywood leap into fantasy." In The Washington Post, Richard Harrington called Rudy "a sweet-natured family drama in which years of effort are rewarded by a brief moment of glory." Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times called the film "Sweet-natured and unsurprising...this is one of those Never Say Die, I Gotta Be Me, Somebody Up There Likes Me sports movies that no amount of cynicism can make much of a dent in." On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a rating of 80%, based on 44 reviews, with an average rating of 6.8/10. The site's consensus reads, "Though undeniably sentimental and predictable, Rudy succeeds with an uplifting spirit and determination."
In 2006, AFI placed the film on its 100 Years...100 Cheers list, where it was ranked #54.