The film's release in North America on 5 June 2015 was particularly unsuccessful, coinciding with the 2015 FIFA corruption case. In the United States, the film grossed just $918 in its opening weekend, was unanimously poorly reviewed, and is now considered to be one of the worst films of all time. Globally, the film lost $26.8 million and failed to obtain a theatrical distribution in many markets.
In 1905, after the English football federation rejects an offer to join the formation of an international governing body for football, Robert Guérin forms FIFA and makes himself the first president. Years after its formation, it is all but unknown. Jules Rimet, then president of FIFA, publicly mocks Uruguay's victory in the 1924 Summer Olympic football games, hoping that this audacious move will make FIFA more publicly visible. However, the media does not publish his mockery. Still optimistic, he decides that the only way to make themselves known is to organize a truly international tournament: the World Cup.
Rimet is at the point of giving up organizing the World Cup due to a lack of funds until he receives an unexpected letter from Enrique Buero. Buero and his South American ties will fund the first World Cup, hoping that in doing so it will make Uruguay and other South American countries more well known. Rimet and Buero collude to award the first World Cup to Uruguay. In 1930, the first World Cup is played with a Uruguay victory. Rimet remains president of FIFA, working through the Great Depression, looming War, and disagreement among FIFA members; Rimet would organize the 1938 World Cup but would fail to do so in 1942 and 1946 due to World War II.
After the war, Rimet organized his last World Cups in 1950 and 1954. The World Cup and FIFA after the war grew significantly, with many new members joining in many parts of the world. The movie flashes forward to the reign of president João Havelange. Havelange is voted into power with expensive trips and various modern lobbying tactics to the voters. Havelange sees FIFA as an organization in financial disarray, and works to find different sponsors to finance the operation of FIFA. Throughout his tenure as president, he has a right hand man, Sepp Blatter, who impresses Havelange with his unrelenting work. Eventually, Blatter becomes the president of FIFA.
Corruption within FIFA builds up over the years from Havelange's expansion efforts. As president of FIFA, Blatter is tasked to clean this up. Because of this task, he is seen as a controversial president. Many FIFA officials attempt to vote him off because of how incorruptible he is. The movie ends with a 2006 vote in which Blatter is able to retain his presidency by cowing the corrupt members of FIFA, threatening to expose their ill deeds if they do not endorse Blatter and his anti-corruption campaign by voting for him as president.
Principal photography took place in Switzerland, Azerbaijan, France and Brazil. FIFA wanted the film finished for release in the summer of 2014, ahead of the FIFA World Cup in Brazil. The film's script was completed in four months. FIFA's original title suggestions for the film were Men of Legend and The Dreammakers.
The film's United States release coincided with the 2015 FIFA corruption case, in which several current and former members of FIFA's executive committee were arrested for charges of corruption. The corruption investigation led to the resignation of FIFA's president, Sepp Blatter, following decades of speculation and accusations of corruption at FIFA under his leadership.
The film was accused of ignoring these long-running claims. Roth has said that he asked the filmmakers: "Where's all the corruption in the script? Where is all the back-stabbing, the deals?" He said he attempted to convey these elements through his performance, saying: "It was a tough one. I tried to slide in a sense of it, as much as I could get in there." The film's director, Frédéric Auburtin, claimed he inserted "ironic parts" into the film.
Prior to its release, comedian John Oliver lampooned the film in a segment on his show Last Week Tonight, saying that the "movie, like FIFA itself, looks terrible" and asking, "Who makes a sports film where the heroes are the executives?" The film also faced criticism from media concerning the £16 million cost of production, more than the annual turnover of most of FIFA's national associations.
The film was made on a budget of between $25–32 million, with the Los Angeles Times reporting an estimated budget of $29 million. Roughly £17 million (about US$27 million; 90% of the total budget) was financed by FIFA. The film was reported to have lost around $26.8 million due to its poor theatrical returns.
In North America, the film became an instant box office bomb. It opened on Friday, 5 June 2015, and grossed a mere $319 on its opening day from 10 theaters in New York City, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Phoenix, Kansas City, Miami, Minneapolis, Houston, Dallas, and Philadelphia, followed by an even worse $288 on Saturday. For its three-day opening (Friday-to-Sunday), it grossed only $918 from 10 theaters—the worst opening of all time in the U.S. box office history.
The FilmBar theater in Downtown Phoenix reported a gross of just $9, meaning only one person bought a ticket to see the film. The film was pulled down by its distributors following its one weekend appalling performance at the box office. In North America, it ended up becoming the lowest-grossing film of all time, surpassing the previous record held by I Kissed a Vampire ($1,380) in 2012.
For the film's screening at the Zurich Film Festival on 5 October 2014, about 120 people paying $22.70 per ticket viewed the film in a 500-seat cinema. Overall, the highest revenue outside of North America came from Russia and the CIS (£144,000), Portugal (£4,000) and Serbia (£2,000), while the profits from Hungary, Slovenia, Switzerland and Ukraine were minimal. In France, the film was released straight to DVD.
Auburtin, in his first interview since the film's disastrous US opening in June 2015 told The Hollywood Reporter that he tried to strike a balance between "a Disney propaganda film [and] a Costa-Gavras/Michael Moore movie", but the project ultimately tipped in FIFA's favor. He added, "Now I'm seen as bad as the guy who brought AIDS to Africa or the guy who caused the financial crisis. My name is all over [this mess], and apparently I am a propaganda guy making films for corrupt people."
Roth, who has not seen the film and declined repeated requests to speak about the film, confessed in May 2015, before the scandal broke, to German newspaper Die Welt: "Yeah, I apologize I didn't question the director, I didn't question the script", he said. "This is a role that will have my father turning in his grave". He admitted that he took the job for the money, saying it helped him out of a "financial hole", adding: "[B]ut you know what? The hole FIFA has dug for itself is so deep, they'll never get out of it".
On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a rating of 0%, with an average rating of 1/10, based on 16 reviews. On Metacritic, the film has a score of 1 out of 100, based on 9 critics, indicating "overwhelming dislike". It is now regarded as one of the worst films ever made. The film has been criticized for the poor quality of the drama, the unsuitability of the topic of administrative matters for a movie and the perceived biases of the film, with The Guardian describing it as "cinematic excrement", and "self-hagiography", and others calling it a "cringeworthy, self-aggrandizing affair", and "astonishingly crass".
Several reviewers commented on the irony of the portrayal of Blatter in the film as an anti-corruption campaigner. Sara Stewart of the New York Post described it as "hilariously ill-timed", while Paul Field of the Daily Mirror said that this created "unintentional comedy gold".
Writing in the London Evening Standard, Des Kelly described United Passions as "the worst movie ever made" and "the most extraordinary vanity exercise; a vile, self-aggrandizing, sugar-coated pile of manure where Blatter and Co. manage to make North Korea's Kim Jong-un look self-effacing".
Daniel M. Gold of The New York Times claimed United Passions is "one of the most unwatchable films in recent memory, a dishonest bit of corporate-suite sanitizing that's no good even for laughs". In a later interview, Gold claimed it would make the top three of his list of all-time bad films.
In the 36th Golden Raspberry Awards ceremony, this film won a special category, the "Barry L. Bumstead Award".