Since its initial debut in 1988 with John Madden Football, Electronic Arts (EA) Madden NFL series has weathered the test of time to become one of the most popular pro football sports game series in the world. 

Endorsed by, and named after, legendary NFL commentator, coach, and Pro Football Hall of Famer, John Madden, the franchise name was eventually changed to Madden NFL in 1993. In the following decade, and produced under the EA Sports division, Madden NFL steadily grew in popularity alongside many other budding EA Sports titles, like FIFA, NHL Hockey, PGA Tour, Formula 1, and more.

Since then, as EA Sports has become known to do with popular series, new instalments have been released virtually every year, each featuring increasingly better graphics, gameplay, and overall sense of realism. Like most long-standing game franchises, Madden NFL has its classics though. In an approximate rank of popularity, here they are.

1. Madden NFL 2004

Considered by many as the greatest title in the entire Madden NFL series, Madden NFL 2004 has often been cited amongst some of the greatest games in the sports genre period. 

Its highly acclaimed predecessor, Madden NFL 2003, is generally credited for bringing huge innovation and improvement to visuals and gameplay, which greatly helped boost the series into the limelight. Madden NFL 2004 however, in many ways, is considered to have completed the winning formula by adding a multitude of extra gameplay features and controls.

To this day, it is still widely considered to be the benchmark, in terms of quality and sheer entertainment value, that fans have come to expect from the Madden NFL series ever since.  

2. Madden NFL 2003

When Madden NFL 2003 was first released, it was widely considered one of the most realistic sports games ever created. It featured ground-breaking graphics, especially for console games of the time, entertaining fast-paced arcade-style action, and an impressive and highly tactical system of gameplay. To top it off, the innovative and realistic play-by-play voice commentary by Madden himself added greatly to it more closely resembling the real thing than had ever yet been seen in a game.

These days, some might consider it to be a bit dated when compared to more recent and modern instalments. Nevertheless, Madden NFL 2003 remains one of the most popular games in the history of the series.

3. Madden NFL 2002

Though quite a step back in terms of the visuals and range of features that its afore-mentioned classic ground-breaking sequels had, Madden NFL 2002 is nevertheless a renowned entry in its own right.

With an easy and straightforward, though highly tactical and engaging style of gameplay, Madden NFL 2002 helped shoot the game and franchise to new heights of popularity, and more than ever, on an international scale. Today, it remains a time-honoured favourite amongst fans of the series. Though it can be played, with some know-how and effort, using emulators and game simulation apps, an easier way is to simply buy an old video game console on Amazon for next to nothing.

4. Madden NFL 2001

As Madden NFL 2003 was to 2004, Madden NFL 2001 was the game that created the basis and structure for 2002’s great success. It is also generally considered to be the game that essentially lit the fuse that caused the franchise to explode over the 2000s. This was thanks to its innovative controls and gameplay features, detailed team and player selection options, and much more. Though the graphics may not impress the modern gamer much, for old-school fans of the series this is hardly an issue.

5. Madden NFL 2005

Though this entry didn’t add any notably big improvement to graphics and gameplay, what it did have though, was a greater focus on strategic offensive play than previous games. It’s fun and hard-hitting, though also not-too-serious, attitude and different approach to the established formula, more than made up for its otherwise lack of originality. It also made it highly memorable, securing it a place as one of the all-time fan favourites.

6. John Madden Football

Released in 1988 for the Apple II, and subsequently ported to MS_DOS and the Commodore 64, John Madden’s Football, also known as Madden ‘88, is the game that started it all. Featuring multiple customisable aspects and dynamic game conditions, like positions and team formation, player fatigue, injuries, and penalties, it was generally well received by critics at the time. Its popularity grew even more over time though.

These days, the “retro gaming” trend is bigger than most people realise. There are plenty of free game emulators and apps available and even sites like Mandarin Palace casino feature classic slots and other old favourites. Many game and tech stores also selling old-tech video game consoles and controllers to cater to the growing number of retro gamers. Amazingly John Madden Football is still popular and available to play!

The Madden NFL Glory Days

The Madden NFL franchise, like all the EA Sports titles, is steadily getting more impressive with every passing year, particularly in terms of the graphics and realism. Consoles and computers are likewise becoming ever-more advanced and able to run incredible-looking games, while talented developers, and new tech such as VR and AI, are causing a stir of exciting innovation. 

You may have noticed that this list is conspicuously absent of recent Madden NFL titles. Over the years many fans feel that the Madden NFL series hasn’t really produced anything that notable or innovative since its initial glory days. This is something you might find reflected in other Madden lists such as this one. This is not to say though, that the games since have all been terrible. Just, perhaps, not as memorable, and widely loved by all, enough to truly call then “classic”.

With all the creative potential that new tech and innovation is providing to the gaming industry though, this could very well change for the better, and soon. Perhaps the next Madden NFL classic from EA Sports is just around the corner? Time will soon tell.