The film opens millions of years ago as cavemen and dinosaurs are fighting each other. Suddenly, a meteor comes crashing down onto Earth. The dinosaurs are dead, but the cavemen survive. They find the hot rock and start to play with it, inadvertently creating the game of football. Their efforts are documented through cave paintings.
Several centuries later, a young caveman, Dug (Eddie Redmayne), is gathering fruit with his pet boar Hognob (Nick Park). Afterwards, Dug goes to wake up Chief Bobnar (Timothy Spall) and the rest of their tribe. They are primarily rabbit hunters, but Dug thinks they should go after bigger animals, like mammoths. Bobnar dismisses him, and they go after a rabbit. After all the cavemen clumsily fail to get their food, the rabbit runs into a rock, allowing them to catch it by sheer dumb luck.
At night, the tribe is preparing to cook their meal until a mammoth comes stomping through the valley. The cavemen are forced to flee their home as an army led by Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston) starts to mine the valley. Nooth declares that the Stone Age is done and the Bronze Age has begun. The tribe is forced to flee to the badlands now that they are homeless.
Dug sneaks into the city in one of Nooth's carriages. He wanders around and meets a girl named Goona (Maisie Williams), who is selling pans. Dug is then spotted by guards, forcing him to run. He ends up taking someone's armor and blends in with a group of taller, more athletic men. The men enter a stadium where they are prepared to play a football match. Dug is made goalie, and, after remembering the cave paintings, he attempts to kick the ball, only to score on his own team. Dug is then exposed when the real player whose armor he's wearing shows up. Nooth then orders Dug to be executed, but Dug comes up with the idea to challenge Nooth's team. If the cavemen win, they get their home back, but if they lose, they will be forced to work in the bronze mines for the rest of their lives. Nooth agrees.
Dug returns to the badlands to try and teach the tribe how to play football using a ball he took from the city. He thinks that since their ancestors played the game, they may have a natural talent for it. However, the neanderthals are clueless about playing, leading to hilarious results. One of the cavemen attracts the attention of a massive sharp-toothed duck, who stomps through the badlands and flattens their ball. Dug is left disappointed.
While admiring his riches, Nooth receives a messenger bird from Queen Oofeefa (Miriam Margoyles). She has heard about the football match and that the cavemen are playing. Oofeefa warns Nooth to not take the cavemen team for granted, or else it will spell trouble for him.
Dug and Hognob go back into the city to get another ball. Hognob ends up wandering into Nooth's quarters where he must give him a massage and play the harp for him. Dug goes to find a ball but instead sees Goona playing by herself. She dreams of playing football herself, but the team doesn't let girls play. She spots Dug and gets him a ball, but they are forced to run when they are spotted by guards. Hognob catches up to them and runs away with them.
Dug brings Goona to the tribe so that she may show them how to properly play the game. Goona lets them know about the players on the other team, and all of them think they are the star players, which means they don't work as a team, and that is their weakness. With Goona's help, the cavemen are able to play to their strengths and work together as a team to get better.
Nooth receives another messenger bird from Oofeefa, who knows from her spies that the cavemen are improving. Nooth's guards then enter with scrolls depicting cave paintings, which leads him to hatch an idea.
Nooth finds Dug and takes him down to the caves where they find more paintings. They essentially spell out that Dug's ancestors always lost at football after teaching other tribes, and they would always give up eventually. Convincing Dug that the cavemen are natural losers, Nooth suggests an alternative deal to Dug.
On the day of the match, Queen Oofeefa arrives to watch the game, as do hundreds of other patrons who are forced to give up pieces of bronze as payment. Dug then announces to the stadium that he forfeits and will voluntarily work in the mines alone if it means his tribe will be spared and that they can go home. Before Nooth can call off the match, the whole tribe arrives on the back of the giant duck. The tribe rallies behind Dug and they begin to play.
Despite scoring the first goal, the other team starts to dominate the first half of the game. Later on, the cavemen start to get better, which starts to worry Nooth. He knocks out the ref and takes his place so that he can make a phony penalty call after Bobnar is injured, making it look as though one of the other teammates was injured. Hognob then takes Bobnar's place as goalie, leading him to help Dug and the team score the winning goal. Everyone cheers for the cavemen, and even the other team is able to admit it was a good game. Oofeefa goes down to congratulate Dug and give praise. However, Nooth is trying to make off with the bronze, but he is stopped by the duck, who picks him up and throws all the bronze back to the audience before he gets knocked out.
The tribe returns to the valley with Goona now joining them. They go hunting what appears to be a mammoth. They run away when they hear it make a loud trumpeting sound, but it's just the rabbit from earlier making a shadow puppet to scare them.
*CUT TO THE CHASE*
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A group of cavemen are forced out of their home by the sinister Lord Nooth, who wants to mine the land for bronze. One of the cavemen, Dug, challenges Nooth and his team to a football match so that they may get their home back, or else they will be forced to work in the bronze mines.
With the help of a merchant girl named Goona, the cavemen start to get better just in time for the big match. Although Nooth tries everything he can to discourage the team from winning, their efforts as a team prove to be more than enough for them to defeat the other team and win the game. Nooth tries to flee with a bunch of bronze, but he gets knocked out and it's implied he's forced to work in the mines himself.
The tribe goes back to their home with Goona as a new member.
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