8 Great Boxing Movies
Courtesy of Movies.com
With some notable exceptions, the best boxing movies are epic, rags-to-riches tales of redemption. The boxer is usually some down-and-out palooka who finds salvation in the "sweet science" aided by trainers/ex-boxers/girlfriends with their own issues. Somewhere in the final act, there's a Big Fight against an Imposing Opponent who must be conquered if the boxer (and the audience) is to walk out happy. The movies that don't subscribe to this formula are no less compelling.
Multiple Oscar winner The Fighter (out on video 03/15), starring Mark Wahlberg as the underdog who fights his way to the top of his division with the help of troubled half-brother Dickey (Christian Bale in an Oscar-winning role), follows in this tradition. Here, too, are eight more boxing films designed to inspire you to lace up the gloves. Or, at the very least, spring for the next big bout on pay-per-view.
By Graham Flashner
Raging Bull (1980)
Boxing movies don't get better than this, from the brutally violent fight scenes shot in stark black-and-white, to the even more violent inner life of the boxer Jake LaMotta, a man ruled by sexual jealousy and rage, and played with scalding intensity by Robert DeNiro. DeNiro famously gained 60 pounds to play LaMotta in his later years, leading one critic to admiringly observe that if DeNiro had played the role of Tootsie, he would've gotten a sex change to research the part.
When We Were Kings (1996)
Long before he became famous for the barbeque grill that turned millions of bachelors into cooks, George Foreman was the undisputed heavyweight champ of the world. When Muhammad Ali, then 32, challenged him for the crown in Zaire in 1976, even those closest to him were afraid the hulking Foreman, 10 years Ali’s junior, could kill him in the ring. But Ali, using his famed "Rope-a-Dope," dropped a weary Foreman in the eighth round, reclaiming the title in the best underdog tradition. The "Rumble in the Jungle," as the fight became known, is chronicled in this brilliant documentary, which adeptly blends politics, boxing and a killer soundtrack led by James Brown and B.B. King.
Fat City (1972)
This is the anti-Rocky, a brooding, totally unsentimental slice-of-life about two boxers on opposite sides of the career track: there's the up-and-coming 18-year-old hotshot (Jeff Bridges), and the over-the-hill, alcoholic older guy (Stacy Keach) who dreams of a comeback and sees the Bridges character as a younger version of himself. Director John Huston, a veteran of 25 fights, knew a thing or two about the cruelties of the sport, and he pulls no punches (heh heh) in portraying the cold realities of a sport where most will toil in anonymous gyms and career obscurity.
Hard Times (1975)
Back in the 1970s, Charles Bronson was the epitome of the strong, silent type: the fewer words, the better. He uses that persona to great effect in this underrated gem, as a guy with a sketchy past who shows up in the in the back alleys of Depression-era New Orleans and starts whooping ass in bare-knuckled street fighting contests. The fights take place in steel cages, which should please fans of MMA and UFC, as well as those who like their action heroes to let their fists do the talking.
Like to see women duke it out? This is Intro to Boxing 101 for any bad-ass babe who's thought of climbing into the ring. Michelle Rodriguez shines as a street-tough Brooklyn girl (is there any other kind?) who trains to become a boxer and slowly discovers she's probably more macho than the Latino men she's grown up around. That revelation comes when she clocks a guy while defending her geek brother, and realizes that hitting someone with a well-timed punch can feel, like, really good. This sharply observed indie won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, and showed that women, too, could embrace their inner Mike Tyson.
Million Dollar Baby (2004)
It has all the makings of a female Rocky: hard-luck hillbilly girl (Hilary Swank) walks into a boxing gym and refuses to leave until the crusty old owner (Clint Eastwood) agrees to train her. In no time she’s knocking the opposition senseless and establishing a father-daughter bond with her gruff mentor. But before you can say, "Yo Adrian!" the movie pulls the rug out with a heart-wrenching third act TKO that drops the gloves and forces both fighter and trainer to confront the most ethically challenging of life-and-death issues.
Cinderella Man (2005)
It's Rocky, set in the Depression. Except it's true, most of it. Boxer James Braddock (Russell Crowe) was on top of the heap until an injury derailed his career. Now the "Bully of Bergen" is beaten down and barely able to put bread on the table for his family. That, until he gets his ticket back to the top: a fight against the ferocious Max Baer, an opponent so laughably evil (at least, as portrayed here) that it would be unconscionable for Braddock to lose. All you have to do is remember the film's title to know how things work out in the end.
Any list about boxing movies would be remiss without Sly Stallone's. Not only will it make you want to climb into the ring, it will also make you want to slug big slabs of meat and run joyously up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. There are so many iconic moments in this film that it'd be cliché to restate them here. This film is the standard by which all feel-good boxing movies are measured, and the million-to-one odds of its hero were echoed by the film's own miracle run - it beat out Taxi Driver, Network, and All the President's Men for the Best Picture Oscar.
Those are our 8 great boxing flicks, but which are yours? Comment below and let us know!