With the recent release of the brilliant movie The Fighter and because it more than deserves a place in any list of the best Boxing Movies ever, I think it appropriate to list 10 Boxing Movies that would feature in most cinema goers TOP 10.
Sports movies as a genre in general have been not been too well served by cinema with the notable exception of boxing movies. It must be down to the fact that the drama is portrayed in such a stripped down individual manner, as if all human drama is resolved in one ultimate battle, most often a good versus bad or tragedy versus triumph conflict. The overriding criteria for inclusion is that the movie is primarily a film about the sport of boxing and not just featuring boxing, therefore well regarded movies such as The Quiet Man, On The Waterfront, etc., do not merit inclusion as the boxing content is minimal, however integral to the plot. Here they are then in my order of preference!
1. RAGING BULL – 1980
A brutal if expressionistic take on the life of a bruising fighter, as capable of dishing punishment outside of the ring as he is able to withstand it inside. An unforgettable, unflattering and thoroughly unsentimental portrayal of The Bronx Bull Jake La Motta by Robert De Niro. It is difficult to imagine anything in this movie being bettered, from the searing monochrome cinematography to the editing as sudden as a flashbulb. All of this and Cathy Moriarty too, as sharp, cool and deadly as an icepick. Not only the best boxing movie ever but probably in the top 10 of the greatest movies ever, period.
2. ROCKY– 1976
By itself a simple almost fairytale story about an against all the odds triumph by a hangdog rather underdog protagonist. Clichéd, implausible and blatantly manipulative, but nonetheless highly emotive and heart-warming, a real guilty pleasure. Celebrated for its Oscar winning triumph mirroring the emotion and theme of the movie, however this has been somewhat blighted and diluted by uneven, to say the least, sequels.
3. BODY AND SOUL – 1947
A film noir that defined the way boxing would be viewed in the cinema. No more plucky underdog or illusions about boxing being just a sport, this lays bare the seedy underbelly of boxing and one man’s selling not only his body but his soul in pursuit of boxing’s moneyed glory.
4. MILLION DOLLAR BABY – 2004
The one thing no one could accuse Clint Eastwood of lacking is class. In a fearlessly diverse late career as a filmmaker here he takes what is essentially on the page a cliched premise of a tired old trainer and up and coming fighter (female) who both find in each other what is otherwise cripplingly lacking in each of their lives. However the material is so well handled by all concerned that we end up with a boxing movie that packs an emotional wallop far outweighing it featherweight origins.
5. WHEN WE WERE KINGS – 1996
Because Ali is such a titanic figure in 20th Century history let alone the most famous sportsperson in the world it is inevitable that any true portrayal of him can only be done justice in documentary form.
The film catches Ali in the grand theatre of his pomp and fame capturing the notorious ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ fight between Ali and George Foreman in Zaire in 1974. A record and fitting tribute to a gladiatorial sport that in more recent times has become devoid of characters, lost amidst the confusion of too many governing bodies.
6. THE FIGHTER – 2010
A biopic of a junior welterweight from Lowell, Massachusetts named ‘Irish’ Micky Ward most famous for being involved in three of the greatest fights of all time. An indication of how focused and confident this movie is the fact that it does not cover these particular fights. Though it has fantastic fight sequences this movie is most remarkable for its honest portrayal of a working class family melodrama with an uncompromising sense of place. The fantastic performance by its supporting cast (Christian Bale is mesmerizing) is bravely enabled by the underplaying of its central figure.
7. THE CHAMP – 1979
While undoubtedly adding nothing to the realistic portrayal of the boxing game this is however a memorable movie that is reminiscent of the golden era of the Hollywood production system, no surprise then that it is also a remake. The story of a has been boxer who has to overcome his considerable gambling and drinking habits to win back his son is considered a classic weepie and it unashamedly is. This element is so well delivered by all concerned, consummate acting performances and beautiful direction (Zeffirelli) that the sense of place (Miami) and milieu (racing/boxing fraternity) it evokes is too often overlooked.
8. SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME – 1956
Primarily a vehicle for a memorable early method performance by a young Paul Newman, this is probably the best complete boxing biopic. The tale of Rocky Graziano is not a pretty one. As troublesome, confrontational and anti-authoritarian outside the ring as in it, Graziano is not an easy character to root for in any situation. However the depth of this story makes us invest more in the brilliantly realistic fight sequences.
9. FAT CITY – 1972
Benefiting from that rarity in the boxing genre, a treatment based on good source material (brilliant novel Leonard Gardner) this movie serves its material admirably. No rags to riches tale this, but a truly honest downbeat tale of the under card of the boxing game. A tale of two boxers, one young and up and coming, the older one on the slide but both still trying to accommodate the sport in their mundane lives. A criminally underrated movie.
10. THE SET-UP – 1949
Film noir always seemed a perfect match with the boxing genre and this movie is populated with the same type of lowlife and shady characters that inhabits that milieu. Another notable feature of this movie is that it is shot in real time, another film noir tool. Robert Ryan, who was an amateur boxer, probably gives the best and truest portrayal of a boxer in this movie which also features one of the most realistic looking fights in the history of cinema.
What do you think about this Top 10 List. What’s your Favorite Boxing Movie. Share your thoughts in Comments.