Mark your calendars. Odd as it may seem, today may be the day that Marky Mark (sans the Funky Bunch) joins the company of such greats as Robert De Niro, Sylvester Stallone, Will Smith, Russell Crowe and so on. Today, The Fighter opens up in theaters across the country. With as much buzz and acclaim the movie has been receiving, this could very well end up going down as one of the best boxing movies of all-time.
In light of The Fighter‘s release, I thought now would be an appropriate time to make that list. My top boxing movies. The sport has been visited many a times throughout the history of cinema. Here, though, we narrow it down to the top 10. So without further ado, my Top 10 Boxing Movies.
10. Play It To the Bone
Play It To the Bone was written and directed by Ron Shelton. The movie stars Antonio Banderas and Woody Harrelson. Lolita Davidovich co-stars.
The movie is the story of two aging fighters, Cesar (Banderas) and Vincent (Harrelson), who are close friends. In the twilight of their careers, the two are given one last fight with a title shot up for grabs. The kicker: they’ll be fighting each other. The two boxers and friends set out to Vegas for their undercard bout, accompanied by Grace (Davidovich); Cesar’s girlfriend and Vincent’s ex. Along the way, we get a look into their past careers and their competitive friendship. Come fight time, what should have been a typical bout that no one has interest in, soon becomes the fight of the night as the two beat the hell out of each other. Cesar and Vincent leave it all in the ring, with something to prove to themselves and each other, they “play it to the bone”. A definite fight to remember.
Now, Play It To the Bone was pretty much critically-panned. Call it my like for Woody Harrelson, or my sappy underdog side, but I enjoyed it. There’s plenty of humor, a fun road trip and one hell of a fight. Granted it’s not the greatest of movies, but definitely one of my more favorite boxing movies.
9. Resurrecting The Champ
Resurrecting The Champ was written by Michael Bortman and Allison Burnett. It was directed by Rod Lurie and stars Samuel L Jackson and Josh Hartnett.
Hartnett plays a young sports writer who rescues a homeless man “Champ” (Jackson) only to find out that “Champ” is a boxing legend that was believed to be dead. The writer then sets out to resurrect Champ’s story and elevate his own career. The movie is based on real events and an LA Times Magazine article by the same name.
Granted this movie isn’t so much about boxing, rather that’s the underlying theme of it as it’s about a down-on-his-luck former boxer and the sports writer who seeks to restore the destitute man and resurrect his tale. What starts as a tale to resurrect a man who was once great, turns into an examination of life and family. Samuel L Jackson turns in a very good performance in this movie. Bringing such a level of humanity to the character, Jackson’s performance stands out in the film above all and you can’t help but feel for Champ the whole way through.
Written by Gregory Allen Howard and Stephen J. Rivele, Ali was directed by Michael Mann. Will Smith plays the title role of boxing icon and legend Muhammad Ali. Other roles include Jamie Foxx playing Ali’s cornerman Drew Bundini Brown. Jon Voight also stars as the famed sports journalist Howard Cosell.
Ali is a biopic of the legendary boxer. It takes a look at his career from his title bout with Liston, to his conversion to Islam to the famous Rumble in the Jungle.
Will Smith turns in an excellent performance as the iconic boxer, even gaining significant weight to pull off the part. Voight also turns in a great performance as Foxx also does a fine job. On top of all that, the realism of the fights is like none other in any other movie, really. All fighters are played by professional boxers. They decided there would be no “illusion” to the fighting in this movie, but went for the real deal. Even the fights that involve Muhammad Ali are real. For instance, in Ali’s bout with Foreman in the movie, Shufford (who played Foreman) was allowed to hit Will Smith as hard as he could to contribute to the realism. The only rule: don’t really knock Smith out. With some great performances, some great fights and a look at the boxing icon, Ali is definitely a good one to watch.
7. The Hurricane
Based on books The 16th Round by Rubin Carter and Lazarus and the Hurricane by Sam Chaiton and Terry Swinton, The Hurricane is directed by Norman Jewison. Denzel Washington stars in the title role.
The Hurricane is the biopic of boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter. Carter was wrongly imprisoned for a triple homicide and spent 20 years in prison before being pardoned. While not so much a boxing movie, The Hurricane is more a tale of redemption. A tale about how love can overcome hate and injustice. Washington gives one of the finest performances of his career as Hurricane and his supporters seek to fight back against the racism and hate that imprisons him.
6. Requiem for a Heavyweight
Based on a teleplay written by Rod Serling, Requiem for a Heavyweight is directed by Ralph Nelson. The movie stars Anthony Quinn, Jackie Gleason and Mickey Rooney.
Anthony Quinn plays Mountain Rivera, a boxer at the end of his career after taking a beating from Cassius Clay. Being a proud man, Mountain must put that pride aside in order to save a friend. Finding out that manager bet against him, Mountain can only save his manager’s life by taking a dive….in a wrestling match.
Requiem for a Heavyweight provides a tight story and a memorable story (even heartbreaking). With strong characters, Quinn does a great job playing the burnt-out boxer. One of the more memorable scenes from the movie happens at the beginning. Doing a point-of-view sequence (from Quinn’s point of view), the movie chronicles Mountain’s bout with Cassius Clay as flurries of punches fly at the screen/camera as Clay pummels Mountain.
Written by Leonard Wise and Steven McKay. Directed by Michael Ritchie. Diggstown stars James Woods and Louis Gossett Jr. Oliver Platt and Bruce Dern also star in the film.
Diggstown is the story of a conman (Woods), fresh out of prison, who stumbles into a small boxing-obsessed town in order to run his latest scam. He bets with the local tycoon that he knows a man that could knockout 10 men in 24 hours. The business man (Dern) takes that bet. The conman’s fighter: over-the-hill 48 year-old fighter Honey Roy Palmer (Gossett Jr).
Diggstown is a rather fun movie with a nice cast. You get a fun con/heist/caper type movie mixed in with an underdog style boxing movie, making for an enjoyable time.
4. Cinderella Man
Written by Cliff Hollingsworth and directed by Ron Howard. Starring Russell Crowe. Renee Zellweger and Paul Giamatti also star.
Cinderella Man is the story of heavyweight champion James Braddock. After breaking his hand, the boxer’s career is seemingly ended. He becomes a down-and-out man just trying to scrape by to support his family. That is until the day his former manager gets him a bout to basically be a “punching bag” for the number two contender in the world. However, to everybody’s surprise, Braddock scores a knockout against the contender. This adds a spark to his career as Braddock returns to the ring.
Cinderella Man is a great underdog tale that is an inspiring story. Though not initially doing well in theaters, the movie went on to be very much acclaimed by critics and audiences. It was nominated and awarded several awards. With the film itself, Crowe, Giamatti and Hollingsworth all receiving awards nods for their parts in this film, it’s definitely up there as one of the better boxing films of all-time and truly an inspirational story.
3. The Harder They Fall
Written by Budd Schulberg and Philip Yordan. Directed by Mark Robson. The Harder They Fall stars Humphrey Bogart in his last role before his death in 1957.
The Harder They Fall is the story of a out of work sportswriter Eddie Willis (Bogart) who is hired by a crooked promoter to publicize his new boxer. The new fighter is a large and impressive Argentinian, but ultimately talentless boxer. The plan is for the crooked promoter to build up his fighter through staged fights, then bet against him in a title match. Eddie then is left in a conundrum after starting to like the giant boxer, and battles with himself about whether to tell the Argentinian or not that his fights were fixed.
Bogie delivers a solid performance in his last film (for which he was already sick). The movie is a gritty film for its time and stands as a very nice examination of the mob-like influence in boxing.
Rocky is written by and stars Sylvester Stallone. While the first was directed by John G. Avildsen, the sequels were directed by Stallone himself.
For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to include all Rocky movies here together. While some may argue about which was their favorite, I still go with the first as being the best. Rocky is THE underdog story of all underdog stories. The original is the story of a small-time boxer who is given the chance to fight the champion and proves to the world what heart and talent he has.
Rocky is absolutely a classic. It is an inspiring and memorable movie. This movie is what put Stallone on the map. The movie received Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director, and a nomination for Best Actor. It is also listed in AFI’s top 100 movies of all-time. Rocky is a definite must-see for any fans of the genre and arguably the best of its kind in the sports movie realm for many.
1. Raging Bull
Written by Jake LaMotta and Joseph Carter. Directed by Martin Scorsese. Starring Robert De Niro. Also stars Cathy Moriarty and Joe Pesci.
Raging Bull is the emotional journey of self-destructive boxer Jake LaMotta, as the violence and temper that leads to his success in the ring, contributes to the downfall of his life outside the ring.
Many would argue that Rocky gets the first place spot. However, while I love Rocky, Raging Bull is just the better movie. This is arguably Scorsese’s and De Niro’s finest work. A true classic. Raging Bull is a gritty take on the sport and masculinity as well as a look at personal demons. This is the movie that put Pesci on the map and led to the famous pairing of De Niro and Pesci. It is an absolute must-see movie and one of the greatest films of all-time.