Gary Collinson selects his Five Essential Boxing Movies…
Screen interpretations of the sweet science can be traced back to the silent era, with movies such as Buster Keaton’s Battling Butler (1926) and Alfred Hitchcock’s The Ring (1927) paving the way for the film noir offerings of the Forties and Fifties. After a dry period the fight movie returned to the scene in the late Seventies on the back of an Italian Stallion, while the last few decades have seen an increasing number of releases that explore the glitz, glamour, corruption and seedy underbelly of the sport.
Without further ado, here are my Five Essential Boxing Movies…
5. Cinderella Man (2005, dir. Ron Howard)
Ron Howard's second collaboration with Russell Crowe is inspired by the true story of Depression-era boxer James J. Braddock, a one-time contender and destitute fighter who caused one of the sport's greatest upsets when he defeated heavyweight champion Max Baer in the famed 'Cinderella Man' bout in 1935. Crowe received a Golden Globe nomination for his turn as Braddock and his performance is complemented by an excellent supporting cast including Renee Zellweger, Paul Giamatti and Paddy Considine. Braddock's story is truly engaging, while the film provides a glimpse into a period of heavyweight history criminally overlooked by quality theatrical releases.
4. Million Dollar Baby (2004, dir. Clint Eastwood)
Based on two shorts from Rope Burns: Stories From the Corner (a collection of tales from former promoter Jerry Boyd under the pen name F.X. Toole), Million Dollar Baby sees Clint Eastwood as Frankie Dunn, an aging trainer who reluctantly agrees to take female fighter Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) under his wing after being impressed by her dedication and potential. Rising to the top tragedy strikes when Maggie is paralysed after a freak accident in the ring, which forces Frankie into an unimaginable situation. Winner of four Academy Awards (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress – Swank, and Best Supporting Actor – Morgan Freeman), Million Dollar Baby is a fantastic film and stands as one of the Eastwood’s very best.
3. When We Were Kings (1996, dir. Leon Gast)
Recipient of the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, When We Were Kings provides a detailed behind-the-scenes look at the historic 1974 ‘Rumble in the Jungle' between Heavyweight boxing champion George Foreman and the legendary Muhammad Ali. The film chronicles the build up to the fight in Zaire along with the famous bout itself and shows Ali at the height of his powers, both in terms of charisma and boxing ability, as he regains the championship that was withdrawn from him following his refusal to be drafted into the US Army during the Vietnam War. Quite simply the greatest documentary about the noble art and required viewing for fans of the sport.
2. Raging Bull (1980, dir. Martin Scorsese)
After reading 1970's Raging Bull: My Story, the memoir of Italian-American boxer Jake LaMotta, actor Robert De Niro lobbied to bring the Bronx Bull's story to the screen with friend and frequent collaborator Martin Scorsese. Scorsese finally relented and - believing that the film would be his last - threw himself into the creative process, combining with his leading man to create a film now regarded as an all-time classic. Harrowing and brutal both inside and outside of the ring, LaMotta's story is brought to life in stark black and white as he rises to the top against the likes of Marcel Cerdan and Sugar Ray Robinson before losing everything in a downward spiral of paranoia and aggression. De Niro's career defining turn saw him receive the Academy Award for Best Actor, while Scorsese was unfathomably overlooked for Best Director in favour of Robert Redford for Ordinary People (which also claimed Best Picture).
1. Rocky (1976, dir. John G. Avildsen)
The ultimate underdog movie, Rocky is the story of local Philly boxer Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) who gets one shot at the big-time when he is hand picked to face World Heavyweight Champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) in a home-town fight when the original opponent pulls out through injury. Written off by almost everyone save for girlfriend Adrian (Talia Shire), Rocky sets out to prove he isn't "just another bum from the neighborhood" by going the distance with the undefeated Creed. Given the corny direction of later instalments (which is not necessarily a bad thing, may I add), it's sometimes easy to forget just how good the original really is. Winner of Best Picture and Best Director, Rocky is an inspirational drama that hinges on the sheer will and determination of it's protagonist, with Stallone (who also provides the screenplay) fantastic in his breakthrough role. Rocky is the essential boxing movie, not to mention one of the greatest stories ever put to film.
Ali (2001, dir. Michael Mann)
Girlfight (2000, dir. Karyn Kusama)
The Harder They Fall (1956, dir. Mark Robson)
The Hurricane (1999, dir. Norman Jewison)
The Set-Up (1949, dir. Robert Wise)
Agree? Disagree? We'd love to hear your comments on the list...