Boxing films have been around since the era of silent movies and as sports movies go boxing has been consistently the most popular films out of all sports movies. Today, I am going to count down my top 10 Boxing movies of all time.
10) The Setup (1949)
Starring Robert Ryan as Bull Thompson, a washed-up boxer who refuses to hang up the gloves, the only person who still believes in him is his manager Tiny (George Tobias) or so we think. This movie was played out in real-time and clocking in at 72 minutes, this film focuses on a grittier side to boxing, don’t let the year it was made 1949 scare you away!
9) The Great White Hope (1970)
Starring James Earl Jones and Jane Alexander, based on a Broadway play and is a fictionalized character study of the first black heavyweight champion, Jack Johnson. Johnson becomes involved with a white woman and the couple is faced with blistering racism from sports and society. Jones’ re-creation of his stage role is an eye-riveting experience. The towering rages and unrestricted joys at which his character is capable are portrayed larger than life.
8) When We Were Kings (1996)
This account of “The Rumble in the Jungle” between Ali and Foreman is the finest boxing documentary ever made. This film won an Oscar for best documentary and, to this day, carries a large historical significance. Released 22 years after the fight because of political red tape, this film shows the behind the scenes workings of a young promoter named Don King. To this day, a fascinating film.
7) Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956)
James Dean was originally set to portray Rocky Graziano. However, his untimely death prior to filming paved the way for a young Paul Newman to be cast and a star was born. Beautiful black and white “Film Noir” style and solid direction from Citizen Kane editor Robert Wise, this little seen gem is proof positive of the virtues of old Hollywood. This movie was also was the uncredited debuts for future stars George C. Scott and Steve McQueen.
6) Requiem for a Heavyweight (1961)
Gritty boxing classic that is as powerful today as it was when originally released more than 50 years ago. Fantastic acting by Anthony Quinn and Mickey Rooney take this movie over the top. Take a look at the opening scene to see if you recognize the actor who plays the young up and coming fighter who destroys the washed-up main character, Louis “Mountain” Rivera. (Clue: He is the G.O.A.T.) Still stunning and ahead of its time.
5) Rocky Balboa (2006)
Full disclosure: I loved all of the Rocky movies but when this movie was first announced I thought this had disaster written all over it. I was wrong. This movie was more like the original than any of the other sequels. To me, the highlight of this film wasn’t the fight scenes, but the scene where Rocky gave the speech about life to his son. Overall a very poignant movie that brought the Rocky character full circle.
4) Cinderella Man (2005)
One of Director Ron Howard’ best movies and starring Russell Crowe clearly put a lot of time and effort into his role of former Heavyweight Champion James J. Braddock. Although the script was occasionally schmaltzy, his portrait of this champion amid the depredations of the great depression was spot on. To see a man pull himself up out of poverty to do everything he could to take care of his family and then to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds to become the Heavyweight Champion of the World is almost too difficult to believe but it was all true! My only problem with this movie is the portrayal of former Heavyweight champion Max Baer. It has been well documented that Baer was a true gentleman both in and out of the ring. This could have still been a great movie without the portrayal of Baer as an evil man.
3) Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Hard to talk about this movie without giving away some of the surprises but this is one of the best boxing movies ever. Suffice it to say, what starts out looking like yet another triumph-of-the-underdog tale turns into something else, taking an enormous moral weight that ultimately lands with the force of a knockout punch.
2) Raging Bull (1980)
Martin Scorsese’s 1980 masterpiece. Few movies have better explored the underlying reasons of just why someone would make such sacrifices to excel physically and the toll it takes on them and those around them. Scorsese and DeNiro, in this film, were unafraid to show the ugliness of uncontrolled male rage and the fear of the little boy who often hides behind it. One of the few boxing movies where you may find yourself despising the main character by the end. But that is one of the qualities that ultimately makes this a great film.
1) Rocky (1976)
This movie has been parodied so many times that people forget how great a film it was and is. In these irony-drenched days stories that are genuinely uplifting are met at best with apathy, but when delivered with this much sincerity and heart they are pretty much irresistible. This movie was about many things all at once: It was a boxing movie but it was also about a man’s constant struggle to overcome his own shortcomings. Finally it was a love story and about when you are fighting for more than just yourself, you can accomplish almost anything.