Top 10 Boxing Movies

Written by Patrick Alexander

Sports play a major part in the way the world works; from Superbowl Sunday to the World Cup final, pretty much everyone follows one sport or another. The problem is, the popularity of sports in general dictates that Hollywood tries and tries to churn out successful sporting movies, but sporting movies are notoriously hard to get right. That said, boxing seems to be one of the few sports that does work on film, and I’m here to prove it with 10 great boxing movies. Before we crack on with this list, I have to give some honorable mentions to a few films that didn’t quite make it into the top 10.¬†


Rocky III (1982): When you think of boxing movies, you naturally think of the ‘Rocky’ franchise, but we can’t have seven ‘Rocky’ films in here can we? In this third film, the villain Clubber Lang (played by Mr. T) makes a strong¬†case for himself and this is a great film, but not quite as good as some of the others in the series.

Cinderella Man (2005): One of Russell Crowe‚Äôs finest works, with a¬†fantastic Paul Giamatti supporting role, but this film’s old-old-old school mentality¬†lulls a hair too much to sneak into the top ten.

The Boxer (1997): Keeping it simple with the title, ‘The Boxer’ stars Daniel Day Lewis as a killer. But ‘The Boxer’ is not even his best¬†film about being an Irish Revolutionary. I mean, come on Daniel; what¬†kind of warped sequel to ‘In the Name of the Father’ is this?¬†

Okay, on with the real winners…


fatcity

10. Fat City (1972); Directed by John Huston; Starring Stacy Keach, Jeff Bridges

Synopsis: Two men, working as professional boxers, come to blows when their careers each begin to take opposite momentum.

Verdict: A real old school boxing flick and the godfather of all boxing¬†movies, pre-dating both ‘Rocky’ and ‘Raging Bull’. Stacy Keach, as Tully,¬†carries the film‚Äôs focus in his showdown with a young Jeff Bridges. ‘Fat¬†City’ is everything you want it to be; non-formulaic, aware of its angle,¬†full of classic 70s dialogue, and a rip-roaring bout that will keep you on the¬†edge of your seat. Had the story aged better over time, ‘Fat City’ would,¬†indubitably, deserve to be ranked higher.


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9. The Fighter (2010); Directed by David O. Russell; Starring: Christian Bale, Mark Wahlberg

Synopsis: A look at the early years of boxer “Irish” Micky Ward, and his¬†brother who helped train him before going pro in the mid 1980s.

Verdict: Micky Ward sure does come off as a prick, but with Bale and¬†Wahlberg in tow, the director Russell actually makes you want to root¬†for Ward by the end. Dysfunctional in nature, Dicky Eklund‚Äôs portrayal¬†absolutely ties together what would have been a rather bland stint¬†without him. Docked points for sub-par boxing scenes by Marky Mark, ‘The Fighter’ has a candor and a degree of authenticity¬†which allows it to¬†keep it‚Äôs head above water¬†among the all-time boxing greats.


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8. Ali (2001); Directed by Michael Mann; Starring Will Smith, Jamie Foxx

Synopsis: A biography of sports legend, Muhammad Ali, from his early days to his time in the ring.

Verdict: Will Smith brings to life the childhood hero of many,¬†Muhammad Ali. We‚Äôve all got posters on our walls of the man who¬†could truly float like a butterfly and sting like a bee. From his “Thrilla in¬†Manila” to his personal journeys stateside, Ali fought more powers than¬†just Sonny Liston and Joe Frazier. Smith‚Äôs wily persona of the world-class champion lands a devastating blow on this list amongst the great¬†boxing flicks of old.


southpaw

7. Southpaw (2015); Directed by Antoine Fuqua; Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Forest Whitaker

Synopsis: Boxer Billy Hope turns to trainer Tick Wills to help him get his life back on track after losing his wife in a tragic accident and his daughter to child protection services.

Verdict: A vociferously flashy, most glamorous, Eminem-infused battle¬†blast, ‘Southpaw’ attacks both fast and strong. Gyllenhaal is so¬†unbelievably ripped and his surreal training sequences totally make¬†this film. Fighting Miguel ‚ÄėMagic‚Äô Escobar, the fiery Colombian¬†antagonist only makes you root for Billy Hope and his lost hope even¬†more. Some may call ‘Southpaw’ formulaic and chalk this one up to¬†bias based on its recent release, but Antoine Fuqua gets everything right from tight boxing¬†sequences, to max-level grandeur, to a hard-hitting lefty landing a¬†wonderful wallop into this top ten.


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6. Rocky IV (1985); Directed by Sylvester Stallone; Starring Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren

Synopsis: After iron man Ivan Drago, a highly intimidating 6-foot-5, 261-pound Soviet athlete, kills Apollo Creed in an exhibition match, Rocky comes to the heart of Russia for 15 pile-driving boxing rounds of revenge.

Verdict: In the fight that single-handedly ended the Cold War, Rocky¬†goes toe-to-toe with the juiced-up Russian cyborg machine, Ivan¬†Drago, who inexplicably felled the great Apollo Creed. Rocky lights our¬†hearts on fire by selecting the hard way out¬†in defeating his¬†Russian nemesis. Through snow-clogged sprints and intense cabin¬†training, Rocky once again shows us that there are no demons out there incapable of being defeated. A 15-round packed-punch of¬†emotion, passion, and defeating the Soviets lands ‘Rocky IV’ a place in the¬†throes of greatness.


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5. Undisputed (2002); Directed by Walter Hill; Starring Wesley Snipes, Ving Rhames

Synopsis: When heavyweight champion George ‘Iceman’ Chambers¬†lands himself in prison, the resident gangster arranges a boxing match with¬†the reigning prison champ.

Verdict: Outside of having, pound-for-pound, the greatest boxing¬†sequence of all time in film history (and you can take that to the¬†bank), ‘Undisputed’ brings the unique concept of prison boxing to the¬†table, an advantage unbeknownst to any other of its contemporaries.¬†Iceman Chambers vs. Monroe Hutchens is right up there with Balboa¬†vs. Creed, in terms of strength of fighting skills plus high class¬†drama. The total underdog of the list, ‘Undisputed’ will wow you with its¬†technical, authentic feeling final round. A must-see for boxing fans¬†everywhere.


creed

4. Creed (2015); Directed by Ryan Coogler; Starring Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone

Synopsis: Everyone’s favourite former¬†World Heavyweight Champion, Rocky Balboa,¬†serves as trainer and mentor to Adonis Johnson, the son of his late¬†friend and former rival Apollo Creed.

Verdict: After the abomination that was ‘Rocky Balboa’, ‘Creed’ gets the¬†franchise right back in line with technically savvy, intense boxing, led by¬†magnificently deft camera work throwing us into all angles of the ring.¬†Throw in real life boxer, Tony Bellow, playing the indomitable ‚ÄėPretty‚Äô¬†Ricky Conlon across the ring from Adonis Johnson (Creed), and the¬†authenticity levels are unparalleled. With great training montages,¬†including a dirt bike sidled run up the steps to victory, ‘Creed’ supplants¬†not only Southpaw as the best boxing flick of 2015, but perhaps may¬†be the #1 boxing picture of the past decade.


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3. The Hurricane (1999); Directed by Norman Jewison; Starring Denzel Washington, Liev Schreiber

Synopsis: The story of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, a boxer wrongly¬†imprisoned for murder, and the people who aided in his fight to prove¬†his innocence.

Verdict: One of the better ‚Äúoutside the ring‚ÄĚ stories of the bunch, elevated by a Mt.¬†Rushmore performance by Washington. Washington, as Rubin ‚ÄúHurricane‚ÄĚ Carter fights not only his¬†weary opponents in the ring, but the racism and hate that imprisoned¬†an innocent man, until love overflows to bust him out. A real knockout¬†punch right into the sixteenth round, ‘The Hurricane’ will box a hole right into¬†the throws of your heart.


rocky

2. Rocky (1976); Directed by John G. Avildsen; Starring Sylvester Stallone, Carl Stone

Synopsis: Rocky Balboa, a small-time boxer, gets a supremely rare chance to fight the heavy-weight champion, Apollo Creed, in a bout in which he strives to go the distance for his self-respect.

Verdict: The ultimate underdog story. The picture that made you¬†believe you could conquer any obstacle in life by running up a few¬†steps in front of a local museum. Bill Conti‚Äôs epic soundtrack, Rocky¬†Balboa‚Äôs finest clash with Apollo Creed, and the city of Philadelphia‚Äôs¬†soul combine to make ‘Rocky’ an all-timer. With Burgess Meredith, a world class¬†stick man, and the darling Talia Shire along for the ride, Rocky¬†conquers every mountain, both real and metaphorical on its climb to¬†the top (well, nearly the top).


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1. Raging Bull (1980); Directed by Martin Scorsese; Starring Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci

Synopsis: An emotionally self-destructive boxer’s journey through life,¬†as the violence and temper that leads him to the top in the ring,¬†destroys his life outside it.

Verdict: A legendary, poetic performance by the menace of a boxer,¬†Robert De Niro playing Jack La Motta. This it the film that makes any young¬†kid want to be a boxer and perhaps evokes a raging bull inside all of¬†us. ‘Raging Bull’ is filled with demons, relief, and a pleasantly insane¬†narrative. Viciously brutal boxing sequences mixing slow beating and¬†frenetic flurries of blows, plus a heart of gold, mean Scorsese‚Äôs finest¬†work tops this list.

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