Boxing films

Here are my choices for the top five boxing films of all time, plus other boxing movies that I’ve seen. Let me know what you think and what else should be on this list.

Top five boxing films

1. When We Were Kings

It’s hard to see how any traditional movie could top this documentary-style coverage of the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’, telling the story of the epic Muhammad Ali-George Foreman showdown in Zaire. Featuring Ali at his wise-cracking, driven, calculating and inspirational best. What more could you want?
Amazon: When We Were Kings [DVD] [1997]

2. Raging Bull

Martin Scorsese’s 1980 masterpiece chronicling the life of Jake LaMotta is a regular contender in lists of the greatest films of all time, let alone the greatest boxing films. Robert De Niro’s performance as LaMotta is spellbinding and the whole movie – shot in black and white – has a brutal, balletic quality, loaded with violence. Stunning.
Amazon: Raging Bull (Wide Screen) [DVD] [1981]

3. Rocky

The original and best of the Rocky films. Riffed on classic moments from boxing history and helped take the legends to the wider public to such an extent that many are now clichés.
Amazon: Rocky [DVD] [1977]

4. The Harder They Fall

A great period piece based on Budd Schulberg’s classic novel, itself a fictionalised re-telling of the Primo Carnera story. Humphrey Bogart plays boxing-journo-turned-PR-man Eddie Willis who gets drawn deeper into the world of mob corruption as his backers exploit the commercial potential of naïve Argentine heavyweight Toro Moreno.
Amazon: The Harder They Fall [DVD] [2003]

5. The Hurricane

The boxing is far from the primary focus of this movie, but Denzel Washington gives a great performance in the telling of the remarkable life story of Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter. The movie’s reception amongst boxing fans was somewhat spoiled by its inaccurate depiction of the Carter v Joey Giardello fight, the story wrongly suggesting that Giardello’s deserved points win was the result of racial bias against Carter. This was a long way from being the only historical inaccuracy, but the film is still a stimulating watch.
Amazon: The Hurricane [DVD] [2000]

Other boxing movies

Against the Ropes

Meg Ryan plays the part of US boxing manager Jackie Kallen. I’ve seen the film. I can’t really remember it. That probably says a lot.
Amazon: Against the Ropes [DVD] [2004]

Ali

They said that the role of Muhammad Ali was an impossible one to play, and Will Smith achieved the impossible… he portrayed one of the most charismatic human beings to ever walk the planet as a miserable, sullen, lifeless bore. Just dreadful. Avoid this film like the plague and (re)watch When We Were Kings instead.
Amazon: Ali [DVD] [2002]

Bleed For This

The story of Vinny ‘the Pazmanian Devil’ Pazienza is remarkable, inspiring and film-worthy. As a movie, it works and is worth a watch, but many of the boxing scenes are unconvincing.

The Boxer

Daniel Day-Lewis is on form as an ex-IRA activist trying to resume his life as a professional boxer after his release from prison. Includes an atmospheric fight scene at the National Sporting Club.
Amazon: The Boxer [DVD]

The Calcium Kid

Orlando Bloom as a boxer. That’s the funniest part about this comedy.
Amazon: The Calcium Kid [DVD] [2004]

The Champ

A proper tear-jerker. Saw it as a kid and it made me miserable. Haven’t wanted to watch it since.
Amazon: The Champ [1979]

Champion

Kirk Douglas gives a superb performance as Midge Kelly, a boxer who rises to the top while destroying everything that’s good in his life. A rarely seen 1949 classic, well worth digging out.
Amazon: Champion [1949] [DVD]

Cinderella Man

A Hollywood re-telling of the remarkable Jim Braddock story. Entertaining, although I find it hard to watch the demonisation of the much-loved Max Baer.
Amazon: Cinderella Man [DVD] [2005]

Creed

A memorable and convincing continuation of the Rocky universe with some visceral fight scenes. Highly recommended, although the portrayal of Tony Bellew as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world is hard to swallow.

The Fighter

The fight scenes aren’t the greatest, but this is a great film with memorable performances from Mark Wahlberg as Micky Ward and, in particular, Christian Bale as his brother ‘Dicky’ Eklund.
Amazon: The Fighter [DVD]

Grudge Match

Umpteen years on, Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro riff on their classic roles as Rocky and LaMotta in this sports comedy. Nowhere near as embarrassing as it could have been.
Amazon: Grudge Match [DVD]

I am Ali

If you only watch one Muhammad Ali documentary, make it When We Were Kings. But why wouldn’t you want to see two?
Amazon: I Am Ali [DVD]

Matilda

Saw it as a kid as the first film of a double feature (remember those?) at Tredegar Workmen’s Hall. It was about a boxing kangaroo. As a four-year-old, I loved it.

Million Dollar Baby

I’m usually a big fan of Clint Eastwood’s movies, but I think he dropped the ball on this one. Little new to say and rather depressing.Amazon: Million Dollar Baby [DVD] [2005]

Mr Calzaghe

It’s obvious that no Welsh fight fan should be able to hold their head up with dignity until they’ve seen this film! A solid telling of the remarkable Joe Calzaghe story, those familiar with his career will enjoy reliving it and may gain an extra appreciation for the strength that he gained from his relationship with his father and trainer, Enzo Calzaghe.

It will be interesting to gauge the reaction to the film from non-boxing fans… although its initial reception gleaned the rather unsurprising thought from reviewers that Enzo stole the show!
Amazon: Mr Calzaghe [DVD]

On the Waterfront

Marlon Brando in another film based on a classic piece of Budd Schulberg literature.
Amazon: On the Waterfront [DVD]

The Quiet Man

Cliche-ridden 1952 fare from John Wayne about a boxer who returns from the States to his childhood home in Galway, where he tries to build a new life having killed a man in the ring.
Amazon: The Quiet Man [DVD] [1952]

Real Steel

Do boxing robots count? The film was all right.
Amazon: Real Steel [DVD]

Risen

I was hugely excited when I heard about this project that chronicles the life of one of my favourite boxers, Howard Winstone. The film makers treat their subject lovingly, but unfortunately with too much reverence. A worthy film that lacks joy and colour.
Amazon: Risen [DVD]

Rocky II

Kind of like Rocky I except this time (spoiler alert…) he wins.
Amazon: Rocky II [DVD]

Rocky III

So gloriously ‘80s, and every time I hear Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” theme music I remember the schoolboy excitement and anticipation that preceded this film’s launch. It’s ultimately a bit disappointing, though, and the climax of the piece – Rocky’s revenge win over Clubber Lang – just seems a bit too easy.
Amazon: Rocky III [DVD]

Rocky IV

Rocky trains in the snow then brings down Communism by breaking Mikkel Kessler. I’m trying to ignore what happened to Apollo Creed. It’s still too painful.
Amazon: Rocky IV [DVD]

Rocky V

Surely the weakest film in the series as Rocky turns trainer after his forced ring retirement before having to whup ungrateful protégé Tommy Gunn (Tommy Morrison) in a street brawl.
Amazon: Rocky V [DVD]

Rocky VI (Rocky Balboa)

A valiant attempt to re-boot the franchise as a decrepit Rocky makes an unlikely return to the ring against Mason ‘the Line’ Dixon (Antonio Tarver). A decent movie if, ultimately, a little bit dull.
Amazon: Rocky Balboa [DVD] [2007]

Rocky Marciano

A plodding TV-movie take on the life and career of Marciano.
Amazon: Rocky Marciano [1999]

Snake Eyes

Nicolas Cage plays a corrupt cop at a world title fight in a movie that’s more about the crime thriller than the boxing.
Amazon: Snake Eyes [DVD] [1998]

Somebody Up There Likes Me

Paul Newman plays Rocky Graziano in this fistic classic. A little dated but well worth checking out.
Amazon: Somebody Up There Likes Me [1956]

Southpaw

I watched this film on an aeroplane, and it seems to have been the perfect setting – it was a pleasant way to waste a bit of time without requiring any amount of thought or interaction with what passes as a story.

Jake Gyllenhaal gives an impressive physical performance, but if you haven’t worked out the entire plot line by the end of the opening frame, you’re doing something wrong.
Amazon: Southpaw [DVD]

Tyson

A brutally honest documentary focusing on a brutal and honest man. Harrowing, but not to be missed.
Amazon: Tyson: The Movie – Ultimate Knockout Edition [DVD]

Undisputed

Wesley Snipes does lots of boxing while in prison. Worth a watch on a quiet night.
Amazon: Undisputed [DVD]

Shocking admission…

I haven’t seen the following, but they need to be mentioned here:

Fat City

John Huston’s 1972 take on the classic Leonard Gardner book. I really need to see this.
Amazon: Fat City [DVD] [1972] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]

Kid Galahad

Elvis’ take on the boxing world!
Amazon: Kid Galahad [DVD]

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5 Responses to Boxing films

  1. david roake September 2, 2014 at 8:09 am #

    Hi Sean,
    The best boxing film ever is most definitely Fat City and the opening sequence where Stacey Keach wakes up in a rundown hotel room the morning after a bout to the tune of ‘Help me make it through the night’ is just brilliant.
    If you read this Sean, please could you let me have your email address as Id very much like to contact you.
    regards,
    David

  2. Sean Davies September 5, 2014 at 7:48 am #

    Hi David, thanks for the comment, I really do need to get to see Fat City! I’m not too keen to put my email on here as I’ll get even more spam, but my Twitter address is @SeanDavies333

  3. George Evans February 9, 2015 at 1:47 am #

    How about the John Garfield classic 1947 movie “Body and Soul?”

  4. Donald Skinner May 26, 2015 at 3:32 am #

    Body and Soul with John Garfield

  5. Donald Skinner May 26, 2015 at 3:56 am #

    Requiem for a heavyweight Starring Anthony Quinn, Jackie Gleason and Mickey Roony

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