|Best Movie Boxing
|The basic simplicity and primal violence of boxing make it easy to bring to
the screen. Throw in the fact that most great boxers came from
disadvantaged or tragic circumstances and the common appeal cannot be
overlooked. A lot of movies have had boxing as their focus or as a
dominant theme but the selection below represents the best of the medium.
Some were chosen for the action, others for the storyline and a couple for
the cultural impact they made. At the end of the day, it's tough to make a
good boxing movie.
On a personal note, I boxed some when I was younger (more as a
supplement to my kickboxing) and I had this revelation. While sparring with
a mediocre professional I took a short left hook to the jaw. The power of
that punch rocked me to my toes and 30 years later I can still feel it. My
point? The pros hit way harder than you can imagine and a lot of us don't
give them the respect they deserve. As you watch these movies, appreciate
what they show and who takes part.
1. Somebody Up There Likes Me. Paul Newman plays middleweight
champion, Rocky Graziano in this autobiographical movie. Newman was
lauded by the press of the day for the gritty realism of his portrayal. His
boxing skills were excellent and he captured the humanity of both Graziano
(an ex-con) and the sport of boxing. Look and listen for the great corner
dialogue between Newman and his trainers. The boxing is also well-filmed
although it is more staged than I normally like.
Honorable Mention: Cool Hand Luke
2. The Killers. Not really a boxing movie in the normal sense but it shows
the shadowy world of the sport very well. Considered a film noir, The
Killers stars Burt Lancaster as an ex-boxer murdered by the mob. Strong
language, good plot twists and an underlying menace throughout make this
suspense film a work of art. Some good boxing sequences flatter the young
Burt Lancaster especially when you consider his background was
acrobatics and he had to learn how to box.
Honorable Mention: The Lawman
3. When We Were Kings. This is a documentary on one of the greatest
fights in history, the Foreman/Ali fight in Zaire. This movie is a celebration of
an event and what went on before and after the fight actually dwarfs the
match itself. We see the incomparable Ali at his verbal best and you won't
recognize the hairy, fierce Foreman if your only point of reference is the
Foreman Grill (yes, it's the same guy). Ali's patented "rope a dope" became
part of our cultural lingo and his generalship in the ring may be the greatest
strategizing ever. You should buy this one.
Honorable Mention: The Greatest
4. Champion. In today's world of self-absorbed, narcissistic athletes it is
easy to become a jaded observer. When a basketball player is accused of
drugs, a footballer of murder or a runner of doping, and that's a slow day, it
is no wonder that people yearn for a simpler age; an age of purity and
honesty in sports. Well, this movie isn't a nostalgia trip. Kirk Douglas plays
an ambitious boxer who spares no one his vitriol as he fights his way to a
championship while he ruins lives around him. Excellent boxing sequences,
filmed well with great insight into the sport and the society that supports it.
My source says it's the best boxing movie ever made.
Honorable Mention: Spartacus
5. Hurricane. This is the filmed version of the unlawful incarceration of
Ruben "Hurricane" Carter, once a promising middleweight then a victim of
racism. There are some questions about the authenticity of some of the
"facts" but overall it is pretty faithful to the truth. Denzel Washington plays
the title character and does so with a vigor and athleticism rarely seen in a
serious, dramatic actor. The boxing actually becomes incidental to the story
of a man trapped in prison but who refuses to lose his humanity to the
brutalities of the penal system. You will not leave this film uninspired!
Honorable Mention: Man on Fire
6. Requiem for a Heavyweight. I include both versions here: the teleplay
starring Jack Palance and the movie starring Anthony Quinn. It's the story of
a heavyweight boxer on his last legs who takes on one more fight to help out
his manager. The seediness of boxing, glossed over in today's world by
promoters like Arum and King, paints the sport broadly, leaving no doubt in
the viewers mind that the criminal element has an undue influence in boxing.
Palance and Quinn are tragic heroes in these movies and you feel every
punch in the films with a dire sense of foreboding.
Honorable Mention: Zorba the Greek/City Slickers
7. Rocky. Sly Stallone has almost become a caricature with the multiple
Rocky and Rambo movies. But this one, the first, is brilliant. It's a story
based on Ali's fight with Joe Bugner (a nothing fighter given the opportunity
of a lifetime) and Stallone's simple portrayal is heartwarming even
sentimental. A phenomenal supporting cast charge this film with electricity
and the final fight is a classic even though its realism is debatable. The last
scene will bring a tear to your eye.
Honorable Mention: First Blood
8. The Boxer. Daniel Day Lewis is at his best in this film of an IRA
terrorist, once a promising boxer, who emerges from prison after 14 years.
Day Lewis as Danny Flynn tries to open up a non-sectarian gym in one of
Ulster's war zones. Kids join, people get along and the local IRA chief
resents him. This film shows the transcedent powers of boxing in a society
rocked by daily violence. But it also shows the underbelly of this violence
and how it targets the efforts of those who would combat it in a peaceful
Honorable Mention: Last of the Mohicans
And the knockout goes to...
What can I say about this film that hasn't been said already? De Niro is his
most brilliant as Jake La Motta, one of the most savage boxers in and out of
the ring in history. His fights with Sugar Ray Robinson are probably
unequalled for ferocity and fortitude on the part of both men. De Niro owns
the role and his prodigious talents as an actor are almost secondary to his
ring prowess. De Niro looks like a boxer, fights like one and in this movie,
is one. Note that this movie will not inspire you or make you feel good. It's
angry, depressing and unfailingly critical of the sport and its environs.
On a technical level, the cinematography is otherworldly as Scorcese blends
black and white action scenes with color scenes of La Motta's "normal" life.
The use of slow/mo is one of the best I've seen and even the sound,
particularly before a fight is haunting.
Run, don't walk, to buy this film.
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