Last weekend, millions of boxing fans paid their hard earned money to witness the ‘Fight of the Century’ between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao. Unfortunately, many fans were disappointed by the outcome. What can a fight fan do? When real-life events let you down at least you have the guarantee of cinema to restore your faith in boxing. Whether you are a casual fan or a hardcore follower this weekend you could do a lot worse than to check out any of the what I consider the top ten boxing epics of the silver screen;
10) Gladiator (1992)
Not the Russell Crowe swords and sandals epic, but a bombastic offering from the early 1990s. James Marshall (A Few Good Men) plays Tommy Reily a high school student who becomes embroiled in illegal boxing in order to pay off his father’s gambling debts. It co-stars a young Cuba Gooding Jr. and Brian Dennehy and Robet Loggia as the villainous promoters. Directed by Rowdy Herrington (Roadhouse) it is an entertaining action-packed boxing drama.
9) The Champ (1931)
The Champ is an Academy Award Winning film that tells the story of Andy Purcell, an alcoholic former world heavyweight champion who lives with his son; Dink in Mexico. Dink remains devoted to his father despite his irresponsible behaviour. When Dink’s mother returns it sets in motion a series of events that will test the family unit to their limits. The 1979 remake starred Jon Voight, it was not as successful as the original, but it has been described as, ‘the saddest movie ever.’ The final tear-jerking scene of both movies carries an emotional punch that will linger with you long afterwards.
8) Cinderella Man
Directed by Ron Howard, Cinderella Man was inspired by the true story of James J Braddock played by Russell Crowe, who was World Heavyweight Champion in the 1930s. It is the heart-warming story of one fighter overcoming the odds to inspire Americans during the Depression era.
7) Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Clint Eastwood plays Frankie, a grizzled trainer who takes on the task of training amateur fighter Maggie (Hilary Swank), for a professional boxing career. Over time Frankie develops a paternal bond with Maggie that will be tested to its limit before the climax. The film plays heavily on the classic themes in boxing; courage, loyalty and the American Dream. It also won the Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor for Clint Eastwood.
6) The Fighter (2010)
The Fighter is a biopic of the boxer Mickey Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and his relationship with his crack addict older half-brother Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale). The dysfunctional family relationships in The Fighter serve to set up a redemption story for all involved. In the hands of David O Russell it remains compelling and never slips into cliché. It’s just a pity the film never covered Ward’s epic trilogy of fights against Arturo Gatti.
5) The Harder they Fall (1956)
In his last ever film, Humphrey Bogart plays; Eddie Willis an ex sports writer tasked with promoting the slow witted Argentine Heavyweight Toro Moreno for crooked boxing promoter Nick Benko (Rod Steiger). The story is loosely based on the career of heavyweight Primo Carnera; whose entire career was alleged to have been stage managed by the mob. For an insight into one of the most corrupt periods of boxing history go no further.
4) Body and Soul (1947)
This slice of Film Noir stars John Garfield as Charley Davis, an up and coming boxer who faces difficult choices as he navigates the shady world of boxing in the 1940s. Many regard this as the quintessential boxing movie, a cautionary tale about how the common man can be seduced by the American Dream.
3) Fat City (1972)
Directed by John Huston and based on the novel of the same name, Fat City is unlike any of the boxing films on this list. Stacy Keach plays Billy Tully a fighter past his prime and nearing the end of his career, a chance meeting with young fighter Ernie Munger (Jeff Bridges) provides Tully with the motivation to get his career back on track. Fat City is realistic in its portrayal of what life is like for journeymen fighters, and the theme of perpetual loss is cleverly explored through perfect character performances.
2) Rocky (1976)
This one has it all, the iconic theme, the training montage and the enduring appeal of an underdog story. The rags to riches story of everyone’s favourite ‘Italian Stallion,’ may have spawned five sequels but the original remains the best, but the true life underdog story behind the film is equally as compelling. Stallone was a down on his luck actor, who had recently sold his dog to buy groceries. He refused to sell the script to the studio unless he could star in the film. The studio caved and the movie was made on a budget for just over $1 million. It became the highest grossing film of 1976 and went on to win three Oscars including Best Picture. The rest they say is history.
1) Raging Bull (1980)
The greatest boxing movie ever committed to celluloid, it tells the story of real life middleweight world champion; Jake Lamotta (Robert DeNiro) and how the violent temper that helped him become a champion in the boxing ring destroyed his personal life. DeNiro as Lamotta is at all times both despicable and compelling to watch. It also co-stars Jose Pesci as Lamotta’s brother Joey. The film is perhaps best remembered for its fight scenes and the extraordinary weight gained by DeNiro that earned him an Oscar for Best Actor.