The Best Boxing Films That Aren’t Rocky
By Henry Walter
When ranking the best boxing movies it’s impossible for me to see past the mighty Rocky films. Sylvester Stallone’s brilliant portrayal of an underdog boxer perfectly summed up why the sport is so great and truly captured the underdog spirit.
The Rocky films are not just some of the greatest boxing films ever made they are probably just about the best films of the entire sports films genre. Yet there have been many other boxing films created. Boxing offers so many obvious yet powerful stories that could be told.
Here are what are, in my opinion, the greatest non-Rocky boxing films.
5. Play It To The Bone
This 1999 movie has an all star cast but flopped at the box office. It is perhaps fairly easy to see why. The film is littered with flaws, from bizarre and out of place sexual fantasy pieces during the fight scenes to an unsatisfying plot conclusion. Yet the film definitely has something about it.
It features real life boxers during the commentary segments and Woody Harrelson and Antonio Banderas play their cynical old pro roles convincingly. The film also does a great job of highlighting how tough pro boxing is alongside the many pitfalls boxers can fall into when negotiating fights.
4. I Spy
Yes I am probably cheating a bit here and I doubt many will agree with this pick. I Spy primarily sits in the action-comedy genre. However, anyone who has seen Eddie Murphy’s hit film Coming To America will have noted the impossible to miss boxing references. Murphy is clearly a big boxing fan and his charming portrayal of Kelly Robinson, a pound for pound boxing champion in I Spy, elevates this film far higher than it probably deserves.
I Spy sees Murphy’s character try and balance elite boxing and world title defences with saving the world as a Spy. Silly but fun and Murphy clearly enjoys the role, which he plays with vigour.
3. The Fighter
Mark Wahlberg’s depiction of real life boxer Micky Ward is first class. Christian Bale’s astonishing portrayal of Micky’s brother Dicky Eklund is even better, uncanny in fact. The fight scenes are well done and the boxing is portrayed realistically. The film is slightly let down by a couple of issues, it’s focus on Ward overcoming the odds and becoming world champion sees a plot point that has been already been done many times in other films.
The inconvenient fact, ignored by the filmmakers, is that Ward never actually became world champion and the film’s use of the lightly regarded WBU title, which Ward did win, to justify calling him a world champion is being more than a little liberal with the truth.
It’s an odd decision to focus the story on a world title journey that never happened. Especially when Ward’s history making fight with rival Arturo Gatti, the fight that he won to go down in history, is completely ignored by the filmmakers.
Southpaw has a lot going for it. Jake Gyllenhaal demonstrates his considerable talent in his role of Billy Hope, the light-heavyweight champion, a talented but volatile boxer nearing the end of his prime as corrupt promoters circle.
The film’s plot is gritty, realistic to boxing and at times brilliant. Let down by a poor ending, which does next to nothing to fix the hard but likable boxers many issues, Southpaw still holds up as an excellent boxing film.
1. Cinderella Man
Many of the criticisms of The Fighter can also be applied to the Ali film from 2000. Too much real footage of those fighters and events surrounding them really exists. As talented as Will Smith and Mark Wahlberg are they can’t beat the real thing.
Their stories are powerful and seemingly made for the big screen yet the real images are burned too brightly in our memories for us to accept an imitation.
The name can’t be said of the powerful true story of Cinderella Man. James Walter Braddock reigned as heavyweight champion back in the 30s before colour picture was widely in use. What footage that exists of him is black and white and grainy.
Ron Howard’s powerful biopic brings his incredible story to the big screen superbly. Russell Crowe’s powerhouse star power and ability bring Braddock’s story to life in away the old clips of him just can’t. Russell’s fantastic performance drags you in and makes you really feel for his character and root for him in his struggle.
The only film that exists with fight scenes rivalling the Rocky series, Cinderella Man is a must see film for any true boxing fan.
No I didn’t forget Raging Bull. Poorly portrayed fight scenes and a depressing story focus do not make for a film I’d watch again. I am fully aware I am in the minority on this.