To celebrate the excellent, moving Creed II coming to the Box and On Demand, I pulled together a list of some of the best boxing movies. Do you know what they all have in common besides people punching each other for sport? Awards. They’re like awards magnets, I tell you.
Rocky – In this beloved 1976 rags-to-riches tale that earned 10 Oscar nominations, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), a small-time boxer from working-class Philly, unexpectedly gets a chance to fight the current world heavyweight champion, Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers). During his training, he starts a relationship with the shy Adrian (Talia Shire) of “Yo, Adrian!” fame. It’s one of the ultimate stories of an underdog triumphing, and went on to win Best Picture, Best Director and Best Film Editing. Plus, it gave us one of the most memorable and stirring film theme songs of all time, spawned 7 sequels, and has inspired countless people to run up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Rocky III – In my personal favorite Rocky film from 1982, Rocky is living the high life and getting a little too cocky after winning the heavyweight title. Then he suffers a terrible personal loss and loses his title to a new dude: Clubber Lang (Mr. T). He enlists his foe-turned-friend Apollo for help as he tries to get his boxing groove back. This is the movie that blessed us with Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger,” which earned a Best Original Song Oscar nomination and has been used to pump people up at the gym ever since.
Creed – Nearly a decade after the last film in the Rocky franchise came this 2015 reboot that shifts the focus to Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan), who is the son of a man he never knew … none other than Apollo Creed. But even without knowing his father’s history, Adonis is drawn to boxing, seeks out Rocky and asks him to be his trainer. Rocky begrudgingly agrees, even though he is dealing with some serious issues of his own. Stallone’s performance earned him a Best Supporting Actor nod!
The Fighter – This 2010 biopic about boxing half-brothers Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale) is based on a true story, and earned 7 Academy Award® nominations, including Best Picture. You might remember how Bale lost a scary amount of weight to play the strung-out Dicky, and his efforts nabbed him the Best Supporting Actor gold. Melissa Leo played the mother of the crazy brood, earning herself the Best Supporting Actress Oscar. (She was up against her co-star Amy Adams, who played Micky’s girlfriend and eventual wife).
Million Dollar Baby – This heartbreaking drama stars Clint Eastwood (who also directed) as Frankie Dunn, a respected boxing trainer with seemingly only one real friend: “Scrap Iron” Dupris (Morgan Freeman). When Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) seeks out Frankie’s expertise, he is reluctant to train her for a variety of reasons, but eventually gives in once he witnesses her dedication and determination. The film earned 7 Oscar nominations and won 4: Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Director and Best Supporting Actor. If you watch or re-watch it, have the tissues ready.
Cinderella Man – If you’re in the mood for an inspiring true story, watch Russell Crowe as James J. Braddock, an ex-boxer who is struggling to make ends meet during the Great Depression when his former manager Joe (Paul Giamatti) offers a potential way out: a one-time fight against an up-and-coming young boxer. Braddock decides to go for it, much to the dismay of his concerned wife Mae (Renée Zellweger). Giamatti ended up with a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his performance.
Raging Bull – Widely considered one of the best movies of all time, this Martin Scorsese film tells the true, incredible story of a middleweight boxer, Jake LaMotta (Robert De Niro) as he climbs through the ranks for a shot at the title with the help of his brother Joey (Joe Pesci). But Jake’s tumultuous personality and private life — including his complicated romance with a neighborhood girl Vickie (Cathy Moriarty) — begin affecting his career in a disastrous way. The film earned 8 Oscar nominations and wins for De Niro and Film Editing. See why the late great Roger Ebert called it an “instant classic.”
Ali – Will Smith stars as Muhammad Ali during the critical period between 1964 and 1974, when the champion boxer’s life was dramatically changing alongside the politics of the country and the world. Smith earned a Best Actor nomination, and Jon Voight — who played sportscaster Howard Cosell — earned a nod for Best Supporting Actor.
Girlfight – If you ever hear anyone use the phrase “you fight like a girl” in a condescending way, show them this movie. It’s the big-screen debut of Michelle Rodriguez, who earned raves for playing Diana Guzman, a troubled Brooklyn teen who channels her anger and frustration into training to become a boxer, unbeknownst to her dad. It’s a phenomenal indie full of amazing performances and earned two National Board of Review Awards, two Independent Spirit Award nominations, and two Gotham Awards.
What’s your all-time favorite boxing movie?