The lords of the ring: A tribute to boxing in cinema

Boxer and death row inmate Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter, immortalized by Bob Dylan and in the excellent film Hurricane, died last week. We take a look at the best boxing films ever to grace the screen.

Raging Bull

This is arguably Martin Scorsese’s finest film. Robert De Niro packed on the pounds to play real-life boxer Jake La Motta in this brutal portrayal of a talented boxer hitting the skids. The black and white treatment served only to heighten the grim reality of life once the glamour has faded. Let’s also give a special shout out to DoP Michael Chapman for some awe-inspiring fight scenes. Blood splatter in black and white is chilling indeed.

Rocky

Piers Morgan may have recently tweeted how he can’t get enough of Rocky III, but it was the first installment in the franchise that really brought boxing, and Stallone into the limelight.

Written by and starring Sly, and directed by John G Avildsen, Rocky is a tale of courage par excellence. As we follow Rocky Balboa’s journey from the tenements of Chicago to the boxing pinnacle, we share in his trials and tribulations; feel every uppercut; and cheer him on to the bittersweet end. Simply outstanding.

Million Dollar Baby

In his dotage, Clint Eastwood has made some truly superb films (Mystic River is one of the best ever). His decades of experience has instilled in him the innate ability to see a silver lining through the darkest cloud banks, and then understand that ever lining is momentary. In Million Dollar Baby, starring Eastwood, Hilary Swank and Morgan Freeman, he charts the life of Maggie Fitzgerald (Swank) as she defends her dream of becoming a boxer. Filled with uplifting moments and those that will send you crashing to earth, and a cast who set the bar higher than one could imagine, this is a film that you must see. But it’s not for the faint-hearted. This is life, so be prepared.

The Champ

Widely regarded as the one film fathers of young sons should never see, The Champ, was never a critically-acclaimed film, but it did melt even the stoniest of hearts. Jon Voight plays Billy Flynn an ex-boxer seeking to make a comeback so he can provide for his young son (played by Ricky Schroder).

Directed by Franco Zeffirelli The Champ is more than just a boxing film, it’s also about a father’s love for his son and the extent people will go to, to provide for the people they love. This is also a tear-jerker, so bring along the tissues.

Ali

A number of films have been made on the world’s most recognisable boxer, but Michael Mann’s 2001 take on the Rumble in the Jungle is epic.

Focusing on the lead up to the title fight between Mohammed Ali (Will Smith) and George Foreman in the jungles of erstwhile Zaire, Mann’s black and white tribute to one of the most famous bouts in history is scintillating as it is moving.

Ali’s legendary rope-a-dope technique plays out against a backdrop of flashbulbs and humid jungle heat, as Foreman’s phenomenal power pounds him into submission, or so it would seem. This is a must for all boxing and film fans.

Somebody Up There Likes Me

Robert Wise’s seminal 1956 film saw Paul Newman play hell-raiser Rocky Graziano (on whose real life the film was based), as a hell-raiser who finds an out through boxing. Although not one of Newman’s best, sublimely paced and with teeth-chattering fight scenes far before its time, Somebody Up There Likes Me belongs in the video collection of all boxing fans.

The Fighter

David O Russell’s dark and dismal The Fighter is based on a true story, one so grim that many viewers will find themselves shifting nervously in their seats. The pivot of the film is Christian Bale’s tour de force as the heroin-addled Dicky Eklund, and the bizarre relationship he shares with his brother, the boxer, Mickey Ward (Mark Wahlberg).

This is a gritty film that revels in spending long periods in the sewer of humanity and the viewer is better off for it.

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