Boxing has perhaps inspired more excellent movies than any other sport.
In fact, if you combined every movie from every other sport, I doubt one of them could crack this list (with the exception of, perhaps, Slap Shot or Hoosiers).
I can't even name a decent baseball, soccer, or football movie (sorry, Remember the Titans doesn't make the cut).
Sure, you've got Caddyshack and Happy Gilmore for golf, but those were making fun of golf, not exactly golf movies.
Yes, there have been plenty of mediocre movies about boxing. Fat City, Requiem of a Heavyweight, The Boxer, and Cinderella Man to name a few.
But let's face it, boxing is fodder for great cinema.
It provides a glimpse into the proverbial under-belly of the human existence and almost always features a protagonist trying to rise up from the depths of poverty to create a better life for himself.
Mark Wahlberg is currently making a movie based upon the like "Irish" Mickey Ward. The early word is that it's going to be exceptional.
In anticipation, I thought I would provide a list of, in my humble opinion, the five best boxing movies ever made:
5). Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956)
A semi-autobiographical movie based upon Rocky Graziano. It's lightweight fare, and a "feel-good" movie. Don't hold that against it. This was the movie that brought a young Paul Newman to the public's eye. He does an outstanding job as Graziano, developing the mannerisms of a boxer from the wrong side of the tracks. It even features a young Steve McQueen.
4). Raging Bull (1980)
Martin Scorsese's tour-de-force on the life of Jake LaMotta. It is arguably Robert DeNiro's finest performance and many critics named it as the best movie of the 1980's. Joe Pesci gives an incredible performance as LaMotta's younger brother. That said, it is a dark, dark movie and, quite honestly, depressing as hell. It also features perhaps the most realistic fight scenes ever filmed.
3). Rocky (1976)
This is on most people's list as the greatest boxing movie of all-time. It's third on my list for a couple of reasons. For one, Stallone went on to tarnish the film by making five, yes five, sequels (most of them pretty bad). Second, he essentially stole the entire story line from the real life "Rocky"—Chuck Wepner, and, refused to credit Wepner at all for inspiration.
From a technical standpoint, I always had a problem with The Rock holding both fists below his knees and getting whacked in the face hundreds of times. Didn't Mickey ever show him any defense?
That said, Rocky is a great movie and a timeless classic.
2). On The Waterfront (1953)
Technically, this isn't a boxing movie. But the central character is Terry Malone (played magnificently by Marlon Brando)—a washed up fighter who is now a low level mobster and longshoreman. The movie cuts to the core of corruption and the ethical choices that Malloy must choose between his allegiance to the mob and the pain of doing the obviously honorable thing.
It's on just about everyone's top 10 list of greatest all-time movies. It contains one of the most memorable lines in movie history, "I coulda been a contender," when Malloy challenges his older brother for not protecting him from the mob's corruption.
1). Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Clint Eastwood's opus about Maggie Fitzgerald, an unknown female fighter who rises through the ranks and becomes a world champion. It is heart-warming, bittersweet, and as poignant as a movie can get. Eastwood and Morgan Freeman are outstanding as a pair of washed up fighters. Hillary Swank was amazing in the role of Maggie. The script was based upon a great short story by famed boxing writer F.X Toole.
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