With the recent release of director Antoine Fuqua’s boxing film Southpaw, I decided to take a quick look at the highs and lows of Hollywood’s many boxing films. This is by no means a complete list of all the boxing films ever produced, but rather some of my favorites and not-so-favorites. Girl Fight and Undisputed fans, don’t get your hopes up — they didn’t make the weight cut.
High: Rocky, 1976
Starring my dude Sylvester Stallone, Carl Weathers, the Penguin, and Talia Shire, it’s the one that started it all. Everybody loves a good underdog story, and Sly knew this when he wrote what would become Rocky after watching Chuck Wepner fight Muhammad Ali. This film, unlike the later entries in the franchise, was about going the distance: it didn’t matter if you won or lost, as long as you went. It also introduced America to eating raw eggs, punching meat, and running up a large amount of steps while wearing Converse and grey sweats.
Low: Gladiator, 1992
Not the legit, career-defining Russell Crowe Roman epic — I’m talking about the pre-Jerry Maguire Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Brian Dennehy boxing film from the early 90s that I am sure you’ve seen at least once while flipping through late night cable channels. The film is basically a retelling of the Karate Kid, but with more flat tops then a Guile cosplay convention. You know a film is bad when even Robert Loggia can’t save it.
Low: The Great White Hype, 1996
Until recently, I had no idea that the film’s title was a play on words of a much older film starring Darth Vader, called The Great White Hope. Knowing this, the movie makes a little more sense, but is still a black eye on the timeline of boxing films. The film stars Samuel muthafu$&@ing Jackson, transgender hater Peter Berg, and pre-Ray Jamie Foxx. The cast is legit, but ultimately the film’s jokes fall flatter than Ivan Drago from a Balboa body shot.
High: The Boxer, 1997
If you haven’t seen this Daniel Day Lewis masterpiece, please finish my article (wink) and go seek it out. It’s a love story set against the backdrop of the IRA conflicts in Ireland. I saw this film at my local Suncoast, and being a fan of Last of the Mohicans, I paid the $29.95 for the VHS — which was actually a bargain in that store! Daniel Day Lewis actually trained like a real boxer for three years to get prepared for this role, and it shows during the boxing scenes. Plus, it has William Stryker at his best. Has Brian Cox ever had a bad role?
Low: Play It to the Bone, 1999
While working at my local Hollywood Video, I immediately checked out this film due to its high caliber cast. I love Woody Harrelson, and I love Antonio Banderas even more, but a turd is a turd no matter how many times you shine it. I know my hate for this film is coming on strong, but it’s from the director of White Men Can’t Jump, so it was supposed to be a surefire hit. Instead it’s like an after-the-bell kidney punch from Buster Douglas. Pay attention to Tom Sizemore’s scenes and see if you can tell when he is high on coke. Trick question — it’s all the time!
High: Cinderella Man, 2005
I love me some Ron Howard films, and this is easily one of his best. Sly, please forgive me for I know not what I do, but this is my favorite boxing film of all time. Russell Crowe and Paul Giamatti put it down in this biopic of real-life Depression-era boxer James Braddock. What made me fall in love with it is the scene where Crowe takes a big right, loses his mouthpiece, and appears to be knocked out. He pictures what would happen to his family if he were to lose the fight, and the imagery and score brought me to tears during my first viewing. Even Bridget Jones brought her A-game and is actually good as Braddock’s wife, minus a sometimes thick accent.
High: The Fighter, 2010
Starring Melissa Leo, Batman, Mark Wahlberg, and Lois Lane (sorry, Superman, please don’t break my neck), this film is a little overrated. What is not overrated is Christian Bale’s transformation into real-life boxer Dicky Eklund — Google the real Dicky to see how accurate Christian Bale was. Love ya, Marky Mark, but Bale stole the show and is the reason why this film is on the list.
Like I said at the start, this isn’t a complete list, but more of a CliffsNotes version. Did I perform a perfect Fight Night quarter-turn haymaker, or did I totally miss King Hippo’s bandaged belly button? Let me know in the comments below!