With Creed III hitting theaters and having already completed our ranking of the Rocky franchise, I thought it’d be fun to present a list of boxing movies that don’t feature the Italian Stallion but are just as great. Without further ado, here are the 10 best boxing movies that aren’t from the Rocky and Creed franchise.
Jake Gyllenhaal got jacked for this underappreciated boxing gem from director Antoine Fuqua about a man who loses everything but gets one final shot at fame and glory. Production values are solid all around, and the boxing matches are impressive, but this is mainly Jake’s show, and the actor delivers an emotional performance as a man trying his best not to slide into the abyss of despair. It’s understandable. He was married to Rachel McAdams and living the majestic life of an up-and-coming boxer. I’d freak out, too, if McAdams was taken from me. At any rate, while not exactly Rocky levels of inspiration, Southpaw delivers the goods, even if you have to suffer quite a bit to get to the high points.
The Fighter (2010)
One of my all-time favorite flicks, David O. Russell’s The Fighter tells the true-life tale of Micky Ward and his relationship with his problematic brother Dicky. Boxing serves as the element that brings the Ward boys (and their eccentric family) together. Still, really this 2010 drama is about people fighting to break free from the shackles of life. Micky yearns for greatness but must constantly contend with his mother and brother, Dicky battles heroin addiction. At the same time, Micky’s love interest Charlene has to battle practically everyone to keep her man on the right path. Russell’s cinematic flourishes are abundant, but the performances from the impressive cast — notably Christian Bale, who won an Oscar for his efforts — really shine. The Fighter is one of the best films of the modern age.
Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Million Dollar Baby isn’t for the faint of heart. Directed with a heavy hand by Clint Eastwood (who won an Oscar for his efforts), this heartbreaking melodrama knocks you out with a trio of incredible performances — Eastwood, Hilary Swank, and Morgan Freeman — and its powerful story about a trailer trash gal who convinces a grizzled old trainer to give her a shot at the big time. Million Dollar Baby traverses some unique territory and conjures up a stunning and shocking third act that’ll leave you speechless.
Cinderella Man (2005)
Ron Howard’s Cinderella Man is nowhere as good as it thinks it is but still gets by on pure charm and Russell Crowe’s magnetic performance. Earnest to a fault, this period epic tells the tale of James J. Braddock, an Irish-American boxer who breaks his hand, falls into poverty but gets another shot at the title thanks in no small part to his manager Joe Gould (scene stealer Paul Giamatti). Co-starring Renée Zellweger, Cinderella Man has its moments and indeed ends on a moment of inspiration. However, it can feel too much like Oscar fodder rather than a proper examination of its subject. Still well worth a watch, though.
I love Ali. Most biographical epics bite off more than they can chew, resulting in a sprawling, albeit bite-sized, view of their heroes. With Ali, director Michael Mann wisely frames his story during a pivotal stretch in the boxing icon’s life from 1964-74. The film explores Muhammad Ali’s stance against the Vietnam War, his exile from boxing, and his eventual comeback, and paints him as a flawed individual struggling to survive in a complex world. Will Smith is magnificent in the title role, while Jamie Foxx and Jon Voight deliver solid supporting turns. Here is a true story done right.
Boxing is only a tiny part of Snatch, but that doesn’t prevent director Guy Ritchie from producing rough and gritty fight scenes as funny as they are grimy. Each instance features Brad Pitt’s grungy fighter Mickey O’Neil who possesses a unique ability to knock his opponents out with a single blow — he’s also indecipherable, thanks to a thick Irish accent. Again, this plot is only part of a larger story involving a stolen diamond, a squeaky dog, and a sprawling cast that includes Jason Stratham, Stephen Graham, Dennis Farina, and plenty more. So basically, if you like Guy Ritchie, you’ll love Snatch.
The Hurricane (1999)
I was really excited for The Hurricane ahead of its release back in the late 90s. The Norman Jewison pic, based on the true life story of Rubin “The Hurricane” Carter, who was wrongly incarcerated for a crime he didn’t commit, arrived as an Oscar heavy hitter, boasted a terrific cast, and had all the makings of a classic. While Denzel Washington is fantastic as Carter, the film around him is merely okayish, a predictable, even treacle, sports drama. All these years later, my thoughts haven’t changed. See the pic for Washington, then read the true-life tale of The Hurricane, which is far more gripping.
Before she was stuck in the endless cycle of Fast and Furious films, Michelle Rodriguez displayed her acting chops in this gritty, low-budget drama about a young woman who channels her rage to become a kick-ass boxer. Sure, it’s all predictable, and there isn’t a beat here you haven’t seen in other films of this nature. Still, the journey is worth it thanks to Rodriguez’s commanding performance, a handful of well-executed boxing matches, and exploring deeper themes about life, love, and endurance.
Raging Bull (1980)
Often considered one of the greatest films of all time, Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull chronicles the rise and fall of boxer Jake LaMotta (Robert DeNiro). Full disclosure: this is a brutal movie — a classic through and through, but don’t expect a feel-good story in the vein of Rocky. Instead, learn how a famed fighter spiraled out of control and eventually lost everything. It’s the classic rag-to-riches-to-rags story, directed by Scorsese and starring Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci, and Cathy Moriarty. What’s not to love?
Play it to the Bone (1999)
Look, Play it to the Bone is lesser Ron Shelton, but it’s still Ron Shelton. Suppose you loved White Man Can’t Jump or Tin Cup. In that case, I urge you to check out this amusing, sometimes hilarious dramedy about two lifelong pals who get a chance to fight — each other. The winner gets a shot at the heavyweight title. So the pair head off to Las Vegas with their girl Grace (Lolita Davidovich) to achieve fame and fortune. Starring Woody Harrelson and Antonio Banderas, Play it to the Bone is crude, sometimes dumb, but always entertaining. Of course, Shelton doesn’t craft anything more than a guilty pleasure. Still, fans of the writer/director’s work will appreciate the valiant attempt.
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