Everyone loves a true underdog story, a modern day tale that often features prominently in the sport of boxing. Put together a few punches and a competitor at rock bottom, looking for a way up, and you have a classic boxing film on your hands! With so many of these films playing on our human nature to empathise with the underdog, it’s no wonder that boxing films like Raging Bull and Rocky have gone on to become classics in the history of cinema. With their ability to make an impact on audiences in any social climate and stand the test of time, the boxing world continues to fascinate audiences in modern cinema, with films like Southpaw and more recently Bleed For This packing a real punch. In honour of the DVD, Blu-Ray and Digital release of Bleed for This on March 27th, we take a look at some of the past knockouts of the genre, as we countdown the greatest ever boxing movies to hit the big screen.
A film that would skyrocket Sylvester Stalone’s career and launch a global franchise, Rocky is the epitome of a great sports film. Rocky Balboa (Stalone) is a struggling boxer from Philadelphia who works as a debt collector for a loan shark. Spending occasional time in the ring, Rocky is a small-time fighter looking for an in. His chance comes when a champion boxer, Apollo Creed, comes to Philly with the aim of fighting a local boxer. At the same time, Rocky comes across a shy woman, Adrian (Talia Shire), who happens to be the sister of his best friend Paulie. While Rocky and Adrian’s romance heats up, Creed sets his sights on Rocky being the man he fights. After months of training, the intense fight takes place, setting the stage for what would be one of the greatest upsets in boxing.
It’s a film like this that makes you remember how good Robert De Niro is. This riveting film follows Jake La Motta (De Niro), a middleweight boxing champion who has a tendency to bring his boxing aggression home with him. Plagued by anger and jealousy, we bear witness to a torn family going through some of the hardest challenges in life, while Jake remains desperate to stay in the game. De Niro’s powerful portrayal earned him an Academy Award and made director Martin Scorsese a household name, cementing their partnership as one of the greatest of all time. This film really was one of the first to truly shed light on the harsh realities that boxers go through and how the glory begins to fade after a win.
Million Dollar Baby
One of many great films in the back-catalogue of director Clint Eastwood, this boxing movie takes the genre in a new direction. In a world filled with male led sports films, Million Dollar Baby helps show that women can pack a punch when needed to as well! Frankie Dunn (Eastwood) is a boxing trainer who has lost almost every opportunity he had to rise up. Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) is an amateur boxer who seeks help from the veteran turned trainer, who form a special bond on their way glory. Filled with drama and intense bouts, the most gut-punching part of the film comes at the end with a famous twist no one saw coming.
“I have to believe that when things are bad, I can change them” – and that he did. A stellar cast including Russell Crowe, Paul Giamatti, and Renee Zellweger made this film into a hit and earned three Academy Award nominations. Throughout the duration of the film, we fall in love with the Braddock family as they fight to make it through the Great Depression. With his family in mind, Jim Braddock (Crowe) re-enters the ring with the hope of securing his families’ future. After winning fight after fight, Braddock becomes the hero for the little guy and soon rises to the top. With only one man to beat, it becomes his most important fight as his opponent is not only a heavyweight champion, but has already killed two people in the ring. As well as highlighting the clear lack of health & safety in the sport during the 1920’s, the film manages to keep you gripped both in and outside of the ring.
An indie favourite in the world of boxing films, Southpaw is an inspiring piece on how you can rise up despite loss and grief. Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal) is living the best kind of life. He’s a successful boxer, has a loving wife (played by the wonderful Rachel McAdams), and a beautiful daughter. His world comes crashing down after an altercation with a rival turns violent, leaving his wife bleeding out in his arms. Crippled by grief, he turns to bad behaviour and ends up losing his daughter to child protective services. With the aim of getting his life and daughter back, he decides to un-hang his gloves and step back into the ring, which builds to a climactic fight against his former rival in an effort to win his title back. Although Jake’s shredded bod gained a lot of attention, this is boxing movie knows what its audience wants and provides it with an almighty right hook!
Bleed For This
Comeback stories don’t come much bigger than that of Vinny Pazienza. A world champion title holder, Vinny was one of the greatest boxers in the boxing world. All of which was placed in jeopardy after a serious car accident left his neck broken and with an ominous future. Bleed For This follows his incredible recovery, starring Miles Teller as the defiant warrior as he attempts to prove the haters wrong, and get one more chance to step toe-to-toe in the ring again. Against all odds and, more fundamentally, against doctor’s orders, renowned trainer Kevin Rooney (Aaron Eckhart) helps Vinny return to the ring just 12 short months after the accident to compete in what could be the last fight of his life. Miles Teller cements his position as one of Hollywood’s most talented young actors in an unflinching and hugely entertaining boxing drama, delivering a performance that will knock audiences off their feet. In a good way.