When you need the motivation to get off the couch and go kick some ass, nothing does the trick quite like a good boxing movie. People duking it out for a righteous cause always gets us thinking about what we can do with a little gumption. Even if you’re not training to be the next Mayweather (sorry, McGregor fans), nothing beats the kind of boost we get from boxing movies.
But there are a lot of them out there, and if they’re not done correctly, boxing films can quickly turn into melodramatic snooze fests. So which ones are the best? Well, we can’t say for sure, but here are our 9 favorite boxing movies. Knock yourselves out!
There are five films in the Rocky franchise, and while a couple of them are good (and a couple awful—Rocky V, for instance), none really quite eclipse the 1976 original. The best part about that is, at the time, Sylvester Stallone was a relatively unknown actor, had written the script himself, and filmed it in just 28 days on a budget of $1 million—and for greater authenticity, shot as much of the movie in Philadelphia as possible. It is universally regarded as the quintessential boxing film, and for good reason. Aside from its age-old heartwarming rags to riches story, it features some of the most realistic and grueling training and fight scenes ever filmed. If you’ve never seen the original Rocky, do yourself a favor and change that.
Opposite Rocky on this list is Creed, the most recent feature in the Rocky franchise. A lot of people discredit the newer Rocky films, but Creed has garnered praise from lifelong franchise fans and newcomers alike. Aside from featuring some actual bars, gyms, and other landmarks in and around Philadelphia, the film’s plot is rich and well fleshed out, and its fight and training sequences are as good as Rocky’s best. If the classics aren’t your thing, this is an excellent modern film for a modern audience. Amazon Prime | Hulu | Epix
This one is an absolute no-brainer. Raging Bull is consistently ranked one of Martin Scorsese’s best films and one of the best acting performances of all time by its star, Robert De Niro. The classic film tells the true story of Jake LaMotta, an Italian-American middleweight boxer whose mean, jealous, and self-destructive attitude destroys his career and relationships with the people who matter most to him. It’s not exactly a redemption film, but it does sort of finish on a high note.
We include it on our list because of how incredible De Niro’s performance is, and how beautifully filmed and entirely realistic the boxing is. A fun fact about the movie: De Niro actually fought in three real boxing matches to prepare for his role in the film, and LaMotta himself said he was good enough to be a professional boxer.
Fat City is one of those films that isn’t just a great boxing film, but a great film in general. We have no idea why it doesn’t get more attention than it does. Nevertheless, it makes our list because it truly is brilliant (And its 100% Rotten Tomatoes score seems to echo our sentiment).
We don’t necessarily love Fat City for its boxing. Don’t get us wrong; it’s authentic and looks about a real as a fight scene from a lower-budget ‘70s film could. But what we really love about this film is its grit and style. It’s not a beautiful rags to riches story where the underdog wins and becomes famous and lives happily ever after. It’s a story about two fighters—one an up-and-coming young buck, and one an older dog—and how they struggle to make a name for themselves in the amateur circuit. There’s no grand finale, no big purses, and no massive media hoopla… Just real life.
Boxing fans and historians praise this film for its accuracy, and that’s part of the reason why it makes our list. The Fighter stars Mark Wahlberg as real-life professional boxer Micky Ward, a tough kid born and raised in blue-collar Lowell, Massachusetts; along with Christian Bale as Dicky Eklund, Ward’s older (crack-addicted) step-brother and trainer; Melissa Leo as Alice Ward, Micky’s mother and greedy manager; and Amy Adams as Charlene, Micky’s supportive love interest. While the film is incredibly accurate and true to life, we really love it because of its brilliant screenplay, beautiful cinematography, and real-life grit. It was nominated for seven Academy Awards and won two for Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress. If you want to know more about one of boxing’s all-too-often-forgotten greats, this one is perfect.
Another Rotten Tomatoes 100-percenter film, Hard Time focuses more on the rough-and-tumble grit of amateur bare knuckle boxing; boxing’s less popular, but possibly safer, predecessor. This classic, originally released in 1975, stars Charles Bronson as Chaney, a drifter and laborer with a knack for brawling who decides to make a run at the allure and money in prize fighting. The storyline is pretty typical of a ‘70s fight flick, but we love the film’s dedication to good old-fashioned brawling and storytelling.
When We Were Kings
It was a toss up between When We Were Kings and Ali, but ultimately, we decided that this film was a more boxing-oriented film centered around the career of one of the sport’s greatest-ever stars: Muhammad Ali. Technically a documentary, When We Were Kings tells the complete story of the legendary fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman. Deemed “The Rumble in the Jungle,” the fight took place in 1974 in Zaire (The Democratic Republic of the Congo), and the film is so thorough and complete that it took 22 years to finance, edit, and finally release. Aside from the documentary’s beautiful telling of the buildup to the fight, it also covers the importance of holding the fight in Africa, Ali’s personal relationship with the people there, the Black Power Movement, and the larger cultural context of the time. If you’re a history nerd who also happens to love boxing, this is a must-watch.
Picking a favorite boxing movie is difficult, but if we had to, Cinderella Man might be our absolute favorite, and the fact that it’s based on a true story makes it even better. Russell Crowe plays James J. Braddock, a light heavyweight contender forced to retire when he breaks his hand during a bout. At the behest of his wife, Braddock gives up boxing to live the straight life as a longshoreman, but is hindered by a little thing called The Great Depression. His old promoter reaches out to him for a chance to make some quick cash fighting the number two contender in the world, Corn Griffin. After Braddock stuns the boxing world with an upset victory, he’s coaxed back into the world and is eventually offered a shot at the heavyweight title against Max Baer, one of the deadliest fighters in boxing history. Does Braddock come out on top, or leave the ring in a fresh pine box? Showtime
This 1949 film makes our list because it predates every other title included. The film’s plot is solid, even for a bloated 50’s noir film, and follows the story of “Midge” Kelly, a nefarious drifter and talented fighter who has zero qualms about double-crossing the people who trust him. It involves romance, violence, organized crime, and all the sketchy behavior you’d expect from an amateur boxing circuit in the 1950s. Kelly, played by Kirk Douglas, is an altogether unlikeable character, but the film tells an excellent story and features some great, old school boxing during one of the sport’s most blood-thirsty eras. It can be dramatic and even predictable at times, but all in all, it’s worth a watch for any boxing fan.