My Top Ten Fight Films
26.08.05 - By Craig Parrish: With the recent success of “Million Dollar Baby”, I started thinking about all of the great boxing films that have been made over the years, and the ones that have had the greatest effect on me. Many of the films had boxing as the central themes, where some great films had boxers as central characters in other situations like “On the Waterfront”.
Article posted on 26.08.2005
To narrow the list, I decided to just stick with films that basically captured the Boxer’s journey through his chosen profession, whether it be one fight or an entire biography. I did not include documentaries.
I am sure there are some great ones out there that I’ve forgotten or never seen, but here’s my top ten with an honorable mentions list following: NOTE: I have not seen “Cinderella Man” as of this writing.
1) Raging Bull (1980) – The fight choreography in this movie is simply unbelievable, with an Oscar winning performance by Robert DeNiro as Middleweight Champ Jake LaMotta. The real LaMotta was a technical adviser on the film and thought that DeNiro had the stuff to try to make it as a real life fighter if he wanted to try. Fortunately for us, Big Bob stick with the acting gig and went onto make “Goodfellas”, “Cape Fear”, and many other classics. Great supporting work by Joe Pesci and Cathy Moriarty as LaMotta’s put upon Brother and Wife. Thrilling, funny, touching, and tragic.
2) Rocky (1976) – Okay, so Stallone went on to make “Stop or my Mom will Shoot” and “Rhinestone” to name a few of his bombs, but he did write and star in “Rocky”. This is the classic underdog tale that audiences love, with great characters and outstanding supporting work by Burgess Meredith, Talia Shire, Burt Young, and Carl Weathers. The series eventually turned into basically a cartoon, but this first movie is a classic in the “Old School” Hollywood fashion.
3) Body and Soul (1947) – A classic film noir tale of a fighter who gets involved with a corrupt promoter, it features an academy award nominated performance by John Garfield. The movie was re-made in the 1990’s and starred former Champ Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini.
4) The Great White Hope (1970) – James Earl Jones stars as “Jack Jefferson”, a thinly veiled version of the great Heavyweight Champ of the early 20th century, Jack Johnson. This movie is a searing look at race relations in America and the story of a Champion who was railroaded by a hostile government.
5) Requiem For A Heavyweight (1956 Playhouse 90 version) – Although Rod Serling’s teleplay was later turned into a feature film starring Anthony Quinn and Jackie Gleason, I prefer the original television version starring Jack Palance. It is by far the best performance of his career and the grainy black and white photography adds grit to the overall feel of the story. Great performances across the boards from Keenan and Ed Wynn as well as Kim Hunter, who had starred with Brando in “A Streetcar NamedDesire”.
6) Million Dollar Baby (2004) – Unbelievable powerful, watching this movie puts you on an emotional rollercoaster from the highest of the highs to the lowest of the lows. It is a brilliant film, again in the “Classic Hollywood” style. Winner of 4 Academy Awards including best picture, a film about women in boxing that followed the earlier “Girlfight”. Perhaps Clint Eastwood’s best performance of his career.
7) Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956) – Paul Newman plays Rocky Graziano in a film based on the fighter’s autobiography. It follows Graziano’s career up until winning the title from Tony Zale. It is funny and tough as it traces Rocky’s upbringing as a juvenile delinquent under the care of his alcoholic Father, a former fighter, to his days in reform school and through the army, where he found boxing. Paul Newman is terrific and if you watch closely, you will see the first screen appearance of a young Steve McQueen.
8) The Champ (1931) – Okay, okay, it’s pretty cheesy but it’s exactly the shot in the arm the country needed in depression stricken 1931. Wally Beery won the Academy Award for his performance and the film features a fresh from “Little Rascals” Jacky Cooper. And no matter how cheesy it gets, it doesn’t come close to the cheese of the 1979 Jon Voight/Ricky Schroeder version.
9) Champion (1946) – Kirk Douglas stars and unscrupulous boxer who makes it to the top but loses everything else along the way. A great morality tale that poses the question “what are you willing to do to make it? What will you sacrifice on the way to the top?” Douglas is terrific and despicable by the end.
10) Diggstown (1992) – Yes, it’s silly. Yes, it’s unbelievable. But as I looked at this list I thought I better get at least one comedy on here, and it was between this and “The Great White Hype”. I thought “Diggstown” was a funnier movie and with Bruce Dern as the villain, how can you go wrong?
When We Were Kings (documentary)
Rocky III (Barely)
Rocky Marciano (Made for Cable)
Price of Glory
Worst boxing film ever:
Play It To The Bone
Well, that’s the list. As I said, I’m sure there were some great ones that I missed so feel free to educate me with some posts. Always looking for another great fight film!
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