A Long Count of Our Favorite Boxing Flicks

Best Boxing MoviesYou like Raging Bull?

You like Rocky?

So, what’s not to like about Grudge Match, in which the former film’s Jake LaMotta—in the guise of Robert De Niro—battles the latter’s Rocky Balboa, played by Sylvester Stallone.

Sparks fly in and out of the ring in terms of action and laughs as two long-in-the-tooth jabbers knock each other silly and jaw it out, too.

The film did so-so at the box-office and the reviews were not a knockout, but it works as an enjoyable one-way ticket to Palookaville—and to an entertaining evening at the movies.

 It also got us thinking about other classic boxing films. “The Sweet Science” may not be as popular as it once was these days, but it has withstood the test of time on-screen, where it is likely the most oft-filmed sport subject in history.

Of course, Raging Bull and Rocky will likely be on most movie fan’s lists. But here are some other boxing films that score on points:

Favorite Boxing MoviesBody And Soul (1947): John Garfield soars as the puncher who rises from poverty to become a heavyweight winner, but then succumbs to booze, broads and alliances with mobsters. Directed by Robert Rossen and scripted by Abraham Polonsky (both of whom, like Garfield, were later blacklisted).

The Set-Up (1949): Talk about intense! This fight thriller from Robert Wise plays in real time and tells of a pugilist (Robert Ryan) stepping back in the ring, much to dismay of his wife. Little does Ryan know that his manager has made a deal with a gambler that requires him to take a dive. If it all smacks of the Bruce Willis portion of Pulp Fiction, you’re right!

Champion (1949): This magnificent ring drama stars Kirk Douglas as a heralded fighter who disregards friends and family on his rise to the top of the turnbuckles. Kirk clobbers all in sight in this brawny boxing yarn, ably supported by Ruth Roman, Arthur Kennedy, Paul Stewart, and Marilyn Maxwell.

Fat City (1972): The lives of small-time losers who look to the ring for some sort of redemption is the theme of John Huston’s compelling drama, with Stacy Keach as the booze-soaked ring veteran, Jeff Bridges as the upstart with potential, and Susan Tyrrell and Candy Clark as the women in their lives.

The Harder They Fall (1956): Primo Carnera’s boxing career served as the basis for this crackerjack study of corruption in the big ring. Humphrey Bogart is a newspaperman who throws away his morals when he goes to work for promoter Rod Steiger, who fixes fights for an Argentine boxer. Featuring real-life fighters Max Baer and Jersey Joe Walcott, the film was directed by Mark Robson.

Top 10 Boxing MoviesThe Great White Hope (1970): In this thinly disguised story of Jack Johnson, James Earl Jones is the world’s first black heavyweight champion who brings controversy and, eventually imprisonment for having a white girlfriend (Jane Alexander). Martin Ritt directs this superb drama.

Punch Drunks (1934): This Three Stooges short could be the funniest fight film of them all, as the boys discover Curly is a boxing machine whenever he hears Pop Goes the Weasel played by Larry on the violin. This is also the short that offered the Stooges’  cure for a tapeworm: “Four pieces of burnt toast and a rotten egg.” Available on the Three Stooges: The Ultimate Collection.

Hard Times (1975): During the Depression, drifter Charles Bronson lands in New Orleans and, with help from shifty promoter James Coburn, becomes a bare knuckle boxing master, clobbering opponents in the streets for cash. Walter Hill’s first directing effort is a mucho macho movie filled with color, action, expertly crafted crunch scenes, and Bronson’s quiet but menacing presence.

The Milky Way (1936): In what could be Harold Lloyd’s finest sound film, the bespectacled comic actor plays a milquetoast milkman who accidentally punches out a boxing champ, then finds himself primed for the boxing game. Luckily, he can duck pretty well. Adolphe Menjou, Lionel Stander, and Helen Mack also star under the direction of Leo McCarey.

Girlfight (2000): A gritty independent production starring Michelle Rodriguez as a put-upon teen in New York City who immerses herself in the boxing game in hopes of springing from her impoverished existence. Some surprising plot turns, Rodriguez’s gutsy performance and in-your-face action from debuting director Karyn Kusama help this overcome the typical sports cliches.

 Million Dollar Baby (2004): A multiple Oscar winner for director (and star) Clint Eastwood is this impassioned saga of a woman boxer Hilary Swank, who , under the tutelage of veteran coach Eastwood and former fighter Morgan Freeman, rises in the gritty world of boxing  until tragedy befalls her. 

  • Jim V

    First off, “The Set Up” is not only one of my favorite boxing movies but one of my all-time favorites. Robert Ryan was never better! And, Audrey Totter remains an actress who never got the credit she deserved. Secondly, you missed out by not mentioning “Cinderella Man,” my all-time favorite boxing film.

  • Gord Jackson

    If I had to choose one it would be SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME with Paul Newman as Rocky Graziano. That said, the subject matter rarely interests me.

    • Bruce Reber

      I never heard of a “dopster” – I think you mean “dopester”, or drug addict.

      • Gord Jackson

        Right on. A typo of course.

  • Frenchy

    What ! No ‘Requiem for a Heavyweight’ ? C’mon !

  • Bruce Reber

    “Golden Boy” (1939 w/William Holden) , “Somebody Up There Likes Me” (1956 w/Paul Newman) , “Rocky” (1976 w/Sylvester Stallone) and “Raging Bull” (1980 w/Robert DeNiro). Why weren’t these on the list?

    • Bruce Reber

      Also, “The Kid From Brooklyn” (1946 w/Danny Kaye), “Kid Galahad” (1937 w/Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson and Bette Davis), “City For Conquest” (1940 w/James Cagney and Ann Sheridan) and “Killer McCoy” (1947 w/Mickey Rooney and Ann Blyth).

  • FalmouthBill

    Requiem for a Heavyweight ! This great film can’t be overlooked.

  • jbourne5181

    How? How? How could you possibly leave out “Somebody Up There Likes Me? Anyway, The Harder They Fall was a terrific look at the sleazy underside of the sport and Eastwoods film and Bronsons take on the bare-knuckle fights that took place underground were very realistic too

  • Bill Proctor

    Cinderella Man tops my list.

  • Richy

    Here’s a weird one: The Main Event from 1979. Got awful reviews and has Barbra Streisand (not one of my favorites), but Ryan O’Neal is a cinematic boxer like no other. Moves like a real fighter, rather than the stiff-legged, wild-swinging actors so typical of this type of role

  • awaywrdsn

    I like all mentioned but I also liked Toughman with Dennis Quaid as a guy wanting to be a country singer but gets in winner take all boxing match fun to watch.

  • Bert Warner

    Can anyone remember “Leather Gloves” with Camaron Mitchell, not the best, but very good and all made on a very small budget by Allied Artist . It also had in the cast Sam Levine, Virginia Grey and future directer Blake Edwards. Well acted and the fights appeared authentic.

  • Antone

    For laughs and a brilliant display of athleticism and agility, I pick Buster Keaton’s 1926 silent film Battling Butler.