You say you liked Rocky?
You say you liked Raging Bull?
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 fans’ lists. But here are some other boxing films that score on points:
Body 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.
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.
The 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.
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.
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.
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 courtesy of debuting director Karyn Kusama help this overcome the typical sports clichés.
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.
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.
And, last but not least:
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.