With the release of the latest offering in the Rocky franchise, Creed, nearly upon us I thought I’d do a rundown of some of the best boxing movies of all time, or at least my favourites.
Sports flicks are generally a mixed bag but even a bad boxing feature can be watchable, unlike football for example, which doesn’t seem to translate so well to the silver screen. Creed is of course fictional but I’ve decided to stick to either documentaries or biographical films.
Anyway here goes, in no particular order;
The Fighter (2010)
I won’t wax on about The Fighter too much as chances are you’ve probably already seen it, but it’s so good it cannot be ignored.
David O. Russell’s masterpiece tells the incredible story of ‘Irish’ Mickey Ward, with Mark Wahlberg in the title role ably supported by Amy Adams, Christian Bale and Melissa Leo. Even someone with no interest in the sweet science whatsoever would enjoy this epic effort – but for boxing fans it has all the right ingredients; personal struggles, a good back story and, most importantly, truly epic fight scenes.
Bale and Leo won Oscars for their portrayals of the protagonist’s half-brother Dicky Eklund and mother Alice Ward but this is also Wahlberg’s defining performance as far as I’m concerned, although Bale does steal the show.
Maravilla is a documentary charting Sergio Martinez’s rise to world champion, then the injustice of having his title cruelly snatched away by politics. The Argentine sensation probably doesn’t need a fictional film made about him, some of the footage of him in action in this is infinitely better than any choreographed, expertly shot, thousand takes effort could even attempt to recreate, but I’d still watch a dramatised version if anyone ever decides to make one.
And that’s because Martinez is a special character, he struggled simply to even have a career for years before bursting onto the scene at an age when most pugilists are starting the decline, his star was always going to be fleeting (now 40, as far as I’m aware he hasn’t officially retired but hasn’t fought for around a year and a half). However, he was also one of the greatest movers in the ring I’ve ever seen, certainly at middleweight level, and he combined that with precision punching – a crowd-pleaser of the highest order.
Add that to the Kafkaesque bureaucracy he came up against when he reached the top this truly is a great and perhaps unique narrative, despite the fact there have been far too many fighters over the years that have seen their careers hampered by goings on well away from the ring.
Raging Bull (1980)
Raging Bull is over 30 years old now and is starting to move away from one of those films everyone’s seen to one of those that everyone wants to see but has never got round to watching. This is a massive shame as it’s probably the best linkup between Martin Scorsese, arguably the greatest director of all time, and Robert De Niro, who scooped the Best Actor Academy Award for his portrayal of Jake LaMotta. De Niro is focking around with Ben Stiller these days, but Raging Bull will make you forget all about that.
Without Raging Bull there probably wouldn’t have been The Fighter and countless others over the years, aside from that Lamotta’s is a fascinating story. A man with an inhuman ability to take punches, the like of which we won’t see again. Indeed we won’t be allowed to see it again; rule changes and the end of 16 round fights dictate that. And like Ward and Martinez, LaMotta had a struggle away from the boxing arena and again, all the elements combine to form an all time classic.
I’ll quit at three, Maravilla and The Fighter are on Netflix if you’ve not seen them, Raging Bull isn’t.
Creed is released on January 15 in the UK.