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Best Boxing In Film


Adam Thorn runs through his top boxing films.

In lieu of an editor’s letter this week, I’ve written a top boxing film list.

As someone who can and has sat watching boxing for hours on end without moving (it being part of the job and all), and also a bit of a film geek, I thought it would be fun to do a list of my favourite boxing films. This is very much open to debate, we’d love to hear your thoughts, though these are my top combative cinema choices.

Perhaps interestingly, what first surprised me when thinking up this list was that sports movies on the whole isn’t a strong field, and I watch a lot of films. So it’s not like I’ve missed loads. Boxing however, as a sub-genre or whatever fancy term you want to call it, is the strongest cinematic element of the sports umbrella. Maybe I’ve forgotten a load of boxing films, which incidentally counts against them for this list. Though for me the key to a good sports film is the same as any other film: making the audience engage with the protagonist. Boxing films largely have a very sympathetic main character, usually a boxer, though sometimes a trainer, and this is possibly why they’re more successful than other sports films. The “underdog element”. Although I should imagine the levels of violence in boxing films probably helps, too!

Noticeable, deliberate, omissions include Southpaw- which was awful, and  Creed- which for me just wasn’t anywhere near as good as Rocky Balboa.

 

5. Rocky Balboa

“It ain't about how hard you're hit, it's about how you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. Get up!”

The most recent Rocky film was superb, I thought. I don’t count Creed in the same way I don’t count Rouge One as a true Star Wars film. I also didn’t hugely rate Creed, as it simply does what this film does, but with a less sympathetic main character. Rocky Balboa has roughly the same elements as the first Rocky: overcoming adversity, underdog, life outside the ring for a fighter. What it lost in not being original it made up for in being well told and adding to the life story of a character you'd have to have a heart of stone not to love. I can even forgive it casting Antonio Tarver. I still want a true out of the ring story to be made, and I have one ready to be written. But ‘till then...

 

4. Raging Bull

“If you win, you win. If you lose, you still win.”

Raging Bull is arguably the best made film on this list. With wonderfully shot fight scenes and brilliant performances by all of its actors. It can also be credited with reigniting people’s love for black and white cinema. But...

Possibly a surprise for those who know me, this only being at number four. Raging Bull is a brilliant film, but has two marks against it. Firstly the issue of psychopaths in sport; however brave and brilliant LaMotta was, and “adorable” he’s become in his dotage, in the film he’s portrayed as a prick. Secondly, and this one is more personal, I once was put in an awkward position by on a late night show. No, no not that type of show. All they asked me to do was talk to Amir Khan, at the time a world champion, and hero of mine: about sex. It didn’t go well. The experience was not a highpoint in my life and fortunately isn’t on YouTube. I may go into more detail at a later date. But I will say that Amir Khan was lovely, and very understanding.

Weird anecdote notwithstanding, that trauma has coloured the film for me. So to speak (arf).

3. Million Dollar Baby

“If there's magic in boxing, it's the magic of fighting battles beyond endurance, beyond cracked ribs, ruptured kidneys and detached retinas. It's the magic of risking everything for a dream that nobody sees but you.”

Million Dollar Baby is the From Dusk Till Dawn of boxing films. You’ll have to have seen both to know what I mean, and if you haven’t I don’t want to spoil it. Like much of Eastwood’s later films that he also acts in, it’s largely about getting old and moving the goalposts of values you thought were ingrained. But it’s also an underdog film, a film that champions women and the elderly, a film that asks you to think as well as cheer. See this film, you bum!

 

2. Warrior

“In an internet age where there are no secrets, this guy is a complete mystery. I can't find out anything about him. Tommy Riordan is officially Google proof.”

The film which made me like Tom Hardy. This is essentially Rocky 2.0. I urge you to see it, and this is probably my most controversial choice as it isn’t a boxing film, but I just felt wrong leaving it out as it is so good. Hardy plays a broody fighter whose career skyrockets and causes much division in his already divided family. Like all the films on this list there’s so much humanity to the central figures that it is hard not to get drawn in. The fight scenes are brilliant and brutal, edge of your seat cinema.

 

1. Rocky

“Be a thinker, not a stinker.”

And in the least shocking revelation ever, my favourite boxing film of all time: Rocky. It is the Godfather of boxing films, which is to say if you ain’t seen it, WHY AIN’T YOU SEEN IT? I’m almost at a loss for words to describe it as it is so famous. An endearing, possibly mentally challenged man for weird reasons gets invited to fight for a world title and is just bloody amusing the whole way through. In a way Rocky is very British, “here here good show old boy” in a way it is all American dream. Be a thinker.

Only missed out because I’ve seen them once:

  • Bleed For This

  • Jawbone

Honourable mentions:

  • When we were Kings

  • The Fighter

  • Cinderella Man

  • The Hurricane

  • Ali

  • Girlfight

  • Play it to the Bone

  • Real Steel- (I know right?!)

Posted: 2nd Jul 2017

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