The Greatest: The 50 Best Boxing Movies of All Time

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Newsweek

Boxing is an inherently cinematic sport, with an inbuilt grace and dramatic tension that has made it popular with filmmakers and audiences from the earliest days of movie cameras. It didn't take long for directors to notice the narrative potential of the sport.

The Champ, from 1931, follows Wallace Beery as a washed-up boxer battling with alcoholism, who wants to get back on track for the sake of his young son. The movie was a critical smash, packing an emotional punch as hefty as any of the on-screen ones, and won Beery a Best Actor Oscar. The final scene of its 1979 remake by Franco Zeffirelli was deemed so sad that it has been used by scientists to elicit an emotional response during research on crying.

In many ways, The Champ was the prototypical boxing movie, in that the hero must battle his emotional demons, as well as his flesh-and-blood opponents in the ring. Boxing movies also take on social ills, too; most frequently class issues, but also racism in 2004’s Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson, and sexism in Million Dollar Baby from the same year.

Aside from 1980’s Raging Bull, which saw Robert De Niro shine as the hot-headed Jake LaMotta, perhaps the most famous boxing movie is 1976’s Rocky. Sylvester Stallone plays Rocky Balboa, the archetypal scrappy small-time fighter with big dreams. The movie has spawned five sequels, as well as spin-off film franchise Creed, which follows Adonis Creed, the son of Balboa’s deceased rival.

Extending the links to the franchise’s history, the opponent in the newly-released installment Creed II is the son of the Soviet boxer Balboa fought in Rocky IV.

Starring Michael B. Jordan, Creed II has already gathered glowing reviews, with particular praise being heaped on Jordan’s performance. “His charisma matched with his talent is a total package that any franchise dreams of,” wrote Business Insider. It seems our fascination with boxing movies has yet to reach its final round.

Using data from critical review aggregation websites Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic, as well as user-submitted reviews from IMDb, we’ve ranked the 50 boxing films which triumphed on screen.

01 Rocky IV
Rocky IV: United Artists

50. Rocky IV (1985). Total score: 52.3%. IMDb users: 6.8. Metacritic: 40. Rotten Tomatoes: 4.9. Directed by: Sylvester Stallone. Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Dolph Lundgren, Brigitte Nielsen, Carl Weathers. 
Plot summary: Rocky Balboa proudly holds the world heavyweight boxing championship, but a new challenger has stepped forward: Drago, a six-foot-four, 261-pound fighter who has the backing of the Soviet Union.
What the critics said: "The crazed flag-waving would be a lot easier to take if it weren't so clearly a commercial calculation meant to salvage what is otherwise a crass, careless, shamelessly padded film." Dave Kehr, Chicago Reader.

02 Triumph of the Spirit
Triumph of the Spirit: Triumph Releasing Corporation

49. Triumph of the Spirit (1989). Total score: 55.7%. IMDb users: 6.9. Metacritic: (n/a). Rotten Tomatoes: 4.9. Directed by: Robert M. Young. Starring: Willem Dafoe, Edward James Olmos, Robert Loggia. 
Plot summary: Based on the true story of Salamo Arouch, a Greek-Jewish boxer imprisoned in Auschwitz during World War II. He manages to survive by literally boxing for his life at the orders of his SS captors, who gamble on the outcome of his bouts. His father and brother were also held as insurance that he would continue to fight.
What the critics said: "Dafoe gives a charged, compelling performance, while Olmos provides convincingly understated support; but the attempt to convey the terrible magnitude of the atrocities has overwhelmed the film-makers and left them resorting to over-familiar tactics." Time Out.

03 The Champ
The Champ: MGM

48. The Champ (1979). Total score: 56%. IMDb users: 6.8. Metacritic: (n/a). Rotten Tomatoes: 5. Directed by: Franco Zeffirelli. Starring: Jon Voight, Faye Dunaway, Ricky Schroder. 
Plot summary: A former boxer discovers that his biggest battle of all is going to be with his ex-wife, Annie, who returns after abandoning their young son seven years earlier.
What the critics said: "The tear-jerking is so determined and persistent that your ducts feel as if they'd been worked over with a catheter." Dave Kehr, Chicago Reader.

04 The Power of One
The Power of One: Warner Bros.

47. The Power of One (1992). Total score: 57.3%. IMDb users: 7.2. Metacritic: (n/a). Rotten Tomatoes: 5. Directed by: John G. Avildsen. Starring: Stephen Dorff, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Morgan Freeman. 
Plot summary: An English boy living in Africa during World War II becomes a symbol of hope through his boxing prowess.
What the critics said: "The Power of One begins with a canvas that involves all of the modern South African dilemma, and ends as a boxing movie. Somewhere in between, it loses its way." Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times.

05 Hands of Stone
Hands of Stone: The Weinstein Company

46. Hands of Stone (2016). Total score: 57.7%. IMDb users: 6.6. Metacritic: 54. Rotten Tomatoes: 5.3. Directed by: Jonathan Jakubowicz. Starring: Edgar Ramírez, Usher Raymond, Robert De Niro. 
Plot summary: The legendary Roberto Duran and his equally legendary trainer Ray Arcel change each other's lives. Usher plays Sugar Ray Leonard.
What the critics said: "De Niro and top-billed Ramirez do well with a bantamweight script. It's a strange picture structurally." Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune.

06 Undisputed
Undisputed: Miramax

45. Undisputed (2002). Total score: 58.3%. IMDb users: 6.2. Metacritic: 58. Rotten Tomatoes: 5.5. Directed by: Walter Hill. Starring: Wesley Snipes, Ving Rhames, Peter Falk. 
Plot summary: When heavyweight champion George 'Iceman' Chambers lands in prison, the resident gangster arranges a boxing match with the reigning prison champ.
What the critics said: "Despite creative flourishes here and there ... Undisputed is ultimately destined for one of those 'guy movie' marathons on cable TV." Bill Muller, Arizona Republic.

07 Night and the City
Night and the City: Twentieth Century Fox

44. Night and the City (1992). Total score: 58.7%. IMDb users: 5.8. Metacritic: 61. Rotten Tomatoes: 5.7. Directed by: Irwin Winkler. Starring: Robert De Niro, Jessica Lange, Cliff Gorman, Eli Wallach. 
Plot summary: A cheating and incompetent lawyer suddenly gets obsessed with becoming a boxing promoter.
What the critics said: "The [1951] Dassin film was all atmosphere, all shadows and camera angles and supporting actors who knew how to make their characters into bizarre mutations. Take away the style and the movie just isn't there anymore." Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times.

08 Fighting Tommy Riley
Fighting Tommy Riley: Freestyle Releasing

43. Fighting Tommy Riley (2004). Total score: 59.7%. IMDb users: 6.6. Metacritic: 53. Rotten Tomatoes: 6. Directed by: Eddie O'Flaherty. Starring: Eddie Jones, J.P. Davis, Christina Chambers. 
Plot summary: An aging trainer and a young fighter, both in need of a second chance, team-up to overcome the demons of their past, and chase the dreams of their future.
What the critics said: "This small, lovingly crafted film continually surprises with its depth and resonance." Kevin Thomas, Los Angeles Times.

09 Rocky III
Rocky III: MGM/UA Entertainment Company

=41. Rocky III (1982). Total score: 60%. IMDb users: 6.8. Metacritic: 57. Rotten Tomatoes: 5.5. Directed by: Sylvester Stallone. Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers, Burgess Meredith, Mr. T, Hulk Hogan. 
Plot summary: After winning the ultimate title and being the world champion, Rocky falls into a hole and finds himself picked up by a former enemy.
What the critics said: "Learning, especially from Scorsese, in his approach to action and performance, writer/director/star Stallone has somehow contrived to make each of his movies into a more magnificent spectacle than the last." Geoff Andrew, Time Out.

10 Diggstown
Diggstown: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

=41. Diggstown (1992). Total score: 60%. IMDb users: 7. Metacritic: (n/a). Rotten Tomatoes: 5.5. Directed by: Michael Ritchie. Starring: James Woods, Louis Gossett Jr., Bruce Dern, Oliver Platt, Heather Graham. 
Plot summary: An ex-convict is no sooner back on the streets than he is working on a brand new scam, hustling a professional Georgia gambler by setting up a sting involving a talented but aging boxer.
What the critics said: "Give credit where credit is due: Ritchie and screenwriter Steven McKay know how to turn their crowd-pleasing tricks. It's one sucker punch after another, but you'd have to be a rock not to fall for it." David Ansen, Newsweek.

11 The Great White Hope
The Great White Hope: Twentieth Century Fox

40. The Great White Hope (1970). Total score: 60.7%. IMDb users: 7. Metacritic: (n/a). Rotten Tomatoes: 5.6. Directed by: Martin Ritt. Starring: James Earl Jones, Jane Alexander, Lou Gilbert. 
Plot summary: A thinly veiled account of the trials and tribulations of boxer Jack Johnson in which a black champion boxer and his white female companion struggle to survive while the white boxing establishment looks for ways to knock him down.
What the critics said: "The movie is too theatrical and every idea is spelled out for the audience, but the acting of James Earl Jones and Jane Alexander (both Oscar-nominated) is good." Emanuel Levy, EmanuelLevy.Com.