There’s something thrilling and suspenseful about the sport of boxing — so much so that movies have been made to depict the epic journey of the fighter in the ring. Just like any other cinematic piece, boxing movies require great storytelling along with character development. During their prime, many of the best pro boxers of all time were considered among the biggest sports stars in the world, regardless of their niche. The best boxing movies tell the story of some of the sport’s biggest stars and give audiences a fresh perspective into what athletes endure.
Combat sports like boxing and mixed martial arts (MMA) can be a thrill to watch, but the combatants put themselves at risk of far more than just a black eye or bruised rib. A study by the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Brain Health Center shows that repeated hits to the head are detrimental to long-term brain health and cognition. Blood from MMA fighters and boxers shows signs of long term injury. “Our study looked at data over a five-year period and found elevated levels of two brain injury markers in the blood; now the question is whether they may signify permanent traumatic brain injury with long-term consequences,” says study author Dr. Charles Bernick.
However, new research indicates hope for a fighter’s brain in retirement. Another study reports boxers and MMA fighters may experience some recovery in their thinking and memory skills, as well as brain structure, after leaving the ring. Over a three-year period, fighters in the study underwent various brain scans and completed a series of tests gauging how well their brains were functioning at the beginning and end of the study. Retired fighters showed improvements in their verbal memory, motor speed, and processing speed scores over time, while active fighters’ scores in the same categories either showed decline or remained the same.
Boxing is an intense sport and the journey to become a professional fighter is often harder than people imagine. Pro athletes often struggle with perfectionism and burnout or tend to hide or downplay injuries for fear of being perceived as “weak.” These films show the audience every aspect of being a pro fighter and the many sacrifices often made to be successful. StudyFinds researched the best boxing movies of all time based on reviews and recommendations from ten expert websites. Our list contains the top picks across these sites. If you think we missed one of the greats, let us know in the comments below if it’s worth the watch!
The List: Best Boxing Movies, According to Experts
1. “Raging Bull” (1980)
Collider writes, “One of the greatest boxing movies of all time, ‘Raging Bull’ established early on the magic that happens with the star power. The movie is based on La Motta’s autobiography ‘Raging Bull: My Story’. Visually striking (pun intended), the adaptation not only earned eight Oscar nominations (two wins) but also secured its place as one of the top movies of all time, not just in the sports genre.”
“Martin Scorsese’s career cannot be boiled down to a single film, but this may be the pinnacle of his collaboration with Robert De Niro. Raging Bull tells the story of an incredible boxer who was also a functional alcoholic and regularly abused his wife,” says Digital Trends. “De Niro’s commitment to the role only makes the film feel more vibrant and lived in, but this isn’t a typical story of sports triumph. ‘Raging Bull’ is willing to be a whole lot uglier than that.”
“Boxing can be a brutal sport, and is only fit for the toughest individuals who are willing to get beaten up for entertainment. ‘Raging Bull’ shows the toll the sport can have on even the toughest fighters. Based on the real life of Jake ‘The Raging Bull’ LaMotta, ‘Raging Bull’ presents the harsh rise and fall of the fighter as he is tormented by his own self-doubts, both inside and outside the ring,” explains CBR.
On a Scale of 1-10
1 Being Horrible & 10 Being Amazing
What Would You Rate the 1980 Movie Raging Bull?#RagingBull #RobertDeNiro #MartinScorsese #Movies #Movie #Film #Cinema #Sports #Boxing #Boxer #Action #1980s #80s #80sThen80sNow pic.twitter.com/ottZgWIONX
— 80sThen80sNow (@80sThen80sNow) February 26, 2020
2. “Rocky” (1976)
“Yo Adrian!” Sound familiar? When you think of boxing movies, this legendary film series usually comes to mind. Sylvester Stallone both wrote the movie and starred as the inspiring main character, Rocky, who makes you want to go for a jog pumping your fists through the air right alongside him. “A crown jewel in the pantheon of Sylvester Stallone films, Rocky has a healthy dose of drama, romance, and of course, boxing. The goofy yet motivated boxer Rocky Balboa is easily one of the finest underdog characters in all of Hollywood. Apart from Rocky, his coach Mickey Goldmill and opponent Apollo Creed proved to be equally significant characters,” writes Screen Rant.
According to Collider, “The success and popularity of the film sparked multiple sequels and a modern-day spinoff series. Stallone is charming as Rocky, an honest, good-hearted athlete just trying to gain respect where he knows it’s deserved. The boxing tale took home three of its ten Oscar nominations, including Best Picture.”
“Rocky, a poor schlub, gets the opportunity to fight the Heavyweight Champion of the World, Apollo Creed, and does the most with his opportunity,” explains Bleacher Report. “Starring Sylvester Stallone, who also wrote it, and ranked #78 on American Film Institute’s list of best 100 American Movies, this movie was the start to possibly the greatest film series of all time.”
3. “Ali” (2001)
Moviefone gives us a summary of a nail-biting story. “In 1964, a brash, new pro boxer, fresh from his Olympic gold medal victory, explodes onto the scene: Cassius Clay (Will Smith). Bold and outspoken, he cuts an entirely new image for African Americans in sport with his proud public self-confidence and his unapologetic belief that he is the greatest boxer of all time. Yet at the top of his game, both Ali’s personal and professional lives face the ultimate test.”
“Directed by Michael Mann, written by Eric Roth, starring Will Smith as the titular Muhammad Ali, perhaps the greatest boxer to ever grace the ring — ‘Ali’ (2001) had all the makings of a pugilistic classic, but it somehow overthrew the punch and landed on its back. For the most part, at least. Critics were fairly indifferent on the project, but their reviews were generally positive more than negative,” writes MovieWeb. “However, there’s no denying that it bombed in theaters with $88 million grossed on a budget that’s cited to have ranged between $107-$118 million. Those aren’t the greatest numbers. Overall though, the actors performed well-enough to land the film here at number ten.”
“The premise: Two decades before he became known for the slap heard ’round the world on the Oscars stage, Will Smith, 53, earned his first Academy Award nomination when he starred as legendary heavyweight Muhammad Ali in this biopic directed by Michael Mann, 79,” says AARP. “Set during the upheaval of the 1960s and early ’70s, the film charts not only Ali’s rise through the world of boxing, but also his conversion to Islam and his stand against the Vietnam War. The actor packed on 35 pounds of muscle in less than four months to match The Greatest’s physique,” says AARP.
4. “The Hurricane” (1999)
According to Okayplayer, “’The Hurricane’ is an all-time Denzel Washington performance packed in arguably the greatest 10-year stretch for a Black actor (start from 1992’s Malcolm X and count the number of Denzel heaters until 2001’s Training Day). Washington is powerful as the brooding, contemplative, and patient Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter, slim enough to carry 1960s middleweight aesthetics in the ring with his hands, but towering in ways when attempting to navigate through a 20-year prison sentence for a triple murder he didn’t commit.”
“’The Hurricane’ starts out as both a boxing drama but then progresses as a legal thriller, narrating the real-life story of Rubin ‘The Hurricane’ Carter,” says Screen Rant. “The compassionate premise is brought to life with a talented ensemble while offering one of the best Denzel Washington performances. The rage within the lead character is evident in both the boxing matches in the film as well as his everyday struggles in prison.”
“The story of Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter stars Denzel Washington, who plays the tough fighter who was sent to prison for the murder of three people. Sentenced to three life sentences along with another man, John Artis, Carter claims he did not murder anybody. He was let go when it was said that his conviction was ‘based on racism rather than reason.’ This film is great in showing what Carter went through in his life,” writes Bleacher Report.
5. “The Fighter” (2010)
Okayplayer states, “Attempting to condense Micky Ward’s career is no small feat but David O. Russell achieved it in ‘The Fighter’, with Ward being played by Mark Whalberg (an actual close friend of his). Offscreen, Ward is known for his trilogy with Autro Gatti. Onscreen, Whalberg grapples with a combustive triangle outside the ring, all while the world watches his brother and trainer Dicky (Christian Bale) crumble before building himself back up.”
“Starting off our list, we have a modern film by a great director and starring an A-list cast of stars. The film stars Mark Wahlberg as real-life fighter Micky Ward and features a supporting cast of Christian Bale, Amy Adams, and Melissa Leo,” writes PremiumBeat. “Like many boxing films on (or even not on) our list, ‘The Fighter’ was a critical and commercial success going on to receive seven Academy nominations and two wins (Best-Supporting Actor and actress).”
“The family drama that ensues helps in setting up a more dialogue-driven boxing film. Instead of focusing on intense boxing duels, ‘The Fighter’ attempts to understand the internal dilemmas that a boxer might face before stepping into the ring. As for Christian Bale’s role, he offers a brutally realistic glimpse at a self-destructive boxer. Such personal angles behind each character make it much more than a formulaic boxing film,” Screen Rant explains.
You might also be interested in:
- Best Pro Boxers of All Time
- Best Movies on Amazon Prime
- Best Action Movies of All Time
- Best Thriller Movies
- Best Oscar-Award Winning Movies of All Time
- Screen Rant
- Bleacher Report
- Digital Trends
Note: This article was not paid for nor sponsored. StudyFinds is not connected to nor partnered with any of the brands mentioned and receives no compensation for its recommendations. This post may contain affiliate links.