The 20 Best Boxing Movies of All Time

Hardly any sport has left so many traces in film history as boxing. Back in the 1920s, Buster Keaton, one of the great silent film stars, entered the ring. He was followed by famous names like Charlie Chaplin, Paul Newman, and Robert de Niro over the years.

Finally, in 1976, director John Avildsen and his leading man Sylvester Stallone brought Rocky Balboa to life. The best-known of the screen heavyweights has since then been in as many as 5 sequels with varying results and has become the perennial favorite of the genre.

Decisive for the continuing popularity of the boxing film is the situation of the fight, broken down to its simplest form, and the unconditional identification with the fighter, the boxer. It’s not about saving the universe right off the bat; it’s just a naked fistfight of man against man (or woman against a woman) for starters, yet the stakes are low. Because almost always, the main character of the boxing film fights not only against the opponent in the ring but also against larger opponents, the whole world or himself.

Here is our list of the best movies about boxing ever made. In it, you’ll find everything from sentimental family dramas to award-winning documentaries.

20. Fat City (1972)

In 1972, John Huston, the film noir icon behind such classics as “The Trail of the Falcon” and “African Queen,” dared to tackle the life story of a boxer with his adaptation of the novel Fat City. Here, a young Jeff Bridges plays a washed-up, alcohol-addicted amateur boxer named Bill Tully, who tries to box his way back into professional sports and life.

Although the film initially managed only mediocre box office takings, it was an instant critics’ darling. For nothing, Roger Ebert did not call Fat City one of Huston’s best films. The film is very much like life – unsentimental and honest until the abrupt end.

19. Million Dollar Baby (2004)

Since he has also been active behind the camera, Clint Eastwood has shown a sure instinct for good film material. No less than 4 Oscars, including the one for the best leading actress, his first boxing film, “Million Dollar Baby,” was a hit.

The film tells the story of the old-fashioned boxing trainer Fred Dunn and the waitress Maggie Fitzgerald, who dreams of a career in professional boxing, from which Dunn has long since retired. Although Dunn refuses to train women on principle, he is persuaded by Maggie’s talent to take her under his wing and eventually send her into a title fight.

In addition to the Oscar-winning Hillary Swank, Morgan Freeman and Eastwood himself shine in “Million Dollar Baby,” reviving their oddball friendship from Relentless.

18. Cinderella Man (2005)

Set against the historical backdrop of the Great Depression in the United States in the 1920s, “Cinderella Man” tells the story of Irish-American boxer Jim Braddock.

Although he has already enjoyed success as a light heavyweight boxer, Braddock is forced by the tight economic situation to put his boxing career on hold and earn a dockworker. Wracked by hunger and already injured, he eventually loses one of his fights more than clearly, with it his reputation with the public. Until, thanks to the cancellation of another boxer, he gets the opportunity to prove himself once again in the ring.

The story of rapid descent and the uphill struggle to make a longed-for comeback is a rarity in the genre. Cinderella Man tells it with many sentimentalities, but that’s what makes the film a treasure. Braddock’s life story could hardly be done justice any other way.

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17. The Boxer (1997)

“The Boxer,” starring an outstanding Danie Day-Lewis, is also set against a troubled historical backdrop in early 1990s Northern Ireland.

Former boxer Danny Flynn returns to his native Belfast after a long stint in prison for an IRA bomb attack. There, together with his former trainer Ike, he opens a boxing school for youngsters. His efforts to build an existence and distance himself from terrorism are complicated by his IRA-affiliated neighborhood and a reunion with his now-married childhood sweetheart Maggie.

The boxer convinces as a boxing and love story, but also as a period drama and is therefore particularly suitable for movie nights where you are the only boxing fan.

16. Chuck (2017)

As the film’s subtitle suggests, Chuck is about the very boxer widely considered the inspiration for the film’s Rocky Balboa character, Chuck Wepner.

In 1975, Wepner, a 36-year-old amateur boxer and full-time beverage salesman, receives a surprise offer of a lifetime: he is to fight the reigning heavyweight champion of the world, Muhammad Ali. Ali is supposed to defend his title against a white man, and Wepner is the only white man at the top of the rankings.

Chuck entertainingly recounts the highs of sudden fame and the low blows that inevitably follow. Definitely a must-see for all Rocky fans.

15. Ali (2001)

Although many boxing movies are based on the lives of true greats of the sport, it actually took until 2001 before anyone dared to tell the story of “The Greatest” Muhammad Ali. Directed by Michael Mann, Will Smith takes on the role of arguably the greatest boxer of all time.

Ali, the film, took on the period between Ali’s first world championship victory in 1964 up to the legendary Rumble in the Jungle in 1974. And this also tells the story of the personal development of Cassius Clay into the devout Muslim Muhammad Ali.

Opinions about Ali were already widely divided shortly after its release. On the one hand, it hailed nominations and awards; on the other hand, the box office results were disappointing. In essence, Ali is the detailed and unembellished portrayal of one of the most exciting 10 years in boxing history and, for that reason alone, is worth a recommendation.

14. The Hurricane (1999)

Hurricane tells the true story of black boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, whose decisive fight took place not in the ring but in a courtroom. The excellently cast drama takes many narrative liberties, using young Lezra Martin as another perspective character alongside Carter, played by Denzel Washington.

Martin, a foster child, living with a family in Toronto, is fascinated by Carter’s autobiography and convinces his foster parents to advocate for a reopening of Carter’s case. The once-promising middleweight boxer has been in prison for three murders for 16 years by this time. Unjustly.

Hurricane is only second to a boxing movie. First, it is a powerful and very political account of a racially motivated miscarriage of justice. And one of the best acting performances in Washington’s long career.

13. The Fighter (2010)

The Fighter is another boxing film based on a true story. Namely that of Micky “Irish” Ward, who was known for his extraordinary taker qualities.

Micky, the younger of the two Eklund brothers, single-mindedly pursues a career as a boxer. Brother Dicky, who had had a taste of boxing glory himself when he was able to send Sugar Ray Leonard to the mat in the interim, assists him as his trainer. Rather poorly, though, as Dicky also struggles with drug problems. As a result, on his road to success, Micky faces a difficult choice between loyalty to family and his own career.

Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale shine as brothers and professional boxers from the working-class neighborhood of Lowell, Massachusetts. Wahlberg, in particular, is convincing in the well-staged boxing scenes thanks to intensive preparation.

12. Journeyman (2017)

Light heavyweight champion Matty Burton has achieved everything and, after a high-paying, last fight, steps down from the stage to enjoy life with his family. But a short time later, Burton falls into a coma at home and has to undergo emergency surgery at the hospital. Doctors agree. It is cerebral damage as a result of the violent blows to the head he took as a boxer. The film shows Burton’s uphill battle back to life.

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In Journeyman, Paddy Considine, director, and the leading actor, tackles one of the most difficult issues in boxing. The sometimes very high physical cost of success.

11. Ring of Fire: The Emile Griffith Story (2005)

When Emile Griffith steps into the ring as the reigning welterweight champion of the world for a rematch against former champion Benny Paret in 1962, no one can yet guess the tragedy that will occur. Griffith succeeds in the 12. Round to corner his opponent and land a variety of hard hits. Paret falls into a coma while still in the boxing ring and dies only 10 days later.

The documentary Ring of Fire deals with the story of this fight and its impact on Griffith, who continues his career but remains scarred by what happened. It is a true gem among boxing documentaries.

10. Rocky Balboa (2006)

Rocky Balboa fights his very last fight again. But this time, for real. His ambition is aroused when a computer simulation comes up with the surprising result that Balboa would probably beat the reigning champion, Mason Dixon. Just like actor Sylvester Stallone, the boxer comes out of his well-deserved retirement to once again put on the boxing gloves and face Dixon in an exhibition match.

When Stallone, at almost 60 and after more than 15 years of abstinence, announced that he would once again take on the role of the boxer Rocky Balboa, he was ridiculed. Despite all the prophecies of doom, the sixth part became one of the best films of the Rocky series and perhaps the whole genre.

9. Bleed for This (2016)

“Bleed for This” is based on the incredible but true story of boxer Vinnie Pazienza. Pazienza was involved in a serious car accident in the early 1990s, at the height of his career. Doctors predicted he would never walk again. But Pazienza ignores all the experts and, against their advice, even trains for a comeback in his orthopedic fixations. He is back in the boxing ring just 13 months after the accident.

For “Bleed for This,” young star Miles Teller steps into the role of Pazienza. And this proves that even after Whiplash, he is still willing to take risks in choosing roles.

8. Girlfight (2000)

Long before “Million Dollar Baby,” “Girlfight” brought women’s boxing to the big screen, and both director Karyn Kusama and her leading lady Michelle Rodriguez had a breakthrough in Hollywood.

This film centers on the young Diane Guzman, who likes to strike quickly in conflict situations. She gets into boxing rather by accident, and soon the sport changes her life. In addition to emancipation from her domineering father, Diane also finds her first love at the training center in the person of boxer Adrian. Until the two have to box against each other.

The boxing scenes in “Girlfight” are outstandingly choreographed and filmed. Sport seems to play its own leading role – as a metaphor for the struggle for one’s identity that characterizes growing up.

7. Twenty Four Seven (1997)

With the help of boxing, Alan Darcy tries to give the young men of his unemployment-stricken hometown an alternative to the half-seedy activities on the streets. In his boxing school, the members of two hostile gangs slowly become a sworn community. Together they work towards their big goal, a public exhibition match.

“Twenty Four Seven” is something like “The Dead Poets’ Club” of the working class. On the bright side. The film is at the same time relentless and hopeful, realistic and idealistic, and never slips into kitsch – just as the English filmmakers do best.

6. Resurrecting the Champ (2007)

“The Champ” (in the original “Resurrecting the Champ” to better distinguish it from the 1979 boxing movie of the same name with Jon Voight) approaches boxing from the perspective of a sports journalist. Erik Kernan of the Denver Times happens to strike up a conversation with a homeless man who identifies himself to him as Battling Bob Satterfield. Satterfield is a long-dead boxing champion whose story Kernan finally makes the front pages with.

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“The Champ” is a compassionate film about boxing, social exclusion, and values. Samuel L. Jackson is fascinating as the aging boxing champion Satterfield.

5. Southpaw (2015)

Southpaw” is also about the comeback of a former champion. However, Billy Hope, the main character played by Jake Gyllenhaal, is a purely fictional figure. Southpaw is not based on a true story for a change.

After the death of his wife, boxing champion Hope goes off the rails and threatens to lose everything, his titles, his house, his money, and eventually his daughter. In order to at least win back his family, Hope gets back on his feet and begins working with trainer Tick Willis (Forrest Whitaker) on a return to the ring.

Southpaw deals with all the well-known clichés of the boxing film and is nevertheless, or perhaps because of this, a good film.

4. When We Were Kings 1996

When We Were Kings tells the story of what should have been an ordinary boxing match that, through circumstance, became a piece of contemporary history. It is 1974, and the world is preparing for the first major sporting event on the African continent. The already 32 years old Muhammad Ali wants to know it again and will challenge the much younger heavyweight champion George Foreman in Kinshasa. The rest is known. Or not yet. “When we were Kings,” in both cases, is absolutely worth seeing.

The award-winning documentary about the most famous boxing match in sports history accomplishes the feat of transporting its viewers to the 70s of the last century, as a spectator not only of the film but of the Rumble in the Jungle between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in Zaire.

3. Raging Bull (1980)

The film that earned Robert de Niro a well-deserved Oscar, follows the life story of Italian-American boxer Jake La Motta. The story takes place between 1941 and 1964 and covers La Motta’s rise to the boxing Olympus as well as his personal decline.

Like a wild bull is considered not only one of the best boxing movies but one of the best movies ever made. It is a haunting milieu study of the New York immigrant neighborhoods of the 40s and 50s and how it could be otherwise. Scorsese and de Niro also address the relationship between sports and organized crime.

2. Creed (2015)

Adonis Creed is the son of Rocky’s longtime nemesis and later friend Apollo Creed, who fans remember from the first five installments of the series. He also aspires to a boxing career and asks Rocky to become his coach and mentor.

Even after a total of six films about the life of boxing legend Rocky Balboa, Sylvester Stallone and Hollywood can’t leave it alone. Fortunately, with “Creed,” in which Rocky returns to the ring as a trainer, Ryan Coogler has successfully created a fresh reboot that is true to the franchise.

1. Rocky (1976)

When reigning heavyweight champion Apollo Creed is short of an opponent for his upcoming title defense, he makes the unusual decision to give an amateur boxer the chance to fight him instead. His choice falls on the Italian-American Rocky Balboa from Philadelphia, who comes from a humble background. Rocky throws himself with all his might into preparing for the fight of his life.

A classic boxing movie with an unforgettable 70s soundtrack. Actually, Rocky also “only,” tells the story of an underdog before his biggest fight. Yet, this film (like its numerous sequels) has captivated new generations of movie fans for decades.

Whether Rocky remains your unbeatable number one or you prefer factual documentaries, the boxing movie genre has many facets and something for everyone. And armed with this list, the next movie night can not come fast enough.

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