Best Boxing Movies of the 20th Century, Ranked

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A legendary gladiator-like sport, boxing has long been part of the history of cinema. Often an arena where a filmmaker can showcase aesthetic, visual, and technical flourishes by punctuating the intensity of the ring. But also an area where American politics, economics, race, and the corrupting forces of the greed of men in power intertwine. The boxing film sums up America and its values ​​so much that it is no wonder that this sport has long fascinated artists and spectators.


Of Rocky at angry bullthese are some of the best, from the early to mid-20th century, where working-class values ​​and men seeking glory clash.

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9 Rocco and his brothers

Luchino Visconti’s epic portrait of four brothers struggling with social migration in post-war Italy is a beautifully worded melodrama that presents the pitfalls of success in boxing and the strife it could cause in family dynamics. . As Alain Delon enters the fold of Rocco, the boxer who becomes successful and finds love while his brother, Simone (Renato Salvatori) struggles with the sport. The two are at odds with each other and find a fate that will change their relationship forever. Rocco and his brothers are one of the best of the Italian master filmmaker.

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8 Body and soul

Integral to what to expect from a boxing movie or a sports movie in general, Body and soul rises above so many others due to the reality of a boxer’s killer life. The lead role is played with wicked and brutal realism by John Garfield, the actor portraying the role in late 1940s New York. Showcasing the working class struggles of a fighter fighting for glory, Garfield must fend off all outside forces that attempt to corrupt him.

seven The more they fall

Although they apparently didn’t get along during filming, the tough-guy crew of Humphrey Bogart and Rod Steiger provided all the chemistry needed for a suitors story. In The more they fall, both play corruptible forces on both sides of the fence. Steiger, the boxing promoter, uses Bogart the sports journalist, to promote one of his suitors. The film shows how boxers are used as disposable means for men in power and how easily the media can lie or tout a lie. The film also features a performance by legendary boxer Max Baer, ​​who would tragically die three years later.

6 someone up there loves me

West Side Story Director Robert Wise has a clear and precise vision when he creates a story, visually, around the restless neighborhoods of New York. In beautiful black and white, Wise works with Paul Newman (a role originally intended for James Dean before his death) to tell the story of boxing legend Rocky Graziano in someone up there loves me. Newman plays the goofy charm, stubborn nature of a rebel who is determined never to do good with a heart and tenacity that converses with the rest of his career. Nailing the aw-shucks but fuck you attitudes of Italians in 1940s New York, Newman embodies the physique of the boxer, knocking people out left and right, but also the desire to turn his life around before the Mafia and the forces corrupt do not try to break it.

5 big city

John Huston makes films in the vein of his personality. Rough, mean, nasty movies ripe with alcohol abuse. big city was the perfect vessel to tell the story of two fighters, living from flight to combat and bar to bar, battling for a shot at glory. Jeff Bridges and Stacy Keach play the two humble fighters who always take one step forward and two steps back. Drawing on the miserable and marginalized conditions that many boxers live in, Huston has created a human portrait of how pulling punches can keep your life on the low end trajectory.

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4 The set up

Robert Wise may also have set the visual blueprint for creating a gritty, stylistic, noir atmosphere during the early years of boxing cinema. The set up stars Robert Ryan as the tough, sick, sensitive boxer living on the brink of retirement as a washed-up boxer still good for a bruise. Wise has made the locker rooms look like the dungeons of a warship as the men patiently await glory or death. Against the wishes of his manager – who is betting against Ryan – he wins. Setting up a do-or-die race next to gangsters betting on boxers falling.

3 Rocky

The ultimate underdog story was told in part as a way for Sylvester Stallone to star in his film so he could show Hollywood what they had passed on. Rocky is a classic boxing image about rising from the ashes of absurdity to make a name for yourself. Stallone also unwittingly created a franchise for himself to later accompany Rambo. However, Rocky Balboa is Philadelphia’s working-class hero, going against all odds against Apollo Creed (a full-bodied Carl Weathers) as his formidable enemy. Rocky would come full circle to complete the underdog story and win Best Picture at the 1977 Oscars.

2 When we were kings

When we were kings is a documentary about Rumble in the Jungle and more importantly, the political ramifications of Muhammad Ali as an athlete and how he could turn sport into a political message. The film shows what an incredible speaker, showman and axel for change Ali was in his prime. Ali fought for his right as an American to practice his speech and his vernacular was as sharp as his jab. However, what the film does so well shows the conflicts between George Foreman and Muhammad Ali not just in the ring, but in the culture clash between them. It’s not just a sports documentary, but a majestic and majestic portrait of two legends.

1 angry bull

Martin Scorsese is no stranger to centering his films on explosively violent and morally questionable men, but none have quite the same cinematic detail as his biopic about boxer Jake LaMotta in angry bull. Using major boxing matches to detail the psychological makeup and evolution of the famous middleweight champion was a stroke of genius by Scorsese. Each fight was told differently, from using smoke and excess to using cart zooms to warp the ring and show LaMotta’s boiling point, Scorsese channeled his technical mastery to tell a story of rage and violence in a way only he could. angry bull was nominated for eight Oscars and won two, for Best Editing and a Best Actor win for Robert De Niro.

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