Start Writing
Believe in Hope in New 'Southpaw' Poster

Southpaw and the Top 5 Grittiest Boxing Movies

FilmFish FilmFish Southpaw comes out in theaters today, and to celebrate FilmFish has compiled the top 5 grittiest boxing movies of all time!

5. Fat City [1972]

The first of many you’ll encounter in this list, ‘Fat City’ is about a washed up alcoholic boxer, Billy Tully, who is inspired by a young protégé to attempt his comeback. We won’t tell you exactly how the gambit ends, but with the film’s nihilistic neo-noir flavoring (what else from ‘Maltese Falcon’ director John Huston?), we reckon you’ll be making your own guesses before the end.

The film is worth watching for a glimpse of young Jeff Bridges alone, but in the words of NYT critic Vincent Canby it is also “too full of life to be as truly dire as it sounds. [The characters] are presented with such stunning and sometimes comic accuracy that Fat City transcends its own apparent gloom.” In other words, it won’t leave you smiling, but it also won’t send you into your cups like its ill-fated protagonist.

4. ‘Requiem for a Heavyweight’ [1962]

Released in 1962, ‘Requiem for a Heavyweight’ was initially written as a teleplay by ‘Twilight Zone’ creator Rod Serling, and only turned into a feature length film six years later. It tells the story of over-the-hill prizefighter Louis ‘Mountain’ Riviera, who, after suffering a crippling loss at the hands of Cassius Clay, finds himself incapable of competing in the ring or finding employment outside of it.

When it’s revealed Mountain’s manipulative manager Maish gambled everything he owned on Clay’s defeat (talk about a smart bet), the boxer must decide between paying off his manager’s debt through entering the world of competitive wrestling, something he feels is beneath him, or letting the bookies take their pound of flesh.

Although the film is primarily remembered as a poignant, if occasionally plodding, character study of the broken figures who populated the world of golden-age prizefighting, the fight scenes pack a punch all their own. It is also worth observing the archetypes we take for granted – the washed up fighter, the devoted trainer, the parasitic hanger-on – in the process of being cooked up, instead of going stale.

3. The Fighter [2010]

Based off the life of American welterweight Micky ‘Irish’ Ward, played by Mark Wahlberg, ‘The Fighter’ is the story of two brothers: one a has-been, the other a may-never-be, who must break away from the suffocating influence of his tight-knit, Irish Catholic family in order to win his own battles

Christian Bale plays half-brother Dicky Eklund, a boxer himself, whose career reached its peak when he went the distance with Sugar Ray Leonard in 1978. Since that time he has fallen into crack addiction, grafting his own thwarted ambitions on to struggling ‘stepping-stone’ Micky.

Although nominated for seven Academy Awards, the film won only two: ‘Best Supporting Actor’ and ‘Best Supporting Actress’, for Christian Bale and Melissa Leo’s respective roles as Wahlberg’s brother/trainer and mother/manager. The selection is telling. At times it can feel like Bale’s supporting performance is swallowing Wahlberg’s lead up, just as the charismatic, manipulative, and self-destructive Dicky he plays threatens to paint Micky in his own image.

Nevertheless, Wahlberg channels an impressively physical Ward – a role that apparently took 4 years of intense training to perfect – and while he may not always come across as the leading man, he never feels like a spare part.

2. Million Dollar Baby [2004]

Whatever you think of his political views, you have to admit Clint Eastwood gets grit. Under his directorial hand ‘Million Dollar Baby’ takes familiar sports-drama archetypes and brings them to their moral and physical breaking points, revealing a side of human nature most are unaccustomed to seeing on the big screen.

Set in Los Angeles, the film follows hard-bitten waitress Maggie Fitzgerald (played by Hilary Swank) on her quest to become a professional boxer. The first stage of Maggie’s plan, apparently, is to acquire dour gym owner Frankie Dunn (played by guess who) as her trainer. When he initially refuses, the tenacious young woman begins a grueling daily regimen in his gym. Frankie eventually relents and takes on the novice on as his protégé/ adoptive daughter, guiding her astronomical rise to the big-leagues.

Warning: if you find the film too bleak, don’t come crying to us (although you are perfectly justified in crying to yourself). This list contains great gritty boxing-dramas, and that’s exactly what ‘Million Dollar Baby’ is. We’ll leave the Hollywood endings to Rocky.

1. Raging Bull [1980]

Go on any ‘Best Boxing Movies’ list and we guarantee you’ll see Scorsese’s biopic of American middleweight Jake LaMotta, ‘Raging Bull’, at the top. In fact, you’ll probably see the same on most ‘Best Sports Drama’ lists.

So, what exactly is it that makes ‘Raging Bull’ so great? Firstly, few films have delved as explicitly into the dark side of traditional masculinity, exposing both the charisma and ugliness of male vitality. Like the beast he takes his nickname from, LaMotta is magnificent, merciless, and, when in one of his rages, oddly pathetic.

But above this ‘Raging Bull’ is a story of personal decline, fulfilling the classical definition of a tragedy as ‘the high brought low’. The narrative is told along two time-lines: the first depicting the boxer’s glory days in flashback, ending with his defeat by Sugar Ray Robinson, the second set years later at a comedy show, featuring LaMotta as a pudgy, grinning stand-up. The dichotomy is stark and poignant: not only has the ‘raging bull’ been tamed, he has also been made a clown.

So there you have it – the top 5 grittiest boxing movies of all time. And who knows, maybe come the 24th we’ll have to reshuffle!

If you liked this article, check out our full ‘Best Modern Boxing Movies’ list here

Or our collection of the classics here

Posted in Southpaw,

FilmFish FilmFish

read more or join