Boxing Movies for Boxing Day

To celebrate both the Dec. 26 holiday and the release of Grudge Match, we present a list of some of cinema's most memorable pugilists.

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Boxing Movies

It's December 26, otherwise known as Boxing Day -- and although the holiday doesn't actually have anything to do with two people stepping into a ring to beat the crap out of each other, with Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro's Grudge Match currently in theaters, we had to take it as a sign. Even if you don't plan on watching Sly and Bob whale on one another this weekend, we've rounded up 14 other boxing-themed films worthy of your time. Grab those gloves and put up your dukes -- it's time for Total Recall!



Will Smith trained for a year to prepare himself for the title role in Michael Mann's Muhammad Ali biopic, both inside the ring and out, with a workload that included everything from live sparring to Islamic studies and time with a dialect coach. While Ali ultimately packed a somewhat disappointing punch at the box office, where its $87 million gross failed to earn back its budget, all that preparation paid off handsomely for Smith, who walked away with a Best Actor Oscar nomination -- as well as glowing reviews from critics like Jay Carr of the Boston Globe, who wrote, "Smith makes contact with enough of Ali's swagger, sweetness, wit, and pride to convince us that justice is being done to the boxing champion."

The Champ


The 1979 remake starring Jon Voight and Ricky Schroeder holds a soft spot in the hearts of filmgoers of a certain age, but for sheer tearjerking power, you can't beat the original The Champ, featuring Wallace Beery (who won an Oscar for his work) as a washed-up boxer who slumps from one cheap fight to the next with his young son (Jackie Cooper) in tow -- at least until his upwardly mobile ex-wife (Irene Rich) steps in and convinces him the kid will be better off with her. The boy's having none of it, though, and he runs away to find his dad -- just in time for a truly heart-wrenching (albeit rather maudlin) final act. Calling the movie an "example of clever acting saving the day," the New York Times' Mordaunt Hall credited director King Vidor with working "in a restrained fashion, always permitting the performances of Master Cooper and Mr. Beery to hold up a sequence that might have been banal and trite without them."



Long before Rocky Balboa regained the Eye of the Tiger through judiciously edited beach-jogging montages with Apollo Creed, Kirk Douglas brought the story of a boxer's rise and fall to thrilling life in 1949's Champion. Starring as the unfortunately named fighter Midge Kelly, Douglas takes the audience on a journey from rags to riches, with plenty of punches thrown along the way. Basically the old adage of "be careful of you wish for" writ large, Champion wonders how a person is supposed to keep track of his true friends -- and hold onto himself at a fundamental level -- after being overtaken by success. The answers aren't always easy, but they are, as Nell Minow wrote for Yahoo! Movies, "Brilliant, searing, heartbreaking."

Cinderella Man


Director Ron Howard picked up three Oscar nominations for his hard-hitting look at the tale of Depression-era heavyweight champion James J. Braddock, who was dubbed "The Cinderella Man" even before he overcame 10-to-1 odds and defeated Max Baer to claim his title. Surrounded by a top-shelf cast that included Renee Zellweger, Paddy Considine, and Paul Giamatti, Russell Crowe embodied both the raw physicality and the inner struggle of a fighter who risked his health, and his marriage, to stay in the ring. Though Cinderella Man didn't connect with audiences as solidly as Howard and Crowe's work in A Beautiful Mind, it did break the $100 million mark -- and it earned the admiration of most critics, including Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly, who wrote, "How exceptional a film actor is Russell Crowe? So exceptional that in Cinderella Man, he makes a good boxing movie feel at times like a great, big picture."

Fat City


Offering a beautifully unadorned look at a washed-up boxer (Stacy Keach) who takes a young contender (Jeff Bridges) under his wing, John Huston's Fat City brought Leonard Gardner's novel to the screen with power and grace (as well as a screenplay adapted by Gardner himself). A babyfaced 23 years old and only one film removed from The Last Picture Show, Bridges displayed an uncommon grace and calm grasp of his craft in his scenes with Keach, and Huston -- who ended the movie on the sort of unsettling note we see far too rarely today -- made the most of his young star's emerging gifts. "The movie is crafty work and very much a show," wrote J. Hoberman of the Village Voice, adding, "in one way or another, right down to the percussively abrupt open ending, it's all about being hammered."

The Fighter


It took an awful lot of struggle to get it to the screen, but like the pugnacious boxers in its real-life story's spotlight, David O. Russell's The Fighter persevered -- and although it looked very different from the days when it was supposed to be a Mark Wahlberg/Matt Damon production (or the brief period when Brad Pitt was supposed to step in for Damon), that didn't put a dent in the number of accolades the movie ultimately acquired. Starring Wahlberg as boxer Micky Ward and Christian Bale as his brother/trainer Dicky, The Fighter earned more than $120 million at the box office and picked up seven Academy Award nominations, winning two -- including a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Bale. "Wahlberg gives a deceptively low-key performance as the movie's still point," wrote Moira MacDonald for the Seattle Times, "perfectly setting off the crackling fuse that is Bale's Dicky, a grinning strutter who knows he's screwed up but can't quite say goodbye to the limelight."

The Harder They Fall


These days, we're fairly accustomed to thinking of boxing as a dirty racket, but 1956's The Harder They Fall came out during the era when it was still widely thought of as the "sweet science" -- and one that was still enjoyed by a big, passionate audience that had to be taken aback by the sight of Humphrey Bogart (in his final screen appearance) as a slumming journalist who takes a job as a PR flack for an unscrupulous promoter (Rod Steiger) with a young, ripe-for-fleecing fighter (Mike Lane) in his stable. Unflinching in its portrayal of boxing's seedy underbelly -- right up to director Mark Robson's decision to cast real-life fighters Jersey Joe Walcott, Max Baer, and Joe Greb -- Harder continues to resonate with critics like Joseph Cracknell of the Apollo Guide, who wrote, "Even in a film where everyone seems to end up a loser, Humphrey Bogart finishes his career with a solid Bogie performance."