When We Were Kings (1996) - Rotten Tomatoes

When We Were Kings (1996)

When We Were Kings (1996)

When We Were Kings



Critic Consensus: An engrossing documentary that's as much about at time and a place as it is about a fight.

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Movie Info

The landmark internationally televised 1974 bout between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman provides the framework for this fascinating documentary culled from over 250 hours of archival film shot before and during the fight. The contest took place in Zaire and marked the emergence of Don King as the world's greatest fight promoter. Much of the story centers on the charismatic, flamboyant Ali who at 32 was at his prime. He is seen training for the fight with a very young, and even then impressive Larry Holmes, flying out to the fight and mingling with his many fans. Meanwhile Foreman is portrayed as introverted, sullen, and a generally unpleasant person; a person totally different from the gentle and funny man he would become. The film includes interviews with Norman Mailer and George Plimpton as they reflect upon the event. African-American filmmaker Spike Lee also appears to explain the history and importance of Muhammad Ali to younger viewers. Also included in the story are clips from the African and American music festival that preceded the fight. Musical performers included B.B. King, the Pointer Sisters, Miriam Makeba, and the Spinners.more
Rating: PG
Genre: Documentary, Sports & Fitness
Directed By:
In Theaters:
On DVD: Sep 14, 1999
Gramercy Pictures


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News & Interviews for When We Were Kings

Critic Reviews for When We Were Kings

All Critics (45) | Top Critics (15)

If anyone deserves an award, it is Ali; his charisma makes the film.

Full Review… | August 4, 2008
TIME Magazine
Top Critic

Enormously entertaining.

Full Review… | March 26, 2007
Top Critic

No comedian was ever funnier, no fighter ever faster than Muhammad Ali, who is caught at the top of his game in Leon Gast's valentine, When We Were Kings.

Full Review… | March 26, 2007
Washington Post
Top Critic

A penetrating emotional analysis of the boxing which is nothing short of inspired.

Full Review… | January 26, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

When Muhammad Ali achieved victory in Kinshasa on Oct. 30, 1974, he did far more than win a prize fight.

Full Review… | May 20, 2003
New York Times
Top Critic

By portraying the young Ali as hero -- and moving beyond the media image of the poetry-spouting peacock -- Gast reminds us that Ali didn't follow the path of earlier black superstars or earn his stripes by conforming to white society's expectations.

Full Review… | June 18, 2002
San Francisco Chronicle
Top Critic

Audience Reviews for When We Were Kings

Muhammad Ali was much more than a boxer, or showman, loudmouth, trash talker, or attention seeker; he was a spokesman for the black race and their social struggles, he embodied the will, anger and hope of that generation. The title itself says it all. Ali fighting Foreman was a David and Goliath kind of duel, they were like titans, god among men, two exemplary black athletes in an epic battle that shows the change of consciousness for their people in that particular time. Incredibly insightful and illuminating comments by people like Norman Mailer and George Plimpton.

Pierluigi Puccini

Super Reviewer

Highly entertaining documentary about the classic box fight between Ali and Foreman in Zaire 1974. Including interviews with witnesses and experts, this film covers the preparation, training, the concerts, background and meaning of the event for black people all around the world. It also showcases what a unique sportsman and entertainer Ali was at the height of his career. His charisma makes this film.

Jens S.

Super Reviewer

"Muhammad Ali, he was like a sleeping elephant. You can do whatever you want around a sleeping elephant; whatever you want. But when he wakes up, he tramples everything."

A documentary of the 1974 heavyweight championship bout in Zaire between champion George Foreman and underdog challenger Muhammad Ali.

The story of Muhammed Ali and the famous "Rumble in the Jungle" is the stuff of legend; the world's best boxer becomes a hate figure for middle America and is banned for political reasons; he returns but has lost his edge; he gets a last shot at the world title in a fight to be held in Zaire, whose kleptomaniac dictator is willing to put up his people's cash to pay for it; and against all the odds, he astonishingly beats the superior puncher George Foreman through a combination of wit and bravery. Ali was beautiful and clever as well as violent; his "art" destroyed him, but it's easy to tell his story as a kind of noble myth. Which is exactly what 'When We Were Kings', a documentary that relies relatively little on talking heads (because the whole drama was a kind of performance, and filmed) does. The film even gets its soundtrack for free thanks to the musicians brought in to publicise the fight. When We Were Kings shows a historic fight and the surroundings around it and you can't help but be thankful that such an important event was captured in such a great form.

Lorenzo von Matterhorn

Super Reviewer

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