The Ultimate Best Boxing Movies List: Top Boxing Movies
Why limit yourself to the top 10 boxing movies when you can find a comprehensive list and collection of all of the best boxing movies ever made? Let me tell you, there has certainly been more than just 10.
It seems like a new boxing movie pops up every year or two, if not more frequently, and no other sports have as many high quality films about it as boxing does. The sport and its themes make for an easy and enjoyable transfer into movies, of course, and from one new boxing movie to the next, there have been dozens of classics over the years.
On this page you’ll find a list of the best boxing movies of all time, separated into the categories of movies based on history and real-life, documentary boxing films, fiction movies, and vintage Hollywood movies before the 1970s. I’m not one to tell you which ones to watch or which ones are better than the others, but real boxing fans will be able to turn to any of these films, sit back and enjoy the show.
Perhaps the best boxing movie ever, no questions asked, Raging Bull is about the life story of middleweight great Jake La Motta. La Motta is played, quite memorably of course, by Robert De Niro. The movie also stars Joe Pesci as La Motta’s brother, and Cathy Moriarty as his wife.
De Niro puts on a tour de force performance that left him literally cracking ribs during the filming of the movie with his carefully honed punching. La Motta is a beast in the ring, a warrior with a great chin and a great punch, but struggles to get his shot as he deals with the mob players behind the scenes, his own weight gain in between fights, and his violent temper. There is heartbreak in the ring, along with his six-part battle against Sugar Ray Robinson, and plenty of trouble outside of it, and the entire movie makes a lasting impression. An all-time classic movie across any category, it’s definitely one of the best boxing movies ever.
Russell Crowe is James J. Braddock, broken down heavyweight contender struggling to barely scrape by for himself and his family as the country wallows in the Great Depression. Down but not out, Braddock gets a comeback going that eventually leads to a title shot against feared champion Max Bear.
Braddock, of course, pulls off one of the biggest upsets in boxing history when he defeats Baer. The movie offers a great portrayal of the times, and Paul Giamatti offers a strong showing as Braddock’s manager. The film, like any good boxing movie, is of course about much more than just the Sweet Science, but also the struggles of humanity, the power of love, family and support, and the will to never give in.
Rubin “Hurricane” Carter was a fearsome middleweight contender when a sequence of events leads him to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. He’s wrongfully accused of murder, ends up getting convicted, and spends two decades in prison, losing his career, family and everything else, before his eventual release.
The film is based upon the book, and it certainly has some inaccuracies, but the core points and story remain the same. Denzel Washington is excellent as Carter, who gives up on his legal appeals but eventually gets back into it with the help of a Brooklyn youth and his white Canadian caretakers.
Ali features Will Smith as the G.O.A.T., and while many were a bit surprised at the casting, Smith bulked up, learning some boxing and put on a great performance as one of the largest sporting figures in history. The movie also features Jon Voight and Jamie Foxx, both of whom put on a great show.
The movie is a little bit lengthy at over two and a half hours, but is still a solid flick. It focused around Ali’s fight against George Foreman, “The Rumble in the Jungle”, as well as some of the tumultuous moments in Ali’s life outside of the ring and his personal relationships. But there is also plenty of other action from Ali’s early rise in the sport, his notorious press conference and interview antics, and more.
The Fighter is the story of Micky Ward. When he wasn’t putting on thrilling performances in the ring, he was dealing with all sorts of battles outside of it. None bigger than his drug addicted half brother, and former pro boxer, Dicky Eklund, who trains Ward, and his mother Alice, who tries to manage his career.
Ward’s life starts to come together more when he meets Charlene, played by Amy Adams. Ward is played quite well by Mark Wahlberg, while Christian Bale puts on another great performance as Dicky. The movie does not include the Ward-Gatti trilogy, much to the chagrin of boxing fans, although it does include some high quality boxing and fight action.
Resurrecting the Champ
The movie, loosely based on real events, largely slipped under the radar of the mainstream but is actually a boxing movie that is well worth the watch. The story features struggling sports journalist, and struggling father, J.R. Moehringer, as played by Josh Harnett, working to get his big break in the industry.
He meets a homeless man that calls himself Champ, played by Samuel Jackson, who claims to be a former professional boxer, Bob Satterfield. The journalist wants to use the story he finds to raise his status but discovers after the fact that the story wasn’t legitimate and he needs to decide whether or not he’ll move forward, get a gig with Showtime and impress his son or fess up to the truth.
Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson was first shown as a PBS documentary, and the DVD version includes added footage and lasts for over three and a half hours. The movie is put together by noted sports and documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, and it’s an excellent look at Johnson, the circumstances surrounding his rise to champion, and much more.
He became the first black heavyweight champion just four decades following the Civil War, and clearly the country was not prepared, and Johnson didn’t make matters any easier on himself with his bold actions. Eventually a conspiracy to take him down lands Johnson in trouble, for which he has yet to be pardoned for a century later. The documentary is narrated by Samuel L. Jackson and is a must watch for boxing fans.
Most boxing fans are well versed in the story of Mike Tyson and all of the highs, lows and controversies with his life. But few would have thought that Tyson himself would be the best man to so bluntly and even eloquently tell the tale, as he does in this documentary is essentially a long interview with him.
The documentary boxing films features a great deal of awesome footage like a young Tyson training in the Catskills with Cus D’Amato, as well as fight and press conference footage and more. It focuses on not just the events and turmoil of Tyson’s life, including his formative years which led him down that trail, but also on his reflections and feelings about all of that, and his current efforts and struggles to maintain a better, healthier and more positive lifestyle.
When We Were Kings
When We Were Kings is a documentary boxing film about the Rumble in the Jungle, the 1974 clash of Muhammad Ali vs. George Foreman. The documentary, which was filmed during the buildup to that fight, didn’t get released until over 20 years after that date due to various legal battles and other hold ups.
However, the film is great, perhaps even more so, serving as a reflection back at that time as opposed to a current look. As the camps arrive in Africa and the fight is delayed, there are nearly two months to kill, and Ali immerses himself amongst the local crowds while Foreman stays to himself, and Don King brings over the likes of James Brown to make music and entertain. A very intriguing look back at all of this and what it meant, not just to the sport, but to society, America, Africa and more.
The Rocky Collection
When most people think about the best boxing movies, the first things that come to mind are the Rocky movies. The first Rocky was an Academy Award winning all-around great film, while the sequels that followed had their ups and downs, bottoming out in the fifth edition. But in between there was lots of great boxing, unforgettable characters ranging from Apollo Creed to Ivan Drago and more.
The most recent Rocky boxing movie was Rocky Balboa, which features a very aged former champ, still played by Sylvester Stallone, making his way back once again. In it he meets heavyweight champion Mason “The Line” Dixon, played by Antonio Tarver. Any boxing movies list must be filled with the Rocky films… the first might be the “best” movie… but I’ll take Rocky IV any day.
Million Dollar Baby
The Best Picture award winner is a boxing movie classic. Starring Hilary Swink, Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman, and directed and produced by Eastwood, the movie stays true to the sport of boxing while injecting personal drama on many levels.
The boxing film is actually based on the short story penned by author F.X. Toole in his collection “Rope Burns”. Swank is a female fighter, who at first shunned by Eastwood, a boxing trainer and manager with his own gym, is eventually taken under his wing and the two become very close. Swank reaches the top rungs of the female fight game only to meet a sudden tragedy, and suddenly everything is pushed to the brink and heart wrenching choices have to be made.
Starring James Woods and Louis Gossett Jr., this is the rare entrant on this boxing movies list that is a comedy. Woods plays a con man, Gabriel Caine, who is fresh out of jail, and like any good con man, is ready to get ready back to the con.
He teams up with an old prizefighter, “Honey” Roy Palmer, for a whole new con. Honey will face any 10 fighters that the boss of Diggstown can match him up against in a 24 hour period. It’s funny and enjoyable with some unique plot developments and twists, even if it isn’t Oscar material like some of the other movies here.
Ving Rhames is the heavyweight champion of the world, George Iceman Chambers, until he’s sent to prison on a rape charge… ahem.. sound familiar? Well, in the movie, Iceman enters a prison where there is a vaunted boxing league of sorts, and an undefeated champion, Monroe Hutchen. Hutchen is played by Wesley Snipes, and of course Hutchen and Chambers must meet in a battle for bragging rights and glory.
The fight is set up via a mob connection, and chaos ensues. The movie lead to a sequel and then a third movie. The third was actually the most highly rated of the bunch, and is worth a watch as well.
The Great White Hype
Another rare comedy in this list of the best boxing movies, the Great White Hype is made all the more, or less, hilarious by the fact that it so closely mirrors the actual world of boxing, and so many real-life events over the years. Samuel L. Jackson plays the dubious, greedy promoter, Damon Wayans plays the out of shape black heavyweight champion, and Peter Berg the “white hype”, a good looking white fighter tailor made to take the champ on for a big payday.
To kick up some financial interest in the sport, a match is made, and the promotional build up, training and fight are all worth a few good laughs along the way. With nods to Holmes vs. Cooney, Don King, “The Great White Hope” (See below) and more, the film also features Jamie Foxx, Cheech Marin, Jeff Goldblum and Jon Lovitz.
No, not the Russell Crow film about Maximus, the Cuba Gooding Jr. boxing movie. While it clearly lost the naming rights to the Roman epic, this is a surprisingly good movie in its own right. Tommy Riley, the new, white kid in town, gets into trouble and turns to boxing. He becomes good friends with Abraham “Lincoln” Haines, played by Cuba Gooding Jr.
With some shady dealings along the way, it ends up that Tommy has to get in a fight to settle off his dad’s gambling debts. Brian Dennehy plays the boxing promoter and Robert Loggia plays Tommy’s trainer, and a former pro fighter.
This section of our best boxing movies list includes vintage boxing movies, both those based on historical fact, and those in the fiction categories. There were a lot of great boxing films made during those times, which for our purposes, will be prior to and including the early 1970s.
Someone Up There Likes Me
This is one of the best boxing movies from long ago that still holds up excellently today. It might be a bit cliched, but with Paul Newman in the lead, it’s hard to go wrong. Newman plays Rocky Graziano, who steps into Stillman’s Gym and becomes a near-instant rising star in the world of professional boxing.
It’s not a smooth ride of course, from his troubles on the street to stint in the army, bitterness towards the world, and so forth. Also featured in the movie in small roles are Steve McQueen and Robert Loggia. And this was only Newman’s second major movie, filmed in 1956. A great glimpse of these young stars, and a solid boxing story of hardship and the streets up into the professional fight game.
Requiem For a Heavyweight
Another classic boxing movie featuring big time names and acting legends, Requiem for a Heavyweight stars Anthony Quinn, Jackie Gleason and Mickey Rooney. Quinn is a past his prime boxer who’s punchy and suffering with some brain issues after a long career.
But his manager, played by Gleason, keeps on forcing him into the ring, even as he tries to stop fighting and find a different path in life. Rooney plays the trainer. It’s a dramatic movie, released on the big screen in 1962 after being filmed on live television in 1956. Hard-hitting, true to life, and ultimately sad, it pulls no punches.
Released in 1949, this is another one of the best boxing films of the vintage Hollywood years that holds up really well today. Past his best boxer Stoker Thompson, that’s certainly a recurring theme in many boxing movies, is in for a fight against a young and up coming fighter.
The movie begins with the fight ready to get underway, and the film goes off in real time. Just 72 minutes it takes us up to the fight and through it to the aftermath. Thompson, played by Robert Ryan, still believes he can win, but he doesn’t know that his manager already threw the fight with the mob. Robert Wise, who later went on to direct West Side Story and the Sound of Music, directed this quick and entertaining flick.
The Champ is about – you guessed it – a washed up professional boxer who needs to make a comeback in the ring. He needs to support his nine year old son, who features prominently in the movie. The boxer is played by Wallace Beery, who won the Best Actor award for his role in this boxing film. It’s an emotional journey for father and son, and for the audience as well. The film was first relased in 1931.
The Champ was then remade in 1979 with Jon Voight and Faye Dunaway. Many prefer the remake, although both versions of this boxing film are still highly acclaimed. Just depends on which generation and style you’d prefer. It’s rare that two versions of the same movie are both so widely lauded and highly praised.
On the Waterfront
Made in 1954, On the Waterfront features a young and strapping Marlon Brando in the lead. Brando won the Best Actor award for the year for his performance as Terry Malloy. Malloy, a longshoreman, gets beaten after providing information against the mob, who took over his union.
This great boxing movie is famous for many reasons, including the “I coulda been a contenda” speech. The movie was also written in part by Budd Schulberg. Political corruption, standing up for one’s self, and great drama and action throughout make this not just one of the best boxing movies of all time, but one of the classic films ever. Also won the Best Picture award for the year, and Best Director for Elia Kazan. Brando and vintage Hollywood both at their best.
The Quiet Man
Continuing the who’s who journey of the best boxing movies of vintage Hollywood is The Quiet Man, released in 1952. The film stars John Wayne as an American boxer, born in Ireland, who moves back to Ireland after being haunted by an incident in the ring. He meets his wife and falls in love, but there’s some trouble brewing up.
The movie is part comedy and laughs, but it also has a good plot and a fantastic fist fight scene with Wayne and his brother in law to be, amongst others. It’s a fun movie to watch, and hey, you really can’t go wrong with John Wayne, can you? John Ford won Best Director for the movie.
Body and Soul
Released in 1947, Body and Soul stars the great John Garfield in the lead role of boxing champion Charley Davis. Garfield, who was an amateur boxer in his youth, plays the role to perfection, while the movie is also noted for its high quality fight scenes, as the cinematographer of the film had himself been a pro boxer.
The movie starts prior to a championship bout that Davis, because of his unscrupulous partnerships, has to throw. He’ll make a great deal of money, which has always been his driving force since his poor youth, but he knows he’s throwing it all away. Then we flash back into his early days, his rise through the fight game, the struggles in his relationships as boxing and money became the focus, and more. Yet another of a long list of the best boxing movies from vintage Hollywood spurred along by a big name lead actor.
Here Comes Mr. Jordan
Made in 1941, Here Comes Mr. Jordan stars Robert Montgomery has a heavyweight contender on the way to becoming champion. It’s a comedy and a fantasy movie with a unique spin that none of the other movies on this boxing movie list can equal.
Montgomery’s character, Joe Pendleton, is in a plane crash that ends his life entirely way too soon. So the powers that be in heaven need to fix matters. Pendleton is given a new body, a hated, millionaire businessman, whose wife and lover both want to kill him. The film led to many remakes and spin-offs, but the original is the best.
Gentleman Jim is none other than James J. Corbett, one of the first boxing heavyweight champions of all-time. He’s played in the film, made in 1942, by Errol Flynn. Corbett is a bank clerk who then goes on a meteoric rise through the fight game.
This classic boxing film is also a period piece for the 1890s. Boxing at the time was still largely about bare-knuckle, back-alley brawls. Corbett though helps to pave the path towards legitimacy and skill, and he defeats John L. Sullivan and becomes the heavyweight champion in the process. A fun film on it’s own, but also for the relevancy to the sport of boxing and the 1890s backdrop.
The Harder They Fall
Written by Budd Schulberg and released in 1956, The Harder They Fall features Humphrey Bogart in the lead. The best boxing movies of the 1940s and 1950s were not locking for star power, were they? It was also Bogart’s last movie role.
He plays a sportswriter who begins to see some of the dark side to boxing. Most notably, he sees how fighters are being abused by their managers, who use them up for their own game. A classic flick with realistic and violent boxing scenes. Will Bogart reveal the illicit side of boxing and the crooked managers and help to end it all?
The Great White Hope
Made in 1970 and therefore bordering on our “vintage” period, The Great White Hope is very loosely based on the life of Jack Johnson. In the movie he is Jack Jefferson, and the movie, a black and white flick, takes place in the early 1900s. A young James Earl Jones plays the part excellently, looking for all he’s worth like a physical specimen that could have been heavyweight champion of the world.
Living in racist times but refusing to give into society’s wishes, Jefferson, who is also in love with a white woman, encounters a host of struggles. The world around him eventually leads to his demise, as all sides seemingly look to bring him down.
Starring a young Jeff Bridges, making one of his first major movie appearances, Fat City was released in 1972. Bridges is a rising amateur boxing who learns the ropes and starts his journey in the professional fight game. He’s taken under the wing of an aged prizefighter, played by Stacey Keach (who in current times played the father in the FX boxing series Lights Out), who becomes his manager.
The movie offers a sometimes startling and harsh look at the world of the small-time, small town fight game. Already battered and broken fighters and men traveling around to receive beatings for tiny paydays and another stop along the way. Needless to say, things do not always work out for the young hopeful either.
So there you go, our entire collection of the best boxing movies and films of all-time. It would have been too hard to narrow it down to a top 10 best boxing movies list, so you’ll have to wade through the dozens of titles above to find the greatest. Pick up a few and get ready for some classic viewing, all of these films are fantastic in their own way, and all are worthy of being included amongst the best boxing movies.