Hollywood’s Top Boxing Films
It’s not all about Rocky (well, maybe the past 40 years)
By Troy Lennon History Editor The Daily Telegraph
ROCKY Balboa has had more comebacks than Nellie Melba.
The character created and played by Sylvester Stallone first jumped into the ring in the 1976 film Rocky, which won the best film Oscar. Stallone revived the character in a series of increasingly bad films from Rocky II in 1979 to Rocky V in 1990. And just when we thought he had hung up his gloves Rocky returned for another slog in Rocky Balboa (2006).
It turned out to be a good move as many agreed this outing was a return to his 1976 form.
This week he is back yet again in Creed, taking on the role trainer to the son of his great rival Apollo Creed.
The Champ (1931)
Ageing actor Wallace Beery established the archetype of the washed-up boxer trying to regain past glory and by doing so revived his own career. Beery played former heavyweight champion, Andy “Champ Purcell, battling alcoholism and gambling addiction while constantly disappointing his son Dink, played adorably by a young Jackie Cooper. Threatened with losing his son, Champ gets his act together for one last fight. (Spoiler alert) Test audiences disliked the original ending in which Champ lost and died in his son’s arms, so the ending was altered to have Champ win but still die, so his son could at least be proud of him. The new ending ensured box office success, earned Beery a best actor Oscar and generally established boxing films as a serious genre.
Kid Galahad (1937)
This film blended boxing with gangsters, both popular film genres. The combination was a knockout at the box office and resulted in crime being an undercurrent in many subsequent boxing films. Promoter Nick (Edward G. Robinson) discovers bellhop Ward (Wayne Morrison) can punch and trains him to fight as Kid Galahad. Nick takes Galahad to glory despite interference from the crooked Turkey Morgan (Humphrey Bogart). It wasn’t Oscar material but audiences liked it. There was a 1962 musical remake starring Elvis Presley that also did well at the box office, but is not rated highly even by Presley fans.
Golden Boy (1939)
Based on a hit Clifford Odets play, William Holden starred as violinist Joe Bonaparte who just wants to be a boxer. Holden was almost thrown off the film but his co-star Barbara Stanwyck insisted he stay. At the 1978 Academy Awards Holden thanked Stanwyck for saving his career. The film received moderate praise from critics but didn’t do well at the box office and hasn’t aged well.
Gentleman Jim (1941)
Australian Errol Flynn played the title role in this film about Gentleman Jim Corbett, American champion who was incidentally, one of the first fighters to appear on film in the 1890s. Snappily dressed Corbett is a boxer from an Irish family who fights at a time when boxing was illegal and invents fast footwork, outclassing opponents. Flynn did his own boxing in the film but production shut down briefly when he suffered a mild heart attack during filming. It was another winner with audiences.
Raging Bull (1980)
Filmed in black and white, this film won its star Robert De Niro a best actor Oscar. Based on the story of the Italian-American middleweight champion Jake LaMotta and his self destructive ways, De Niro packed on the kilos to play the boxer. Critics were divided when the film came out but its reputation has since grown and it is now considered by many as the greatest boxing film of all time.
Worthy contenders …
Body And Soul (1947) Starring John Garfield, a tale of the corrupting power of money.
On The Waterfront (1956) Marlon Brando plays a former boxer mixed up in dockside corruption who laments he “could have been a contender”.
Ali (2001) Biography of Muhammad Ali one of the greatest boxers of all time, with a stunning performance by Will Smith.
Million Dollar Baby (2004) Oscar-winning box office hit about a female boxer starring Hilary Swank.