10 Fantastic Boxing Films That Will Knock You Out
You’ll be amazed at how truly great all these movies are
Barry Wetcher/Warner Bros./Courtesy Everett Collection; United Artists/Courtesy Everett Collection; Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
Perhaps no modern American athlete has had as controversial and fascinating a career as heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson, 56. Like Muhammad Ali, Rubin “Hurricane” Carter and Jake LaMotta before him, Tyson is getting the biopic treatment, in the form of a new limited series premiering on Hulu Aug. 25. Created by I, Tonya screenwriter Steven Rogers, the unauthorized drama Mike stars Moonlight breakout Trevante Rhodes as Tyson and Russell Hornsby as Don King, 90. Since the beginning of American cinema, boxing has proven a favorite subject among filmmakers. Here, 10 of our favorite boxing films available to stream — including the TKO performance, scene or behind-the-scenes crew member that, well, knocked us out.
The Champ (1931)
The premise: Break out the tissues for this legendarily devastating flick, which won Wallace Beery a best actor Oscar for his role as the washed-up boxer Andy “Champ” Purcell. As he struggles with alcoholism, Champ tries to put his life back together to provide for his young son, played by Our Gang star Jackie Cooper. The film was remade in 1979 by Franco Zeffirelli, starring Jon Voight (83) as boxer Billy Flynn, Ricky Schroder (52) as his son and Faye Dunaway (81) as his ex-wife.
The TKO: They don’t make melodramas like they used to, and that final scene is an absolute doozy.
Watch it: The Champ on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, YouTube
The Quiet Man (1952)
The premise: After he accidentally kills an opponent in the ring, boxer Sean Thornton (John Wayne) returns to his native Ireland with the plan of keeping his identity a secret, buying his family’s old cottage and meeting a nice Irish lass. He falls for a redheaded girl named Mary Kate (Maureen O’Hara) and runs afoul of her brother Will (Victor McLaglen), resulting in a knockdown, drag-out fistfight that hilariously keeps going and going and going for nine minutes, attracting spectators as the brawl winds through the village and countryside — before the two stop for a pause and a pint at the pub, of course.
The TKO: The son of Gaelic-speaking Irish immigrants, John Ford won his record-breaking fourth best director Oscar for the film.
Watch it: The Quiet Man on Amazon Prime, Apple TV
The premise: Seemingly overnight, Sylvester Stallone, 76, went from a Hollywood nobody to an A-lister when he wrote and starred in this 1976 sleeper hit, which went on to win best picture. Rocky Balboa (Stallone) is a small-time Philadelphia boxer who works as a debt collector to pay the bills, and he gets his shot at glory when reigning heavyweight champ Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers, 74) comes to the City of Brotherly Love for an exhibition fight and needs to replace his injured opponent. The film is bursting with every sports movie cliché — from a rousing training montage to a feisty old trainer (Mickey, played by Burgess Meredith) to a climactic face off — but much like Rocky himself, you can’t help but root for this little film that could.
The TKO: The scene in which Rocky runs up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art before triumphantly raising his fists is so beloved that the city unveiled a bronze statue of Stallone for tourists to pose with.
Watch it: Rocky on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, YouTube
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Raging Bull (1980)
The premise: The fourth collaboration between director Martin Scorsese, 79, and his muse, Robert De Niro, 79, was ranked the greatest sports movie ever made by the American Film Institute — and the fourth-greatest film of any genre. De Niro gained 60 pounds to play Italian American middleweight Jake LaMotta, whose life is marred by intense jealousy, rage and insecurity, which torpedoes his relationships with his wife Vickie (Cathy Moriarty, 61) and his brother Joey (a then relatively unknown Joe Pesci, 79).
The TKO: The screenplay by Paul Schrader, 76, and Mardik Martin fires on all cylinders, but what really makes the film sing is the stark, black-and-white cinematography of Michael Chapman, with Esquire’s Dom Nero writing that “every boxing match [devastates] the senses like a shadowy Renaissance painting brought to life.”
Watch it: Raging Bull on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, YouTube
The Hurricane (1999)
The premise: Denzel Washington, 67, earned his fourth Oscar nomination for his portrayal of real-life middleweight boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, who was wrongly convicted and imprisoned for a triple homicide at a bar in Paterson, New Jersey. (You may know his story from the Bob Dylan, 81, song “Hurricane.”) Equal parts infuriating and hopeful, the legal drama details his attempts to overcome a system rife with racism and corruption to prove his innocence after nearly two decades in prison — thanks, in part, to the help of a Brooklyn teenager named Lesra Martin (Vicellous Reon Shannon, 51) who dedicated his life to helping exonerate the boxer.
The TKO: Washington’s emotionally resonant performance will have you holding back tears by the end, especially with his triumphant line, “Hate got me into this place, love got me out.”
Watch it: The Hurricane on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Hulu
The premise: Two decades before he became known for the slap heard ’round the world on the Oscars stage, Will Smith, 53, earned his first Academy Award nomination when he starred as legendary heavyweight Muhammad Ali in this biopic directed by Michael Mann, 79. Set during the upheaval of the 1960s and early ’70s, the film charts not only Ali’s rise through the world of boxing, but also his conversion to Islam and his stand against the Vietnam War. The actor packed on 35 pounds of muscle in less than four months to match The Greatest’s physique.
The TKO: Smith’s fantastic in the role, but look out for an unrecognizable Jon Voight, 83, who also earned an Oscar nod for his transformative turn as Howard Cosell.
Watch it: Ali on Amazon Prime, YouTube
Don’t miss this: 8 Ways Muhammad Ali Changed the World That Go Far Beyond Boxing
Million Dollar Baby (2004)
The premise: Breaking into the boys’ club of cinematic boxers is Hilary Swank, who starred as Maggie Fitzgerald, an underdog amateur boxer from the Ozarks who’s mentored by cantankerous trainer Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood, 92). We won’t spoil the plot for you if you haven’t seen it, but prepare yourself for one of the biggest tearjerkers in cinema history. It went on to win four Oscars — best picture, best director (Eastwood again), best actress (Swank’s second) and best supporting actor for Morgan Freeman, 85, as Dunn’s gym assistant Eddie “Scrap-Iron” Dupris — and was named the best film of the 21st century by the critics from The New York Times.
The TKO: The surrogate father-daughter relationship that develops between Frankie and Maggie is enough to reduce even the gruffest heavyweight into a pile of emotions.
Watch it: Million Dollar Baby on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, HBO Max
Cinderella Man (2005)
The premise: After the success of A Beautiful Mind, director Ron Howard, 68, and actor Russell Crowe, 58, teamed back up for this biopic of Depression-era Irish American heavyweight James J. Braddock. After injuring his hand in the ring, Braddock is forced to give up boxing and work as a longshoreman, until he has the opportunity to stage a comeback in 1935, eventually facing off against Max Baer (Craig Bierko, 58) for the title. His rags-to-riches tale inspires newspaperman Damon Runyon to nickname Braddock “The Cinderella Man,” and he becomes a symbol of hope for an entire generation. The film was such a crowd-pleaser that AMC Theatres went so far as to offer a money-back guarantee!
The TKO: Paul Giamatti, 55, earned a supporting actor Oscar nomination for his turn as manager Joe Gould.
Watch it: Cinderella Man on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, YouTube
The Fighter (2010)
The premise: Based on the 1995 documentary High on Crack Street: Lost Lives in Lowell, this David O. Russell (63) drama stars Mark Wahlberg (51) as Micky Ward, an upstart welterweight boxer whose family might wreck his career before it’s even taken off. Christian Bale plays Micky’s half-brother Dale, who could have been a contender before he got addicted to crack, and Melissa Leo (61) steals scenes as their overbearing mother and manager, Alice. Bale and Leo both won Oscars for their supporting roles.
The TKO: This may be Wahlberg’s best performance to date, and he’s said that he was a big fan of Ward’s — both actor and boxer grew up one of nine kids in working-class Massachusetts, and Wahlberg considered him a local sports legend.
Watch it: The Fighter on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Netflix, Paramount+
The premise: Rocky spawned a long series of sequels, but none matched the artistic achievement of this 2015 spinoff from Fruitvale Station and Black Panther director Ryan Coogler. In this warm-hearted drama, Rocky Balboa (Stallone) trains and mentors Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan), the son of his former rival Apollo Creed, and it’s every bit as inspiring as the original underdog story. IGN critic John Lasser wrote, “Creed is a mirror of Rocky’s story and we have all been watching that unfold on the big screen for decades. Coogler’s film does nothing to break the mold. Rather, it shows that the mold exists for a reason.”
The TKO: Stallone brings decades of pathos and grit to the role, earning a best supporting Oscar nomination and winning trophies from the National Board of Review, the Critics Choice Awards and the Golden Globes.
Watch it: Creed on Amazon Prime, Apple TV
Nicholas DeRenzo is a contributing writer who covers entertainment and travel. Previously he was executive editor of United Airlines’ Hemispheres magazine and his work has appeared in the New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler, Travel & Leisure, Sunset and New York magazine.