Whenever the discussion of the best sports movies of all time, it doesn’t take long for that conversation to start focusing on great boxing titles like Raging Bull or the Rocky franchise. There’s something about the sport, as well as the men and women who dedicate their lives to it, that translates well in action, drama or a combination of the two. In fact, one of the most well-known Best Picture winners centered on boxing, as have countless other films honored at the Academy Awards over the years.
If you’re a fan of the sport, riveting dramas or get a kick out of both, stick around, because we’re about to break down some of the best boxing movies and all the ways you can watch them, be it for the first time in a while or the first time altogether.
The Rocky Movies (1976 – 2006)
Starting a list of the best boxing movies with anything but Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky franchise would be a miscarriage of justice, or at least a bad look. From its inception in 1976, and going through to 2006’s Rocky Balboa, the series followed the “Italian Stallion” all the way from the lower rungs of the Philadelphia boxing scene to the twilight of his career as a world champion, facing all kinds of adversities in and out of the ring during that time.
Some titles in the franchise are better than others (like Rocky III beating out Rocky IV), but each is great in its own way (even Rocky V). The drama, the boxing scenes and the montages make this a property no one will ever forget.
The Creed Movies (2015 – 2023)
Though the Creed movies could technically be considered part of the Rocky franchise, the property has slowly evolved into its own entity in recent years, especially with the most recent entry, Creed III. These movies, which focus on Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) as he contemplates his family legacy (he’s the son of the late Apollo Creed) while also creating one of his own.
All three of the films have a fresh perspective, and the filmmakers behind them aren’t afraid to try something new.
Raging Bull (1980)
One of the best Martin Scorsese films, Raging Bull is unlike most boxing movies that have been released over the years. Presented in black-and-white with a style and various techniques that make it more than a sports-based biopic, this chronicling of the life and career of former middleweight boxing champion Jake LaMotta (Robert De Niro) is an absolute tour de force.
The drama outside of the ring, especially the relationship shared by Jake and his wife, Vickie (Cathy Moriarty), is intense, and the boxing sequences stand in a class of their own 40-plus years later.
Cinderella Man (2005)
After finding success with their Oscar-winning biopic A Beautiful Mind, the team of Ron Howard and Russell Crowe got back together for the 2005 drama Cinderella Man, which saw the actor take on the role of heavyweight boxing legend James J. Braddock. The historical drama follows Braddock, nicknamed “The Cinderella Man,” as he rises from rags to riches to become one of the most popular boxers in the country during the Great Depression.
The movie is also notable for featuring an all-time great Renée Zellweger performance as Braddock’s fearful, yet supportive wife, Mae.
The Fighter (2010)
David O. Russell’s The Fighter is one of those movies that never gets old, even after repeated viewings. This 2010 biopic focuses on the stories of Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) rising to the top of the boxing world, and his brother, Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale), fighting for redemption years after ruining his shot at stardom.
This story pulls no punches and provides an unflinching examination of complicated family dynamics and how they can both help and hinder an aspiring champion’s attempt to rise above it all in this great Massachusetts movie.
Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Considered one of the best movies of the 2000s, Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby follows an underdog boxer named Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) as she strives to make her dreams of being a professional boxer come true.
Anchored by outstanding performances by Swank, Eastwood as boxing trainer Frankie Dunn and Morgan Freeman as his assistant Eddie Dupris, the Best Picture Winner is a dramatic and exhilarating affair, and one that gets emotional in its final act.
The Hurricane (1999)
While most of the movies on this list center on boxers fighting for a championship (or a shot at one), The Hurricane instead turns its attention to a once-promising contender as he fights for his innocence. After being in the wrong place at the wrong time, Rubin “Hurricane” Carter is falsely accused and wrongfully convicted of a triple homicide.
Denzel Washington deserved an Oscar for his portrayal of “Hurricane” in Norman Jewison’s riveting biopic, which is a brilliant examination of the human spirit and an endearing fight for justice.
The Boxer (1997)
After previously working together on My Left Foot and In the Name of the Father, director Jim Sheridan and actor Daniel Day-Lewis teamed up a third time with the 1997 sports drama The Boxer. The movie centers on IRA member Danny Flynn (Day-Lewis) as he completes a 14-year prison stint and attempts to pick up the pieces of his life and resume his boxing career.
Though boxing sometimes sits on the backburner when the IRA drama takes center stage, the movie features some incredible fight sequences that show off Day-Lewis’ remarkable skills.
In 2001, Michael Mann turned his attention to the most well-known boxer to ever live with his epic biopic Ali. Starring Will Smith as the late, great Muhammad Ali, the movie pieces together the iconic fighter’s life and career, with a heavy emphasis placed on some of his more iconic moments in and out of the ring.
Ali is a movie critics loved, but audiences ignored, but this shouldn’t be seen as a knock against its story or what it was trying to achieve. It’s long and has a large scope and scale, but a two-and-a-half-hour runtime is necessary to tell the story of “The Greatest.”
When We Were Kings (1996)
Leon Gast’s 1996 documentary When We Were Kings covers the buildup to the “Rumble in the Jungle,” the iconic 1974 heavyweight championship match between world champion George Foreman and his challenger, Muhammad Ali. The film, which won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, also includes unprecedented footage of the fight itself.
Though technically a documentary and not a movie, When We Were Kings still tells a mesmerizing story about two boxers at the top of their game with interviews from the likes of Spike Lee, Norman Mailer and others discussing the historical nature of the bout.
These movies, in their own way, showcase the drama of boxing, both in and out of the ring. While some may be more decorated and well-remembered than others, each is more than worthy of being in the conversation of best of all time.