Hollywood and Boxing

There’s a line from the movie, “Godfather III,” where Al Pacino’s character, Michael Corleone, says, “Just when I thought I was out…they pull me back in!” Last month, I very prematurely stated that that article was to be my last, but like Michael Corleone, I too, was pulled back in. Kidding aside, I’m fortunate to be permitted to continue writing about the sport I love. And, it’s an incredible ego booster to know you have a following. Thank you, CNY Latino.

Since I started this article with a movie reference, I will continue along that theme. I’ll also give you a few recommendations on what movies to watch, and which ones to avoid.

Hands down, “Rocky,” with Sylvester Stallone, has been the best boxing movie ever made. It is not without its flaws, however. It was very low budget, the fight choreography was overdone, and most of the acting was mediocre. Despite the incredulous fight scenes, shoestring budget, and subpar acting though, the public bought into this movie in a big way. I know I did. However, I don’t believe that even Mr. Stallone, himself, could have imagined its overwhelming success. In 1976, “Rocky” was awarded the Oscar for best movie of the year.

“Rocky,” has also spawned several sequels, none that have captured the magic of the original, but they too, have had huge success, spanning generations, while playing to a global audience as well. Ironically enough, I recall watching the aforementioned “Godfather III” and “Rocky V” in a double feature, while stationed in Japan, back in 1990. As a testament to the movies’ long running success, I was 12 years old when “Rocky” was first released, and 42 when “Rocky Balboa” was. They have undoubtedly become a part of the American culture.

The movies have had such an impact on society, that the fictional character of Rocky Balboa has his own bronze statue standing beside the Philadelphia Museum of Art, at the foot of the commonly referred to, “Rocky Steps.” And the character’s creator, Sylvester Stallone, was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame just last year. And, while quite a few have expressed their opposition to Mr. Stallone’s induction, they cannot argue that his movies have contributed greatly to boxing; inspiring many to take up the sport, even if simply for recreation.

“Rocky,” and its sequels, aren’t the only movies made about boxing, so here I offer you a few recommendations, along with others you can simply leave on the shelf to continue collecting dust.

Must-See boxing flics & what make them great:

  • Raging Bull – Robert De Niro as Jake LaMotta is a cinematic masterpiece, that’s also a gangster movie in disguise. The ensemble cast have since worked together on other movie projects.
  • Requiem for a Heavyweight – The best over-the-hill boxer movie ever made. Anthony Quinn and Jackie Gleason are superb in their roles as boxer and crooked manager.
  • The Great White Hope – James Earl Jones pulled no punches [pun intended] in portraying Jack Johnson, the first Black heavyweight champion, as he truly was; flawed, and either hated or adored.
  • Somebody Up There Likes Me – Another great biopic with Paul Newman as middleweight champion Rocky Graziano.
  • The Harder They Fall – A corrupt Humphrey Bogart manages a huge heavyweight disappointment. This movie is rumored to have been about real life heavyweight, Primo Carnera.
  • Ali – Admittedly, Will Smith doesn’t resemble Ali, but with the help of Ali’s former trainer, Angelo Dundee, Mr. Smith was thoroughly convincing. The fight choreography is amazing. Mr. Dundee and I had talked about it, and it was clear that he was very impressed with Mr. Smith’s athleticism and commitment.
  • The Fighter – Although Mark Wahlberg was entirely too big to have played Micky Ward, the movie does play well, and is very enjoyable.
  • Million Dollar Baby – A well-directed tearjerker by Clint Eastwood. Hilary Swank was made convincing by boxing trainer, Hector Roca, from New York’s Gleason’s Gym.
  • Cinderella Man – Inspirational Depression era movie, with Russell Crowe as heavyweight contender, Jim Braddock, who, against all odds, contests the scary champion, Max Baer.
  • Body and Soul – James Garfield fights corruption in the ring and outside of it. Truly a classic of the genre.
  • The Kid from Brooklyn – Milkman-turned-boxer, Burleigh Sullivan, played by Danny Kaye, is the only comedic boxing movie I would ever recommend. It’s also one of my childhood favorites.
  • The Champ – Jon Voight and a young Rick Schroder team up to make this little gem a very emotional and likable film. Mr. Schroder’s performance is heartbreaking.

Boxing flics you should skip and why:

  • Undefeated – Although John Leguizamo was in incredible shape for this film, the acting left a lot to be desired, and the fight choreography was a bit sloppy.
  • Girlfight – No doubt, women can kick butt. I know, I’ve sparred with a few. But a matchup between a young woman and young man in the same weight class just didn’t ring true for me.
  • The Greatest – Muhammad Ali playing himself was way too narcissistic for me.
  • Gladiator – Entertaining, but a completely unrealistic movie about high school kids that fight with little to no padding in their gloves. It reminds me too much of Luis Resto and Antonio Margarito.
  • Against the Ropes – The fight choreography was terribly done, as if choreographed by an amateur, and that’s an insult to amateurs. Meg Ryan is at her cutest, though.
  • Homeboy – Even veteran actor, Mickey Rourke, couldn’t save this movie from itself. I couldn’t get past the first ten minutes. You give it a try.
  • Rocky Marciano – Jon Favreau looked like a bodybuilder. Great physique, but Rocky Marciano only weighed 186 pounds at his prime. The acting wasn’t awful, but it was far from good. Mr. Favreau should really stick to directing “Iron Man” movies.
  • Play it to the Bone – Woody Harrelson couldn’t even make this boxing comedy work, but I will give it credit for the final fight scene between him and Antonio Banderas.

I’m certain Hollywood will continue to churn out more boxing movies, because we love the genre, action, and overall entertainment value, but mostly because there are many great boxing stories yet to be told. Personally, I’m holding out for a movie about Dewey Bozella’s troubled life, an amazing true story. Be sure to catch the documentary, “26 Years: The Dewey Bozella Story” on Netflix or YouTube.

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