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50 Best Boxing Movies Of All Time Ranked

Sports dramas have always been big business in Hollywood. The tales of underdogs fighting against all odds and local heroes going from rags to riches is a winning formula that makes for entertaining and uplifting cinema. So it makes sense that there are so many sport-centric movies, as the genre is simply so popular with audiences. But out of all the athletic activities we've seen on the screen, few have grabbed the public's attention in films quite like boxing.

The combative and often ferocious sport is the perfect subject matter for a film, giving directors the chance to tell a variety of stories as the drama builds in anticipation of the inevitable big fight at the conclusion. Boxing also provides a never-ending supply of charismatic, compelling, and disturbing characters that are too hard to ignore. That's why the sport has been linked with the movie industry since the very beginning of Hollywood.

In that respect, it isn't surprising that so many great boxing movies have been released over the last century. Let's run down the very best of the best, ranking the greatest boxing films of all time.

50. The Great White Hype

Released in 1996, "The Great White Hype" is a sports comedy that stars Samuel L. Jackson as Rev. Fred Sultan with Jeff Goldblum, Damon Wayans, and Jamie Foxx all having supporting roles. Directed by Reginald Hudlin with a story by Tony Hendra and Ron Shelton, the film sees Jackson's character lampoon the likes of Don King as he attempts to stoke interest in his black boxer by orchestrating a scam fight against a white opponent.

"The Great White Hype" does what very few boxing movies try to do, injecting humor into the plot as it satirizes the racial tensions in boxing and bouts like the 1982 fight between Larry Holmes and Gerry Cooney. It's an interesting take that provides a look at a different side of the sport than viewers normally get. However, it failed to reach its full potential, with Roger Ebert saying, "It starts out well, as a wicked satire on professional boxing, then loses its energy ... and ends so abruptly at 91 minutes that it feels like the last reel is missing."

49. The Greatest

As one of the most famous and charismatic athletes of all time, it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that there are plenty of films about Muhammad Ali. Of course, not all of them can quite match the class and talent of the subject matter, as is the case with "The Greatest." Hitting cinemas in 1977, it is a biographical sports film that is based on the book "The Greatest: My Own Story" and features Ali himself in the starring role along with real-life footage from his fights. It charts much of his career as he turns professional and eventually defeats George Foreman in the Rumble in the Jungle.

While the film does give an entertaining look at the boxer's life, it treats Ali with so much reverence that it can never really dig too deeply into his character or some of the more controversial aspects of his life. This is a film that has carefully chosen what to include about Ali to paint him in the best light possible, ridding itself of any sense of impartiality but is still an enjoyable watch (via Radio Times).

48. Night and the City

Based on the 1950 film of the same name, "Night and the City" retells the story of Harry Fabian in a New York setting instead of London. Rather than a straight-up con man, Fabian is a lawyer in this version, attempting to break his way into the world of boxing rather than professional wrestling. Starring Robert De Niro as the main character, it's a violence-filled look at the crooked world of boxing and the dangers of becoming involved with sleazy underground characters.

Critics were particularly impressed with De Niro's performance, with The Washington Post stating, "Using every smile, grimace and shrug at his command, he makes Fabian's evolution from quick-hit operator to big-time contender into an exhilarating experience — one of the best performances of his career." The story and direction were less well-received, with many feeling that it was a less enthralling remake of the critically acclaimed original movie.

47. Undisputed

At the height of his fame and just a few years before his high-profile tax evasion trial, Wesley Snipes was cast in "Undisputed" as Monroe Hutchen, an inmate at Sweetwater prison who is an undefeated champion in the facility's illegal fighting competition. When Ving Rhames' professional boxer character, George Chambers, is sent to Sweetwater, mob boss Mendy Ripstein (Peter Falk) organizes a boxing match between the two. At the finale of the film, Hutchen is able to overcome Chambers in a thrilling fight that sees both men knocked down multiple times.

"Undisputed" received some praise for the way it focused purely on boxing, but the narrative leading up to the bout at the end was widely panned. Michael Dequina of The Movie Report confirmed as much, saying, "The main event doesn't come until the very end, and like too many pay-per-view packages the undercard is underwhelming." It did manage to find some success on home video, however, with three straight-to-video sequels following it, including "Undisputed II: Last Man Standing" and "Boyka: Undisputed."

46. Day of the Fight

Unlike almost every other film in this list, "Day of the Fight" is a short film and documentary rather than a feature-length movie. But it is notable as one of director Stanley Kubrick's earliest works, coming a full year before his first feature, "Fear and Desire," and another short in the form of "The Seafarers." Lasting just over 10 minutes in total, the film follows Walter Cartier on the day of his fight against Bobby James as he prepares for the bout, while the match itself is shot using multiple cameras.

Made for just a few thousand dollars (via Visual Memory), Kubrick explained that he performed every role in the filmmaking process to produce the short and was eventually able to sell it to RKO for $4,000. This made him a $100 profit in total and gave him the confidence to carry on making movies after quitting his job as a staff photographer for Look magazine. The documentary carefully ratchets up the tension as the big fight approaches, despite the limited screen time, and showcases some of Kubrick's already clear talent, even if the film isn't exactly well-remembered now.

45. Jungleland

"Jungleland" features Charlie Hunnam and Jack O'Connell as two brothers who engage in underground boxing fights to make a living. The pair quickly become involved with a local gangster known as Pepper and end up trying to pay off their debt by taking a young woman across the country on his orders. As the brothers reach their breaking points, they finally reconcile as Hunnam's character, Walter 'Lion' Kaminski, defeats his opponent in the biggest fight of his life.

Sheila O'Malley of RogerEbert.com cited Hunnam's performance as exceptional, but did concede that the meandering narrative of "Jungleland" might well put some people off as the story twists and turns until the final act. This is a common theme among reviews for the film, with the Independent also criticizing the way that the plot "slowly unravels with each increasingly implausible turn." Despite that, it has managed to be something of a critical success, with a 74% approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes.

44. China Heavyweight

Released in 2012, "China Heavyweight" is a documentary from Chinese-Canadian filmmaker Yung Chang. It focuses on a boxing coach in China, following the country's decision to reverse a ban on boxing, as he attempts to recruit hopeful youngsters from rural parts of the country to train. Much of the film focuses on the fates of two boys in particular, as well as the revival of coach Qi Moxiang's own boxing career, as he inspires those under his tutelage.

Although "China Heavyweight" doesn't have the reach of mainstream boxing movies, it offers a unique perspective on the sport in a location that has had a very different relationship with the "sweet science" over the last few decades. As an examination of the personal lives of those involved, Chang's documentary received plaudits from most critics and was nominated for a Grand Jury Prize after making its debut at the Sundance Film Festival in 2012 (via China Daily).

43. The Prizefighter and the Lady

The 1933 film "The Prizefighter and the Lady" is one of the earliest feature-length boxing movies on this list. Noted screenwriter Frances Marion developed the story, with John Lee Mahin and John Meehan writing the script. It stars Myrna Loy as love interest Belle, Max Baer as a sailor and talented amateur boxer known as Steve, and Walter Huston as a manager who sets up a fight between Steve and real-life boxer Primo Carnera after the newcomer quickly rises through the ranks.

According to The Fight City, this movie was one of the first to feature actual heavyweight boxers, a decision that lent credibility and excitement to the fight scenes. Both Baer and Carnera were highly talented boxers who reigned as heavyweight champions, giving "The Prizefighter and the Lady" a sense of impact that likely couldn't have been matched by actors. It would go on to be nominated for an Oscar for Best Writing (Original Story).

42. Killer's Kiss

Stanley Kubrick's fascination with boxing didn't end with "Day of the Fight." Four years later he directed the film "Killer's Kiss," a crime film that marked the influential filmmaker's second feature-length release. Actor Jamie Smith plays a down-on-his-luck middleweight boxer known as Davey Gordon, while Irene Kane stars as dancer Gloria Price. The two form a strong friendship and later a relationship despite the efforts of Frank Silvera's gangster character, Vincent Rapallo.

Like "The Killing" and "Fear and Desire," Kubrick made "Killer's Kiss" on a tiny budget that he acquired from friends and family. Rotten Tomatoes reports that the film received generally positive reviews from critics, with praise pointed towards the director's cinematography and unique visual style. The boxing itself takes a back seat to the plot, meaning it's not a classic of the genre, but is worth watching for those who want to see how Kubrick developed as a filmmaker.

41. Resurrecting the Champ

Samuel L. Jackson stars in another boxing film, taking on the role of Tommy Kincaid in "Resurrecting the Champ." A former boxer now living on the streets, Kincaid pretends to be a more successful real-life fighter known as Bob Satterfield. He tricks Josh Hartnett's character, reporter Erik Kernan Jr., into believing he is the champ, prompting the journalist to write a biographical feature about Satterfield's life. Directed by Rod Lurie, the film eventually sees Kincaid's deceit be revealed, as Satterfield is proven to have died some years earlier and his actual son sues the newspaper.

Nominated for an ESPY award for Best Sports Movie in 2008, "Resurrecting the Champ" received a mixed reception among fans and critics (via IMDb). Most of the positivity centered on Jackson's performance, with Roger Ebert praising the way that the actor portrayed Kincaid to give the character more depth and complexity than you might have expected. However, the film doesn't work quite as well when Jackson isn't at the center of the action, ensuring that "Resurrecting the Champ" will probably never be considered a classic.

40. Girlfight

There's little doubt that the sports film genre is almost entirely male-dominated (via The Movie Buff), and boxing movies are no different, with practically every release featuring men duking it out. One of the most notable exceptions is the 2000 film "Girlfight," from writer-director Karyn Kusama. Michelle Rodriguez makes her film debut as Diana Guzman, an aggressive teenager who turns to boxing as a way of refocusing her temper into a physical outlet. Yet she finds that the gym where she works out and those involved in the local boxing scene disapprove of her wish to become a professional.

After premiering at the Sundance Film Festival in 2000, "Girlfight" won a Grand Jury Prize and was subsequently picked up by Screen Gems (via the New York Times). The movie won widespread critical praise, with reviews heaping acclaim on Michelle Rodriguez for her performance in the lead role. Others found much to enjoy in the way that the film ran deeper than just focusing on boxing, also examining the inherent sexism in society.

39. Ali

Out of all the films that focus on the life of boxer Muhammad Ali, Michael Mann's 2001 movie is perhaps the best known. "Ali" follows the iconic fighter at the height of his career, from the time that he first became world champion in 1964 up to his infamous fight against George Foreman in the "Rumble in the Jungle" 10 years later. Will Smith stars as Ali, with the likes of Jamie Foxx, Jon Voight, and Mario Van Peebles taking on supporting roles.

In many ways, "Ali" was Smith's first major foray into attempting to be a dramatic film actor. His performance was widely praised and he received an Academy Award nomination, while Voight was also nominated for Best Supporting Actor (via IMDb). Although the film did not shy away from some of the more controversial moments in Ali's career, the likes of Roger Ebert nonetheless criticized it for failing to capture the fighter's enigmatic and extraordinary personality. Ultimately, "Ali" failed to connect with audiences and proved to be a financial flop, according to Box Office Mojo.

38. Boxeadora

"Boxeadora" is a 2015 short film from documentary filmmaker Meg Smaker. The focus of this independently produced short is Namibia Flores, a Cuban female boxer who is continuing to train and fight despite a nationwide ban on women's boxing. Her ultimate goal is to go to the Olympics and win a gold medal, but she faces a struggle to gain acceptance from the people in her home country. It's an emotional journey about a woman who feels that her considerable talent is unwelcome. Smaker, a boxer herself, went to Cuba to train for a tournament, only to realize that women are not allowed in the ring there — but it was in the gym she visited that she met Flores.

Namibia's struggle simply to do what she loves makes for a difficult and moving watch, and "Boxeadora" went on to win an Iris Prize for Smaker's efforts. According to The Wrap, the filmmaking process was difficult, with Smaker forced to smuggle footage out of Cuba and struggle with equipment that couldn't be fixed in the communist country.

37. Knuckle

Ian Palmer's film "Knuckle" is another boxing documentary, although what makes it different from others is that it investigates the underground bare-knuckle boxing world organized by Irish Travellers. Taking some 12 years to make, it charts the fortunes of three different families in Ireland as they take part in various fights across the span of a decade. Along the way, viewers get a look at the bloody and violent way that the Irish Travellers settle feuds and longstanding arguments.

Bare-knuckle boxing is very different to the more sanitized sport that most boxing films feature, meaning that "Knuckle" offers a very different perspective. Palmer delves into the brutality of the bouts and grittiness of the lives of the participants in a way that resonates with viewers, thanks to the compelling stories and captivating action. Although it's certified as fresh with a 93% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, some may find it unsettling to witness the sheer savagery that envelops the audience.

36. Bleed for This

"Bleed for This" is a 2016 biographical film written and directed by Ben Younger, whose previous efforts included "Boiler Room" and "Prime." Starring Miles Teller from "Top Gun: Maverick," it focuses on the life of Italian-American boxer Vinny Pazienza (via World Boxing News), who beats the odds to enter the ring and fight once again following a serious car accident that threatens to permanently end his career. Aaron Eckhart, Katey Sagal, Ciarán Hinds, and Ted Levine round out the cast of the film, which was inspired by real-life events.

According to The Numbers, "Bleed for This" failed to recoup its $16 million budget, grossing less than half of that at the box office. That came on the back of generally favorable reviews (via Rotten Tomatoes), with the film becoming one of the better-received boxing movies of the last decade. Most critics felt that Teller was the main draw, with Variety stating, "Teller is terrific, which should come as no surprise to 'Whiplash' fans."

35. Rocky III

The "Rocky" franchise has certainly had its ups and downs over the years, which shouldn't be unexpected considering there have now been eight films in the series. "Rocky III" stands firmly in the middle, not falling to the lows of "Rocky IV" and "Rocky V" but failing to reach the heights of the original film or "Creed." Sylvester Stallone once again returns to the role of Rocky Balboa, as he faces a new opponent in the form of Clubber Lang (Mr. T). After being defeated by the up-and-coming boxer and losing his longtime mentor Mickey (Burgess Meredith), he starts training with his former rival Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers).

Despite the way it refuses to switch up the formula all that much, the movie still manages to work for the most part. The Washington Post called it "as much fun as ever, a ground-meat-and-potatoes movie, with guys beating the hell out of each other to a disco beat." While it may not have been as well-received by critics as its predecessors, "Rocky III" proved to be a huge hit at the box office. According to The Numbers, it grossed $270 million against a modest budget, surpassing both "Rocky" and "Rocky II."

34. Don King: Only in America

As you might expect, the most well-known figures in the world of boxing are the athletes themselves. One of the few non-boxers to become a household name in their own right is Don King. The infamous promoter was involved in some of the sport's biggest fights and has also had his fair share of controversial moments (via Complex). Released in 1997 by HBO and directed by John Herzfeld, "Don King: Only in America" stars Ving Rhames as King, telling the story of his rise and how he became one of the most famous boxing promoters and managers in the world.

Nominated for a number of awards, including several Primetime Emmys, it gives an in-depth look at King's life and doesn't shy away from looking at the darker sides of his personality. But the film also fails to really tread any new ground, retelling what knowledgeable viewers will already know. According to Variety, it "is not a great film, or even a particularly illuminating one," even if it's an entertaining portrait of a man who does not go out of his way to make himself look good.

33. The Boxer

"The Boxer" sees former IRA member Danny Flynn return to Belfast after being released from prison. Seeking to live a peaceful life away from the violence that has engulfed Northern Ireland, he sets up a boxing gym that welcomes boys from every background and affiliation but is opposed by many IRA men, who see his actions as a major betrayal. He also reignites a romance with a former girlfriend (Emily Watson), who is now married to an IRA member.

Anything starring Daniel Day-Lewis is almost certain to be worth watching, with the actor being one of the most celebrated of his era. It was also directed by Jim Sheridan, who collaborated with Day-Lewis on other critically acclaimed films such as "My Left Foot" and "In the Name of the Father." Boxing itself largely takes a back seat to the intense personal drama in "The Boxer," but that allows viewers to see the characters develop outside of the usual environment of the ring. That is most obvious with the two lead characters: CNN praised the brilliant chemistry between Watson and Day-Lewis, saying, "You can almost feel the heat, and their situation never feels contrived or artificial."

32. Real Steel

"Real Steel" takes a novel approach to the sports drama genre by taking the action to the near future, where boxing has evolved to the point where robots have replaced human fighters. Based on a short story by Richard Matheson that was also the basis of a 1963 episode of "The Twilight Zone," it stars Hugh Jackman as a former champion who finds and trains an old robot as a way of bonding with his son. The pair have had little contact until the youngster's mother dies, but the two rise through the ranks to become fan favorites with their underdog robot.

Although many critics noted that they had low expectations for "Real Steel," the movie managed to exceed them for the most part. Despite being predictable and a bit too sentimental or cliché at times, it remains fun and "on the whole ... enjoyable family entertainment," according to Empire. That may go some way toward explaining why it grossed almost $300 million at the box office (via Box Office Mojo).

31. Muhammad and Larry

Part of ESPN's "30 for 30" sports documentary series, "Muhammad and Larry" explores the build-up and aftermath of the 1980 fight between Muhammad Ali and Larry Holmes. There are interviews with those involved, behind-the-scenes looks at the training camps of both fighters, and even previously unseen footage. It gives a fresh, and often heartbreaking, look at what many people consider a fight that should never have even happened (via Boxing247). Ali was already suffering the effects of Parkinson's disease by this point and the bout was difficult to watch for even seasoned boxing fans.

The AV Club calls "Muhammad and Larry" a "perfect boxing drama with a powerful emotional punch that's not lessened by the fact that it depicts a terrible wrong which can never be righted." One of the best releases in the "30 for 30" series, it is a powerful film that shows just terrible greed and pride can be in sports.

30. The Hammer

"The Hammer" stars comedian and talk show host Adam Carolla as a former boxer called Jerry Ferro, who makes a living as a part-time boxing instructor while supplementing his income with construction work. After sparring with a promising newcomer, he lands a knockout punch and is asked to train with other Olympic hopefuls despite his advanced age and lack of fitness. Carolla co-wrote the movie with Kevin Hench, with Charles Herman-Wurmfeld acting as director and Heather Juergensen, Harold House Moore, and Tom Quinn also starring.

Thanks to its comedic pedigree, "The Hammer" has plenty of laughs and takes a less earnest approach than many other boxing films. This gives it a lighter tone that makes it an easy watch and ensures it doesn't feel like it ever takes itself too seriously. The AV Club noted that it was one of the better sports comedies and that "much of the film's charm comes from its scruffy, self-effacing modesty; it's a relaxed, affable underdog about a relaxed, affable underdog."

29. TwentyFourSeven

"TwentyFourSeven" comes from director and screenwriter Shane Meadows, the man behind the film "This Is England" and its subsequent television sequels. It stars Bob Hoskins as Alan Darcy, a man who wants to help the disaffected young boys in his neighborhood by opening a boxing gym and giving them something to focus their efforts on.

The movie is far from groundbreaking, with the story of youths finding purpose and discipline via sports in general, let alone in the boxing gym, being a trope that is almost as old as the sport itself. Yet it still manages to be a touching tale that shows just how inspiring boxing can be, especially in the harsh working class streets of the U.K. Empire backed up that thought, writing, "He may buck the trend for slick editing and dazzling set pieces, but Meadows gives off a bold message: be a somebody, not a nobody."

28. Rocky Balboa

While the "Rocky" franchise has been in full swing again since the 2015 release of "Creed," there was a significant hiatus following the release of "Rocky V" in 1990, until Sylvester Stallone returned to write, direct, and star in the 2006 release "Rocky Balboa." After years of retirement, Rocky once again enters the ring as part of an exhibition match, both to bolster the popularity of heavyweight champion Mason "The Line" Dixon (Antonio Tarver) and resolve his personal demons following the death of his wife Adrian and his estrangement from his son Robert.

Standards were set pretty low for "Rocky Balboa" following the disappointment of the previous two films. Still, it proved to be a worthwhile comeback, garnering praise from The Hollywood Reporter for its "low-key, technically stripped-down production that really does come close to capturing the heart and soul of the original." There were some concerns that it was too nostalgic and unrealistic, although it was successful enough to spark the series' revival with "Creed."

27. Creed II

Following the success of "Creed," most of the cast and crew returned for the 2018 sequel "Creed II." Michael B. Jordan reprised his role as Adonis Creed, with Sylvester Stallone and Tessa Thompson also respectively taking up their parts once again as his mentor Rocky and his love interest Bianca. This time around, Adonis is challenged by Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu), the son of Ivan Drago from "Rocky IV." Dolph Lundgren even makes a comeback as the once villainous but now retired fighter, who now has a different perspective on life.

"Creed II" sticks to the tried and tested formula of the "Rocky" series without too many deviations, a decision that may have proven too predictable for some viewers. Yet it still manages to tug on the heartstrings and get the audience invested in the emotional journey that all of the main players go on in the course of the story. As Digital Trends said in its review, "The film packs a surprisingly powerful punch and offers a layered story about the power we give the past."

26. The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki

"The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki" stands out from many other boxing films of recent times in a few notable ways. It is shot in black and white to give it a vintage look, takes place in the 1960s, and focuses on the little-known real-life Finnish boxer Olli Mäki (Jarkko Lahti). As a biographical drama, the 2016 movie gives audiences a glimpse at the preparations and events leading up to his unlikely bout against featherweight champion Davey Moore.

Another way that "The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki" subverts the genre is by having Mäki comprehensively beaten in just the second round. Yet he still gets his happy ending, after his new girlfriend Raija Jänkä (Oona Airola) accepts his proposal and the two walk away from the fight in love. It went on to win the Un Certain Regard award at the Cannes Film Festival, with The Guardian calling it "a film of immense humanity and charm: the very best kind of date movie."

25. Kid Galahad

Hitting cinemas in 1937, "Kid Galahad" follows Ward Guisenberry (Wayne Morris) as he is transformed into a professional boxer after impressing manager and coach Nick Donati (Edward G. Robinson). Directed by prolific Hollywood filmmaker Michael Curtiz, who also helmed "Casablanca," "Mildred Pierce," and scores of other classics, the film charts the personal struggles of the newcomer and the effects his success has on the lives of those around him. Also featuring Bette Davis and Humphrey Bogart as part of the cast, it comes from the Golden Age of movies and is one of the earliest boxing films.

Reviews found the plot a bit too formulaic and criticized "Kid Galahad" for having twists and turns that were all too easy to see coming. Yet, the performances of the main cast were praised, as was Curtiz's experienced directing, with Time Out saying, "Sleek direction and excellent performances keep it enjoyable."

24. Fat City

1972's "Fat City," directed by John Huston, is largely based on the Leonard Gardner novel of the same name. Like many other boxing films, it sees a former professional go back to the sport after years of retirement for one last chance at stardom. In this case, it is Stacy Keach's Billy Tully who hits the gym to get back in shape, where he meets a talented young boxer played by Jeff Bridges. As the narrative progresses, the similarities between the paths of the two men becomes clearer and it looks as if history will repeat itself.

The movie has garnered nothing but positive reviews, landing a 100% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Praise mainly centered on the performances of the actors, the cinematography, and the realistic, honest appraisal of the lives of those on the bottom rungs of the boxing ladder. Roger Ebert applauded the way that Huston handled the subject matter, commenting that the director "treats it with a level, unsentimental honesty and makes it into one of his best films."

23. The Champ

"The Champ" is another early boxing film from the 1930s. Directed by King Vidor, who helmed a portion of "The Wizard of Oz," it stars Wallace Beery and Jackie Cooper as a father and son duo who are living in squalid conditions. The father, Andy Purcell, is a one-time boxing champion who has fallen from grace and is a perennial disappointment to Dink due to his drinking problem and gambling addiction. A chance encounter with Andy's former partner and Dink's estranged mother adds more complications as the Champ attempts to resurrect his career.

According to Ultimate Movie Rankings, "The Champ" was the biggest box office success of 1931. It effectively set the standard for the father-and-son relationship in films, with the young child attempting to redeem his tragic parental figure. It was such a hit that it has been remade several times, most notably as the 1952 film "The Clown" and the 1979 release of the same name, which starred Jon Voight and Ricky Schroder.

22. Rocky II

Following his directorial debut with 1978's "Paradise Alley," Sylvester Stallone once again took up writing and directing duties, along with playing the part of the titular protagonist, in 1979's "Rocky II." After his dramatic fight against Apollo Creed in the original film, Rocky faces renewed pressure for a rematch along with the fresh challenges brought about thanks to his newfound wealth and fame. He also has to contend with a dramatic shift in his life after his marriage to Adrian and the upcoming birth of his child.

While the action in "Rocky II" was largely seen as a bigger and more bombastic spectacle than its predecessor, it also failed to break new ground in any significant way. With a predictable plot that was often too slow to get going, it is not quite in the same pantheon as the original but still a great boxing movie that garnered positive reviews from the vast majority of critics.

21. Champion

The 1949 film "Champion" stars Kirk Douglas as Midge Kelly, who battles against his own personal issues and corruption in the world of boxing. But the issues he faces harden him to such an extent that Kelly will do just about anything to reach his goals. Marilyn Maxwell, Arthur Kennedy, and Lola Albright are also among the cast. Mark Robson, who also helmed "Peyton Place" and "Valley of the Dolls," was responsible for directing the picture, which was written by "The Bridge on the River Kwai" screenwriter Carl Foreman. 

Nominated for six Academy Awards, "Champion" won for Best Film Editing (via IMDb). It also proved a financial success, with a box office gross in excess of $2 million, according to Variety. Many critics noted the less-than-stellar plot but felt that the action more than made up for it. The New York Times in particular wrote that the "scenes in training gymnasiums, managers' offices and, of course, the big fight rings are strongly atmospheric and physically intense."

20. Tyson

Mike Tyson is undoubtedly one of the most controversial figures in boxing but also one of the sport's biggest draws over the last few decades. James Toback's 2008 documentary, titled "Tyson," is an in-depth look at the life of the heavyweight champion. As well as detailing some of the boxer's biggest fights, it explores his upbringing in a dysfunctional family and how his sudden stardom at the age of just 20 led him on a path that caused him endless problems in his personal and professional life.

A.O. Scott of The New York Times summed up the strengths of "Tyson," saying that it "is not an entirely trustworthy movie, but it does feel profoundly honest." Unlike many other documentaries, it digs deep into the mind of the subject in a way that is distressing to watch but impossible to look away from, as you see just how disturbing much of Tyson's life has been.

19. Napola

Titled "Before the Fall" outside of Germany, "Napola" is a sports drama directed and co-written by Dennis Gansel. Max Riemelt stars as Friedrich Weimer, a young man in Nazi Germany who proves to be a talented but inexperienced fighter. His skills earn him a place in the National Political Institutes of Education, a boarding school that indoctrinates students into the Nazi ideology. Life at the facility turns out not be quite what Friedrich expected and much more grim than he could have possibly imagined.

With an approval rating of 67% on Rotten Tomatoes, you might think that "Napola" isn't one of the classic boxing movies. However, it won a number of awards and was praised for the way it examines the atrocities of the Nazis in a distinctive way, with the Austin Chronicle saying that the movie is "brought to life fully by Gansel's restrained but focused direction and a stellar performance by Riemelt."

18. Gentleman Jim

The 1942 film "Gentleman Jim" depicts the story of real-life boxer James J. Corbett, who fought throughout the 1890s before retiring after a final bout in 1903. Discovered as a promising fighter, Corbett, played by Errol Flynn, quickly begins to rise through the ranks and eventually manages to get a match against the heavyweight champion John L. Sullivan (Ward Bond), despite ruffling feathers among the upper classes that make up the boxing community. Corbett's more sophisticated, strategic approach to the sport leads him to victory, as he defeats his opponent and wins the heart of his love interest.

According to The Biopic Story, "Gentleman Jim" was Flynn's favorite film role and it shows with the enthusiasm that he puts into the role, giving it an infectious sense of fun that seeps through the screen to the audience. The Chicago Tribune praised the enjoyable nature of the film, calling it "all-around excellent entertainment."

17. Somebody Up There Likes Me

Released in 1956, "Somebody Up There Likes Me" tells the story of legendary middleweight boxing champion Rocky Graziano. Paul Newman plays Graziano, with Pier Angeli, Everett Sloane, Steve McQueen, and Harold J. Stone rounding out the cast. Although he's interested in fighting early on, a rough life on the streets lands a young Graziano in prison, after which he finds himself recruited by the Army. Going AWOL, he is caught and sent to the military barracks for a year, during which he rediscovers his talent for boxing and utilizes it once he's free to ascend to the top of the boxing world.

Named as one of the AFI's top 50 sports films, "Somebody Up There Likes Me" was directed by Robert Wise, who later helmed "The Sound of Music," "The Haunting," and "The Andromeda Strain." The film was nominated for three Oscars, winning two, and was widely praised in reviews. Variety was effusive toward Newman for his performance, saying, "Paul Newman's talent is large and flexible, revealing an approach to the Graziano character that scores tremendously."

16. The Harder They Fall

"The Harder They Fall" proved to be Humphrey Bogart's final role, following his success in the likes of "Casablanca" and "Sabrina." He plays sportswriter Eddie Willis in this Mark Robson-directed film based on Budd Schulberg's 1947 novel. The story revolves around the journalist's transition to PR guru for a boxing promoter, who is fixing fights for a large Argentinian fighter in the hopes of creating a new boxing sensation. As the scam continues, Willis begins to listen to his conscience and eventually does right by the unwitting boxer.

For many, "The Harder They Fall" was an exposé of the corruption in boxing, shedding a light on how fights can be fixed and boxers controlled by shady figures and the mob. The New York Times was impressed with the non-stop action and the way that the film keeps the audience captivated, stating, "This hard-punching boxing-business picture ... comes out swinging from the very beginning and doesn't stop until just before the end."

15. Ring of Fire: The Emile Griffith Story

2005's "Ring of Fire: The Emile Griffith Story" is another documentary set in the world of boxing. Directed by Ron Berger and Dan Klores, the film explores the tragic and controversial fight between Emile Griffith and Benny "Kid" Paret. The bout, held in 1962, was proceeded by an encounter at the weigh-in when Paret allegedly used a homophobic slur against Griffith (via Sports Illustrated). The fight would end with Paret defeated by TKO, but he collapsed shortly after and died 10 days later in hospital.

The documentary charts the events before, during, and after the fight, exploring the effects it had on all involved. It culminates in a meeting between the boxer and Paret's son, which movie critic Dennis Schwartz felt was the best moment of the film. He wrote, "In the film's most touching scene, one that can't be manufactured, Emile meets Paret's grown kid sometime in the late 1990s for the first time and the two hug and have genuine tears of affection for each other."

14. Body and Soul

Robert Rossen directed this 1947 film, which stars John Garfield in an Oscar-nominated performance as Charley Davis, who starts his boxing career despite the protests of his mother. As he finds more success, he is also exposed to a growing number of unsavory characters, who threaten to derail his plans to become a boxing champion by introducing him to the vices available to those with the ability to access them. Lilli Palmer, Hazel Brooks, William Conrad, and Anne Revere are also part of the cast. 

According to TV Guide, the actual boxing matches in "Body and Soul" were incredibly impressive and the best part of the film, setting a new standard for how bouts should be depicted in movies. The outlet's review said that the "fight sequences, in particular, brought a kind of realism to the genre that had never before existed," while the Houston Boxing Hall of Fame (via TCM) named "Body and Soul" the "greatest boxing movie ever" in 2014.

13. The Hurricane

Denzel Washington took on the lead role in the 1999 sports drama film "The Hurricane." Directed by Norman Jewison, the film is based on several books about middleweight boxer Rubin "The Hurricane" Carter, a man who was imprisoned for a triple murder in 1966 but insisted he had nothing to do with the deaths. The film largely follows Carter's fight to prove his innocence and how he coped with being wrongfully jailed for 20 years until his eventual release.

"The Hurricane" won widespread acclaim and Washington's performance received several plaudits, including a Golden Globe win for Best Actor. Although there were some concerns raised about the pacing of the film, critics responded well overall to Carter's inspirational story. Roger Ebert wrote, "I was amazed, after feeling some impatience in the earlier reaches of the film, to find myself so deeply absorbed in its second and third acts, until at the end I was blinking at tears."

12. Creed

Set several years after "Rocky Balboa," this 2015 film switches the focus from the aging Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) to the late Apollo Creed's illegitimate son Adonis (Michael B. Jordan). After the younger Creed is not accepted for training at gyms in his hometown of Los Angeles, he moves to Philadelphia and seeks out his father's old friend. Rocky reluctantly agrees to coach Adonis, who proves himself in a fight against champion Ricky Conlan, played by real life boxer Tony Bellew. Tessa Thompson and Phylicia Rashad cheer him on as his love interest and Apollos's widow, respectively.

Critics largely agreed that Michael B. Jordan brought some much-needed energy and charisma to the "Rocky" series in his first outing as Adonis. Most people were impressed with how "Creed" was able to live up to its predecessors but also manage to be distinctive, moving away from the formula of previous movies. But The Irish Times noted that the film went back to the series' more intimate, character-driven roots, saying, 'There's an earthiness and street quality that we haven't witnessed since the 1976 original."

11. The Quiet Man

"The Quiet Man" is one of the few films featured in this article where boxing takes something of a back seat. Starring Golden Age icon John Wayne as retired boxer Sean Thornton, the film was directed by John Ford and sees Thornton return to the place of his birth as he seeks to buy his family's old farm. However, when he falls in love with his rival's sister, it causes complications between all involved before the matter is settled in a savage brawl at the finale.

Certified fresh by Rotten Tomatoes, with an approval rating and audience score of 91%, "The Quiet Man" hits all the right notes. There's a good deal of romance, plenty of comedy moments, and well-crafted dialogue, making the 1952 film one of the must-see movies of its era. It went on to be nominated for seven Academy Awards, winning two, while Reel Views opined, "Although not a true classic, 'The Quiet Man' is worth more than a cursory glance."

10. Requiem for a Heavyweight

"Requiem for a Heavyweight," is a 1962 release directed by Ralph Nelson of "Lilies of the Field" fame and starring Anthony Quinn as Luis Rivera, a down-on-his luck boxer who wants to set up a new life for himself outside of fighting. However, his relationship with his shady manager, Maish Rennick (Jackie Gleason), ensures he has to keep fighting and demeaning himself in wrestling matches against novelty acts. The movie is notable for including Muhammad Ali in a fight against Rivera in the opening boxing match.

Based on the original play written by Rod Serling that was telecast on "Playhouse 90" in 1956, the film received widespread acclaim when it was released. Critics agreed on the film's overall dramatic power and its impressive performances from Quinn and Gleason. According to Variety, the film's pace dragged at times, but that it "still packs considerable punch as a character study, although its action has slowed to where the plot padding is often obvious."

9. The Set-Up

Robert Ryan and Audrey Totter play a husband and wife named Bill and Julie Thompson in "The Set-Up," another boxing-related film from director Robert Wise. A boxer nearing the end of his career. Thompson has one final fight in the works. But his manager makes a deal with a mob boss for Thompson to take a dive — without the boxer's knowledge — and his wife urges him to retire early for the sake of his health. Eventually, the aging fighter is forced to either swallow his pride and throw the bout or fight on and face the consequences.

Inspired by the film noir movies of its time, 1949's "The Set-Up" may well be one of the most influential boxing films of all time (via Criterion). It highlights the tired, hard life of boxers who haven't found fame or fortune, along with the sordid interests of all of those involved. Reel Film said that Wise "delivers a real-time drama that boasts plenty of appealing, attention-grabbing attributes."

8. The Fighter

"The Fighter" is one of the more recent boxing films that can be considered a classic of the genre. Starring Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale, director David O. Russell's biographical melodrama was inspired by the story of two professional boxers and brothers, with Wahlberg's character Micky Ward training under his half-brother Dicky Eklund. Struggling to overcome the shadow of his brother, Micky faces an uncertain future while Dicky battles his addiction to cocaine.

A financial success, "The Fighter" grossed almost $130 million at the box office against a budget of just $25 million (via Box Office Mojo). The two lead actors were praised for their performances, while Amy Adams was also commended for her role as Micky's wife Charlene. According to Sports Illustrated, the movie is one of the greatest sports films of recent times, calling it "one of the best since Martin Scorsese backlit Robert De Niro's Jake LaMotta in 'Raging Bull.'"

7. When We Were Kings

Few documentaries have had such an impact as "When We Were Kings." Leon Gast spent more than 20 years putting together the film, according to Entertainment Weekly, about the infamous "Rumble in the Jungle" heavyweight bout between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman. Focusing on the events leading up to the 1974 championship fight, it features interviews with famous figures from the time and explores the ethics of hosting a fight in a country ruled by the dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.

The eventual release of "When We Were Kings" was met with universal acclaim. It won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature (via Deadline) and was praised for the way it gave an in-depth look at the relationship between Ali and Foreman. The film is widely seen as one of the best boxing documentaries ever made, suitably matching the grandiose event that it captures. Roger Ebert called it "a new documentary of a past event, recapturing the electricity generated by Muhammad Ali in his prime."

6. Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson

"Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson" is a 2004 documentary from filmmaker Ken Burns — best known for exhaustive historical documentaries such as "The Civil War," "Baseball," and "The Vietnam War." Narrated by "Platoon" and "Armageddon" star Keith David, it retells the life of Jack Johnson, who famously beat James J. Jeffries in what was at the time called the Fight of the Century (via The Fight City). Much of the focus is put on the discrimination Johnson faced as an African-American man living at the height of the Jim Crow era.

Samuel L. Jackson and Alan Rickman both provide voice work for the film, while David won an Emmy for his commentary. Although it can be difficult to watch, especially when you see the hatred that the boxer received from some sections of society due to his success, it is a nevertheless captivating film that, according to Slant magazine, "moves with a nimbleness befitting the story of a man defined by his ability to effortlessly bob and weave through life's obstacles."

5. Cinderella Man

Like many boxing films, "Cinderella Man" is inspired by the true story of a fighter who returns to the sport for one last chance at success. This time around it's Russell Crowe as James J. Braddock, a boxer who is forced to retire due to a broken hand. When given a second shot while unemployed, Braddock stages a surprise win and is given the opportunity to fight heavyweight champion Max Baer in a title bout. Directed by Ron Howard, the film also features Renée Zellweger, Paddy Considine, Paul Giamatti, and Craig Bierko.

Crowe and Howard's second film together after "A Beautiful Mind" was a box office flop. But it did land generally positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes for its emotional story and stirring performances, although some did note that it was predictable and overly long. The movie was also nominated for three Academy Awards, although Crowe missed out on a Best Actor nod.

4. Million Dollar Baby

Clint Eastwood directed and stars in 2004's "Million Dollar Baby," alongside Hilary Swank and Morgan Freeman. Swank plays Mary, a young woman who seeks a professional boxing career and turns to Eastwood's Frankie, an elderly trainer who initially seems flustered and unwilling to coach a woman. The two eventually work together and Mary climbs through the ranks before she is paralyzed after being hit with an illegal blow in a fight against a dirty boxer.

There's little doubt about the quality of "Million Dollar Baby," with Roger Ebert calling it "a masterpiece, pure and simple, deep and true." while also naming it the best film of 2004. Swank and Freeman received acclaim for their performances and both won Academy Awards for their roles, with the film receiving a total of seven nominations and taking home four awards (via The New York Times). While the ending did open itself up to controversy (via NBC News), it's a heart-wrenching conclusion that will leave the audience feeling like they have been hit in the gut by Mary herself.

3. Rocky

When people think of boxing films, "Rocky" is likely the first picture that they will come up with. The 1976 release, which was written by Sylvester Stallone and directed by John G. Avildsen, centers on the life of Rocky Balboa. He's a talented but unsuccessful boxer who earns a living working as muscle for a local loan shark. His life quickly turns around, though, when he is given the opportunity to fight against world champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) as an underdog.

"Rocky" effectively set the formula for the rags-to-riches narratives that would become popular throughout the sports drama genre, highlighting the American Dream as a way for ordinary people to find success (via The Sportsman). The film proved to be a huge hit, grossing more than $200 million against a tiny budget of just $950,000, according to The Numbers. Nominated for 10 Oscars and winning three — including Best Picture and Best Director — it also won critical acclaim for its inspiring and uplifting story along with the brilliant performances of the entire cast.

2. Rocco and His Brothers

"Rocco and His Brothers" is an almost three-hour-long epic from Italian filmmaker Luchino Visconti. It tells the story of four brothers who move from the country to Milan with their mother, following the death of their father. Two of the brothers, played by Alain Delon (Rocco) and Renato Salvatori (Simone), become boxers and make a successful living at first. However, the lure of the big city and its vices soon corrupts Simone and leaves Rocco having to pick up the pieces to keep his dysfunctional family together and safe.

Roger Ebert wrote that "so much happens, at such intensity and complexity, with such an outpouring of emotion, that we do feel we're witnessing an opera," and added the film to his collection of great movies that everyone should see. Meanwhile, Open Culture reports that Martin Scorsese included it on a list of 39 essential foreign films, showing just how important and influential it has been.

1. Raging Bull

Any film directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Robert De Niro is worth watching and "Raging Bull" is perhaps the apex of their many collaborations. Focusing on the real-life story of Jake LaMotta, known as the Bronx Bull in boxing circles, it follows the middleweight as his personal troubles and destructive behavior threaten to ruin his boxing career and throw his family life into turmoil. The likes of Joe Pesci, Cathy Moriarty, Frank Vincent, and Nicholas Colasanto all make up the remarkable supporting cast.

Widely regarded as one of the best movies ever made, "Raging Bull" was not a critical or financial success when it was released in 1980. However, in the intervening years, it has been viewed more favorably in reviews, receiving almost universal acclaim. An impactful film that doesn't shy away from showing the worst aspects of Lamotta's life, it was perhaps described best by the Pittsburth Post-Gazette: "There is unquestionable ugliness in 'Raging Bull,' but there is astonishing power, too." Just like the sweet science itself.