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The Best Boxing Movies Of The '90s

What is it about boxing movies that's so exhilarating? From Rocky to Raging Bull, some of the best and most popular films of all time have been about a sport where two competitors enter but only one can emerge victorious. Sure, boxing is popular enough in the real world, but movies about the sport tend to be about so much more, often functioning as metaphors for life where when you get knocked down, you do everything in your power to get back up and keep on swinging. 

They are tales of comebacks and redemption, about protagonists who are down and out, but get in the ring and make a name for themselves. And when it comes to looking at the best boxing movies of all time, pretty much every decade gets attention except the 1990s. It's a shame because there are quite a few hidden gems from the era that are must-watches for any boxing fan. Here are the greatest boxing movies of the '90s you can check out when you get sick of rewatching the Rocky franchise for the hundredth time.

When We Were Kings brings you behind the scenes of one of the greats

If you want an inside look into one of the greatest boxing matches of all time, then you need to watch the documentary When We Were Kings. The film showcases what led up to the famous heavyweight championship match between George Foreman and Muhammad Ali called "Rumble in the Jungle." It took 22 years for director-producer Leon Gast to secure financing and edit the project, and the result is one of the best sports documentaries ever assembled. 

The documentary has plenty of footage from the fight itself, really focusing on Ali's trademark "rope-a-dope" technique. This is a fighting style in boxing where the combatant allows the opponent to bring about non-injuring blows in order to tire them out. In the match, Ali used this to fatigue Foreman before finally knocking him out in the eighth round.

But the film is so much more than just a fight. It shows how Muhammad Ali believed in the inherent dignity of native Africans, focusing particularly on the people of Zaire where the fight was located. It's a film just as much about how Africans and African-Americans were viewed and treated in the '70s, giving the film greater gravitas. It's easy to see why the movie is held in such high regard, and one of the highest-ranking sports movies on Rotten Tomatoes.

Diggstown makes boxing funny

Diggstown is the rare boxing film that infuses comedy into the sport. The story follows a con man, played by James Woods, who is released from prison and immediately sets his sights on his next target: a little spot called Diggstown. The entire city loves boxing, so the con man comes up with a scheme to win $100,000 by betting his own boxer can take on 10 of the town's best fighters. 

The film takes its comedic premise and just goes to town with it. It also helps that the movie is bolstered by great acting chops from Bruce Dern, Louis Gossett Jr., and Oliver Platt. Dern in particular is a standout as he absolutely owns the role of a sleazy boxing manager. You don't even have to be a fan of boxing to understand and appreciate the humor. As long as you're familiar with sleazebags and people only looking out for themselves, you can follow along and chuckle throughout. 

Gladiator proved Cuba Gooding Jr. was a star

No, we aren't talking about the 2000 film Gladiator starring Russell Crowe. In 1992, a very different film with the same name focused on two teenagers trying to make better lives for themselves by getting involved in the seedy world of underground boxing. One wants to earn enough money to finally get out of his neighborhood; the other wants to pay off his father's gambling debts. The two become friends and work together so they can both achieve their goals.

It's an inspiring sports story that's often overlooked in the pantheon of sports movies. More than just a heartwarming story, the film also has an incredible soundtrack that mixes elements of rock and hip-hop. In particular, Warrant's cover of "We Will Rock You" became a minor hit in 1992 when it peaked at #83 on Billboard's Top 100. 

The Power of One provides a snapshot of South African history

The Power of One is a 1992 film based on a novel of the same name that came out in 1989. The movie centers on a young boy, Peter Philip Kenneth-Keith, as he is raised in South Africa during the time of apartheid. The boy is in need of guidance, and he gets it in the form of Geel Piet, played by Morgan Freeman, an inmate who agrees to train the boy in boxing. Over the course of the film, the boy begins to feel sympathy for the Africans being held prisoner who are exposed to abhorrent conditions.

The film earned mixed reviews, but it wasn't without its charms. When Roger Ebert reviewed the movie, he didn't think it dived deep enough into the political complexities of South Africa during apartheid, but he did praise certain performances as well as the locations. 

The movie is also noteworthy as it includes the feature film debut of Daniel Craig. At the very least, you can see where the future James Bond got his start. 

Tokyo Fist gets bloody

Boxing is typically seen as an American sport, no doubt thanks to the hyper-Americanized sensibilities of the Rocky franchise. However, countries from all over the globe enjoy boxing, including Japan, as evidenced by 1995's Tokyo Fist. The film has a pretty intriguing premise: A businessman meets an old friend who's now a boxer. During the course of their conversation, the businessman believes the boxer is having an affair with his fiancée, and as a result, he starts training so he can take on his friend one on one. 

Director Shin'ya Tsukamoto is in a class all his own when it comes to making films look positively cinematic. His films are always immaculately edited, and they have a certain quality to them where they stick around in your mind long after they're over. It all leads up to one of the most brutal fight scenes you'll see in any film. It's not for the faint of heart, and this film goes a lot further than most American genre entries would dare, especially in the '90s. 

The Hurricane earned Denzel Washington a Golden Globe

When you think of Denzel Washington's greatest performances, which roles come to mind? If his performance as Rubin Carter in The Hurricane isn't on that list, then you definitely need to add this film to your queue. It's a biographical sports movie that follows a real-life former boxer who was wrongly sentenced to prison for a triple murder. The movie follows his life before the conviction, when he was on his way to become a great boxer — and his life after the conviction, spent trying to prove his innocence in a system warped by racism.

The movie received some criticism when it was released due to some misrepresentations of what actually happened. However, most critics and viewers loved the story, affirmed by its 83 percent Tomatometer and 87 percent audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes

The film was rewarded for its efforts with nominations for numerous awards. Denzel Washington would go on to win the Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama as well as Best Actor at the Berlin International Film Festival. 

The Great White Hype offers racial satire

There's just something about the boxing genre that's ripe for stories about con men and shady tactics. The Great White Hype sees Samuel L. Jackson as fight promoter and sleazy businessman Rev. Fred Sultan, who realizes that fights tend to get more attention when it's a black fighter versus a white fighter, so he finds a former white boxer for the undefeated heavyweight champ to take on.

It may be satire, but it has some connection to the real world. After all, the title of the film is taken from Gerry Cooney, who was nicknamed "The Great White Hope" when he fought Larry Holmes in 1982. 

There are a lot of laughs throughout the film. However, the story doesn't pull any punches when it comes to the choreography used for the actual fight scenes. The fights are filmed with the same intensity as anything you'll find in any boxing drama. With the comedic talents of Damon Wayans, Jeff Goldblum, and Jon Lovitz on full display, this is one sports satire that's a knockout. 

The Boxer shows Daniel Day-Lewis in prime shape

Daniel Day-Lewis is one of the greatest actors of his generation, and his work in the 1997 film The Boxer offers ample proof. To get ready for the role of Danny Flynn, Day-Lewis actually trained with a real fighter. He prepared for this film for two years, really honing in on the art of boxing. He even ended up sparring with real British welterweight champions. It's safe to say you wouldn't have wanted to mess with Day-Lewis at all during the mid-'90s. 

The film follows the life of Danny Flynn, a boxer and former volunteer for the Provisional Irish Republican Army. After he's released from prison, Danny tries to go straight but does so by going back to an old flame who happens to be married now. It's a great boxing film that soars even when there isn't a fight taking place. As is typical with most Day-Lewis performances, he completely inhabits the role, and you're captivated every moment he's onscreen. 

Crossing the Line sees Liam Neeson getting tough

These days, Liam Neeson is known as a tough guy thanks to roles in Taken and The Grey. But he didn't just become a fighter in the 2000s: In 1990, he starred in the film Crossing the Line. Neeson plays Thomas Tallen, a bare-knuckle boxer and miner who becomes unemployed due to a union strike. Unable to make ends meet, he dives into the world of boxing where he has to go through long, brutal fights that will test his limits.

The film not only follows Tallen's efforts to make money to support his family, but it also views boxing through the lens of Tallen reclaiming part of what makes him a man. He wants to do good and believes he's doing so by being a part of these fights. However, later in the film, he learns a disturbing truth that makes him question everything he's done to that point. The movie takes a hard look at the world of underground boxing, and it's all held up by a bravado performance from Neeson. 

Rocky Marciano shows important boxing history

Before Jon Favreau directed big blockbuster films like Iron Man and The Lion King, he starred in a little-known television movie about the life of Rocky Marciano, noteworthy for being the only heavyweight boxer to remain undefeated throughout his entire career. The film shows him going through various trials and tribulations, including a fight against his hero, Joe Louis. After his bout with Louis, the movie flash-forwards to the future where we see what Marciano did after his career up until his untimely death. 

Although it lacks the budget of other boxing movies from the '90s, the film is bolstered by Favreau's commitment to the role and his riveting performance. While it may have been made for TV, the film won the award for Best Cinematography in TV Drama from the Canadian Society of Cinematographers Awards. It may not be the last time we see a film about this boxer: In 2015, Jeremy Renner was attached to a new Marciano project. It seems to have stalled with no other updates to report on, but who knows what the future may hold?