Fans know that boxing means blood, sweat, tears, and pushing yourself harder than ever. The best boxing films know how to explore the personal and professional life of a boxer – part of the reason why the genre does so well. Cinema loves stories about the struggle to succeed and underdogs rising to the top. Orthodox, out May 16th, gives a fresh take on the genre, and shines a light on a young boy bullied for his Jewish faith. He takes up the sport as self-defence, which alienates him from his religious community. To celebrate the release, we’ve rounded up some of the best boxing films to hit the big screen…
When Benjamin, a young Orthodox Jewish boy (played as an adult by Stephen Graham), takes up boxing for self-defence after years of bullying over his faith, he begins to become alienated from his devoutly religious community – and lands himself in prison. Upon his release years later, Benjamin is desperate to start afresh and provide for the ones he loves. However, it isn’t long before his previous involvement with a tangled web of criminal activity catches up with him and threatens to destroy his new way of life.
It wouldn’t be possible to make a list of boxing films with including Rocky; it’s the ultimate underdog story built for both fans and non-fans of the sport. Sylvester Stallone, in his most iconic role, stars as Rocky Balboa, a small time, working-class club boxer who gets a shot at competing in the world heavyweight championship. As we follow his story, we are taken on an intimate look at what it takes to make it as a professional boxer. The film turned Stallone into a movie star and a further six films in the long-running franchise.
Raging Bull (1980)
In what is often considered master filmmaker Martin Scorsese’s greatest work, Raging Bull stars Robert De Niro as Jake LaMotta, a middleweight boxer whose violent energy and obsessive rage destroys his relationship with his wife and family. Scorsese brilliantly captures Jake’s inner demons, exploring how his mind is rattled by his ego and jealousy, which eventually leads him to deal with his problems both in and out of the ring.
He’s probably the most famous boxer in history and it was Will Smith who took on the challenge of portraying him on the big screen. Ali follows Muhammad Ali’s personal and professional life; his conversion to Islam, refusal to fight in the Vietnam War and claiming the heavyweight title from rival Sonny Liston. Smith had big shoes to fill playing the iconic boxer, but the result serves as a triumph to Ali’s legendary reign.
Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Director Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby is a modern masterpiece of the genre, a film that follows the ambition of a young female fighter and her older pro-trainer. Hilary Swank pulls off a stunning performance as Maggie Fitzgerald, an amateur boxer who stops at nothing to make it to the top. Eastwood plays the role of her underappreciated trainer who sets out to redeem his career by agreeing to train Maggie. The Oscar-winning film is both a celebration and gritty depiction of the sport that perfectly examines the notion that underdogs may or may not always come out on top, all the while raising the bar for the sports genre.
The Fighter (2010)
It was Christian Bale who took home all the awards for his portrayal of Dicky Eklund, the brother of professional boxer Micky Ward (played by Mark Wahlberg) in this Oscar favourite. However, while Bale stole the show as the supportive older brother, who was also a former boxer and trainer, the film tells the true story of Ward, a welterweight boxer who found success though struggled to keep it. Director David O’Russell balances the drama in the ring with Ward’s personal and family issues, exploring his dysfunctional relationships with his controlling mother, domineering sisters and troubled brother.
Sylvester Stallone put on his Rocky gloves yet again, nine years after 2006’s Rocky Balboa, in Creed. Recruiting Michael B. Jordan in the title role, director Ryan Coogler shifts the focus of the story to Adonis ‘Donnie’ Creed, the son of Apollo Creed, an ex-con who decides to take up boxing as a profession. Determined to fulfil his dream, Donnie travels to Philadelphia and lands in the hands of now-retired boxer Rocky who agrees to train him. Staying true to the predecessor’s roots, Creed lays out the framework to allow Stallone to pass the mantle into the capable hands of Jordan, who shines, for further bouts in the ring.
Orthodox is out on DVD and Digital HD on May 16 courtesy of Soda Pictures.