Over the course of his long and illustrious career, legendary boxer "Irish" Mickey Ward took on all comers inside the ring, from his nine title fights to his epic three-part feud with Arturo Gatti. This week, though, Ward will finally be going up against his toughest foe yet when he faces off against none other than world renowned boxing icon Rocky Balboa.
That battle won't be happening in the ring, of course, but rather in the court of public opinion, because when 'The Fighter' -- which stars Mark Wahlberg as Ward and Christian Bale as his bother and mentor Dickie Eklund -- hits theaters, it will immediately join the discussion over which boxing movie is the best of all time, a debate that has been raging for decades.
It's also a debate which we intend to end right now, because our team of highly trained pugilists has poured over every frame of boxing-related footage from the last century of Hollywood fight films to come up with the definitive list of the Best Boxing Movies of All Time. So pick up your gloves one last time, Mickey, because you're going to have to put up a hell of a fight to make your way onto this list.
Brutality and humor make strange bedfellows, which is perhaps why the boxing comedy has never exactly taken off as a viable subgenre. Still, there's an exception to every rule, and in this case that exception is 'Diggstown;' the 1992 film, which stars Louis Gossett Jr. and James Woods as two con-men trying to topple an evil empire through the power of boxing, has its share of both bruises and laughs. A forgotten gem.
14. 'Rocky II'
Before the 'Rocky' franchise devoled into (lovable) camp with villains like Clubber Lang and Drago, star Sylvester Stallone managed to put together one of the best and most underrated sequels in modern times. Though the climactic and triumphant return to the ring and the end of the film is memorable, the best parts of this movie deal with Rocky's efforts to retire and his inability to find a place for himself outside the squared circle. A surprusingly moving film.
13. 'The Champ'
A true old-fashioned Hollywood heart-wringer, 'The Champ' stars Wallace Beery as a washed up boxer called The Champ whose talents have been squandered thanks to drinking and gambling. After losing his son's prize horse in a bet, The Champ returns to the ring in order to win him back -- something he accomplishes only atthe cost of his own life. Beery won the 1931 Oscar for Best Actor for the part.
12. 'When We Were Kings'
The 1996 Academy Award winner for Best Documentary, 'When We Were Kings' tells the tale of a boxing match too dramatic for fiction -- the infamous 1974 heavyweight championship bout between George Forman and Muhammad Ali, better known as "The Rumble in the Jungle." Perhaps the most famous boxing match of the last 50 years, the event was more than a championship fight -- it was watershed cultural event for American and Africa alike.
11. 'Somebody Up There Likes Me'
In the movie world, Rocky Balboa may be king, but in the real world of boxing, there's just one Rocky -- Rocky Graziano, who earned his own biopic with 1956's 'Someone Up There Likes Me.' The former world champion also traded up in the looks department, thanks to the magic of Hollywood -- a young Paul Newman played the part in one of his earliest successes.
10. 'Cinderella Man'
Academy Award-winning director Ron Howard teamed up with two other Oscar winners -- Russell Crowe and Renee Zellweger -- for this biopic detailing the hardscabble life of James J. Braddock, who rose from obscurity in the depression to win a shocking heavyweight championship. Though it was a bit of a box office disappointment in 2005, its uplifting story still has us cheering.
Michelle Rodriguez exploded onto the Hollywood scene in 2000 thanks to this indie flick that, in true boxing movie style, came out of nowhere to become a true contender. The story of a girl who uses boxing to learn self-discipline and channel her inner fire won major awards at both Sundance and Cannes thanks to a performance by Rodriguez that helped define the new 21st century woman.
8. 'The Hurricane'
Denzel Washington was nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award for his portrayal of real-life boxer Rubin "The Hurricane" Carter, who spent nearly 20 years in prison for murder before having his sentence overturned. The story, which became a cause celebre thanks to a Bob Dylan song about the wrongful conviction, translated perfectly to the big screen and earned director Norman Jewison a Golden Globe nomination for Best Film and Best Director.
7. 'On the Waterfront'
"You don't understand! I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender, I could been somebody." Well, Marlon Brando's former boxing hopeful might have ended up down on his luck by throwing a fight, but his indelible performance turned 1954's 'On the Waterfront' into a contender for the title of greatest movie ever made. Besides turning Brando into a legend, 'On the Waterfront' also won eight Academy Awards -- and only missed out on a ninth for Best Supporting Actor, arguably because the film's three (three!) nominees in the category split the vote.
Muhammad Ali has been the subject of numerous excellent documentaries, the best of which, 'When We Were Kings,' is required viewing for all film and boxing fans (see above). But Hollywood has also done Ali a solid in this 2001 biopic from 'Heat' director Michael Mann, thanks in large part to excellent performances by Will Smith as Ali and Jon Voight as his media foil Howard Cosell; both were nominated for Academy Awards.
5. 'Million Dollar Baby'
One of the most decorated boxing movies of all time, 'Million Dollar Baby' won the 2004 Academy Award for Best Picture, with director Clint Eastwood also winning Best Director to go along with a Best Actor nomination. Also receiving acting honors: Morgan Freeman and Hillary Swank, who anchors this riveting exploration of a bond that develops between boxer and trainer -- a bond that eventually transcends the ring in life-changing ways.
4. 'The Set-Up'
Critics and film buffs have been over the moon for this dark noir tale ever since it arrived in theaters in 1949. Robert Ryan plays a washed up boxer named Stoker Thompson whose trainer takes a payoff from a crime boss to ensure a dive in an upcoming bout. Against all odds, though, Thompson finds himself winning the fight and must make a decision: throw the fight or retain his dignity at the risk of mob vengeance. A classic.
3. 'The Quiet Man'
Nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, 'The Quiet Man' stars John Wayne as a fromer boxer who vowed never to fight again after killing a man in the ring. When his new Irish bride publicly brands him a coward, however, he learns that some things are worth fighting for -- such as love. 'The Queit Man' earned Legendary director John Ford the Best Director Oscar for 1952.
2. 'Raging Bull'
Robert De Niro won the 1980 Academy Award for his searing turn as real life boxer Jake LaMotta. Detailing LaMotta's struggles with violence both inside and outside the ring, 'Raging Bull' is regarded as one of the great films in cinema thanks in part to director Martin Scorsese's deft choreography and editing, as well as to a star-making supporting turn from an unknown actor named Joe Pesci. In 2007, the American Film Institute's latest version of their ranking of the 100 greatest movies of all time listed 'Raging Bull' at number four -- behind only 'Citizen Kane,' 'The Godfather' and 'Casablanca.' Now that's some company that any boxer would be proud to keep.
What is there to say about 'Rocky' that hasn't already been said? Written by an unknown actor named Sylvester Stallone who insisted he star in the film as well, 'Rocky' was a surprise box office and critical success when it debuted in 1976, launching Stallone to superstardom and creating a worldwide franchise that has become an indelible part of pop mythology. And on top of all that it's still a damn good movie.