Since its release in 1976, boxing-drama feature Rocky has spawned a franchise of eight films spanning over 40 years. Yes, these installments and many other features are a testimony to how much we love watching a good fight – and the recent arrival of Creed II is evidence that our love of boxing fights on screen isn’t slowing down. So here’s our countdown of the top six movie boxing fights to have graced the big screen so far…
6. Southpaw (2015) – Billy Hope v Miguel Escobar
After the murder of his wife, a suicide attempt, losing custody of his daughter and finding his boxing career in tatters – Billy Hope is at rock bottom. Yet a chance to turn his life back around arises when pitched against opponent Miguel Escobar – the man who set the wheels in motion for Billy’s tragic life events.
With a vendetta against Miguel and the opportunity for a form of revenge, the fight between Billy and Miguel has higher stakes than money. The fight itself is raw and chaotic, with rough camera work and brawling noise creating a fast-paced and intense environment. The intermittent use of a first-person camera perspective brings us right into the centre of the action and invites the audience to truly partake in Billy’s experience as he fights for a chance to redeem himself. Combined with this are intercut sequences of Billy’s coach, Tick, and his daughter, Leila, cheering him on – reminding us of how much rides on the outcome. Overall, the fight feels as exhausting and thrilling to watch as if we were there throwing some punches in ourselves.
5. Million Dollar Baby (2004) – Maggie Fitzgerald v Billie Osterman
Hilary Swank won her second Oscar for her role as Maggie in Million Dollar Baby – a true underdog story about a 33 year-old woman who decides to pursue a belated career in boxing. But Million Dollar Baby is not your typical rise-to-fame story and it is, perhaps undoubtedly, the best example of a female-orientated boxing movie.
It is a fight that truly takes you through the motions. One minute we are watching the protagonist Millie being pummeled by Billie’s foul play creating feelings of indignation. The next we see Maggie begin to fight back against the odds and win over her competitor – provoking the triumph that often comes as the bread and butter of boxing fights in movies. It is more shocking, then, that this fight takes such an unexpected turn when an illegal punch from a frustrated Billie knocks Maggie onto an unfortunately placed chair and brings about a sudden and very chilling end to Maggie’s career. Resulting in a heart-breaking end, Million Dollar Baby wasn’t scared to give us a fight without a Hollywood ending – we’re not crying, you’re crying.
4. Rocky IV (1985) – Rocky Balboa v Ivan Drago
Speaking of Hollywood endings, boxing fight finales don’t come much more ‘God Bless America’ than the triumphant victory of Rocky Balboa over Russian boxing baddie, Ivan Drago. Much like Southpaw, this fight is an opportunity for revenge after Drago mercilessly and unapologetically killed Rocky’s best friend Apollo Creed in an earlier fight.
Knowing Drago is capable of killing someone, the tension is raised to new heights when at the start of the fight he dominates Rocky – taunting him and inviting him to try harder for the first round. Adding to this pressure, are the hostile soviet spectators who seemingly prefer screaming insults in a sweaty crowd to spending their Christmas Day with their families. But, in a true visual David and Goliath moment, Rocky turns the fight around. Some classic pumped up Rocky music and a montage later – he also wins over the hearts of the Soviet crowd. Aww.
3. Raging Bull (1980) – Jake LaMotta v Sugar Ray Robinson
After a boxing movie that ends in a traditional moment of triumph, the final fight between Jake LaMotta and Sugar Ray Robinson in Raging Bull could not be more different. This fight is the third time the opponents have faced each other in the film. Since their last bout, which was questionably won by Robinson, LaMotta has (like many of the boxers on this list) had a run of bad experiences and has recently become estranged from his brother. This final defeat, resulting in the loss of his title, is not the peak of the film but rather a morbid representation of the protagonist hitting rock bottom.
In a sequence, which is highly-stylised compared to many of the fights on this list, with undulating sound, slow-motions sequences and copious amounts of saliva and blood – this boxing fight isn’t a glamorous feat but a raw and painful expression of a man who has lost everything. In fact, this boxing fight for LaMotta is about everything but the fight. The artistic way in which the fight is shot and the unnerving image of the blood on the ropes at the end clearly mark this battle as a deeper study of what is means to be truly defeated – both inside and out.
2. Creed (2015) – Adonis Creed v Leo Sporino
Forty years after Apollo Creed and Rocky’s first fight in the original Rocky feature a new installment Creed hit the big screen to follow the story of Creed’s illegitimate son. Trying to overcome his criminal past, Apollo’s son Adonis or ‘Donnie’ Creed finds an insatiable pull towards his father’s legacy as he has seemingly inherited his skills in the ring. With Rocky himself coming on board to coach him, the film has just the right levels of fresh material and nostalgia for its franchise.
What results is a rare cinematic fight, all shot in just one cut, with exemplary choreography. And all the while Michael B. Jordan is still giving sassy bits of dialogue. Whilst it is a marvel that they even managed to shoot the scene so seamlessly, it is simply a joy to watch. And whilst it might not be the most dramatic fight on this list, or even in the film – the beauty of the sequence makes this fight a top contender on our list.
1. Rocky (1976) – Rocky Balboa v Apollo Creed
Without the original Rocky movie, it is hard to imagine how any of these boxing fights on this list would have looked. What’s more, the friendship between Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed, that provided the backbone of further Rocky and Creed films, began in the notorious final fight between the two boxers.
The fight is a culmination of the core values of hard work and determination at the heart of the Rocky films and franchise. Despite not winning the fight, Rocky is the first man to knock down Creed and from that moment on there is a mutual respect between the fighters who thrash out 15 evenly matched rounds sustaining horrendous injuries and fighting to the verge of complete exhaustion. And if anything, it is refreshing that this match wasn’t about vendettas, redemption or self-destruction but an appreciation of grit, determination and the sport in its pure form. Plus Rocky doesn’t seem to care if he has won or not – because he gets the girl…
Well there you have it – six movie boxing fights across over four decades we think might we worth your time. Are there any other fights you would add to the list? Comment below.