For some reason, most sports movies pale in comparison to the ones related to boxing. Perhaps it’s the raw emotion and exertion that these warriors put into their fights. Perhaps it’s the age-old story of an underdog overcoming the odds. Perhaps it’s that most of the stories are based on real people. I think it has to do with the absence of teamwork. Most sports films are done for sports that require players to work as a team. Films like Miracle (2004), Remember the Titans (2000), and Hoosiers (1986) all show that it takes a team effort to win in their respective sports. In fact, if anything, these films focus on the coach more than the actual players. Boxing movies focus solely on one person: the boxer. They are the only ones in control of whether they win or lose. This week’s two films best portray the sport of boxing.
Million Dollar Baby
Length: 132 minutes / 2.2 hours
Whoever coined the term “fight like a girl” has apparently never seen women boxers. They have the same intensity, drive, and brutality that male boxers have, if not more. Sure, there might be a disparity in strength, but in the end, it’s not the strength of a boxer’s punch that causes a knockout, but rather the location of the blow. Part of what makes these women more impressive than their male counterparts is the discrimination they have to overcome to achieve any form of acceptance. While the “fight like a girl” idiom is not true, many still hold to its tenets. Million Dollar Baby (2004) does an excellent job of showing just what it takes to be a woman boxer, especially when it comes to convincing someone that you’re good enough for it. In fact, the only other Best Picture that has dealt with the sport of boxing was Rocky (1976), which we’ll get into in a bit.
Margaret “Maggie” Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) wants to be trained by the famous boxing manager, Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood). Even though he rejects her request, she still shows up at his gym and trains every day. Having Dunn tell her she’s “too old” to box just gives her more of a reason to prove him wrong. Soon, Dunn finally gives in and starts her formal training. The natural talent that she has for boxing finally reveals itself in her ability to knock out her opponent in the lightweight class. Moving up to the welterweight class, suddenly Maggie finds herself a bit out of her league. By now, Frankie’s fatherly instincts have made him accept Maggie as a surrogate daughter, which is partly why he is hesitant to sign her up for a title match. Finally giving in, Dunn allows her to fight against the welterweight champion. Unfortunately, Maggie will soon find herself fighting for her life.
Length: 119 minutes / 1.98 hours
The quintessential boxing movie, Rocky (1976), won the Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director (John G. Avildsen), while being nominated for seven more, including Best Actor for Sylvester Stallone. Many boxing movies have come in Rocky’s wake, including six more sequels (with Creed (2015) having come out recently), none of which match the greatness that is the original. Films like Raging Bull (1980), Cinderella Man (2005), and Real Steel (2011) either get the “human aspect” or the actual boxing right, but rarely both. Rocky managed to integrate some excellent boxing sequences with a heartwarming story of love. Even if you’ve never seen this film, you’ll likely recognize the popular culture references from it: running up the steps of Philadelphia Museum of Art, punching meat in a freezer, and its “Gonna Fly Now” soundtrack.
With the exceptions of the Rambo and Expendables series, this movie defines society’s perception of Sylvester Stallone. Rocky Balboa (Stallone) is a relatively unknown boxer in Philadelphia who garners enough attention to catch the eye of heavyweight champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers). Creed puts on an exhibition match against the unknown Balboa (nicknamed “The Italian Stallion”) in which Creed figures he is a shoo-in to win. Unfortunately for Apollo, Rocky does some intense training montage work, running up museum stairs, drinking raw eggs and punching meat-locker goods. Throughout this movie, the somewhat slow Rocky develops a relationship with shy Adrianna “Adrian” Pennino (Talia Shire). After the big fight, she’s the only one he can think of, yelling out, “Yo, Adrian!”
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 best boxers