With combat sports being on a bit of a break in these early days of the year, we thought now would be the perfect time to compile our own list of the 10 best boxing movies.
Boxing has one of the richest histories out of all sports, in terms of blockbuster box office success, so it wasn't easy putting together a comprehensive list of the top 10 movies — if only because he had to leave some fantastic films out. Yet, we're feeling pretty good about the 10 films that made the final cut, and believe these movies are more than deserving of due praise.
Below is an example of one excellent boxing movie that you've probably seen which didn't make the final cut.
Not to worry, though: the iconic Rocky franchise is still well represented.
Before we get into the 10 best boxing movies list, let us offer a few disclaimers: this list is completely subjective, and represents the opinions of one specific NY Fights staff writer. So don't get too torn up if your personal favorite boxing flick didn't make the list.
That being said, this list isn't simply the aforementioned staff writer's 10 favorite boxing movies. In addition to our own opinion, we also considered Rotten Tomatoes scores, IMDb ratings, and — perhaps most important of all — cultural relevance (meaning, how much impact the movie had on pop culture's perception/understanding/interest in boxing, as a sport) while curating our list.
Lastly, one final note: no documentaries were considered for the list. There are so many great boxing documentaries to choose from, we decided it best to stick to blockbuster Hollywood films.
With that, let's get into our top 10 best boxing movies!
Top 10 Best Boxing Movies
10. Creed II (2018)
The 10th best boxing movie on our list is also the most recently made one included: Creed II.
IMDb rating: 7.1/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 88%
Creed II, the critically-acclaimed sequel to the original Creed movie (which is, of course, a spinoff franchise of the Rocky movies), provides a fresh take on one of the most iconic boxing matches in movies history (more on that later). With an aging — yet wise — Rocky Balboa in his corner, Creed II shows Adonis Creed (played by Michael B. Jordan) face the son of Ivan Drago (played by Dolph Lundgren), the man who killed his father inside the ring. Talk about a tough task.
This movie is more than deserving of a spot on this best boxing movies list for multiple reasons. One, Michael B. Jordan plays an absolutely fantastic protagonist that's more than worth rooting for. What's more, this isn't solely a movie about boxing — Creed's love interest in the film, Bianca (played by Tessa Thompson) anchors a budding love story that adds the perfect balance to the movie's fighting scenes.
And speaking of fighting scenes, the boxing match between Creed and Drago's son, Viktor (played by Florian Munteanu) is among the best in movie history.
Creed II has it all, and had very few (if any) flaws. For that reason, it's more than deserving of the 10th spot on this list.
9. The Fighter (2010)
Next up on our best boxing movies list is The Fighter (2010).
IMDb rating: 7.8/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 91%
With arguably the most star-studded cast in combat sports film history, The Fighter (2010) is an Oscar-winning, heartfelt adaptation about the boxing life of boxing legend, “Irish” Micky Ward. Ward is played by Mark Walhberg, who is in the midst of a journey to make a name for himself in his beloved sport of boxing — and step out of the shadow of his older brother, Dicky (played by Christian Bale, who won an Academy Award for his performance).
The Fighter, in many ways, does an excellent job of depicting the harsh realities of what it's really like to be a boxer. What's more, this film features complicated family dramas that display humanity at its rawest and most vulnerable. Yet, at its core, The Fighter is a movie made about boxers, and made for boxing lovers.
We also must mention that Amy Adams won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Micky Ward's girlfriend. Her performance might be the second best performance by a female in the history of boxing movies — the first of which is included later on in this list.
8. The Hurricane (1999)
The 8th best boxing movie on our list is The Hurricane (1999)
IMDb rating: 7.6/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 82%
Based upon the true story of Rubin “The Hurricane” Carter (played by Denzel Washington), who is a boxer that is wrongly accused and convicted of murders that he didn't commit.
The Hurricane is a deeply layered, nuanced film that successfully tackles multiple issues within not only the world of boxing, but within pop culture as a whole. Watching Carter come to terms with (but not accept) the dirty hand he has been dealt makes for an immersive viewing experience. And while the film's director (Norman Jewison) took many creative liberties in putting The Hurricane together, the fact that this film is based on a true story makes it even more captivating.
Denzel Washington earned his fourth ever Oscar nomination for his depiction of Rubin Carter — and it's extremely easy to see why.
Although The Hurricane isn't jam-packed with boxing bouts, it's still more than worth any boxing fans while.
7. Creed (2015)
At #7, we have the first movie in a franchise that has already made our list: Creed (2015).
IMDb rating: 7.6/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 88%
In shooting and production, Creed was tasked with an extremely difficult ask: honoring the iconic film franchise that it pulls from, while also being able to cater to those who aren't familiar with those previous films' help. Yet, Creed executed that task to a tee.
Adonis Creed (played by Michael B. Jordan) is an up and coming boxer, who is driven to become a boxer after the death of his legendary father, Adonis Creed. Yet, in order to live up to his late father's name, Creed enlists the help of none other than Rocky Balboa (played by Silvester Stallone).
While the fight scenes in Creed are nothing short of spectacular, what impresses us the most about this movie is that Balboa manages to not steal the show — and played lets young Adonis spotlight his own film franchise. Doing so was crucial, if the Creed franchise was going to succeed in finding a modern audience — and succeed it did. Not to mention that this training montage is about as bad-ass as it gets.
6. Rocky II (1979)
Okay, we can't wait any longer. With the 6th best boxing movie on our list, we bring to you the first inclusion of the most iconic boxing franchise in film history: Rocky II (1979).
IMDb rating: 7.3/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 70%
We must admit that we were surprised to see that Rocky II only has a 70% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Yet, considering this is many peoples' favorite movie of the entire Rocky franchise, we know we're justified in including it here.
And what's not to love about Rocky II? Without spoiling too much (although I can't imagine you haven't seen this movie) we see Balboa (played, of course, by Silvester Stallone) get his big redemption moment, while Apollo Creed (played by Carl Weathers) is one of the most lovable antagonists in boxing history, and produced the performance of a lifetime.
What's more, Balboa's, “Yo, Adrian, I did it!” line at the movie's end has got to be the most quotable moment in combat sports movie history.
Bravo, Balboa. More to come from you soon.
5. Cinderella Man (2005)
Next up on our list is Cinderella Man (2005).
IMDb rating: 8.0/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 80%
While most boxing movies portray some form of the all-too-common “rags to riches” Hollywood film trope, we'd argue that none do it better than Cinderella Man (2005).
In Cinderella Man, former no-name boxer James J. Braddock (played by Russell Crowe) works as a day laborer during the Depression — until, that is, his manager (played (to the tune of a Best Supporting Actor nomination) by Paul Giamatti) offers him a single fight against a top contender. Despite the wishes of Braddock's wife, Mae (played by Renee Zellweger), Braddock accepts — and the rest is history.
While Cinderella Man wasn't a major success at the box-office, any best boxing movies list would be foolish to leave this heartfelt flick out. Every actor puts on the performance of a lifetime — and, contrary to many boxing movies, this one can be enjoyed by the whole family.
If you haven't seen Cinderella Man, do yourself a favor and watch it as soon as possible.
4. Rocky IV (1985)
Clocking in at #4 on our list is, well, the 4th movie of the world's best boxing franchise: Rocky IV (1985).
IMDb rating: 6.9/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 72%
Quite frankly, if this list was only about this one NY Fights' staff writer's opinion, Rocky IV would be the #1 movie — and it wouldn't be close. Yet, since we know not everybody shares that opinion, we (begrudgingly) place it at the 4th slot.
But we aren't willing to concede that Ivan Drago (played by Dolph Lundgren) is not only the best villain in boxing movie history, but in all of sports movie history, as well. This gigantic, stoic, terrifyingly quiet Russian boxer who has the power to kill a man inside the ring — and uses it, too — makes for an unforgettable villain.
And considering the (not so subtle) political background at play here, this is, to us, the Rocky franchise at its absolute best.
If he dies, he dies.
3. Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Breaking into the top three of our best boxing movies list, we have Million Dollar Baby (2004).
IMDb rating: 8.1/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 90%
It's no secret that the vast majority of boxing movies have a male protagonist. Yet, the most notable exception to this is the Million Dollar Baby — which also happens to be one of the very best boxing movies there is.
When it comes to the coach-boxer relationship in the movies, no film does it better than what we see between Frankie Dunn (played by Clint Eastwood) and Maggie Fitzgerald (played by Hilary Swank). Eastwood puts on a masterclass of being a curmudgeonly old man who is ultimately moved by the grit and determination of his female pupil.
Yet, we don't need to sell this movie ourselves. We'll let its four Oscar victories — including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress (for Swank), and Best Supporting Actor (for Morgan Freeman) — do the talking for us. If that won't convince you Million Dollar Baby is worth your time, what will?
2. Raging Bull (1980)
The runner-up on our best boxing movies list is none other than Raging Bull (1980).
IMDb rating: 8.1/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 92%
While Raging Bull (directed by Martin Scorcese) was released in the midst of the Rocky franchise, it more than holds its own as a film that competes with each and every one of those films.
In Raging Bull, we're introduced to Jake LaMotta (played by a young Robert De Niro), an up-and-coming middleweight boxer that has a tough time expressing his feelings outside of the ring. Yet, when he falls in love with a gorgeous girl from the Bronx, LaMotta's inability to differentiate between violence inside the ring and outside of it causes a downward spiral that is, frankly, tough to watch — in the best of ways.
Raging Bull tells a story that is crucial for every martial artist to not only understand, but also reckon with in their own life. Movies don't come much better than this.
1. Rocky (1976)
You had to know this was coming, right? At number one on our list of the best boxing movies of all time, we have none other than Rocky (1976).
IMDb rating: 8.1/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 92%
We can't imagine anybody reading this list hasn't seen this movie, so we'll spare you the details.
Rather, let's talk about the cultural impact Rocky has had — which is why it had to be the #1 movie on this list. The Rocky movies haven't just introduced millions of people to boxing as a sport, but it has inspired generations of viewers to not let their life's circumstances dictate their fate, and to work their way out of whatever situation they've found themselves in. Rocky is, in short, the best aspects of the American Dream, exemplified. Yet, it hits home for all viewers, regardless of where they hail from.
Rocky Balboa and boxing will forever be intertwined, in the minds and hearts of pop culture. Heck, you might have even become a boxing fan because of this movie. Therefore, we couldn't cap off our best boxing movies of all time list with anything but the original Rocky film.