This week the latest installment in the “Rocky” movie dynasty launches, with “Creed III”. Conspicuous by his absence will be the seminal character Rocky Balboa. Sylvester Stallone’s portrayal of a down and out boxer who gets his big shot blasted the character into cinema history and movie immortality. It also launched Stallone as one of the biggest action stars in motion picture history and the series/character is the gold standard for boxing movies.
The Michael B. Jordan spinoff promises to do well at the box office. The “Creed” franchise has had tremendous success and broke the slump of boxing movies, grossing over $387 million dollars. While the stories have been great, they are also fictitious.
Boxing has always been a sport that has captured the imagination. In the first decade of the century real life boxing dramas gathered acclaim and were movie gold. “Ali”, “Cinderella Man” and “The Fighter” crushed the box office earning well over $80+ million each, with the latter two earning over 100 million. The total litany of boxing movies is hard to quantify and with the noted exception of the “Creed” franchise has begun to cool off in the theatre. In 2016, Hollywood delved into the real-life drama of boxing telling the story of former boxers and their extraordinary journeys. Here are three movies that didn’t garner box office success but are worth a look.
“Bleed for This”
Boxer: Vinny Pazienza
This is the story of the greatest comeback in sports history. The movie was a box office disappointment but was very well done, topping this list. Current megastar Miles Teller portrays Pazienza and the performance is spot on, even earning an endorsement from Paz himself. The timeline is a little jumbled and of course some liberties were taken to advance the story. For a boxing fan or anyone looking for inspiration, though, this is a must watch.
The film documents Paz’s comeback to title relevance under the tutelage of Kevin Rooney. Aaron Eckhart did a very good job playing Rooney, considering it was a strange casting decision. Then the story of the real comeback is brought to the screen as he survives a horrific car accident to once again step into the ring an astonishing 13 months later. What makes this even more amazing is it actually happened. The dramatic finale is Paz’s epic showdown with the next protagonist on the list. (NOTE: Check out a fine Q n A with Paz done by David Phillips, who by the way will critique Creed III for NYF, and his follow up.)
Bleed for This Box office
INTERNATIONAL (24.1%) $1,614,773
“Hands of Stone”
Boxer: Roberto Duran
The rise of one of the greatest fighters to ever grace the ring is documented in this 2016 box office disappointment.
“Hands of Stone” tells the story of Roberto Duran, his rise from an impoverished hard scrabbled street kid to his career defining victory over Sugar Ray Leonard to his national disgrace of “No Mas,” his return to prominence, and unlikely comebacks. The screen brings to life the partnership between Duran and legendary trainer Ray Arcel.
The cast is star studded, featuring Academy Award Winner Robert De Niro, who plays Arcel and serves as the narrator in a brilliant performance.
Usher does a tremendous job playing Sugar Ray Leonard and of course Edgar Ramirez who delivers as Duran, capturing his positive and negatives during his climb, fall and eventual rebirth on the boxing scene. Ana De Armas plays Felicidad, Duran’s wife and looks like a million bucks doing it. All this is set against the backdrop of turmoil and hostilities with the USA and Panama over the Panama Canal.
Hands of Stone box office
DOMESTIC (94.7%) $4,712,792
INTERNATIONAL (5.3%) $265,561
Boxer: Chuck Wepner
A sleeper pick for boxing movies is a biopic on Chuck Wepner. The trailer sums up perfectly the whole story: ”You don’t know me.. well, you do know me…but you don't know you know me.”
Wepner was the real life inspiration for Sylvester Stallone’s original script for “Rocky,” the foundation of the “Creed” franchise. So technically he might be the most unknown hero this week. The production was plagued by several delays, name changes and didn’t get a wide release.
Liev Schreiber, in a masterful must-see performance, captures the essence of Wepner in an honest and sometimes brutal to watch near rise and inevitable fall of a tough fighter from the glory years of 70’s boxing. The excellent cast does a skillful job in capturing the story and the feel of the time. Below, check out this snippet from Wepner's 2017 check in with Michael Woods on the Everlast Talkbox podcast.
Wepner is chosen to fight Muhammad Ali, played here by fellow “Ray Donovan” alumnus Pooch Hall. Despite losing, Chuck scores a flash knockdown and etches his name into boxing lore.
More importantly the story caught the eye of Sylvester Stallone and a dynasty was born.
Chuck box office
DOMESTIC (63.8%) $320,725
INTERNATIONAL (36.2%) $181,793
All three boxing movies, released in 2016–what a golden age for boxing movies!– prove sometimes fact is better than fiction.