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Ditching the uber-muscled boy’s-own belligerence of The Expendables for the time being, Sylvester Stallone returns to screens this month in Creed, the seventh film in the Rocky series.
Having wisely put Balboa’s career to bed in 2006’s Rocky Balboa, the new film sees Michael B. Jordan taking on the role of Apollo Creed’s son and aiming for a shot at the title.
With Rocky reduced to old-man mentor role, we thought we’d offer you some advice of our own: namely that these are the films to see before you step into the ring/cinema this winter...
When We Were Kings (1996)
Truth is often better than fiction, as this mid-nineties documentary on Muhammad Ali’s famous ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ comeback against George Foreman proves. Following Ali and Foreman from pre-fight routine to eight-round knockout, the film also shows young promoter Don King in action. It also features interviews with Spike Lee, George Plimpton and Norman Mailer, whose own book The Fight explored the mythology of the sport’s most famous match.
Cinderella Man (2005)
Arguably one of the last decent films Russell Crowe had a hand in, Cinderella Man sees him swapping the arenas of Ancient Rome for the boxing rings of 1930s New Jersey. Based on the true story of James J. “Cinderella Man” Braddock, world heavyweight champion from 1935 to 1937, the film just about veers on the right side of predictability while delivering a cutting insight into one of the hardest periods in history.
Rocky II (1979)
More a part-two than a sequel, the second Rocky film sees the heavyweight contender finally take the belt after accepting Apollo’s request for a re-match. The last great film before the series got carried away with itself (hello Ivan Drago), Rocky II shows Balboa caught up in the trappings of fame, and having to adapt his methods in the ring. Cue a training montage…
So, this 2011 effort deals with MMA rather than straight boxing, but trust us, punches are thrown, weights are lifted and tempers are fraught. Focusing on the fictional sibling rivalry between a then relatively unknown Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton, the film bristles with intensity from the get-go. Intelligent filmmaking from director Gavin O’Connor. Nick Nolte’s Moby Dick-obsessed, recovering alcoholic father deserves a film all of his own.
The Fighter (2010)
Before the brilliant one-two of The Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle, came The Fighter. Director David O. Russell reminded audiences what tough, American filmmaking looked like with this true story of two brothers. Christian Bale bagged an Oscar as meth-addicted former boxing champion Dicky Eklund. As younger brother Micky Ward - and the film's focus - Mark Wahlberg cast aside his comedy leanings and turned in his best performance since Boogie Nights.
Twenty Four Seven (1997)
Before This Is England or even Dead Man’s Shoes made him the favorite director of art students everywhere, Shane Meadows’ second film, Twenty Four Seven, dragged audiences into the lives of directionless working class youths, brought together by Bob Hoskins’ vivacious boxing trainer. As with all Meadows’ films, you can’t help but feel tragedy isn’t far away.
Million Dollar Baby (2004)
The case for Clint Eastwood the director over Clint Eastwood the actor has never been put forward more powerfully than with this story of sporting disaster. While Clint is as grizzled as ever, it’s Hilary Swank who steals the show (and nabs her second Oscar) as aspiring boxer Maggie Fitzgerald. We won’t say anything more about what happens, but you might want to have a tissue handy.
On The Waterfront (1954)
A definite contender for "Best Boxing Film Of All Time". Marlon Brando stars as a dockworker whose pugilistic career is put on hold after he’s dragged into the murky undertow of New York Harbor’s criminal population.
Sylvester Stallone and subtly might go together like bullets and daisies, but in his mid '70s debut, Stallone won himself three Oscars as the not-so-bright Italian-American debt collector gearing up for one final go in the ring. Written and directed by Stallone, the film remains true to the spirit of '70s filmmaking, namely dedication to character development and atmospheric cinematography over flashy action sequences – something the series itself later fell foul of. The best Stallone film ever? You betcha.
Raging Bull (1980)
At 129 minutes, Scorsese’s boxing epic might just be the longest plot-free film to ever pick up eight Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Sound. Loosely following the career of former Middleweight Champion Jake LaMotta, the film covers almost twenty years of fisticuffs, fallouts and affairs. As LaMotta, Robert De Niro’s waistline expands, his temper flares and his jealousy rises. As Jake’s brother, Joey, Joe Pesci is as wild and unpredictable as his two other great Scorsese roles (Casino and Goodfellas).
The rumors surrounding the film – that De Niro forced Scorsese to take it in order to wean him off a cocaine addiction, and that De Niro trained so much that LaMotta called him one of the best fighters he’d ever seen – only add to its legendary status. In fact, we’d go as far as suggesting this might just be Scorsese’s masterpiece.