Moviegoers flooded back to theaters for Creed III, and it’s the perfect time to discover the legendary boxing films that came before it and paved the way for its success. The fighter character was established decades ago by these boxing movies. These characters literally fight for everything they have with a hunger unmatched by other genres. The tale of the fighting spirit is more than just a mental game, but a way of life beautifully and brutally depicted by some of the best and brightest stars.
From true-story redemption to iconic fictional characters, IMDb voters have spoken on the best of the best when it comes to the best boxing films in the game. The knock-down, drag-out depictions of a sport that requires the toughest minds and bodies in the game are enough to inspire any athlete down on their luck.
10 ‘Creed II’ (2018)
IMDb Rating: 7.1/10
Returning to the ring to chase ghosts of the past, Creed II offered up its take on an iconic matchup in cinematic boxing history. With Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) in his corner, Adonis (Michael B. Jordan) must face the man who killed his father inside the ring, Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), and his fighter of a son Viktor (Florian Munteanu).
This match-up has Rocky fans of old (and newly inspired by the franchise trivial) on the edge of their seats. Not only does Rocky have a front-row seat to the past, but Adonis has more rounds and emotions to battle. This sequel packed multiple punches making it a formidable installment in this cinematic universe.
9 ‘Southpaw’ (2015)
IMDb Rating: 7.3/10
Competing in the same year for viewership as Creed, Southpaw still earned its due as a solid boxing movie. After announcing his retirement and a tragic turn of events, Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal) must fight not only for the custody of his daughter but to revive his career, getting his life back on track.
This boxing drama reinforces the standard tropes of the genre where the main characters like Billy are hungry for redemption. Using the destruction as fuel, Southpaw features a strong performance from Gyllenhaal.
8 ‘Rocky II’ (1979)
IMDb Rating: 7.3/10
A successful follow-up, Rocky II featured a rematch between Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) and Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) as the two battle their pride in different ways. While the second film didn’t earn the critical acclaim and award recognition of its predecessor, the return still proved successful.
Stallone would go on to produce and star in four more films as Balboa, Rocky III, Rocky IV, Rocky V, and Rocky Balboa. The boxing features would garner mixed reviews from its loyal fans as Rocky graced the screen over a 30-year period.
7 ‘The Hurricane’ (1999)
IMDb Rating: 7.6/10
Based on the true story of Rubin “The Hurricane” Carter, The Hurricane layers multiple genres centered around the sport of boxing. Denzel Washington stars as Carter, a boxer wrongly accused and convicted of murders he didn’t commit. Washington earned his fourth Oscar nomination for the role.
The film took many creative liberties, straying from its source material. However, the entertainment value is still there as it is with any project Washington steps into. There are at least two books on the historic case to turn to for audiences that prefer to compare page-to-screen adaptations, The 16th Round by Rubin Carter and Lazarus and the Hurricane by Sam Chaiton and Terry Swinton.
6 ‘Creed’ (2015)
IMDb Rating: 7.6/10
Securing its own future while honoring the matches that came before it, Creed bridges the gap between old and new. Son of the famous Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) follows in his boxing footsteps only to seek out the help of former heavyweight champion, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone).
Adonis’s journey is much like Rocky’s, a young contender (and young rising star portraying him) out to prove himself. Where this spinoff succeeds is in its ability to allow the spotlight to fall on Adonis and not Rocky. Beautifully directed by Ryan Coogler, Creed is one of the best boxing franchise follow-ups of all time.
5 ‘The Fighter’ (2010)
IMDb Rating: 7.8/10
With a star-studded cast, The Fighter is an Oscar-winning adaptation of the boxing life of “Irish” Micky Ward. Trying to step out from his brother Dicky’s (Christian Bale) troubled shadow, Micky (Mark Wahlberg) looks for his own shot at boxing greatness.
Securing two of its seven nominations, The Fighter, like many boxing moviesis about the heart of a fighter and the grit to overcome adversity even when that adversity comes from your own family. Wahlberg and Bale are magic, carrying the film to establish it as a great installment in the genre.
4 ‘Cinderella Man’ (2005)
IMDb Rating: 8.0/10
Boxing tales and true stories go hand-in-hand in this genre. Based on the career of James J. Braddock, Cinderella Man is the comeback tale of a boxer at the turn of the twentieth century. Washed up and trying to survive the Great Depression, Jim Braddock (Russell Crowe) is offered another shot at a boxing career, matching up against a young hot shot.
Braddock’s story is a feature of redemption during a time when there was little hope for much else in the world. Directed by Ron Howard, Cinderella Man earned three Oscar nominations, but no wins.
3 ‘Million Dollar Baby’ (2004)
IMDb Rating: 8.1/10
The foundational female boxing film, this Oscar-winning Best Picture features the grit and endurance of a tough woman in such a brutal sport. Hilary Swank stars as Maggie, a struggling server with a dream to be a champion boxer who manages to convince veteran boxing trainer Frankie (Clint Eastwood) to train her.
Co-starring Morgan Freeman as the film’s narrator and supporting character, Million Dollar Babyknocked out four of its seven Oscar nominations. Reminding audiences the sport isn’t for the faint of heart, this boxing woman-led boxing movie holds its own over its iconic competitors.
2 ‘Rocky’ (1976)
IMDb Rating: 8.1/10
This movie is iconic for a reason. From Sylvester Stallone’s creative writing to his determination to produce and star in it, Rocky is that boxing movie that if audiences haven’t seen it yet, they’ve definitely heard about it. Stallone stars a titular character Rocky Balboa, a small-time Philly boxer who gets his shot at fighting the world heavyweight champion.
The success and popularity of the film sparked multiple sequels and a modern-day spinoff series. Stallone is charming as Rocky, an honest, good-hearted athlete just trying to gain respect where he knows it’s deserved. The boxing tale took home three of its ten Oscar nominations, including Best Picture.
1 ‘Raging Bull’ (1980)
IMDb Rating: 8.2/10
One of the greatest boxing movies of all time, Raging Bull established early on the magic that happens with the star power that is Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Martin Scorsese. De Niro is real-life middleweight champ Jake La Motta, a dominating, violent force inside the ring with a destroyed mess of a life once the gloves come off.
The movie is based on La Motta’s autobiography Raging Bull: My Story. Visually striking (pun intended), the adaptation not only earned eight Oscar nominations (two wins) but also secured its place as one of the top movies of all time, not just in the sports genre.