Lights, Camera, Come Out Punching!

The boxing movie has been a staple of Hollywood for more than a century. Here are some of the genre's champs and palookas
January 31, 2005

1903

Prof. Langtry's Boxing School

Mother of all fight films involves a Tyson-like prof who stomps his opponent, twirls him overhead and hurls him to the canvas. He leaves the patsy's ears unchewed--so much for realism.

1915

The Champion

Charlie Chaplin

The Little Tramp picks up a lucky horseshoe as he passes a training camp advertising for a sparring partner. After jamming it into his glove, he brains the Champ.

1929

Boxing Gloves

Joe Cobb, Norman (Chubby) Chaney

In this early Our Gang talkie, reluctant pugs Joe and Chubby duke it out over the lovely Jean (below). Farina, the promoter, makes each fighter believe that the other has agreed to take a dive.

1931

The Champ

Wallace Beery, Jackie Cooper

"Don't fail to get a ringside seat!" was the tagline for this weeper about a boozy, washed-up pug (Beery, above, who won an Oscar), his son, Dink, and sidekick, Sponge.

1934

Punch Drunks

Moe Howard, Curly Howard, Larry Fine

Curly the Waiter KO's the Champ at a restaurant after hearing Larry play Pop Goes the Weasel on the violin.

1939

Golden Boy

William Holden (above), Barbara Stanwyck, Lee J. Cobb

Low blows meet high art when a violinist abandons the stage for the ring. Clifford Odets's literary vinegar is turned to honeyed hokum.

1942

Gentleman Jim

Errol Flynn, Alexis Smith, Alan Hale

Flynn (below) gives a perfectly judged performance as James J. Corbett, the brash, quick-witted San Francisco bank clerk who KO'd the great John L. Sullivan for the heavyweight title in 1892.

1947

Body and Soul

John Garfield (below), Lilli Palmer

Stagey Socialist screed on money and the Little Man, in which a kid from the Lower East Side takes on the Mob and his conscience.

1949

The Set-Up

Robert Ryan

Shot in real time, long before 24, this chronicle of mendacity, venality and foolish pride is still Hollywood's most dead-on distillation of the sweet science. Ryan (left, in blue) makes a gracefully convincing fighter.

1956

Out to Punch

Popeye, Bluto, Olive Oyl

Before their big bout, heavyweight Bluto stuffs Popeye's heavy bag with scrap iron and encases his boxing shoes in concrete. But when Olive finally breaks out the spinach....

1956

The Harder They Fall

Humphrey Bogart, Rod Steiger, Max Baer

As windy as Champion ('49) and Somebody Up There Likes Me ('56), but with Bogart (above, right), in his final film, as a burned-out sportswriter who exposes a fixing scheme.

1962

Requiem for a Heavyweight

Anthony Quinn, Jackie Gleason, Mickey Rooney

Melancholy mood piece by Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling about a shambling giant (Quinn, below, left) egged on to increasingly punishing rounds by his shady manager.

1972

Fat City

Jeff Bridges (right), Stacy Keach

John Huston's small masterpiece of skid row poetry is set in the smoky bars of Stockton, Calif., where the lives of two boxers (one on the way up; the other, down) intersect.

1976

Rocky

Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burgess Meredith

Before he started looking like Paul McCartney on steroids, before the ludicrous sequels, Stallone made a "rooting picture" with heart and just enough cruelty to give it resonance.

1977

The Greatest

Muhammad Ali, Ernest Borgnine, James Earl Jones

Formulaic hero-worship that glosses over the not-so-great parts of The Greatest's life. Ali is oddly unconvincing as himself--Will Smith did him better in Ali (2001).

1980

Raging Bull

Robert De Niro (below), Joe Pesci

Martin Scorsese's raw, pulpy biopic of 1940s middleweight champion Jake LaMotta explodes with life and imagination.

1996

When We Were Kings

Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, Ali and Foreman prepare for their 1974 Rumble in the Jungle (below) in Leon Gast's Oscar winner, which captures Ali at his most vital.

1997

The Boxer

Daniel Day-Lewis (right), Brian Cox

Sensitive, suspenseful and subtle-as-a-haymaker tale of a former IRA bomber whose Belfast boxing club unites Catholics and Protestants.

1999

The Hurricane

Denzel Washington

Washington (right) at his stoical best in a dutifully earnest, deeply sentimental, not-exactly-true story of 1960s middleweight contender Rubin (Hurricane) Carter, who spent 18 years in prison on a phony murder rap.

2001

Ali

Will Smith, Jamie Foxx, Jon Voight

Weighing in at close to three hours, Michael Mann's handsomely mounted bio-epic may not exactly float like a butterfly, but it recreates the high points of Ali's most dramatic decade with stunning verisimilitude.

2004

Million Dollar Baby

Clint Eastwood, Hillary Swank, Morgan Freeman

Eastwood's darkly funny, surprising and immensely moving tale of ambition and disillusionment is as close to an anti-Rocky as any sports movie ever made.

2005

Unforgivable Blackness

Ken Burns's riveting documentary on Jack Johnson (above), the first black heavyweight champ, uses Johnson's life as a template for understanding racial injustice.

Coming Attractions

The hits just keep coming. From feature films to documentaries to a reality TV series, boxing continues to get an on-screen workout. Here are four prospects to keep an eye on

--F.L.

2005

The Contender

NBC's reality series, the brainchild of boxing fan and Survivor creator Mark Burnett (above, with partner Sylvester Stallone), is set to debut March 7. The show follows the fortunes of 16 aspiring professional middleweights, living and training together in Los Angeles. Behind-the-scenes action, intercut with a series of elimination bouts, will give viewers a chance to get to know the boxers, who are vying for a $1 million payoff.

2005

Cinderella Man

Russell Crowe, Renée Zellweger

Crowe plays poverty-stricken former contender turned dockworker James J. Braddock (right), who pulled off one of boxing's great upsets by beating Max Baer for the heavyweight crown in 1935. Ron Howard directs--think Seabiscuit in 10-ounce gloves.

2005

Ring of Fire

Emile Griffith, Benny (Kid) Paret

Documentary delves into the life of Griffith, who beat Paret to death in a 1962 bout (right). Paret had whispered slurs about Griffith's sexuality at the weigh-in.

IN TURNAROUND

Save Me, Joe Louis

Spike Lee and Budd Schulberg's yet-to-be green-lighted script centers on the 1938 Joe Louis--Max Schmeling bout.

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HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)