The best boxing films on DVD
Hollywood has made more movies about boxing than any other sport. Once it was practically a rite of passage for a leading man to step inside the ring to show off his physical talents — and his physique. A former sportswriter who covered more than two dozen championship fights, EW editorial director Peter Bonventre picks his favorite — and most convincing — pugilistic performances.
ROBERT DE NIRO
Raging Bull (1980) As Jake La Motta, he is willing to take five punches to land one, and makes you feel both his hostility and his pain. His portrayal of La Motta’s rage inside (and outside) the ring is bad to the bone — ”You never got me down, Ray” — and savagely good enough to win him the Best Actor title.
The Set-Up (1949) He delivers a haunting performance as an aging stumblebum who turns his moment of truth in the ring into a brutal bid for dignity and self-respect that’s like a left hook to the gut.
Rocky (1976) Rocky Balboa may be an outclassed palooka, but he has the heart of a champ, a virtue that Stallone portrays so convincingly that he transformed his Philly underdog into an indelible and enduring pop-culture hero.
Gentleman Jim (1942) Once a fighter himself, he superbly essays heavyweight champ James J. Corbett’s grace and guile in the ring as well as his wit and charm outside it. (And Flynn’s even handsomer than Corbett.)
Ali (2001) Floating like a butterfly, stinging like a bee, and earning an Oscar nod, he eerily channels the Greatest, thanks to the champ’s own trainer, the masterful Angelo Dundee, who said he could’ve taken Smith pro.
Body and Soul (1947) His Charlie Davis finds redemption in the breathtaking climactic fight by refusing to take a dive for the gangster who owns him, then spitting out his contempt: ”Whaddaya gonna do, kill me? Everybody dies.”
Champion (1949) His raw physical presence as ruthless Midge Kelly, a middleweight who embraces corruption to stay on top, is a scorching, star-making turn that also earned Douglas his first Oscar nod.
JAMES EARL JONES
The Great White Hope (1970) So many roles in one — champ and loser, playboy and victim, clown and martyr — and he plays them all with charismatic verve that would’ve made the real Jack Johnson proud.
City for Conquest (1940) He lost 30 pounds to play Danny Kenny, honing himself into a sawed-off shotgun on dancer’s feet that propel his assaults with a nimble power.
Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956) Tapping into the psyche and style of middleweight champ Rocky Graziano, Newman gets props for the furious fight scenes: He brawls like a street fighter with lethal intentions.