Movie Article

Lords of the Ring

The best boxing films -- We choose the most convincing pugilistic performances

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.

ROBERT RYAN
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.

SYLVESTER STALLONE
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.

ERROL FLYNN
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.)

WILL SMITH
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.

JOHN GARFIELD
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.''

KIRK DOUGLAS
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.

JAMES CAGNEY
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.

PAUL NEWMAN
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.

Originally posted Nov 18, 2005 Published in issue #851 Nov 25, 2005 Order article reprints
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