The passing of the legendary Muhammad Ali has forced me to look at more than just the movie aspect of his small influence. Ali was as great human being as he was a fighter. I grew up in an era that only knew Ali as someone who was dragged down by his Parkinson’s disease but everything I had ever heard and WOULD ever hear played no impact on his career and his humanity.
Ali changed culture and thought amongst not only one sided American people but people all over the world. Video highlights and quotes of Ali will never go away as long as the video medium exists. People will talk and give opinions on Ali and I could easily use thousands of words on the hundreds of things that Ali changed in culture, but I won’t. I love movies, and believe it or not, he had influence on that medium as well.
So, in honor of the most famous person in the current world, here are my top five favorite, and what I consider the greatest boxing films ever. Boxing didn’t embody Ali by any means but by being the greatest boxer ever, he was able to take on bigger opponents that would empower people that couldn’t fight as great as he did.
I am a lowly film blogger so here is my attempt to do justice to Ali with a top five list.
5. Cinderella Man
With Russell Crowe at the height of his popularity AND his ability, he teams with Ron Howard to tell the true story of a boxer down on his luck and living in the middle of the Great Depression. How this story is not more widely known and revered is unfathomable. The story of James J. Braddock is what drives people to America despite the circumstances surrounding the truth. With a stellar cast, including Braddock’s great grand daughter Rose Marie DeWitt, you will be hard pressed to find a more inspiring film.
This list would be worthless without having a film that featured or even mentioned Ali. My mother and I saw this movie together, she is as big of a movie aficionado as me, and we both were dying to see this. It is the first time I realized the impact Ali had on life and culture. It was brilliantly told, even though it showed Ali’s flaws as an individual, his bugger fights were portrayed wonderfully. Michael Mann is a filmmaker who doesn’t seem to get enough credit, but he should consider this as a feather in his cap, along with Will Smith and Jon Voight.
3. Million Dollar Baby
This is the first movie on the list that is a completely original boxing story. I have spoken before about the boxing genre and how it is a treasured form of American cinema. This is without a doubt one the best original stories of the genre that has ever been told. It took home an incredible number of Oscars including, actress, supporting actor, director and movie of the year. It is tough to argue against those credentials, but it is flat out a great story that is perfectly told.
2. Raging Bull
This is where my list gets tricky. The argument between my first and second will go on forever. Which is the best boxing film will always come down to these two movies despite number three sweeping all Oscar categories. Robert DeNiro took home his best leading actor Oscar and Scorsese blasted through barriers with this movie. The world was introduced to Joe Pesci and in the end we were treated with one of the greatest sports movies of all time.
This is the movie that started it all. The boxing genre may not have started with Rocky but undoubtedly set the standard. The character of Apollo Creed is unquestionably Muhammad Ali, with his brash entrance and confidence. There have always been stories and rumors about the relationship between Rocky and Apollo and their real life counterparts. To see Ali show up at the 1976 Academy Awards ceremony and give Sylvester Stallone the biggest thrill of his life is as great as any moment in the movie, except it’s classic line,”Adriannnnnnnnn”.