For many cinephiles out there, the most legendary series of boxing films to ever grace the screen are Sylvester Stallone's "Rocky" films. While seeing Rocky go the distance in Rocki I and watching Drago get knocked out in Rocky IV are clearly hallmarks of 70s and 80s cinema, you are really doing yourself a disservice if that is the beginning and end of your boxing film catalog.
With the Oscars close at hand, let's take a look at the six best boxing movies that have nothing to do with Rocky. Yes, that includes Creed.
6. The Fighter (2010)
When David O. Russell put Mark Walhberg and Christian Bale together in the same biopic, you knew something special was going to happen. Wahlberg portrays "Irish" Micky Ward, a pressure fighter and former world champion who had to overcome setback after setback in his pro career. He is known mostly for his trilogy of fights against the late Arturo Gatti -- the events of which aren't actually covered in "The Fighter" -- but the determination that fueled his comeback to the ring was inspired. Bale won an Oscar for his portrayal of Ward's half-brother, Dicky Eklund.
5. The Hurricane (1999)
Denzel Washington, in one of the most legendary performances of his career, portrayed Rubin "The Hurricane" Carter, who was wrongfully convicted of a triple homicide in 1966 that derailed his boxing career. While the biopic does focus on Carter's skill as a boxer, the film is more focused on his life in prison and how he was freed with the help of a trio of Canadian activists who pushed to have his case re-examined. If you want to see a great actor dominate the screen for 2.5 hours, this is for you.
4. Million Dollar Baby (2004)
This one won ALL of the awards, and it's easy to see why. Putting Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman, and Hilary Swank in a blender in the mid-2000s would have produced solid gold no matter what the genre was, but the fact that Eastwood was able to keep the "strong female lead" thread and the "depressed boxing trainer looking for redemption and atonement" thread running side by side with one another is part of why he is in a league of his own as a director. A+ performances from Freeman and Swank make it hard to argue that "Million Dollar Baby" didn't deserve the four Oscars it received.
3. Body and Soul (1947)
Even if you take the boxing out of it, "Body and Soul" is a tremendous film that shows the price and perils that come with fame. Charley Davis becomes a boxer against his parents' wills, and quickly finds himself working with Roberts, a sleazy promoter that introduces Davis to all the trappings vices that come not only with being a professional athlete, but also being in the public spotlight. Whether or not you're a sports fan, way it looks at the natural inclinations of human beings when handed fame makes it more than worth your time.
2. Cinderella Man (2005)
Forget the boxing aspect, this is just an all-time great film. Russell Crowe portrays James Braddock, a Depression-era boxer who is forced to work as a longshoreman due to chronic hand injuries affecting his performance as a fighter. Eventually, after becoming stronger with his left hand than he was with his dominant right, he worked his way back into the ring and took down Max Baer to win the heavyweight title. He even earned himself a fight against Joe Louis. Crowe has some great films to his name, but "Cinderella Man" is at or near the top.
1. Raging Bull (1980)
A hallmark of modern cinema, "Raging Bull" is all about two guys at the very top of their games in star Robert De Niro and director Martin Scorcese. De Niro portrays the complicated Jake LaMotta, a former champion and pioneer of the "brawling" style of boxing that saw his professional and personal life wilt away due to his self-destructive nature, sexual misadventures, and obsessive rage. The film was nominated for eight Oscars, winning two, including one for Best Actor. It came to be known as one of the enduring films of the second half of the 20th century, and if you've seen it, you know why.