The boxing movie subgenre is one of the most distinct in Hollywood, featuring anti-heroes, family friction, montages, and tense buildups to a final climactic fight where everything is on the line.
More often than not, something even more important than a trophy hangs in the balance: love, respect, or security.
We love boxing movies for their grit and drama, their strong protagonists, and their drive for greatness. Plus, lots of shirtless eye candy... if you're into that sort of thing.
Here are our picks for the best boxing movies by Hollywood that rise beyond the genre's tropes and are worth watching.
15. Creed (2015)
Directed by Ryan Coogler
Starring Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson
Action, Drama, Sport (2h 13m)
The seventh installment in the Rocky franchise is actually a spin-off. It still involves Rocky Balboa, except this time he's the coach rather than the student—and it works.
Sylvester Stallone reclaims his title as the master of movie boxing to train his former rival's son, Adonis Creed (played by Michael B. Jordan).
Just when viewers thought the Rocky era was over, Jordan took to the ring and delivered a punchy performance as Rocky's controversial trainee. Ryan Coogler directs the spin-off, which was so successful it got two more sequels and counting.
14. Girlfight (2000)
Directed by Karyn Kusama
Starring Michelle Rodriguez, Douglas Santiago, Jamie Tirelli
Drama, Sport (1h 50m)
Karyn Kusama wrote the script for Girlfight after becoming a boxer herself. She wanted to make a movie featuring a sportswoman, which is fairly rare in this genre (barring figure skaters).
Her directorial debut Girlfight also served as Michelle Rodriguez's acting debut, where she plays a hot-headed Brooklyn teen named Diana who channels her anger into punching bags.
Diana isn't put off by her father, trainers, or competitors, who all demand that boxing is a man's sport.
Rodriguez's powerhouse performance was heralded in Kusama's driven indie drama, landing her future roles in Hollywood blockbusters such as Avatar and the Fast & Furious series.
13. The Boxer (1997)
Directed by Jim Sheridan
Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Emily Watson, Daragh Donnelly
Drama, Romance, Sport (1h 53m)
The Boxer is one of the more lesser-known but still thoroughly entertaining boxing movies that are worth watching.
The Boxer follows former IRA member Danny, who has just been released from prison after 14 years. Despite his attempts at a peaceful life, Danny is roped back into his violent past.
You know this one's going to be good just by its two leading stars: Daniel Day-Lewis and Emily Watson. The pair of fine English actors are established household names who deliver a more sophisticated viewing experience.
12. Jungleland (2019)
Directed by Max Winkler
Starring Charlie Hunnam, Jack O'Connell, Naheem Garcia
Drama (1h 30m)
Jack O'Connell and Charlie Hunnam play two struggling brothers in Max Winkler's indie drama Jungleland.
Whereas Lion (played by Jack O'Connell) has the talent, Stan (played by Charlie Hunnam) has the business savvy. At least, he thinks he does.
However, Stan finds himself in debt to a local gang lord that only Lion can punch their way out of it. Homeless and with nothing but sheer determination in his back pocket, Stan pushes his brother to the limits.
It may be a little predictable at times, but Jungleland remains utterly heartfelt and enthralling as a solid boxing movie.
11. Body and Soul (1947)
Directed by Robert Rossen
Starring John Garfield, Lilli Palmer, Hazel Brooks
Drama, Noir, Sport (1h 44m)
Robert Rossen blends sports drama with film noir in Body and Soul, which is partially based on the 1939 movie Golden Boy.
It follows newbie boxer Charley Davis (played by John Garfield) as he rises to success in the boxing ring, but that isn't necessarily a good thing. Both Charley's mother and the film itself are warnings against the dark side of money and success.
Body and Soul is an early example of the boxing movie, moving beyond a simple striving for victory and into a more complex morality play.
The socio-political aspect of this movie may give you more than you bargained for if you're just looking for a boxing champion to cheer on. In fact, Rossen may make you question the sport altogether.
10. The Champ (1979)
Directed by Franco Zeffirelli
Starring Jon Voight, Faye Dunaway, Ricky Schroder
Drama, Sport (2h 1m)
Many cite The Champ as "the saddest movie in the world," and those doing the citing are really onto something.
Whether you're watching the pre-Code 1931 original or the neo-noir remake, The Champ is sure to have you shedding tears. Franco Zeffirelli revamped King Vidor's Oscar-winning sports drama in 1979, starring Jon Voight as ex-boxing champion Billy Flynn.
After trying to settle down as a horse trainer in Florida, Flynn promises his son TJ that he'll fight again—despite his own physical vulnerability. His ex-wife has just returned to take TJ back, and it's up to Billy to prove himself.
If you enjoyed the likes of Kramer vs. Kramer or The Pursuit of Happyness, be sure to check out this father-son boxing drama.
9. Bleed for This (2016)
Directed by Ben Younger
Starring Miles Teller, Aaron Eckhart, Katey Sagal
Biography, Drama, Sport (1h 57m)
Miles Teller proved his ability to play ambitious career-obsessed leads in Damien Chazelle's Whiplash. Two years later, he returned to the big screen as real-life boxer Vinny Pazienza, who stopped at nothing to achieve glory in the ring.
Vinny was the WBA World Light Middleweight champion before he was hit by a car and paralyzed. With a circular metal brace affixed to his skull, Vinny refuses to rest and instead prepares for his next fight.
Directed by Ben Younger, Miles Teller gives another startling and sweat-soaked performance as the determined fighter.
8. A Prayer Before Dawn (2017)
Directed by Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire
Starring Joe Cole, Cherry Miko, Vithaya Pansringarm
Action, Biography, Crime (1h 56m)
This boxing movie is a little different since it isn't set in a boxing ring but rather a prison—the most notorious prison in Thailand.
Joe Cole dons boxing gloves in Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire's harrowing biographical drama A Prayer Before Dawn, which tells the story of English boxer Billy Moore.
A troubled heroin addict who's incarcerated in a prison under horrifying conditions, Moore learns the art of Muay Thai and joins the prison boxing team. Brimming with blood and grit, A Prayer Before Dawn certainly isn't for the faint of heart.
7. The Fighter (2010)
Directed by David O. Russell
Starring Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams
Action, Biography, Drama (1h 56m)
Most boxing movies have a duo of characters at their heart, usually a fighter and his mentor or his brother (or best friend).
The Fighter is one of the best boxing movies of the latter, where we have welterweight boxer Micky Ward (played by Mark Wahlberg) teaming up with half-brother Dicky (played by Christian Bale).
Dicky was once himself a boxer before he got hooked on cocaine. He ends up in prison and followed around by a film crew to document his supposed return. Micky's motivation dwindles following his brother's failures, but his family pushes him on.
David O. Russell directs The Fighter, which goes beyond the realm of sport to explore themes of family, addiction, and media exploitation.
6. Ali (2001)
Directed by Michael Mann
Starring Will Smith, Jamie Foxx, Jon Voight
Biography, Drama, Sport (2h 37m)
Muhammad Ali is unquestionably the most famous professional boxer in history. The heavyweight Sportsman of the Century had nearly every title under his belt, not to mention the ability to "float like a butterfly, sting like a bee" with ease.
Will Smith embodied the sports icon in Ali, which takes place between 1964 and 1974 when Ali made his championship debut (under his birth name of Cassius Clay Jr).
After meeting another prominent figure of the era—Malcolm X—Cassius changed his name to Muhammad. He also dodged the Vietnam War draft, which got him stripped of his boxing license.
Michael Mann directed and co-wrote this biographical eulogy that not only celebrates Ali's stance as a great boxer, but as a great activist (for which he got a Liberty Medal) and a great man.
5. Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Starring Hilary Swank, Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman
Drama, Sport (2h 12m)
Sadly, this the second and final female fighter on our list—but she's a good one! Clint Eastwood directs and stars in Million Dollar Baby as Frankie, alongside Hilary Swank who plays the wannabe boxer Maggie.
Frankie is your typical short-tempered old man. He hesitantly agrees to train eager waitress Maggie in his run-down Los Angeles gym.
But prepare for a plot twist: the climax isn't the big final battle, but something much more devastating.
Million Dollar Baby won four Oscars in 2004, including Best Picture. For anybody who studies ethics and politics, this is one to watch.
4. Snatch (2000)
Directed by Guy Ritchie
Starring Jason Statham, Brad Pitt, Stephen Graham
Comedy, Crime (1h 42m)
At first glance, you might mistake Snatch for a gangster film—and it certainly is, as is true of most Guy Ritchie movies. But at the center of the rivalry and diamond chase is a boxing match.
When an Irish traveler (played surprisingly well by Brad Pitt) inadvertently knocks out a crime boss's boxing champ, they decide to put him in the ring instead... despite the fact he's a loose Irish cannon.
To be fair, most characters in Snatch are loose canons. They shoot, punch, and gamble their way through London with that oh-so-sarcastic Cockney accent. And that's what makes it so fun.
Snatch continues with the black-comedy trademarks that Ritchie set down in his feature debut Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.
3. Southpaw (2015)
Directed by Antoine Fuqua
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Rachel McAdams, Oona Laurence
Action, Crime, Drama (2h 4m)
Calling all Jake Gyllenhaal fans! Prepare to swoon. Muscled up and passionately in love, Gyllenhaal plays "The Great" Billy Hope, a professional boxer in New York City.
His wife Maureen (played by Rachel McAdams) and his daughter Leila (played by Oona Laurence) are his biggest support system—a support system that tragically crumbles when Maureen is shot dead.
Billy becomes consumed by substance abuse and his desire to hunt down her killer, which leads to him neglecting his young daughter. Antoine Fuqua directs this heart-wrenching and incredibly well-acted boxing movie that's memorable start to finish.
2. Rocky (1976)
Directed by John G. Avildsen
Starring Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young
Drama, Sport (2h)
Even people who've never seen a single boxing movie have still heard of Rocky. This 1970s sports classic stars Sylvester Stallone (who also wrote the movie) as the iconic boxer Rocky Balboa, who seeks out the American Dream through fighting.
Rocky is an Italian-American working-class boxer who's given the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fight the Heavyweight World Champion. Desperate to prove himself, Rocky faces a grueling journey that continues on for several sequels.
1. Raging Bull (1980)
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Starring Robert De Niro, Cathy Moriarty, Joe Pesci
Biography, Drama, Sport (2h 9m)
The boxing movie to rule them all, Martin Scorsese's Raging Bull is a landmark of New Hollywood and cinema history.
Robert De Niro stars in this black-and-white biographical drama that recounts the life of Jake LaMotta through flashbacks.
The Italian-American boxer begins rising through the ranks in 1941, but quickly begins to spiral out of control.
Raging Bull is more of a character study than a boxing match. Martin Scorsese uses slow-motion and jarring silence to paint the portrait of a jealous, insecure, and violent anti-hero.