Creed (and five of the best movies about boxing)
When Rocky first arrived on cinema screens in 1976, Sylvester Stallone's tale of unlikely sporting achievement was an instant hit with audiences and stunned everyone present at the Academy Awards the following year by taking home three Oscars, beating the likes of Network and Taxi Driver to win Best Picture.
A number of sequels followed and achieved similar box office success as Rocky Balboa punched his way through a series of opponents including Dolph Lundgren and Mr. T, before the franchise fizzled out in 1990 with the best-forgotten Rocky V. A revival of sorts came in 2006 with Rocky Balboa, which saw the ageing and long-retired fighter lacing up his gloves for one last time to face the challenge of a much younger reigning champion. Despite its faintly ridiculous premise, Rocky Balboa was well-received and went a long way to restoring the reputation of the much-loved Rocky franchise, but it also took the story of the Italian Stallion to its logical conclusion; to have Rocky come out of retirement a second time would have stretched credibility beyond breaking point and it seemed like this really was the end of the line.
Not so, as it turns out. Instead of wheeling out the ageing Stallone for another punishing 12 rounds, the franchise lives on through the son of one of Rocky's most formidable opponents, Apollo Creed. As fans will remember, Creed met his end at the hands of Rocky IV's steroid-munching Russian fighter Ivan Drago before being avenged by Balboa's pummelling fists.
Directed by Ryan Coogler and starring Michael B. Jordan as Creed's appropriately-named son Adonis, Creed picks up 30 years on from that fateful battle in Moscow. Yet to be born when his father was killed in the ring, the young Creed goes by the name Adonis Johnson and it's clear that boxing is very much in the blood. Quitting his day job to pursue his dreams of glory between the ropes, Adonis seeks out the retired Balboa in the hope that the former champ will help train him, but Rocky declines the offer, asserting that his days in the fight game are over.
However, the young fighter is persistent and after observing his dedication in the gym, Rocky reluctantly agrees to help, with the aim of taking the young boxer's handful of wins in the amateur ranks and moulding him into a professional ready for the big time. Keen to avoid the added pressure of being labelled as the son of a former world champion, Adonis has always fought under his mother's name, but when word gets out his professional career receives an unexpected boost when he is contacted by a promoter working for the current heavyweight champion, a British fighter named 'Pretty' Ricky Conlon (played by real-life heavy hitter Tony 'Bomber' Bellew).
Conlon is looking for one last big fight before hanging up the gloves, but having vanquished all in his weight division there is no obvious candidate for an opponent until the prospect of fighting the younger Creed presents itself. The fight is a huge opportunity for Adonis, but Rocky is concerned that it's all too much too soon for the young fighter, plus there's another problem – if he wants the fight, he's going to have to take it under the name Adonis Creed.
Although this is only his second stint in the director's chair, Coogler has done a terrific job of breathing new life into the Rocky franchise and if Michael B. Jordan's performance here is anything to go by, we'd be very surprised if a sequel doesn't appear sometime soon. You can find the trailer below, beneath that we've picked five of our all-time favourite films about getting punched in the face for a living...
Often overlooked in the pantheon of boxing films - as well as in the impressive career of its leading man Daniel Day-Lewis - Jim Sheridan's 1997 film tells the tale of Danny Flynn, a talented young boxer from Belfast just released from a 14-year stint in prison after taking the rap for the crimes of friends involved with the IRA. Far from being welcomed and thanked, his return threatens to ignite a row between the warring factions in Northern Ireland as he attempts to rekindle his romance with former lover Maggie (Emily Watson), as well as rebuilding his career in the ring. Emotionally charged and packed with excellent performances form a cast that also includes Bryan Cox and Ken Stott, The Boxer deserves to be up there with the best of them.
Arguably the greatest boxing film ever made, Martin Scorcese's biopic of the tough but troubled Italian-American fighter Jake La Motta is gripping stuff, largely thanks to the performances of Robert De Niro in the role of La Motta and Joe Pesci as his friend, trainer and confidant Joey. The depiction of La Motta isn't an especially flattering one and the film, if you'll excuse the pun, doesn't pull any punches when it comes to the boxer's violent nature, but this is as gripping an account of the boxing world as any you're likely to see.
Another film based on the exploits of a real-life prizefighter, Ron Howard's film stars Russell Crowe as James Braddock, in Irish-American fighting in the 1930s and whose early career promise had long since begun its downward trajectory to an unflattering 41-23-4 record before he was offered one final shot at a comeback against the highly-rated Jim 'Corn' Griffin. Expected to be nothing more than a stepping stone for his upcoming opponent, Braddock knocked him out in the third and began one of the most unlikely comeback trails in the sport's history, one that culminated in a knockout win over the feared Max Baer, earning Braddock the World Heavyweight Championshp. Against a backdrop of depression-era poverty, Braddock became an unlikely hero and Howard's film depicts his story brilliantly.
Million Dollar Baby
The film that earned Clint Eastwood his second Oscar as a director, this 2005 film stars Hillary Swank as an aspiring boxer named Maggie who sees the fight game as her last chance to make something of her life. For his part, Eastwood plays Frankie Dunn, a boxing trainer wrestling with regrets about his relationship with his estranged daughter, who reluctantly agrees to help a persistent Maggie reach her goals. Gritty and heartwarming in equal measure, this a must-see for any fight fan.
Our final pick is this 1999 film from Norman Jewison starring Denzel Washington in the role of another real-life fighter, Rubin 'The Hurricane' Carter, but where The Hurricane differs from the other films on this list is that in Carter's case the opponent he finds himself up against is the U.S. justice system. Wrongfully convicted – not once, but twice – of a triple murder, Jewison's film charts Carter's battle with a legal system that would ultimately see him serve 20 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit. Washington is on top form here and although Carter's story is as maddening as it is inspiring, this is another film that should be regarded as essential viewing for any boxing fan.