By Raquel Stecher
Hollywood has always been in love with boxing stories. Before Rocky, Raging Bull, Million Dollar Baby, The Fighter, and Creed, there were a slew of other movies about prizefighters on their way up or on their way out.
For me, there’s something about rooting for an underdog that keeps me coming back round after round. It’s more than just stories about boxers in the ring. These movies are about overcoming life’s obstacles, whether it be economic strife, social inequality, and doubt, both external and internal. These stories pack an emotional punch and can either lift our spirits or break our hearts. But they always inspire me to fight for my dreams and to get back up when life knocks me down.
Take a dive into some classic boxing films with these five classic films available to rent on DVD Netflix.
This classic tearjerker stars Wallace Beery as Andy Purcell, a down and out former heavyweight champion whose penchant for booze and gambling keeps him out of the sport. By his side is his devoted son Dink (Jackie Cooper), who lovingly refers to his dad as “The Champ.” Dink is more caretaker than son. Faced with losing Dink, the Champ has his eye on one big fight that will help him set things right.
Beery and Cooper are a charming pair and while Beery might have won the Oscar for Best Actor, it’s really child actor Cooper who steals the show. Make sure you have a box of tissues handy for that heartrending final scene. The Champ was remade in 1979 with Jon Voight, Faye Dunaway, and Ricky Shroder.
If you’re going to watch a 1930s movie, you can do no wrong with a film starring three of the decade’s biggest stars: Edward G. Robinson, Bette Davis, and Humphrey Bogart. Part gangster movie, part boxing drama, and part love triangle, Kid Galahad is the story of corruption in the boxing world, a common trope in boxing movies to come.
Robinson plays Nick Donati, a promoter trying to protect his rising star, a bellhop turned champion fighter Ward (Wayne Morris), from gangster Turkey Morgan (Humphrey Bogart). Caught in the midst of everything is Fluff (Bette Davis), Nick’s girlfriend who falls in love with Ward. Sure the characters have silly names but if you like classic gangster flicks this is not one to miss.
Kid Galahad was remade as an Elvis Presley musical in 1962.
Based on the life of heavyweight boxing champion James J. Corbett, Gentleman Jim stars Errol Flynn as the young upstart boxer from humble origins who climbs the social and economic ranks to make a name for himself. Set in 1880s San Francisco, this film has all the period fluff that makes early costume dramas so much fun to watch.
While the film does take plenty of artistic liberties with Corbett’s life story, at the heart of the film is a tale of overcoming circumstances and making your own destiny. There’s a lot to learn and be inspired by from this story of a legendary opportunist.
Based on the life of middleweight boxing champion Rocky Graziano, Somebody Up There Likes Me stars Paul Newman as the legendary boxer. We follow Rocky’s story from his life of crime, to his service in the Army, to his boxing career and to his marriage with long-suffering wife Norma (Pier Angeli).
Rocky Graziano should not be confused with the other boxing legend Rocky Marciano, who inspired Sylvester Stallon to write the first Rocky movie. However, Graziano’s story of preserverance and redemption is just as memorable. The title role in this movie was meant for James Dean, but he died in a car crash before production began.
The real Rocky Graziano has a small part in the Frank Sinatra film Tony Rome (1967) which is also available on DVD Netflix.
One of the most heart-wrenching classic boxing stories of all time, Rod Serling’s Requiem for a Heavyweight started out as a 1956 live TV drama and was adapted to film a few years later. It stars Anthony Quinn as Mountain River, a former prizefighter looking for a fresh start after a particularly devastating final match. He meets and falls in love with social worker Grace (Julie Harris) and envisions a new life for himself.
However, his trainer (Mickey Rooney) and manager (Jackie Gleason) and not ready to let go of Mountain’s career, especially after a rotten deal they made at his expense. This tragic tale will have you raising your fist in the air decrying life’s injustices.
Raquel Stecher has been writing about classic films for the past decade on her blog Out of the Past. She attends the TCM Classic Film Festival as well as other events where old movie fanatics get together to geek out. Raquel has been a devoted DVD Netflix member since 2002! Follow her on her blog Out of the Past, or find her on Twitter @RaquelStecher and @ClassicFilmRead, Facebook, and Instagram.