By Sam Cowan
Southpaw, the boxing drama starring a resurgent Jake Gyllenhaal, opened in theaters on Friday as the latest in a long line of wide release films about boxing.
While the film currently sits at a 53 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, it is likely to follow in the footsteps of recent boxing releases like The Fighter and Real Steel as a financial success.
Over the years, films about boxing have been among the most successful of all sports films, both critically and financially. In fact, six of the ten highest grossing sports films of all time are based around boxing.
Here is a look at some of the most important and successful boxing films in history.
The first film that popularized the boxing genre was the original Rocky, released in 1976. The story of the underdog Rocky Balboa rising to face the champion Apollo Creed wowed audiences and the movie would go on to be the first sports film to win an Academy Award for Best Picture.
The success of Rocky would spawn a franchise and the six films so far in the franchise have grossed over $1 billion worldwide with a spinoff, Creed, due out in 2015.
1980 would see the release of Raging Bull, a biopic about famed heavyweight champion Jake LaMotta with Robert De Niro in the leading role.
De Niro, who put on about 60 lbs. for the role, won an Academy Award for Best Actor for his role. The film also received a Best Picture nomination and went on to be ranked fourth on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 greatest American movies of all-time.
The next major boxing release would come in 2004 with the Clint Eastwood-directed Million Dollar Baby. With Hillary Swank and Eastwood in the lead roles and Morgan Freeman leading a strong supporting cast, Million Dollar Baby would receive critical acclaim and made over $100 million domestically during its run in theaters.
The film received seven Academy Award nominations with Swank and Freeman winning awards for their performances and Eastwood winning Best Director. Million Dollar Baby also became the second and most recent sports film to win the award for Best Picture.
The most recent success from the boxing genre is 2010’s The Fighter, starring Mark Wahlberg as light heavyweight pugilist Micky Ward and Christian Bale as Ward’s half-brother and trainer, Dicky Eklund.
Bale would win his first Academy Award for his role and the film made $85 million domestically on the way to seven Academy Award nominations including Best Picture.
These films have common themes which unite them and demonstrate why boxing films are so successful with mainstream audiences.
They all feature a protagonist from a rough, poverty-stricken background who uses boxing as a way to overcome life’s obstacles, though sometimes with tragic results. The main appeal of these films is seeing the underdog prevail against the odds and this speaks to audiences of all ages and backgrounds.
While boxing is arguably not as popular as it once was, these inherent themes of boxing films will keep this particular genre of film thriving well into the future.