Lockdown is tough and we’ve all built up a fair amount of tension sat on the sofa watching Matt Hancock at a lectern which we’d really like to get out of our system. Sadly, there aren’t too many outlets at present — but there are plenty of fisticuff-based movies out there to satisfy your blood lust…
There are loads of these. Seven, to be precise, with two spinoffs about someone’s son or other that also did pretty well. And, in truth, I could just list all of them as the entries to this list. But they really do have everything — the character of Rocky Balboa is as famous a boxer around the world as any real life boxer besides Mike Tyson or Muhammad Ali. Sylvester Stallone, who plays the title character, has even been inducted into the boxing hall of fame for his troubles.
These are the films that brought the world Apollo Creed in those shorts, Mr T’s Clubber Lang predicting ‘pain,’ and Dolph Lundgren’s Ivan Drago, the Soviet Superman who, of course, gets his ass handed to him despite having the ability to run up a vertical treadmill. But as much as we love the antagonists, we also love the montages. Rocky doing sit ups in a barn. Rocky running along a beach. Rocky jogging through 8 feet of snow. Rocky climbing up a mountain. Rocky atop that flight of steps. And all of it set to Getting Stronger, Hearts on Fire, and, of course, Eye of the Tiger. And then, there’s the shouting. Rocky shouting ‘Adriaaaan!’ Rocky shouting ‘Dragooooo!’ Rocky shouting ‘Aauueeeghhh!’ ‘Eeeeuuuaaagghhh!’ and many other bizarre contortions of his mouth. Iconic.
From a Hollywood character who became real, to a real life boxer who got the Hollywood treatment. Perhaps inevitably, Muhammad Ali’s biopic never quite lived up to the billing of the man himself — how could it, with a story so compelling having already been played out in front of the world’s camera’s, and with genre-defining documentaries and books already written on the subject — but Ali is nonetheless a great way to escape into the fantasy that surrounded boxing’s most famous fighter, and its most famous fight.
The story of Ali’s life is retold here, from his humble beginnings as Cassius Clay to the high drama of the Rumble in the Jungle. Featuring Will Smith as the great man, it doesn’t do him a disservice — it’s a strong performance, and despite having its flaws, fans will appreciate the little details that are recreated perfectly.
Mickey Rourke’s portrayal of Randy “The Ram” Robinson is less an action movie than a muscle-bound tragedy; Rourke, like Stallone, was inducted into a hall of fame for the role, but very few people would ever want to emulate the character he inhabited.
That said, it is a gripping tale of a human being who having peaked finds himself plumbing unspeakably sad depths. Not for nothing did the tale of The Ram, who leaves a trail of destruction and broken relationships in the wake of his equally broken frame, revitalise Rourke’s career so seismically. And there is plenty of action — that is to say, staged fighting — interspersed with the backstage reality of people who, say, slam their bodies into thumb tacks, steel chairs and barbed wire for the entertainment of paying customers. It’s a masterpiece, if not one for the faint hearted.
The House of Flying Daggers
There are many, many martial arts films out there — Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan made entire careers from them — but very few western films can match the style of their asian counterparts.
You have to take them with a pinch of salt — some of the fight scenes are so outlandish they border on naffness — but The House of Flying Daggers marries this with breathtaking cinematography as it transports viewers back to medieval China, and a love story between two policemen, Leo and Jin, and the object of their affections, the beautiful rebel, Mei, set amid a war between the corrupt government, and the “house” at the centre of an uprising, for whom the film is named.
A lot less visually stylish, but infinitely more gritty, Warrior is the tale of two estranged brothers who rise to the top of the mixed martial arts scene. Tommy (Tom Hardy) is a former Marine who becomes an internet sensation after returning home to Pittsburgh before battering a pro fighter in a spar at his local gym. Brendan, his older brother, is a teacher who, with banks about to repossess his house, decides to gamble on winning an international tournament — where he comes face to face with Tommy, who we learn is also going for the jackpot to support the family of a deceased comrade.
The film pulls no punches. It tackles the poverty of America’s industrial cities, and its story mirrors the damage done to thousands of families across the region as a result of alcoholism and substance abuse, not to mention poor prospects and the reality of life for veterans. And that’s before we even get to the brutality of the fights themselves, which are every bit as harrowing and unforgiving to watch as MMA is in real life.