RIP Muhammad Ali: The Greatest films on the boxing legend

  • Jyoti Sharma Bawa, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jun 04, 2016 18:24 IST
Muhammad Ali was known as one of the greatest boxers of all time. He dies on Saturday aged 74.

Every Muhammad Ali film has its own hook.

The life of the handsome boxer’s life has been adapted to the silver screen many times over and each film portrayed different parts of his career and personal life. Together, they gave a holistic picture of the principled athlete he was, a man who could back his talk with his fists.

If the Oscar-winning When We Were Kings brought to life the famous ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ fight (Zaire , 1974), Will Smith-starrer Ali presented the decade in his life when the boxer converted to Islam and was absent from the ring for a long period. Alternatively, Trials of Muhammad Ali focusses on his politics and refusal to fight in Vietnam.

Read: ‘The Greatest’ boxing legend Muhammad Ali dies at 74

Read: The name’s Ali, he was the king, the greatest of them all

Whether you’re someone who has only just been introduced to Ali or are re-living his phenomenal life, we bring you films and documentaries that present the life and times of the silver-tongued boxer and civil rights champion who famously proclaimed himself “The Greatest”. And then lived up to it.

Ali the Fighter (1975)

The documentary gives a brief sketch of Muhammad Ali’s rise to glory when he was still Cassius Clay back in in Louisville. It captures the first of the three bouts between Joe Frazier and Ali and a large portion of the documentary is graphic footage of what is still known as the greatest heavyweight title match of all time. Filmmaker William Greaves also gives us a view of the backroom tension between Frazier and Ali.

A poster of Ali: the Fighter.

The Greatest (1977)

The biopic stars Muhammad Ali as himself and portrays his Olympic triumphs as Cassius Clay, his conversion to Islam, his refusal of the Army draft and the legal battle after being stripped of his World Title. Not well reviewed, the film still has a lot of charisma thanks to its lead star.

Ali could make heavyweight rivals Joe Frazier, Sonny Liston and George Foreman feel like unwitting participants at their own roast.

When We Were Kings (1996)

A riveting documentary that is considered one of the best boxing films ever, it goes behind-the-scenes of ‘Rumble in the Jungle’. This Leon Gast work captures Ali at his prime as he prepares for the legenadry bout with George Foreman, which went on to become one of his most exciting comebacks. As Spike Lee says of Ali in the documentary, “He fused politics and sport.”

Read: Fight-by-fight look at Ali’s milestones

Read: Ali, the boxing legend who floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee

Ali (2001)

Will Smith brings Ali to life in this Michael Mann biopic, which zeroes in on the most pivotal decade of his life – when Ali goes on to defeat Sonny Liston, converts to Islam and speaks up boldly against war. His win over Foreman in Rumble is the veritable cherry on the cake. Mann’s obsessive approach to filmmaking bears rewards as the film shows Ali’s life in fascinating detail, warts and all.

Facing Ali (2009)

Ten of Ali’s opponents pay tribute to the three-time world heavyweight champion. Frazier, Foreman, Earnie Shavers, Ken Norton, Leon Spinks, and Larry Holmes discuss how fighting Ali changed their lives while laying bare their own personalities.

Trials of Muhammad Ali (2013)

This film shows Muhammad Ali not as a world famous boxer but as a man who is ready to take a stand. The film takes a hard look at his controversial conversion to Islam and the decision to change his “white man’s name” of Cassius Clay and his refusal to serve in the Vietnam war on the grounds of protesting racial injustice at home.

I Am Ali (2014)

Muhammad Ali’s own audio journals add heft to this film as friends, family and fellow boxers provide insight into the man behind the legendary pugilist.

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