Can Saala Khadoos last 12 rounds with these Hollywood fight films?
Everyone complains about clichéd movies. But there’s one genre that sticks out like a sore thumb, a busted eye, or a cracked rib. It’s the only film genre that can stick to the tropes, be ridden with clichés and still be a knockout and get the audience’s fists pumping. We’re talking about the fight movie, and since we’re getting R Madhavan’s Saala Khadoos this weekend, we’ve decided to revisit some of our favourite fight flicks.
So the main tenets of a romantic comedy are ‘boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back.’ All the good ones stick closely to this formula. But in this age of blasphemy, even these movies are in on the joke, constantly poking fun at their own worn out plots. But not the fight movie. Every working class underdog with a dream, every world-weary curmudgeon who reluctantly agrees to train him, and every training montage he puts his fighter through is sacred to the genre to this day. No one dares subvert the clichés of the fight movie.
Since there are so many great ones to pick from, we’ve put together a list that isn’t as much a best of as it is a diverse recommendation of titles both familiar and unknown. So touch gloves, head to your corner and prepare yourself for the bell. Let’s get ready to rumble.
Round One: Raging Bull (1980)
Martin Scorsese’s black and white boxing drama about a volatile (aren’t they always) boxer before and after his fighting days is a classic. It was Scorsese and De Niro’s one-two punch after the landmark success of Taxi Driver a few years earlier and remains, to this day, one of the greatest films ever made.
Round Two: Rocky (1976)
So it was a toss-up between this and Rocky 3. But we figured there wouldn’t be a 3 without this, so, by unanimous decision, the original Rocky emerged victorious. The story behind Rocky is arguably more enthralling than the movie itself and the parallels between down-and-out Sylvester Stallone and his ‘best friend’ Rocky Balboa are there for all to see. It deservedly won the Oscar for Best Picture.
Round Three: Creed (2015)
Yes, the latest installment in the Rocky franchise is really that good. It puts up a brave challenge to the original and gives it a solid run for its money. It’s quite remarkable how closely Creed follows in the footsteps of Rocky. Most of it seems like a beat-for-beat remake. But that’s just what we wanted. And what can we say about Sylvester Stallone? He’s definitely going to win that Oscar for his knockout performance as the ailing champ.
Round Four: The Wrestler (2008)
The Wrestler was many things. It’s a grimy family drama, a testament to the fighting nature of the human spirit, a fable about the power of nostalgia, but above all else, it’s a wild crowd pleaser of a fight movie. Director Darren Aronofsky made sure the journey to that iconic final shot was as harrowing as one of Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson’s fights, and gave Mickey Rourke’s career a much needed leg up (it’s another thing that he went and threw it all away again). The Wrestler became one of Hollywood’s most emotional stories both on and off the screen.
Round Five: The Fighter (2010)
David O Russell’s biopic of Mickey Ward had a sense of place (working class Boston), a cast of colourful characters (who can forget those sisters) and a completely off the chains Christian Bale performance. Like every great boxing movie, The Fighter’s, well, fight scenes packed quite the punch. But also like every great boxing movie, the drama between the characters was equally memorable.
Round Six: Cinderella Man (2005)
Director Ron Howard and his Beautiful Mind star Russell Crowe pulled a Scorsese and De Niro here. Cinderella Man is based on the true story of James Braddock, an Irish-American boxer from New Jersey who had to give up on his fighting career after an injury. But when the Great Depression hit, he went back into the ring, a 10-1 underdog. Guess what happens.
Round Seven: Fighting (2009)
For those of you who think Channing Tatum isn’t a good actor, we say: Watch this. Even better, watch A Guide to Recognising Your Saints, Tatum’s first collaboration with Fighting director Dito Montiel, before watching this. Here he plays a street hawker selling knock-off Harry Potter books on a New York City footpath who has a talent for bare-knuckle street fighting. In comes Terrence Howard’s shady underground fight promoter and we get a great rags-to-riches story.
Round Eight: Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Clint Eastwood’s movie begins on a familiar note: Hilary Swank’s (in an Oscar-winning performance) ex-waitress Maggie Fitzgerald arrives at the Los Angeles gym of Frankie Dunn with dreams of being a pro fighter. Dunn is as cantankerous as they come, and not without his own demons. But then, halfway through the movie, a twist so unexpected happens that it hits you like a Mohammad Ali upper cut. Suddenly, it’s a movie about euthanasia.
Round Nine: Warrior (2011)
It’s usually pretty clear in a boxing movie who we’re supposed to root for. Not in Warrior, a movie about two brothers pitted against each other in an MMA tournament. Add to that the baggage a perpetually drunk father (Nick Nolte, Oscar nominated here) brings, and two protagonists we genuinely care for, and you have yourselves a movie that lives up to its title. Even Akshay Kumar agrees.
Round Ten: The Boxer (1997)
There’s something about directors and stars turning to the boxing movie as their second outings. We’ve just noticed this cool coincidence. First it was Scorsese and De Niro, then it was Ron Howard and Russell Crowe, then Dito Montiel and Channing Tatum, and now, it’s Jim Sheridan and Daniel Day Lewis. They return to the IRA infused grit of Northern Ireland after finding great success with In the Name of the Father. And once again, Daniel Day Lewis steals the show as a fighter looking for redemption.
Round Eleven: The Hurricane (1999)
Having just survived Netflix’s Making a Murderer, Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter’s wrongful imprisonment for triple homicide and subsequent resurgence as a boxer hits hard. Although the film spends a lot of time in prison with Carter, it’s still a powerful picture, reminding us that Denzel Washington can do no wrong.
Round Twelve: Real Steel (2011)
We’ve saved a left of field choice for the last round. This movie is the perfect example of how the tropes of the boxing movie can transcend even actual human beings. We get the family drama and get the villainous favourite our hero must fight at the end. We get the obligatory training montage, the rise to the top and we get the underdog. Only this time, robots do the fighting.
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The author tweets @NaaharRohan