There’s something fascinating about watching a physical fight. Whether it’s witnessing a group of high school boys duking it out during a basketball game or watching Rocky getting bloodied in all six movies in the franchise, the effect is similar. A fight is thrilling.
My debut romance book, “In His Corner,” is about an Olympic gold-medalist boxer who’s turning pro. Tommy “the Juggernaut” Raines is 160 pounds of muscles and sheer physical power. In honor of my romantic hero, I rounded up my favorite fight movies.
By “fight,” I’m referring to boxing, martial arts, wrestling, mixed martial arts, and other types of mano a mano that involves a competition.
Top 8 Fight Movies
If you haven’t seen the following movies, check them out for a powerful cinematic punch.
#1 “Warrior,” directed by Gavin O’Connor, 2011
Tommy Riordan (played by Tom Hardy) is a cage fighter who competes against his brother Brendan (Joel Edgerton) in a mixed martial arts tournament. Tommy, a soldier who went AWOL, is loveless, angry, and definitely unromantic. But the character’s intensity and physical prowess inspired the romantic hero in my book. I explained it in an article I wrote for Forbes. Hardy was so convincing as a fighter that former heavyweight boxing champ, David Haye, challenged the British actor to get in the ring with him.
#2 “Rocky,” directed by John Avildsen, 1976
When I hear the word boxing, I can’t help but think of “Rocky” to the tune of “Gonna Fly Now” in my head. It’s impossible not to root for an underdog like Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone). The popularity of the six movies in the series attests to the success of the boxing trope, which this movie helped define.
#3 “The Fighter,” directed by David O. Russell, 2010
Based on a true story, “The Fighter” is about a boxer, Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg), and his ex-con half-brother, Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale), who trains him to win the welterweight championship. Bale’s Oscar-winning performance alone makes this movie worth watching. In addition, the movie is memorable for its great fight scenes inside the ring and among Micky’s family members. The comedic relief from the protagonist’s seven loud sisters is a bonus.
#4 “Enter the Dragon,” directed by Robert Clouse, 1973
In this movie, Bruce Lee moves, fights, and crushes bones with the kind of discipline and masculine grace that I associate with top-notch ballet dancers. He single-handedly defined the martial arts flick as we know it today. If you’re watching “Enter the Dragon” for the first time and you think the scenes look familiar, you’re right. It’s because every martial arts director has copied something from this seminal movie. It’s cheesy by current standards, but the classic fight scene in a room full of mirrors is a prerequisite discussion in most filmmaking courses.
#5 “Facing Ali,” directed by Pete McCormack, 1990
This well-researched documentary traces the extraordinary career of Muhammad Ali, the first to win the undisputed world heavyweight title three times. It covers his conversion to Islam and his loss of the title in 1967 after he refused to fight in Vietnam. He was stripped of his U.S. passport and banned from boxing until 1970. What makes this film compelling is that Ali’s story is told from the perspective of 10 prizefighters—all of them remarkable in their own right—who fought the boxing legend. After watching this film, I can’t help but agree when Ali said “I am the Greatest” shortly before beating Sonny Liston in 1964.
#6 “Million Dollar Baby,” directed by Clint Eastwood, 2004
Clint Eastwood plays an irascible trainer who hesitantly trains a “girly” boxer, Hilary Swank’s Maggie Fitzgerald. This film, about a young woman determined to make something of herself through boxing and her unlikely friendship with her trainer, delivers a powerful emotional jab.
#7 “Cinderella Man,” directed by Ron Howard, 2005
During the Great Depression, James Braddock (Russell Crowe) was an impoverished ex-boxer. He returns to the ring for the most basic of reasons—to feed his family. His phenomenal comeback culminated in a stunning upset against Max Baer, who gained notoriety for killing an opponent during a bout. Braddock’s victory earned him the “Cinderella Man” nickname and the heavyweight title. This biopic is a wonderful testament to a fighter who inspired so many Americans during a tough era.
#8 “Raging Bull,” directed by Martin Scorsese, 1980
Based on the life of middleweight boxing champ Jake LaMotta (Robert De Niro), this movie is a quintessential Scorsese film with its fixation on violence. This is about LaMotta’s journey as a prizefighter who makes it big, only to squander his success. He’s a raging bull inside and outside the ring, driven by his brutal physicality and consumed by his jealousy. Fans of “Taxi Driver” will appreciate the reunion of De Niro and Scorsese in this film, which tackles a similar theme about a man bursting at the seams with violence.
“In His Corner” Book Excerpt
“In His Corner,” written under my pen name, Vina Arno, was published by Lyrical Press in April 2015. It’s available at: