Feud of the Fighting Flicks

Top 5 Groundbreaking Combat Films
Rocky is an iconic film that brought not only boxing movies, but also lead actor Sylvester Stallone, to the forefront of modern cinema.
“Rocky” is an iconic film that brought not only boxing movies, but also lead actor Sylvester Stallone, to the forefront of modern cinema.
Courtesy IMDB


Sylvester Stallone’s “Rocky” paved the way for future boxing movies and is the gold standard for the genre. The film portrays a Philadelphia amateur boxer, Rocky, who is given a one-in-a-million shot at the heavyweight title against the champion, Apollo Creed, who sees the fight as a publicity stunt. He doesn’t think he can win the fight, but he wants to prove he’s on the same level as Creed. The movie’s philosophy espouses doing what you love and pursuing your dreams. Not only is the boxing epic, but the film made training montages a must-have for all subsequent boxing movies. Just about every fan has worked out to the classic “Rocky” theme music and dreamt about running up those 72 steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. 


Raging Bull

Martin Scorsese’s “Raging Bull,” starring Robert De Niro, is an all-time classic. The film follows the story of real-life boxer Jake LaMotta, who gets a shot at the middleweight title. He falls in love with a girl from the Bronx, but then, unable to control his jealousy, enters a downward spiral with devastating consequences. This film was revolutionary at the time for its unusual cinematography, such as the scenes in which the camera is right in Jake’s face as he receives punishments in the ring. The film doesn’t try to copy “Rocky,” instead, it is shot in black-and-white and set in the ’40s and ’50s. Though it opened to mixed reviews, it became critically acclaimed as one of the best movies ever made. De Niro won an Academy Award for Best Actor, and “Raging Bull” was nominated for Best Picture. 

The film that won Robert DeNiro his second Academy Award, “Raging Bull” is a biopic about the real-life story of boxer Jake LaMotta, and the struggles he faces not only in the boxing ring, but also in his private life. (Courtesy IMDB)


The Wrestler

Aging pro-wrestler Randy “The Ram” Robinson, played by Mickey Rourke, tries to survive while making a living in the independent pro-wrestling circuit in “The Wrestler.” After a heart attack, he retires and uses the extra time to patch up his relationship with his estranged daughter, but the itch of excitement lures him back to the ring. Another gritty wrestling film, “The Wrestler” portrays the struggles of a professional wrestler who destroys his body in his efforts to find fame and financial security. The action may not match the other films mentioned, but the realistic storytelling makes it exceptional among fighting films.

Mickey Rourke earned an Academy Award nomination as a result of his performance in “The Wrestler,” where he plays an aging pro-wrestler still fighting in the ring for both fame and financial security. (Courtesy IMDB)



Gavin O’Connor’s “Warrior” follows a family seeking redemption, with members finding it somewhere they didn’t expect: the world of MMA. The main character, Tommy, asks his father to train him for an MMA tournament called “Sparta,” even though his father’s alcoholism makes for a difficult relationship. Tommy’s brother Brenden, who’s struggling financially, also enters the tournament, and the two make it to the final round. The film features a lot of old-school MMA fighters, and some of the wrestling, jiu-jitsu and boxing are fought in the current MMA fighting style. This is one of the most well-rounded sports-action films; fans will keep rewatching it for its fight choreography as well as its heart-gripping drama.

While “Warrior” may appear to be just about MMA, the film’s deeper plot revolves around a family struggling with financial security, and whose saving grace is found with a MMA tournament. (Courtesy IMDB)


Enter the Dragon

A must for this list, “Enter the Dragon” was released in 1972 and brought the “GOAT” Bruce Lee worldwide acclaim, even though Lee died before its release. Lee plays an MMA warrior who enters a Kung Fu tournament held by a big-time narcotics dealer on his private island. Along the way, Lee gains allies in the kung-fu masters Williams, played by the legendary Jim Kelly, and Roper, played by John Saxon. Other future legends appear, including Bolo Yeung, the main henchman, and young Jackie Chan, an extra in the film. This film is significant to the history of MMA, as it includes a scene with Lee wearing the earliest version of MMA gloves. Lee’s amazing physique also inspired many fans to get in shape, with some immediately jump-starting their fitness routines by jogging home from the theater.

The film “Enter the Dragon” was released after Bruce Lee died, but keeps his memory alive by showcasing both his acting and martial arts skills, as he plays an MMA fighter in a Kung Fu tournament. (Courtesy IMDB)
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