History Of Fight Movies
Ever since 1901, when Thomas Edison filmed the popular vaudeville act âThe
Boxing Gordon Sisters', those who made and enjoyed motion pictures were
captivated by the idea of two people fighting. It's a primal instinct in a lot
of ways â just see the crowds that gather when a fist fight breaks out on the
street or the pay-per-view revenues from a major boxing or mixed martial arts
But when it comes to Hollywood, boxing, wrestling and martial arts has always
made for compelling viewing. And more than anything, it's not always the
action in the ring that captivates filmgoers, but the human stories involved as
well. This was never more evident than in the 1931 King Vidor film The Champ,
which featured the relationship between a down on his luck former heavyweight
champion (played by Wallace Beery) and his son (played by Jackie Cooper).
And though there is always something magical about the rise of a contender to
a championship against all odds (the subject of many fight films), Hollywood has
not shied away from presenting the darker side of the fight game, such as in
Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962), The Harder They Fall (1956), Raging Bull
(1980) and On the Waterfront (1954).
But at its core, fighting is about the triumph of the human spirit, and some
of the best films ever to grace the silver screen have covered this very topic.
Perhaps the most shining example of this was the 1976 film Rocky, which was not
only the first sports movie to win an Academy Award, but one that launched a
series that will live on in fight lore forever. As club fighter Rocky Balboa,
Sylvester Stallone portrayed a pug with a heart who was given a once in a
lifetime shot to take the world heavyweight title from champion Apollo Creed
(Carl Weathers). And though the odds were against him, all Balboa wanted to do
was go the distance with the champ and prove that he was worthy to share the
same ring with him. In this film, as in many fighters' careers, the result is
never as important as the journey.
It's the type of journey that some of the world's greatest actors,
writers and directors have chosen to follow, with the likes of John Huston, Budd
Schulberg, Elia Kazan, Martin Scorsese, John Ford, Ron Howard, Robert DeNiro,
Hilary Swank, Denzel Washington, Marlon Brando, Paul Newman, and Russell Crowe
all lending their talents to notable fight films over the years.
Of course, boxing has been the main event when it comes to combat sports in
the movies, but in the 1970's, a young man named Bruce Lee revolutionized the
idea of fighting on film with a series of movies which showed the savage grace
of a world-class martial artist at work. Lee and his movies launched a host of
imitators, both high budget and low budget, and some of his spiritual
descendents like Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Steven Seagal, Chuck Norris and Tony Jaa
have continued Lee's work as martial artists who have made the transition to
action movies and fight films.
In the new century, fight films have broadened their horizons, with female
boxing (2004's Million Dollar Baby), historical recreations (2005's
Cinderella Man), and mixed martial arts (2008's Redbelt) all taking on
different aspects of combat sports. The emergence of mixed martial arts is a
particularly interesting field, with superstars such as former UFC champions
Tito Ortiz and Sean Sherk counting the movies Bloodsport (1988) and Vision Quest
(1985), respectively, as key reasons why they took up MMA in their formative
This sport, one of the fastest growing in the world, is the focus â along
with Brazilian Jiu- Jitsu â of David Mamet's 2008 film Redbelt, and is
likely to lead the way for a new generation of fight films that will thrill
audiences around the world for years to come.
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