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Explainer: 5 most powerful boxing films

  • Boxing movies always have plenty of champions: They inspire us to fight harder ourselves, overcome obstacles in our own lives, acquire killer biceps and abs.

    Mark Wahlberg has always been known for those parts of his body, and they're on full display in "The Fighter," a movie he's been training for and fighting to get made for four years. He stars as Micky Ward, a real-life boxer who was one of Wahlberg's favorites growing up in Massachusetts.

    Story: Co-star Bale rules in Wahlberg's 'Fighter'

    With "The Fighter" opening this weekend, here are five more boxing movies that pack an emotional punch:

  • 'Raging Bull' (1980)

    Image: Robert DeNiro

    Well, of course we have to start here. Greatest boxing movie ever? That's not too much of a stretch. What more can we say that hasn't already been said? It's all so obvious.

    Robert De Niro famously transformed himself inside and out, packing on the muscle to play the volatile former middleweight champion Jake La Motta. In gorgeous, intimate black-and-white with its haunting title sequence, this may just go down as Martin Scorsese's brutal masterpiece. It earned Academy Awards for De Niro (best actor) and for Thelma Schoonmaker's editing, but was criminally robbed of the best-picture prize, which went to "Ordinary People."

  • 'Rocky' (1976)

    Image: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire

    Again, from the what-more-can-we-say? department. We went with the first "Rocky" here, tempting as it was to dredge up later installments featuring Mr. T and Dolph Lundgren, because it set the precedent for the franchise.

    It was the little movie that could, the one that came out of nowhere with no budget and shocked the world by winning the best-picture Oscar over bigger and more traditional contenders: "Network," "All the President's Men," "Bound for Glory" and "Taxi Driver." Sylvester Stallone wrote the script and starred as the Italian Stallion, Rocky Balboa, a small-time boxer who would go on to win the heavyweight championship. As full of cheesy uplift as the ending is, it still sends chills.

  • 'Million Dollar Baby' (2004)

    Image: Million Dollar Baby
    Warner Bros. via Reuters

    Director and co-star Clint Eastwood has said this appealed to him because it was about a search for family, and indeed, the scenes he shares with Hilary Swank, who functions as a daughter figure in his life, provide the film's heart.

    But as Maggie Fitzgerald, a young woman who comes from nothing, trains hard and turns herself into an unlikely champion, Swank also inspires all on her own. And the ending is just devastating, even if you know it's coming. The film earned Academy Awards for best picture, director, actress and supporting actor: Morgan Freeman as Eastwood's longtime friend and verbal sparring partner outside the ring.

  • 'The Champ' (1979)

    Image: "The Champ"

    I dare you to try even thinking about this movie without getting choked up — that's how powerful its conclusion is. Yes, it's a remake and yes, it's shamelessly tear-jerky, but man, is it effective.

    Jon Voight stars as an ex-boxer now working as a horse trainer while raising his worshipful young son (the artist formerly known as Ricky Schroder). He decides to try in earnest for a comeback (don't they all?) when his socialite ex-wife (Faye Dunaway) shows up and threatens to tear father and son apart. Schroder displayed depth and instincts beyond his years at the film's wrenching climax.

  • 'Girlfight' (2000)

    Image: "Girlfight"
    Screen Gems

    Before Swank in "Million Dollar Baby," Michelle Rodriguez blazed a trail here as a determined teen from the Brooklyn projects who rebels against her father and insists she should train to be a boxer.

    A then-unknown Rodriguez burst onto the scene with her film debut, showing the sultry strength and intensity that would become her trademarks, and this tough little indie shared top honors that year at the Sundance Film Festival. Director Karyn Kusama went on to make some lousy movies after this — "Aeon Flux," "Jennifer's Body" — but her first one was a knockout.

Discuss: Which boxing movie do you think packs the biggest punch to the heart?

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