The Set-Up (1949):
The boxing movie is too often dominated by the like of Body and Soul, Somebody Up There Likes Me and Rocky--tales of blue collar shlubs who pound their way to the top. In reality most boxers never get higher than Robert Ryan's pugilist in this seedy, real-time B-picture from a pre-Sound of Music Robert Wise. Based on, of all things, a poem, the film itself is grimy poetry, with Ryan wasting away in a deliberately artificial urban grotto as he considers taking a dive.
Fat City (1972):
For a miserable portrait of boxers, you can do no worse than this John Huston joint--aka the best damn sports movie ever. Stacy Keach is the aging fisticuffer on the way out; Jeff Bridges is the young turk who gets a bleak vision of his future. Sorrowful Kris Kristoferson tunes line the soundtrack of a film that, more than any Hollywood effort, shows it how it really is.
Slap Shot (1977):
This blue-tongued classic finds Paul Newman as the coach/player of a minor league hockey team that finally pulls itself up from the bootstraps with liberal use of fighting, violence and cussing.
Fast Company (1979):
The real oddball in David Cronenberg's ouevre isn't the one boasting a typewriter with an erect phallus or a tooth-gun, but this low-rent Canadian racing picture that looks like it was made by anyone but the future director of Videodrome. Long before the auto-eroticism of Crash, Cronenberg delved into the mere auto-filia of living race to race.
Bull Durham (1988):
Let fans of Field of Dreams, Pride of the Yankees, et al. have their weepy paeans to the national pastime. Minor Leaguer-turned-filmmaker Ron Shelton showed how baseball really ticks with this portrait of life with those who haven't, or never will, make the Majors.
The Wrestler (2008):
60% Fat City, 40% Rocky. Hard to fret over that mix.
Matt Damon delivers in "The Martian"