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Why We Keep Making Boxing Movies

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Trailers | November 9, 2015 |

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Trailers | November 9, 2015 |

Creed is arriving in theaters around Thanksgiving and with every trailer, it looks better and better. Here’s the latest trailer:

Why do we keep making boxing movies? There have been about a dozen with Rocky. There was that terrible one with De Niro and Stallone as old over-the-hill boxers in Grudge Match a couple of years ago. There’s the one where Jake Gyllenhaal was a Southpaw just a few months ago. And last year a creepy looking Christian Bale helped Marky Mark be The Fighter.

Why? Boxing as an actual sport is on life support, somewhere just barely north of horseracing. Movies about boxing are a larger industry than boxing itself. This is an oddity isn’t it? Why do we keep returning to movies about something that we don’t even care about in reality anymore?

All the way until the sixties, westerns were one of the biggest genres. But we hadn’t had a frontier, hadn’t had cowboys and six shooters and plains wars for a solid three-quarters century. The key is that westerns were never about that literal thing. The themes resonated in our cultural psyche long after the literal events had turned to dust. Metaphors work because they ring in our mind like a bell. For westerns, there are the easy mappings: savages threatening our hard fought land tugged at emotional responses for everything from the mass immigration of the Irish to holding the line against the damned commies.

Because sometimes our metaphors sustain us long after the literalism they’ve been connected to die. The fictions we watch rarely appeal to us for the literal reasons.

Boxing movies work because there’s something so fundamental in them to the human experience. Our language is full of the metaphors of the brawl. Being able to take a punch, having a glass jaw, pulling yourself up off the mat, leaving it all in the ring.

Even those of us who have never watched a single boxing match in our lives can feel the intuition. We have all taken beatings, whether physical or not. And most of us can never win most of those fights, we can only keep taking the punches over and over again, and keep dragging ourselves punch drunk to our feet.

Most boxing movies are distinct from every other strain of sports movie in that they are rarely about winning. They’re about going the distance, win or lose. I’ll let Saint Swearengen sing us out: “Pain or damage don’t end the world. Or despair, or fucking beatings. The world ends when you’re dead. Until then, you’ve got more punishment in store. Stand it like a man… and give some back.”

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Steven Lloyd Wilson is the sci-fi and history editor. You can email him here or follow him on Twitter.