When We Were Kings (1996)
It could be considered cheating to put a documentary on the list of best boxing films. However, a film about arguably the most important boxer in history, Muhammad Ali, and one of the most crucial fights of his career, “The Rumble in the Jungle” against George Foreman, is a must-watch for any fan of the sweet science.
Michael Mann’s 2001 film Ali could have easily been on this list, but Muhammad Ali was such a charismatic figure that any actor that attempts to play the man fails to compare. Even over-the-top interpretations like Apollo Creed don’t measure to the real self-proclaimed greatest of all time.
Director Leon Gast captured the mood of that era in 1974 and how much of an underdog Ali indeed was against Foreman. A cut over the right eye of Foreman caused the fight to be delayed for five weeks and led to Gast capturing a vast amount of footage of Ali while he was training.
The importance of When We Were Kings is undeniable. It gives an insight into one of the biggest sporting events in history and possibly, for all accounts, the most-watched fight of all time.
For some, their lasting memory of Ali is of him in the latter stages of his life, succumbing to his illness’s no longer the loquacious character he was in his youth.
This documentary is a time capsule of a time when boxing was one of if not the most important sports in the world and shines a light on its most significant practitioner. There isn’t anything that it can be compared to.