With the release of SOUTHPAW this week, our editorial staff are showcasing some of their favorite “spars” in recent film history. SOUTHPAW is a rise and fall story of Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his journey to redemption. It’s a familiar trope for the sub-genre, but the authentic portrayal that’s energetic and dramatic enough to nestle its way into your heart.
Boxing and film have had a long standing relationship that has brought some absolute show stopping classics to the big screen, and it’s easy to see why. Boxing films follow a rise and fall narrative that have the protagonist getting literally battered emotionally and physically. And the good ones find new ways to reinvent the story-lines. It would be far too simple to reference the cultural importance of ROCKY or RAGING BULL. But “spars” just don’t occur inside the ring, sometimes a film can have an argument so potent that is can teach you a thing or two about winning your next verbal bout.
Brother vs. Brother
Let’s first begin with a fight that is both physical and emotional. It’s been four years and I’m still not over just how powerful the final fight of WARRIOR is. There are plenty of great boxing movies out there, like ROCKY, ROCKY 3 and RAGING BULL, where you root for the hero to claim the gold. However, with WARRIOR, it’s a little more complicated. As mentioned in my SOUTHPAW review, when fights are justified with stories full of enough crushing emotion, they become all the more intense and gratifying. And this is very much the case with WARRIOR.
One of the great strengths of WARRIOR is its utter lack of a hero or villain. Brothers Brendan (Joel Edgerton) and Tommy Conlon (Tom Hardy) have privileged backgrounds and are extremely gifted in the ring. Both have respectable reasons for fighting, a fact that divides the audience when it comes time to choose who to root for in the final moments. Plus, they perfectly utilize The National’s “About Today,” which only elevates how gut-wrenchingly powerful this film really is.
– Preston Barta
CLERKS 2 (2006)
LORD OF THE RINGS vs. STAR WARS
There really isn’t a definitive answer to the question posed by writer/director Kevin Smith in CLERKS 2: which is the better franchise LORD OF THE RINGS, or STAR WARS, the vicious discussion turned brutal bout between Randall Graves (Jeff Anderson) and his burger flipping colleague Elias (Trevor Fehrman) Smith rips apart both franchises (mainly LOTR), with his signature pointed dialogue that’s NSFW and chronically witty. As much as it hurts my geeky little heart to say this, he’s kind of right about LORD OF THE RINGS: all they do is walk. But on the other hand, Hayden Christensen did ruin those last two movies.
– Cole Clay
HAPPY GILMORE (1996)
Happy Gilmore vs. Bob Barker
This is where I lose all credibility and recommend an Adam Sandler movie. However, this is back before Sandler was telegraphing his movies to the studio heads. HAPPY GILMORE is a staple comedy for the past nearly twenty years. It’s infinite cable repeats gave us the chance to bask in the glory of a trash talking fight between good ol’ Bob Barker and Happy Gilmore himself. Got to give it up to the old Lothario Barker, he’s got a helluva Vulcan death grip. You know the scene well by now and it’s available in all its’ glory on Youtube.
– Cole Clay
THEY LIVE (1988)
Nada vs. Frank in the Alley
When I had to choose my favorite fight, it sort of took me a minute. I immediately thought of the bathhouse scene in EASTERN PROMISES and the outdoor gun kata scene in EQUILIBRIUM. In the end, they just don’t hold a candle to the alley fight between Nada (Roddy Piper) and Frank (Keith David) in THEY LIVE, John Carpenter’s cult classic about subliminal control through the media.
Nada has spent the movie up to this point realizing that aliens are sending messages that keep humans in a controlled state. He can see the actual reality through a pair of special sunglasses that he found in an alley. When he returns to retrieve the other sunglasses, he’s confronted by his friend Frank, who wants to give him money to leave town now that Nada is a fugitive. Nada tries to convince Frank to put the sunglasses on, but he refuses, thinking Nada is crazy. Nada approaches Frank yelling about the sunglasses, and Frank punches him. Then, they brawl back-and-forth for five minutes in one of the best bareknuckle fights in movie history. What makes it so great is the aggressive violence that takes place even though a) they’re actually friends, and b) the whole fight is over the act of wearing sunglasses.
– Jared McMillan
- Cary Grant vs. Rosalind Russell in HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940)
- Ryan Gosling vs. Rachel McAdams (fight in the rain) in THE NOTEBOOK (2004)
- Edward Norton vs. Himself in FIGHT CLUB (1999)
- Spider-man vs. The Train in SPIDER-MAN 2 (2004)
- News Team vs News Team vs News Team in ANCHORMAN (2004)
- Ripley vs. The Queen in ALIENS (1986)
- Luke vs. Vader in THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980)
- The Bride vs. the Crazy 88s and O-Ren Ishii in KILL BILL: VOL. 1 (2003)