James Braddock vs. Max Baer, 'Cinderella Man' (2005)
Braddock staged one of the most storied upsets in boxing history when he outlasted Max Baer, the light heavyweight champion; the match was considered to be so lopsided that the latter didn't even bother to train for it. Ron Howard's period piece follows the long journey of the down-and-out underdog (played by Russell Crowe), as the unfortunate double-whammy of a fractured right hand and the Great Depression knocks the brutish brawler down. He returns to the ring older but hungrier, and damned if Braddock doesn't go the distance. The movie none-too-subtly suggests the mug is a stand-in for American stamina during tough times. He's the champion of our hearts.
Pretend boxing skills: Crowe's physicality has long been a defining trait as an actor — more so than, say, his mellifluous voice — so he handles himself well in the ring, as does Craig Bierko as Baer. 7
Style: An alter-boy at the Church of Spielberg, Howard gets as much out of reaction shots as he does the action in the ring. More importantly, he emphasizes the bout as an endurance test, where blows survived are as important as blows delivered. 8
Stakes: If Braddock wins, America pulls out of the Great Depression. If he loses, it's six more weeks of winter. Or something like that. 9
Overall rating: 8