When it comes to boxing movies, there are a few things you need to make the punch-drunk-love grade: You need actors who look like they've put in the roadwork and have been hitting the heavy bag. You need a mentor pushing them to the limits, the crustier the better. (Bonus points if they keep calling their fighter "a bum.") You need a training montage set to inspiring, go-for-it music. The latest film to strap on the gloves, Southpaw, has all of these things — Jake Gyllenhaal's abs may get their own Oscar nomination, Forest Whitaker's trainer hits the right cantankerous notes and damned if Eminem's Phenomenal doesn't make you want to start jumping rope along with the hero.
But more importantly, it makes sure its fighting scenes meet the requisite sweet-science cinema requirements. When Gyllenhaal's on-the-rebound boxer Billy Hope steps into the ring for that One Big Bout with his trash-talking nemesis and the blows start raining down, you remember that this is what separates the genre's heavyweights from its featherweights. Boxing movies live or die by their fights. Otherwise, all you've got are ripped actors, a lot of synth-scored sit-ups — and zero drama.
So we broke down 10 of the best on-screen boxing matches and judged them on their ability to combine convincing screen-ready skills with cinematic bravado and narrative high-stakes. Sorry, no MMA, kickboxing, barroom brawls or street fights allowed: To be approved by the RollingStone.com Boxing Commission, all bouts must take place in a ring, with bells and gloves and colorful trunks. Ding ding!