By: Albert Miller – I made a joke the other day: the consequence for failing a PED test should be having to watch “Never Back Down” for ten hours straight. We laughed, and then I got kind of sad. The depressing truth is, there aren’t any good MMA movies, period. At this point, I’m not even hoping for MMA’s version of Rocky; I’m holding out for a movie that at least does the sport justice. “Here Comes the Boom” was an awful movie, proving once and for all that MMA and comedy have no business being near each other. “Warrior” was OK, but relied too heavily on the “brother vs. brother” aspect and really just lost sight of what the actual struggles of a prize fighter may be.
Much like the times before some gyms would issue black belts in MMA, we’re going to the tried and true methods of getting MMA in your cinema diet. We’ve assembled five movies that represent five different disciplines of martial arts, and by the end, you should get a feeling of completeness. This week on the Friday 5ive: five movies for the complete MMA movie marathon!
Note: these are five movies of my choosing, you may disagree; regardless, don’t we think it’s a little silly that I have to put these disclaimers to defend myself from the keyboard warriors of the world?
No. 5: Redbelt (Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu) – It’s obvious that I’m eating a little bit of crow on this one. In previous editions of the Friday 5ive, I lambasted Redbelt as being a terrible MMA movie; I maintain that stance. After that article was posted, I had a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) black belt tell me that he really enjoyed the movie, and that he thought I was wrong about the film. Because that martial artist, who is able to wear his dedication to the art around his waist, came to that movie’s defense, I felt justified including it on this countdown. Redbelt is a terrible MMA movie; but it isn’t a bad BJJ movie. The parts of the film that are BJJ specific honor and venerate the tradition, even paying homage to the Japanese roots that BJJ has. This movie is ranked fifth because you’re going to want to open your marathon with this one, while you’re still fresh and can handle some of the tedium (Tim Allen is in the movie, if that tells you anything). Much to my surprise (and not that of my black belt friend), the movie got a RottenTomatoes.com rating of 68% fresh; I’ve always said that if you want an expert opinion that really doesn’t mean much, turn to the internet. …get it? My whole platform is on the internet? No? Nothing? Moving on.
No. 4: Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior (Muay Thai) – Over the course of all of my journeys around the sun, I have made no secret that I am a huge fan of Jean Claude Van Damme. When it came to choosing movies for combat sports, I thought it was a sure thing at first. For the Muay Thai portion, “Kickboxer” was almost a shoe in …and then I got to thinking about a movie that I had seen about ten years ago, “Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior.” The single reason that this movie didn’t rank higher in the list is that there is no actual competition premise to the movie. What the movie does have is a lot of tradition ingrained to its modern storytelling. The movie was exactly what you’d hope for in a martial arts action flick: a frenetically paced ass-kicking clinic. Ong-Bak did spawn two sequels, neither of which did remotely as well as what the first one did. According to Rotten Tomatoes, Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior was certified fresh, and I couldn’t agree more.
No. 3: Vision Quest (Wrestling) – If you have children (regardless of gender), and they want to compete in wrestling, I couldn’t encourage you enough to make that happen. I only wrestled a short time, and my only regrets are that I didn’t do it sooner and that I didn’t compete longer. Wrestling is a fantastic way to teach young persons how to compete, how to overcome just about anything, and what sportsmanship is like. With that being said, most every wrestler that I know loves the movie “Vision Quest.” Vision Quest is the tale about a high school senior who realizes that his time to make an impact in his youth is very finite. To capitalize on his waning high school days, he decides that he will be on the wrestling team and that he’s going to defeat the state wrestling champion. Along the way, a transient young woman rents a room from his father and then hormones get involved. What I appreciated about this movie was that there was an immediate understanding that this undertaking would be tremendously difficult; that it was no easy walk in the park. Between what seemed like the impossible and what the heart wants, there was a palatable drama that really had the audience rooting for the protagonist. One of the best things to happen with that movie is the lead off single from the soundtrack: “Lunatic Fringe” by Red Rider. The song resonates so well with wrestlers that Olympic Gold Medalist Kurt Angle had the song sampled for his theme music with Impact Wrestling. The movie didn’t fare well with the critics, but if you think about it: how much do people who review movies really know about what a wrestler, or any combat warrior, experiences training for battle?
No. 2: Best of the Best (Karate / Tae Kwon Do) – Again, we almost got a Van Damme movie in here (Bloodsport). The only reason that Bloodsport got disqualified was that it was more of a mixed fight movie than traditional competition movie. The spirit of our movie marathon is that we’re taking traditional elements from martial arts movie to combine them in an MMA movie marathon. When it comes to the traditional spirit of martial arts competition (on the platform of Karate), I couldn’t think of a better one than “Best of the Best.” “The Iceman” Chuck Liddell went as far to say that Best of the Best was his favorite martial arts movie, and who wants to disagree with Chuck Liddell? The movie has a lot of “Karate” competition in it, but Karate is used as a loose term for all traditional striking arts. In fact, I feel that it’s safe to say that Best of the Best is the first Tae Kwon Do movie ever. The movie was made in the 1980’s, so of course it’s going to have the “I have to avenge my brother’s death” aspect to it; outside of that, it’s a really fun movie to watch. It encourages team development, overcoming adversities, and being a better person for an experience. I’m not one who craves the popular opinion, so I’m going to go ahead and say that the direct sequel (Best of the Best 2) was just as good of a movie, and even added elements of early MMA (style vs. style) in its storytelling. Best of the Best 3 and 4 were terrible movies and you’d be best advised not to see them. For the fourth leg of our martial arts movie marathon, Best of the Best is arguably the “best” movie to get you to the home stretch.
No. 1: Rocky (Boxing) – Is anyone truly surprised that Rocky was picked to represent boxing and the number one movie in the marathon? There were so many other great boxing movies to choose from: “Cinderella Man,” “Gladiator,” and “Million Dollar Baby” to name a few. To pick a movie that’s going to represent boxing and be the finish line for the movie marathon, it had to be a movie with a great story and that was going to leave you feeling uplifted. I have a hard time thinking of any movie in general that meets that criteria better than the Rocky movies. What makes Rocky such a great movie, let alone a sports movie, is that Rocky Balboa is the quintessential “everyman.” You or I could be identified as a cultural heritage, losing a spot in the only place where we felt like we belonged, and then given an opportunity to chase the brass ring. Rocky does such a monumental job of getting the theme of ascension across so thoroughly, that we even feel like winners in Rocky’s defeat (spoilers?). Out of all of the movies on this list, the soundtrack to the film is practically musical adrenaline. The score makes you feel the lows, and gets your blood pumping with the highs. We’re talking about a movie marathon that captures the best essence of five martial sciences; ask any boxer, and they’ll tell you that the ability to dig deep is the calling card of a champion, and essential to the sweet science of boxing. What scored Rocky number one on the list is how truly prolific the franchise was. Rocky had six sequels, each of them knowing their place in history and not being too over the top. Rocky has fought obscurity, opportunity, adversity, and circumstance. Those are battles that everyone and anyone could be fighting at this moment.
- Kickboxer (Muay Thai)
- The Karate Kid (Karate)
- Cinderella Man (Boxing)
- Bloodsport (Karate)
- Million Dollar Baby
Thank you for joining us for the Friday 5ive, and may you enjoy the movie marathon as much as I enjoyed putting it together. I firmly believe, that as MMA matures as a sport, we’re going to get our movie. A filmmaker who loves the sport as much as we do will come along, and we’ll get that movie that tells our story. Until that day, we’ve got five other movies in combination that kind of does the trick.
Until next time: Fights, Cameron, Action!