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Fight Film Trivia - Cool facts about Raging Bull, Gladiator, and more

Five great movies about martial combat with five sets of wild facts about their production.

De Niro In Raging Bull Photo by United Artists/Archive Photos/Getty Images

Could Robert DeNiro really box? Did Russell Crowe get a little too into character? Is the UFC the Ultimate Fight Club?

Here’s the second installment of Fight Film Trivia, featuring interesting facts about five famous flicks about fighting, in one form or another.

Jake ‘Raging Bull’ LaMotta
The real life ‘Raging Bull.’
Photo by Underwood Archives/Getty Images

1 Raging Bull (1980) – Robert De Niro was the reason Raging Bull got made. It took him four years to convince Martin Scorsese, who hated sports movies, to do the picture. Only after Scorsese had almost died from a cocaine overdose did De Niro succeed in getting him to clean himself up and to tell Jake LaMotta’s story. De Niro’s dedication to the film saw him spar over one thousand rounds under the tutelage of the real Jake LaMotta, who felt De Niro could have been a pro—especially after he entered three very real fights in Brooklyn and won two of them. De Niro definitely could hit. While sparring on film he accidentally broke Joe Pesci’s rib. The shot made it into the final edit.

John Garfield and Art Dorrell in Body and Soul
Charley Davis on the wrong end of a cinematic body shot.
Photo by �� John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

2 Body and Soul (1947) – A big inspiration to Martin Scorsese, Body and Soul was the original great fight film. To capture the fight scenes in a fluid manner, the cinematographer used a hand-held camera and wore roller skates—skating around the action in the boxing ring. Written by Abraham Polonsky, a socialist who would later be blacklisted, Body and Soul is both a fight film and a meditation on the corrupting nature of greed. Ultimately, twelve of the key figures behind the making of Body and Soul would end up blacklisted in Hollywood.

Russell Crowe In ‘Gladiator’
Sideways lunges are a great way to tear something.
Photo by Universal/Getty Images

3 Gladiator (2000)Gladiator was a brutal film, but the reality behind it was far worse. Commodus did indeed like to fight in the arena. In addition to ‘fair’ contests – where the opponent would submit to the emperor and keep his life – Commodus also enjoyed having wounded soldiers put in the arena for him to slay. Alternatively, he would have amputees tied together, and he would then club them to death while pretending they were giants. By contrast, Russell Crowe’s injury list doesn’t seem so bad. Thanks to the gladiatorial scenes, Crowe lost all feeling in his right forefinger for two years, aggravated an Achilles tendon injury, broke a foot bone, cracked a hipbone, and popped a bicep tendon. Additionally, his horse scraped him against a tree, cutting his face. The wounds seen in the opening sequence are real—you can even see the stitches.

Tyler Durden shortly after delivering some Keith Hackney-esque punishment.

4 Fight Club (1999) – The UFC was used as inspiration for Brad Pitt and Edward Norton, who watched hours of fights in preparation for their roles. They also trained in boxing, taekwondo, and grappling. Makeup artist Julie Pearce also used the MMA as a reference. She had never done realistic fight makeup, and closely studied the bloody aftermaths of UFC bouts. Ironically, David Fincher was upset when he saw Fight Club advertised during UFC events. He felt UFC fans were not the target audience for the movie, which he saw as a political piece about the dangers of consumerism. The first rule of Fight Club is that it’s not about Fight Club (according to its director).

Spike TV’s 5th Annual 2011 “Guys Choice” Awards - Show
Wahlberg and real life Mickey Ward trainer & former boxer Dicky Eklund.
Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images

5 The Fighter (2010) – Famously, Mark Wahlberg began training for the role in 2005, and continued training daily despite four years worth of delays. Wahlberg later commented that it was a blessing in disguise, as he felt fully prepared by 2009 to portray Micky Ward. Mickey O’Keefe, Ward’s trainer and a retired cop, played himself in the film. Arthur Ramalho’s West End Gym, where Micky Ward trained, was used for the training sequences. All in all, few biopics have so much bleed through between reality and fiction. Christian Bale spent a tremendous amount of time with Dicky, just as Mark Wahlberg spent time with Micky. Walhberg, who did not take a salary or upfront fee for the movie, was determined to get this story set in Lowell, MA made. Many Ward family members even had bit parts in the film. Unsurprisingly, the Ward clan had a litany of complaints, as long as Christmas Mass, including over Dicky’s jump into the dumpster. (In real life it was from a higher floor and there was no dumpster.)

What is your favorite fight film? List it in the comments and maybe I’ll dig up some interesting facts for an upcoming Fight Film Trivia article.