The squared circle will soon take over the silver screen. A slew of high-profile boxing movies are in the works, making pugilism Hollywood's latest sports obsession. Among the projects: Against the Ropes, starring Meg Ryan as real-life manager Jackie Kallen, who shepherded the careers of James Toney and others; Undisputed, about a fight between a jailhouse champ (Wesley Snipes) and a heavyweight title-holder (Ving Rhames) who goes to prison for rape; Cinderella Man, starring Russell Crowe as Depression-era fighter James J. Braddock; a project about Joe Louis from director Spike Lee; and Sweet Science, about a manager, played by Mariah Carey (yes, Mariah Carey), determined to bring fame to an unknown female boxer.
Boxing films have long been a Hollywood staple, but why the sudden surge in interest? Director Steve James, whose Joe and Max, a recent cable movie about the 1938 bout between Louis and Max Schmeling, sees nostalgia as the reason. "We pine a little bit, in these post-Sept. II times, for the days when boxing mattered more," says James. "There's a certain romance to it." At the same time, filmmakers also seem fascinated by the game's luridness. Director Walter Hill came up with the idea for Undisputed after wondering how Mike Tyson fared during his prison days. "So much of what makes boxing shameful today," says Hill, "makes it fabulous fuel for drama."