Muhammad Ali transcended beyond sports to become one of the protagonists of the 20th century. Once he reinvigorated boxing with his outrageous, witty statements and inspiring style, he ran afoul of the laws of his country and it cost him (also the sport) the chance to offer the best of his talents in boxing physical prime. .
It was more than inevitable that Thanos, the greatest villain of Marvel Comics superheroes, would bring the life of the former Cassius Clay to the movies. In this regard there are several works about it and that is what we are going to point out in these lines. Some are documentaries and other fiction films. Surely there are more but I will only show the most significant.
They will be presented in chronological order starting with the oldest.
“The Greatest”: (1977)
It was introduced to the public in the final year of his second reign as heavyweight champion. It was at the height of its popularity and is based on a book (The Greatest: My Own Story) signed by the boxer himself along with Herbert Muhammad and Richard Durham. Ernest Borgnine as his trainer Ángelo Dundee and John Marley as Ferdie Pacheco, the personal doctor. For the role of Ali, they did not need to hire an actor because the fighter himself made himself.
“When we were the kings”: (1996)
A documentary about the preparations for the fight in Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, between the then champion George Foreman and the challenger Muhammad Ali, a fight made in 1974 with many stories. The director of the documentary, Leon Gast, interviewed several protagonists of the environment in both fighters as well as the legendary musicians James Brown and BB King, who were in an artistic festival as part of the show finally called “The Rumble in the Jungle”. The presence of the writer Norman Mailer was significant, considered then as the heir to Ernest Hemingway in his passion for writing about boxing and who later published a great story about this experience.
The documentary won the Oscar that year in its category.
This fictional film starred the very popular Will Smith and his performance earned him an Oscar nomination from the Hollywood Academy. It was directed by Michael Mann and is probably the most watched by the general public. It narrates the events around Muhammad Ali from 1964 to 1974, years in which he was heavyweight champion twice.
“Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight”: (2013)
The fictional film recreates the events in the Supreme Court of the United States, when they reversed the sentence on the boxer and restored his license to return to the ring in 1970 (remember that he was little more than two years without being able to fight). On this occasion the presence of Ali is minimal and the protagonist is a young lawyer assistant to a magistrate for the cause of the boxer. The tension as they argue to get the necessary majority so Ali can fight professionally again is one of the most intense parts of the drama. It starred Christopher Plummer as Judge John Harlan.
“Muhammad Ali”: (2021)
This documentary of several chapters is directed by Ken Burns, recognized by other series such as “Baseball” (1994-2010) and “The Civil War” (1990) interviews several survivors of the events surrounding the boxer, as a professional athlete, activist social and philanthropist. I haven’t seen it but I’m sure it has a calm and reflective style, to create a sense of transcendence.