The True Story That Raging Bull Is Based On

There have been some great movies about boxers. Most of them are fictional, like Sylvester Stallone's portrayal of "The Italian Stallion," Rocky Balboa. The story of the ultimate underdog going from rags to riches has warmed many people's hearts over the course of the decades. Hilary Swank and Clint Eastwood put on amazing performances in "Million Dollar Baby," which saw a promising young boxer's meteoric rise cut short by a tragic in-ring incident that left her paralyzed. These movies told stories that captivated people from the opening scene to right before the credits rolled. They also raked in hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office. 

Those were fictional characters, though. Products of writers' imaginations. They took artistic liberties. It was Hollywood magic that let them craft these tales. But the sweet science has not only remained in the realm of make-believe. There have been ones about real boxers, too. Will Smith portrayed the legendary Muhammad Ali in "Ali," for example. But many consider "Raging Bull" to be one of the greatest boxing movies ever, and it is also based on real-life boxer Jake LaMotta, who was played by legendary actor Robert De Niro, per IMDb

Jake LaMotta's fury in the ring

The movie chronicles Jake LaMotta's career and his family life outside it. Boxing is an unpleasant business — you are paid to hit people and to also be hit — and LaMotta had an edge: anger. He would channel that fury into pounding whatever opponent was in front of him until they fell. It didn't work for his home life, though, since he was prone to both paranoia and jealousy. This took place during the 1940s and 1950s, and it was a time that the mob ruled boxing. LaMotta's hard head, which helped him withstand punches, possibly kept him from doing things that would help him in the long run, boxing-wise.

Robert De Niro gave one of the best performances of his career, and he took his acting so seriously that he purposely gained weight — a good amount of weight — to portray LaMotta years after he hung up the gloves. Of course, many people remember the end of the movie, when he sat in front of a mirror and re-enacted Marlon Brando's speech in "On the Waterfront," "I coulda been a contender." But the whole movie just shows a breadth of emotional range on the part of De Niro. 

While there was a couple of television movies about Mike Tyson, "Raging Bull" still remains the best movie that is a true story about a boxer. It still is highly watchable over 40 years later, via the New Yorker. Anyone who wants to do a boxing true story would do well to watch this for pointer.