Muhammad Ali Was the Subject of Many Films - NBC New York

Muhammad Ali Was the Subject of Many Films

Will Smith portrayed Ali when his life got flipped upside down



    Muhammad Ali Was the Subject of Many Films
    In this Oct. 21, 1998 file photo, former World Heavyweight Boxing Champion Muhammad Ali is greeted by singer Whitney Houston as he arrives on stage at New York's Radio City Music Hall to accept a GQ "Men of the Year" Award.

    Muhammad Ali would almost seem unbelievable if he was created as a work of fiction for a movie script.

    He was brash, bold, the best in the world — just ask him — and might have won an Oscar instead of heavyweight gold had he taken his A-list talents to Hollywood instead of the boxing ring.

    He was more quotable than any Tarantino flick, had the presence of Brando in boxing gloves (though he WAS a contender), and survived more adventures and cliffhangers in his career than Bond. 

    Ali was made for the movies.

    His life story was made into a movie or a documentary seemingly more times than he had professional fights. Ali even starred in his own biopic and guest starred on television shows such as "Diff'rent Strokes."

    "Hi there, Arnold," Ali tells Strokes' kid Arnold Jackson, played by Gary Coleman.

    "Who's that?" Jackson asked, feigning illness so he could meet Ali.

    "It's me, the champ," Ali said

    "Joe Louis," Jackson says to laughter.

    "This kid's delirious," Ali deadpanned.

    Ali had the presence for the big screen and there are some of the greatest films made about the champ.


    Will Smith portrayed Ali when his life got flipped upside down.

    Smith, more memorable for his comedy and action roles, was nominated for an Academy Award for his portrayal of Ali in the 2001 flick.

    "I ain't got to be what nobody else want me to be and I ain't afraid to be what I wanna be," Smith, as Ali, says in one scene.

    The biographical film , directed by Michael Mann, centers on Ali from 1964-74 and follows him as he defeats Sonny Liston for the heavyweight title and the personal and professional drama that followed him.

    Smith plays Ali as he defied the draft, converts to Islam and his epic fights against Joe Frazier and George Foreman.

    Film critic Roger Ebert gave the film two stars and said it was a, "long, flat, curiously muted film about the heavyweight champion."


    Ebert had much more love for the acclaimed 1996 documentary "When We Were Kings."

    The film chronicles perhaps Ali's most memorable bout, the "Rumble in the Jungle," when he upset George Foreman to become heavyweight champion once again at age 32.

    Ebert praised the film and said it "captures Ali's public persona and private resolve." The film won an Oscar for best documentary feature.

    With Jodie Foster and Kevin Spacey wildly applauding, Foreman and Ali both hit the stage to help accept the award.


    "The Greatest" was more than just Ali's nickname — it was the title of a dramatized version of his life starring, well, Ali.

    There is real fight footage in the 1977 movie which chronicles Ali's life from the 1960 Olympics to his early 1970s title fights. Ernest Borgnine played Angelo Dundee and James Earl Jones played Malcolm X.

    "The Greatest" wasn't all that great, though it does boast one bit of interesting trivia. That song that plays over the opening credits of a jogging Ali is "The Greatest Love of All" by George Benson. You might know it more from a decade or so later when it became a smash hit for Whitney Houston.