Jake Gyllenhaal in 'Southpaw': Do audiences want another sports movie?

Actor Jake Gyllenhaal stars in 'Southpaw' as a boxer who must triumph in his sport to be reunited with his family. How have sports dramas performed recently at the box office?

Rich Fury/Invision/AP
'Southpaw' stars Jake Gyllenhaal.

The film “Southpaw,” which opens on July 24, stars Jake Gyllenhaal of “Nightcrawler” as a former boxer who must return to his sport to be reunited with his family.

“Southpaw” is directed by Antoine Fuqua, who has directed such films as “The Equalizer” and “Training Day,” and it co-stars “True Detective” actress Rachel McAdams as Gyllenhaal’s character’s wife, as well as Forest Whitaker,  Naomie Harris, and rapper 50 Cent. 

As the plot summary implies, “Southpaw” seems like a fairly straightforward rousing sports tale of redemption. (Spoilers follow, though this is all revealed in the trailer.) McAdams’ character Maureen is killed, and Gyllenhaal’s character, Billy, becomes depressed and must fight to get custody of his daughter. His last name is even Hope.

Can a new sports drama triumph with critics and audiences? Recent sports releases like the 2014 film “Million Dollar Arm,” which starred Jon Hamm, and 2014’s “Draft Day," which was headed up by Kevin Costner, both fizzled at the box office and were quickly forgotten by audiences, as was the 2012 Clint Eastwood movie “Trouble With the Curve.” This year's "McFarland, USA," also starring Costner, did fine but wasn't a breakout hit by any means. One of the most recent successes was the 2011 film “Moneyball,” but in addition to being based on a bestselling book, it had what seemed like a new spin on a story – rather than simply presenting a by-the-numbers story of a baseball team triumphing, it showed the unusual methods one coach used to do so.

Boxing movies have done slightly better than other recent sports releases, however. The “Rocky” films starring Sylvester Stallone are of course some of the best-known of the genre, and the newest, 2006’s “Rocky Balboa,” did fairly well at the box office. In addition, the 2010 movie “The Fighter” was a hit at the box office and with critics, with actor Christian Bale winning a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role in the film.

Other boxing films haven’t been sure bets, however. The 2013 movie “Grudge Match,” which featured actor Robert De Niro facing off with Stallone, tanked at the box office and wasn’t well-received by reviewers, either. Meanwhile, the 2011 movie “Real Steel” starring Hugh Jackman performed fairly well at the box office, but was not a hit with critics – perhaps the movie’s conceit of robots boxing was too out there for some moviegoers.

“Southpaw” isn’t the only new boxing movie coming up – the “Rocky” spin-off “Creed,” which stars “Fantastic Four” actor Michael B. Jordan as the son of Rocky’s opponent Apollo Creed and will feature Stallone himself, is set to be released this November. Between the two, we’ll soon find out whether audiences still want to see new boxing tales.

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