Oscar Prizefighters Throw Hollywood a Hook

If Hilary Swank wins, she will be the first actress to punch her way to Oscar glory. But Hollywood heavyweights -- including some of the most acclaimed actors in history -- have had some of their finest moments in the ring.

If you count Morgan Freeman, Swank isn't even the only actor nominated this year for portraying a pugilist. Freeman is nominated for his supporting role in "Million Dollar Baby" as Swank's corner man. Like Marlon Brando in "On the Waterfront," he's playing a retired fighter still lamenting over what might have been.

Interestingly, while professional boxing has largely faded from the headlines, the sport remains great movie fodder. And while there have been a few other good sports films, all of them combined probably don't equal what boxing has done for the box office.

In fact, boxing roles played a pivotal role in the careers of Robert De Niro, Kirk Douglas, James Earl Jones, Will Smith, and, of course, Sylvester Stallone, who has yet to prove he can do anything else.

Here's a look at 11 previous Oscar-nominated Hollywood pugilists, three of whom have won American cinema's version of a heavyweight championship belt.

1. Richard Barthelmess in "The Patent Leather Kid"
Barthelmess was not only a two-time Oscar nominee, he was one of the 36 founders of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the organization that hands out the Oscars. He also was one of the few silent film stars who made the transition to talkies.

In "The Patent Leather Kid," a silent film from 1927, Barthelmess fights to prevail in a sport rife with corruption.

2. Wallace Beery in "The Champ"
Beery was the first Hollywood boxer to win an Oscar, but like many prize fights, it was a controversial decision. The competition for best actor of 1931 ended in a split decision -- the first tie in Academy Award history. Beery ended up sharing his victory with Fredric March, who was honored for his work in "Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde."

Beery actually got one less vote than March, but under Academy rules at the time, it was still considered a tie.

In the film, Beery played alcoholic ex-champ Andy Purcell, who has squandered whatever he earned in the ring and can barely eke out a living to support his son, Dink, played by Jackie Cooper. When Andy winds up in jail after a drunken tirade, he realizes Dink's place is with his mother. But in true Hollywood fashion, that only inspires Andy to get back in the ring.

3. Robert Montgomery in "Here Comes Mr. Jordan"
Many fighters die young, but due to some mix-up in Heaven, boxer Joe Pendleton's life ended 50 years too soon. The celestial Mr. Jordan explains that he has to go back down to Earth, but since Pendleton's body was cremated, he needs someone else's to occupy. He returns as millionaire Bruce Farnsworth, and now he must try to make good.

If the plot of this 1941 film sounds a little familiar, you've probably seen "Heaven Can Wait," one of the most successful remakes in Hollywood history. It earned nine Oscar nominations, including a win for best art direction. In Warren Beatty's version, however, the hero is a football player.

4. John Garfield in "Body and Soul"
Garfield earned the second of two Oscar nominations in 1948 as Charley Davis, an amateur fighter corrupted by his manager. When his father is killed, his mother wants him to stop fighting, but he needs the money. Inspirational line: "What are you gonna do? Kill me?" Davis says. "Everybody dies."

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