Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Michael Mann|
|Story by||Gregory Allen Howard|
|Distributed by||Sony Pictures Releasing|
|Box office||$87.7 million|
Ali is a 2001 American biographical sports drama film co-written, produced and directed by Michael Mann. The film focuses on ten years in the life of the boxer Muhammad Ali, played by Will Smith, from 1964 to 1974, featuring his capture of the heavyweight title from Sonny Liston, his conversion to Islam, criticism of the Vietnam War, and banishment from boxing, his return to fight Joe Frazier in 1971, and, finally, his reclaiming the title from George Foreman in the Rumble in the Jungle fight of 1974. It also touches on the great social and political upheaval in the United States following the assassinations of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.
The film begins with Cassius Clay Jr. before his championship debut against then-heavyweight champion Sonny Liston. Clay taunts Liston, then dominates the early rounds of the match. Halfway through, he complains of a burning feeling in his eyes (implying that Liston has tried to cheat) and says he is unable to continue. However, his trainer/manager Angelo Dundee gets him to keep fighting. Once Clay is able to see again, he dominates the fight and Liston quits before round seven, making Clay the second-youngest heavyweight champion at the time after Floyd Patterson.
Clay spends time with Malcolm X, then is invited to the home of Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad, where he is granted the name Muhammad Ali. His father, Cassius Clay Sr. disapproves of this. Ali marries Sonji Roi, an ex-Playboy Bunny, although she is not Muslim and does not abide sex segregation. Ali goes to Africa and meets up with Malcolm X, but later refuses to speak to him, honoring the wishes of Elijah Muhammad. He is extremely distraught when X is later assassinated.
Ali refuses conscription for the Vietnam War and is stripped of his boxing license, passport and title, and sentenced to five years in prison. Ali marries 17-year-old Belinda Boyd. After a three-year hiatus, his conviction is overturned and in his comeback fight, he goes against Jerry Quarry and wins by technical knockout in three rounds.
Ali attempts to regain the heavyweight championship against Joe Frazier. In the "Fight of the Century", Frazier generally has the upper hand against Ali and wins by decision, the first loss of Ali's career. Frazier later loses the championship to George Foreman.
Foreman and Ali go to Kinshasa, Zaire, for the Rumble in the Jungle fight. There Ali meets Veronica Porché and has an affair with her. After reading rumors of his infidelity through newspapers, his wife Belinda travels to Zaire to confront him about this. Ali says he is unsure as to whether he really loves Veronica or not, and just wants to focus on his upcoming title shot.
For a good portion of the fight against Foreman, Ali leans back against the ropes, allowing Foreman to tire himself out. Then he knocks out the tired Foreman, regaining the Heavyweight Championship.
- Will Smith as Cassius Clay Jr. / Cassius X / Muhammad Ali
- Jamie Foxx as Drew Bundini Brown
- Jon Voight as Howard Cosell
- Mario Van Peebles as Malcolm X
- Ron Silver as Angelo Dundee
- Jeffrey Wright as Howard Bingham
- Mykelti Williamson as Don King
- James Toney as Joe Frazier
- Jada Pinkett Smith as Sonji Roi
- Nona Gaye as Belinda Boyd / Khalilah Ali
- Michael Michele as Veronica Porché
- Joe Morton as Chauncey Eskridge
- Paul Rodriguez as Dr. Ferdie Pacheco
- Bruce McGill as Bradley
- Barry Shabaka Henley as Herbert Muhammad
- Giancarlo Esposito as Cassius Clay Sr.
- Laurence Mason as Luis Sarria
- LeVar Burton as Martin Luther King Jr.
- Albert Hall as Elijah Muhammad
- David Cubitt as Robert Lipsyte
- Michael Bentt as Sonny Liston
- Charles Shufford as George Foreman
- Robert Sale as Jerry Quarry
- Candy Ann Brown as Odessa Clay
- David Haines as Rudy Clay / Rahman Ali
- Leon Robinson as Brother Joe
- Ted Levine as Joe Smiley
- David Elliott as Sam Cooke
- Truth Hurts (credited as Shari Watson) as Singer
- Malick Bowens as Joseph Mobutu
- Chico Benymon as Hampton House Announcer
- Zaa Nkweta as Foreman Fight Announcer
- Brandon T. Jackson as Club Goer (uncredited)
- Victoria Dillard as Betty Shabazz (wife of Malcolm X)
- Brad Greenquist as Marlin Thomas
The project began in 1992 when producer Paul Ardaji optioned the movie rights to Muhammad Ali's life story. In 1992, Ardaji had visited Ali on his 50th birthday and persuaded him to allow a film to be made about his life. Nearing the end of his option period, Ardaji signed a contract with Sony Pictures, joining forces with producer Jon Peters as producing partner. Producer Jon Peters started developing the film in 1994. Gregory Allen Howard wrote the initial draft of the script, which had the working title Power and Grace. Howard's draft focused on Ali's life from 12 to 40 years old, and his relationship with his father. Howard was replaced by writers Stephen J. Rivele and Chris Wilkinson, and by 1998 the biopic was set up at Columbia Pictures, with Will Smith attached to star and the possibility of Ron Howard directing. During the filming of Wild Wild West, Smith presented director Barry Sonnenfeld with the script. Columbia was hoping for filming to start towards the end of 1998, but it was pushed back, and Sonnenfeld exited in November 1999. It was speculated the Columbia was hesitant to move forward with Sonnenfeld following the disappointing box office performance of Wild Wild West. In February 2000, it was announced that Michael Mann had taken over as director, following his Academy Award nomination for The Insider. With this commitment to Ali, Mann turned down the opportunity to direct early versions of The Aviator, Shooter and Savages, and brought Eric Roth to co-write the script. After years of being attached to the Ali biopic, Smith officially signed on in May 2000 with a $20 million salary.
Smith spent about one year learning about Ali's life. These included boxing training (up to seven hours a day), Islamic studies and dialect training. Smith has said that his portrayal of Ali is his proudest work to date.
One of the selling points of the film is the realism of the fight scenes. Smith worked alongside boxing promoter Guy Sharpe from SharpeShooter Entertainment, and his lead fighter Ross Kent, to get the majority of his boxing tips for the film. All of the boxers in the film are former or current world heavyweight championship caliber boxers. It was quickly decided that 'Hollywood fighting'—passing the fist (or foot) between the camera and the face to create the illusion of a hit—would not be used in favor of actual boxing. The only limitation placed upon the fighters was for Charles Shufford (who plays George Foreman). He was permitted to hit Smith as hard as he could, so long as he did not actually knock the actor out.
Smith had to gain weight to look the part of Muhammad Ali.
Ali opened on December 25 (Christmas Day), 2001 and grossed a total of $14.7 million in 2,446 theaters during its opening weekend. The film went on to gross a total of $87.7 million worldwide.
Due to its high production and marketing costs, the film ended up losing Columbia Pictures as much as $100 million.
On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 68% based on 155 reviews, with an average rating of 6.34/10. The site's critics consensus: "Though perhaps no film could fully do justice to the fascinating life and personality of Muhammad Ali, Mann's direction and Smith's performance combine to pack a solid punch." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 65 out of 100, based on 39 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B+" on an A+ to F scale.
Roger Ebert derided the film with two stars in his review for the Chicago Sun-Times, and mentioned, "it lacks much of the flash, fire and humor of Muhammad Ali and is shot more in the tone of a eulogy than a celebration". In Variety magazine, Todd McCarthy wrote, "The director's visual and aural dapplings are strikingly effective at their best, but over the long haul don't represent a satisfactory alternative to in-depth dramatic scenes; one longs, for example, for even one sequence in which Ali and Dundee discuss boxing strategy or assess an opponent", but he did have praise for the performances: "The cast is outstanding, from Smith, who carries the picture with consummate skill, and Voight, who is unrecognizable under all the makeup but nails Cosell's distinctive vocal cadences". USA Today gave the film two and half stars out of four and stated that, "for many Ali fans, the movie may be good enough, but some perspective is in order. The documentaries a.k.a. Cassius Clay and the Oscar-winning When We Were Kings cover a lot of the same ground and are consistently more engaging".
In The New York Times, Elvis Mitchell proclaimed Ali to be a "breakthrough" film for Mann, adding that it was his "first movie with feeling" and that "his overwhelming love of its subject will turn audiences into exuberant, thrilled fight crowds". J. Hoberman, in his review for the Village Voice, felt that the "first half percolates wonderfully—and the first half hour is even better than that. Mann opens with a thrilling montage that, spinning in and out of a nightclub performance by Sam Cooke, contextualizes the hero in his times", and concluded that, "Ali's astonishing personality is skillfully evoked but, in the end, remains a mystery".
When Ali died on June 3, 2016, Smith was chosen to be one of Ali's pallbearers for the memorial service in Louisville.
Awards and honors
|74th Academy Awards||Best Actor in a Leading Role||Will Smith||Nominated|
|Best Actor in a Supporting Role||Jon Voight||Nominated|
|Black Reel Awards of 2001||Best Supporting Actor||Jamie Foxx||Won|
|Best Supporting Actress||Nona Gaye||Won|
|Best Original Soundtrack||Won|
|Best Actor||Will Smith||Won|
|Best Song From a Film||R. Kelly – "The World's Greatest"||Won|
|Best Screenplay, Adapted or Original||Gregory Allen Howard||Won|
|Best Film Poster||Won|
|Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards 2001||Best Actor||Will Smith||Nominated|
|Best Supporting Actor||Jon Voight||Nominated|
|Chicago Film Critics Association Awards 2001||Best Supporting Actor||Jon Voight||Won|
|ESPY Awards||Best Sports Movie ESPY Award||Won|
|59th Golden Globe Awards||Best Original Score||Lisa Gerrard, Pieter Bourke||Nominated|
|Best Actor, Drama||Will Smith||Nominated|
|Best Supporting Actor||Jon Voight||Nominated|
|Golden Reel Awards||Best Sound Editing - Music||Kenneth Karman, Lisa Jaime, Vicki Hiatt, Stephanie Lowry, Christine H. Luethje||Nominated|
|Golden Trailer Awards||Best Drama||Won|
|2002 MTV Movie Awards||Best Male Performance||Will Smith||Won|
|NAACP Image Awards||Outstanding Motion Picture||Won|
|Outstanding Supporting Actor||Jamie Foxx||Won|
|Mario Van Peebles||Nominated|
|Outstanding Actor||Will Smith||Won|
|Outstanding Supporting Actress||Jada Pinkett Smith||Nominated|
|Phoenix Film Critics Society Awards||Best Editing||William Goldenberg, Lynzee Klingman, Stephen E. Rivkin, Stuart Waks||Won|
|PRISM Awards||Theatrical Feature Film||Won|
The film was released theatrically in 2001 at a length of 157 minutes. This version was released on DVD on April 30, 2002. Mann then re-edited the film, creating a new cut that ran 165 minutes and was released on DVD on June 1, 2004 as The Director's Cut. Approximately 4 minutes of theatrical footage was removed, while 14 minutes of previously unseen footage was placed back in by Mann. The Director's Cut also featured an audio commentary by Mann. The theatrical cut of the film was released on Blu-ray in France in 2009 and in Germany in 2012. In 2016 Mann created a third cut, significantly re-editing the film in the aftermath of Ali's death. He deleted one fight and added scenes and footage focusing on the political side of Ali's life. This version runs 152 minutes and was released on January 17, 2017 on Blu-Ray in the US as the Commemorative Edition.
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- McCarthy, Todd (2001-12-16). "Ali". Variety. Retrieved 2008-01-15.
- Clark, Mike (2001-12-31). "Despite hype, Ali isn't the greatest". USA Today. Retrieved 2008-01-15.
- Mitchell, Elvis (2001-12-25). "Master of the Boast, King of the Ring, Vision of the Future". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-01-15.
- Hoberman, J (December 26, 2001). "Fight Songs". Village Voice. Retrieved 2016-07-17.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2017-01-18. Retrieved 2017-01-18.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
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