Ali (film)

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Ali movie poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Michael Mann
Produced by Michael Mann
Jon Peters
James Lassiter
Paul Ardaji
A. Kitman Ho
Written by Michael Mann
Eric Roth
Stephen J. Rivele
Christopher Wilkinson
Starring Will Smith
Jamie Foxx
Jon Voight
Mario Van Peebles
Ron Silver
Jeffrey Wright
Mykelti Williamson
Music by Pieter Bourke
Lisa Gerrard
Cinematography Emmanuel Lubezki
Edited by William Goldenberg
Lynzee Klingman
Stephen E. Rivkin
Stuart Waks
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release dates
  • December 25, 2001 (2001-12-25)
Running time 157 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $107 million[1]
Box office $87,713,825

Ali is a 2001 American biographical film directed by Michael Mann. The film tells the story 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, banishment from boxing, his return to fight Joe Frazier in 1971, and, lastly, his reclaiming the title from George Foreman in the Rumble in the Jungle fight of 1974. It also discusses the great social and political upheaval in the United States following the assassinations of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. during the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson.


The film begins with Cassius Clay, Jr. (Will Smith) before his championship debut against then heavyweight champion Sonny Liston. In the pre-fight weigh-in Clay heavily taunts Liston (such as calling Liston a "big ugly bear"). In the fight Clay is able to dominate the early rounds of the match, but halfway through the fight Clay 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 (Ron Silver) gets him to keep fighting. Once Clay is able to see again he easily dominates the fight and right before round seven Liston quits, therefore making Cassius Clay the second youngest heavyweight champion at the time after Floyd Patterson. (Mike Tyson would later beat Patterson's record). Ali spends valued time with Malcolm X (Peebles) and the two decide to take a trip to Africa.

Clay is then invited to the home of Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad where he is granted the name Muhammad Ali due to his status of World Heavyweight Champion. While at home with his wife and children, Malcolm X is called by the Nation of Islam and has been informed Ali will not go to Africa and his suspension (Malcolm's) has been extended. Muhammad Ali takes the trip to Africa where he finds Malcolm X, but later refuses to speak to him, honoring the wishes of Elijah Muhammad. Upon returning to America and defeating Sonny Liston a second time, Ali continues to dominate as champion, until he is stripped of the title, boxing license, passport suspended and sent to jail for his refusal to be drafted during the Vietnam War. After a three year hiatus, his conviction is later overturned, and attempts to regain the Heavyweight Championship against Joe Frazier. Dubbed the Fight of the Century, Frazier wins, giving Ali the first loss of his career. When Frazier loses the championship to George Foreman, Ali makes a decision to fight George Foreman to be the first boxer to win his title a second time. Ali goes to Zaire to face Foreman for the title. While there, Ali has an affair with a woman he meets named Veronica Porsche (who he is said to later marry in the epilogue). After reading rumors of his infidelity through newspapers, his wife, Belinda Ali (Nona Gaye) travels to Zaire to confront him about this. Ali says he is unsure as to whether he really loves Veronica Porsche (Michael Michele) 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 and covers up, letting Foreman wildly throw punches at him. During the fight Muhammad Ali realizes that he has to react sooner or else he will be knocked out or possibly die in the ring. As the rounds go on, Foreman tires himself out and Ali takes advantage. He quickly knocks out the tired Foreman, and the movie ends with Ali regaining the Heavyweight Championship of which he was previously stripped.



The movie was written by Stephen J. Rivele, Christopher Wilkinson, Eric Roth, and Michael Mann. The original script by Wilkinson and Rivele was modified by Roth and Mann.

Will Smith spent approximately one year learning all aspects of 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, in fact, 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 a significant amount of weight to look the part of Muhammad Ali.[2]


Ali opened on December 25, 2001 and grossed a total of $14.7 million in 2,446 theaters on its opening weekend. The film went on to gross a total of $87.7 million worldwide. The film holds a 67% "fresh" rating at Rotten Tomatoes. In spite of generally favorable reviews, the film lost an estimated $63.1 million.

The film had generally favorable reviews, with the acting being well received by critics in general. 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".[3] 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".[4] USA Today gave the film two and half stars out of four and claimed 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".[5]

In The New York Times, Elvis Mitchell proclaimed Ali to be a "breakthrough" film for Mann, that it was his "first movie with feeling" and that "his overwhelming love of its subject will turn audiences into exuberant, thrilled fight crowds".[6] 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", concluded that, "Ali's astonishing personality is skillfully evoked but, in the end, remains a mystery".[7]


Home release[edit]

After the theatrical version (157 min.) was released on DVD, Mann revisited his film, creating a new cut that ran for 165 minutes. Approximately 20 minutes of theatrical footage was removed, while 30 minutes of previously unseen footage was placed back in by Mann.[citation needed] The film was released on Blu-ray in 2012.


  1. ^
  2. ^ Barra, Allen (2001-09-09). "THE NEW SEASON/FILM; Michael Mann and Will Smith in the Ring With Ali". New York Times. Retrieved 2012-03-10. 
  3. ^ Ebert, Roger (2001-12-25). "Ali". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2008-01-15. 
  4. ^ McCarthy, Todd (2001-12-16). "Ali". Variety. Retrieved 2008-01-15. 
  5. ^ Clark, Mike (2001-12-31). "Despite hype, Ali isn't the greatest". USA Today. Retrieved 2008-01-15. 
  6. ^ 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. 
  7. ^ Hoberman, J (December 26, 2001). "Fight Songmkmmmelkkjar;dfiik. fl;ud;ovids". Village Voice. Retrieved 2008-01-15. 

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