De Palma recalls thinking to himself, the sheer perfection of the majestic opening sequence of ‘Raging Bull’, where a lean, hooded Robert De Niro is seen warming up, with ‘Cavalleria Rusticana’ playing in the background. Martin Scorsese is a proponent of the “New Hollywood” clan along with directors such as Spielberg, Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola, De Palma, often cheekily referred to as the ‘movie brats’. This brand of American film-making began in the later 60s with films like Easy Rider (1969), and ushered in an era of more personalized, artistically independent films as opposed to the pre-existing studio culture of Hollywood characterized by formulaic cinema. Raging Bull (1980) is a fantastic product of this new era of film-making.
‘Raging Bull’ is the third collaboration between De Niro and Scorsese, an artistic amalgamation which has since achieved legendary status in the world of cinema. Before locating films alike Raging Bull for the list, its imperative to understand it’s own artistic premise. The most important question to answer hence becomes “What exactly is the film?”. On the surface, the movie can easily be defined as a sports biopic; a categorization that would be extremely reductive, over simplified, and would fall completely short of doing justice to the mammoth artistic achievement that ‘Raging Bull’ is. It is nothing like the average, overdone, sports tear-jerker clichés vis a vis ‘Moneyball’, ‘Blind Side’ and the likes. One can further chalk out ‘Raging Bull’s’ bold uniqueness, by comparing it to the more commercial, one dimensional, yet contemporary ‘Rocky’. While ‘Rocky’ is just a film about boxing, ‘Raging Bull’ is a film about the boxer, and therein lies the primary difference.
The point of ‘Raging Bull’ is to trace the character of Jake La Motta and so it does. The internal violence of Jake’s psyche and the repercussions it has on his life and that of his loved ones become the cause of his eventual failure to attain spiritual closure. Boxing becomes Jake’s only emotional outlet, a spiritual catharsis of sorts. While writing about ‘Raging Bull’, it would be almost criminal to not address the elephant in the room – Robert De Niro’s Academy Award winning portrayal of Jake La Motta. It really is one of the most powerful acting performances ever recorded for the silver screen. ‘Raging Bull’ marks the first collaboration between Scorsese and Joe Pesci. The two would go on to collaborate famously in ‘Goodfellas’ and then again in ‘Casino’.
News has it that the two have collaborated yet again for the upcoming ‘The Irishman’, releasing later this year on Netflix. Thelma Schoonmaker, Scorsese’s dear old friend, and longtime editor later picked up an Oscar for ‘Raging Bull’. The below list therefore is chosen keeping in mind all the different aspects of the film and you might therefore get slightly disappointed if you are expecting a straight up list of sports biopics. With all that said now, here’s the list of best movies similar to ‘Raging Bull’ that are our recommendations. You can watch several of these movies like ‘Raging Bull’ on Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime.
10. Taxi Driver (1976)
‘Taxi Driver’ is the second collaboration between Scorsese and De Niro, preceded by ‘Mean Streets’ and followed by ‘Raging Bull’. If you love ‘Raging Bull’, you might be interested in ‘Taxi Driver’, in order to trace their artistic journey together. ‘Raging Bull’ and ‘Taxi Driver’ both are extensive studies in masculinity which show their respective protagonists trying to cope with their emotional volatility and internal turmoil of ‘being’. Travis Bickle, the titular character in ‘Taxi Driver’, has an aggressive outburst against the culture of decaying values as shown though its portrayal of New York, while Jake La Motta’s character in itself becomes the representation of the same decay. Another major commonality between the two films is the city of New York. It’s a known fact that Scorsese’s films often use the city of New York, almost as a character with its own separate consciousness. Two perfect examples of the same would be ‘Raging Bull’ and ‘Taxi Driver’.