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Film: Ali

Ali is a 2001 Biopic about the life of Muhammad Ali. It chronicles Ali's life from the first Sonny Liston fight in 1964, through his opposition to the Vietnam War which resulted in a long legal fight with the U.S. government, through his 1974 "Rumble in the Jungle" showdown fight with George Foreman. It was directed by Michael Mann and stars Will Smith as Ali.


This film contains examples of:

  • Actually That's My Assistant: Muhammad Ali, travelling by plane to Zaire, is invited to the cockpit. He finds two men, a white and a black one, and addresses the first one as the pilot. The man retorts "I'm just the copilot, he's the pilot!"
  • Artistic License - History:
    • The movie has Ali refusing induction into the U.S. Army, being stripped of the title, and then fighting Ernie Terrell. In fact Ali fought Terrell in February 1967 and was stripped of the title two months later, in April 1967.
    • While training for the Fight of the Century with Joe Frazier, Ali learns from a telephone conversation with Howard Cosell that the Supreme Court has ruled in his favor over his refusal to be drafted into the army. In reality, the decision was not made until June 28, 1971, more than three months after the FOTC. One reason the fight was staged before the ruling was the fear that Ali might lose the case and go to jail, thus derailing the fight.
    • The poem Ali recites prior to the first Frazier fight ("Ali comes out to meet Frazier, Frazier starts to retreat...") was actually used prior to his 1964 bout with Sonny Liston.
    • Ali's wife Belinda flies out to Zaire prior to the Foreman fight (The Rumble in the Jungle) to confront him about his affair with Veronica Porsche. In fact, this incident happened before the third fight with Frazier in Manila a year later.
    • The movie implies that Malcolm X was murdered by the FBI. He was actually killed by members of the Nation of Islam.
    • Ken Norton, one of Ali's great rivals who faced him in three epic bouts and handed him his second defeat, is downgraded to a minor role.
  • Badass Boast: As in Real Life, Ali is all about this.
    "I'm 22 years old, I ain't got a mark on my face, I must be the greatest."
  • Biopic
  • The Cameo: Several. Levar Burton has a non-speaking part as Martin Luther King. "LA Times" sports reporter Bill Plashke plays a sports reporter.
  • Dies Wide Open: Malcolm X when he is assassinated.
  • Dodgy Toupee: Ali lifts up Howard Cosell's toupee on live TV.
  • Do Not Call Me Paul: At the weigh-in, Ernie Terrell calls Ali "Clay". The former Cassius Clay gets severely pissed at this, and in the subsequent fight delivers a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown while repeatedly shouting "What's my name?".
  • The Dreaded: George Foreman, after he is introduced pulverizing Joe Frazier in the famous "Down goes Frazier!" fight. This may be a case of Reality Is Unrealistic for younger viewers more familiar with Foreman as the avuncular figure who sells grills on TV.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Ali is stripped of the heavyweight title for refusing induction into the Army, banned from boxing for three years and risks a possible jail sentence. Seven years later he is finally redeemed when he regains the title against the odds by defeating George Foreman.
  • Foreshadowing: Ali's sarcastic comments when watching The Mummy on TV foreshadow his strategy for winning the Foreman fight.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: Some of the more negative aspects of Ali's life and personality are downplayed or ignored:
    • His extremist views on race, religion and interracial marriage, and his association with the overtly racist and thuggish Nation of Islam, who manipulated him for their own ends.
    • There were times when Ali crossed the line in his pre-fight verbal jousting with opponents and descended into crude race-baiting; in particular his belittling of Joe Frazier as an "ugly, dumb gorilla" and an Uncle Tom, Floyd Patterson ("a white man's Negro") and George Foreman ("a white, flag-waving bitch").
  • The Infiltration: The FBI has a man inside the Nation of Islam.
  • A Minor Kidroduction: Albeit a brief one. In the opening montage, we see Ali as a boy on a bus in Louisville reading an article about the lynching of Emmitt Till, and also watching his father paint a portrait of Jesus.
  • The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything: Bundini Brown. He gets off sone good one-liners, at least, but otherwise his usefulness to Ali isn't immediately clear.
  • Power Walk: Ali and entourage walking down a long corridor to the weigh-in for the first Sonny Liston fight.
  • Protagonist Title
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right: "I ain't got no quarrel with them Viet Cong." Ali's refusal to submit himself to the draft came with a great personal price.
  • Shell-Shock Silence: Ali after taking an uppercut from George Foreman.
  • The Seventies
  • The Sixties
  • Throwing the Fight: Discussed after Sonny Liston goes down with one punch in the rematch.
  • Thunder Equals Downpour: The film ends after the Foreman fight with a clap of thunder followed immediately by pouring rain.
  • Training Montage: The opening sequence of Ali training for the Liston fight, intercut with a scene of Sam Cooke in concert and scenes from Ali's early life.
  • Your Cheating Heart: In Africa Ali starts stepping out on his second wife with the woman who became his third wife.

A.I.: Artificial IntelligenceFilms of 2000 - 2004 All About Lily Chou-Chou
Hollywood OldImageSource/Live-Action FilmsMononymous Biopic Title
AlexanderBiopicAlmost Famous

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