Release Year: 2004
Genre: Biography, Drama, History
Director: Clint Eastwood
Writer: Paul Haggis
Million Dollar Baby punches you in the gut.
It tells the story of Frankie Dunn, a poetry reading, old-school boxing manager, and Maggie Fitzgerald, a scrappy hillbilly fighter from The Middle of Nowhere, MO. He's more grizzly than a bear that's fresh out of fish, and she has a work ethic that makes James Brown look lazy. Million Dollar Baby is the dark, deep, and downright subversive story of the bond between two generations of fighters. Just when you think you know where it's going—BOOM!—it hits you with an emotional uppercut and dares you to get back up off the movie mat.
Remember way back in 2004? You know, the glory days of Myspace, Green Day, and Lindsay Lohan? The heartbreaking final days of Friends? The Google IPO? Well, that was also the year that Million Dollar Baby hit the big screen, just in time for Christmas. Directed by star Clint Eastwood for a modest 30 million bucks, Baby was a big, fat jab—er, hit. The boxing drama stayed in multiplexes for over six months, grossing more than $216 million worldwide.
But moviegoers weren't the only ones knocked out by Eastwood's subtle sports flick. Million Dollar Baby was nominated for seven Academy Awards and won four: Best Picture, Best Director for Eastwood, Best Actress for Hilary Swank, and Best Supporting Actor for Morgan Freeman. It also snagged three of the five Golden Globes for which it was nominated, went two for three in Screen Actors Guild Awards, and was named Movie of the Year by the American Film Institute (source). Not a bad haul for a movie whose source material (F.X. Toole's short story collection, Rope Burns: Stories from the Corner), took forty years to get published.
And while we're being gushy, let's take a look at some notes from the real critics:
So, break out the gloves—and maybe a pack of tissues—and hop into the cinematic ring with Million Dollar Baby. After 132 minutes, and it will leave you utterly spent.
Everybody has that one friend who, when the topic of conversation turns to movies and TV, cries out, "Stop! Don't! I haven't seen it yet!" You know the one. They've never seen The Sixth Sense. They're always three episodes behind on True Detective. They think the people on Lost were actually alive.
Back in 2004? Not so much.
When Million Dollar Baby hit theaters, some critics spoiled it immediately and without warning. Predictably, this ignited a firestorm of controversy. Some critics, like Michael Medved, spoiled the movie simply because they disagreed with Maggie's decision. Others claimed they did so because of the film's controversial subject matter or because they wanted to protect viewers from the movie's shocking plot twist. They were angry that the movie they thought was going to be "Rocky in a sports bra" was something more complicated.
Here's the thing: any way you slice it, what spoilsport critics were actually shielding moviegoers from was just a plain ol' unhappy ending. Sports movies (by and large) don't typically have unhappy endings. Buzzer beaters, magically healed knees, and coaches doused with Gatorade? That's the norm.
Million Dollar Baby won't have any of it.
The movie "challenges America's…triumphalist daydream," argues Frank Rich. "It does so not because it has any politics or takes a stand on assisted suicide but because it has the temerity to suggest that fights can have consequences, that some crises do not have black-and-white solutions and that even the pure of heart are not guaranteed a Hollywood ending" (source).
In other words, Million Dollar Baby keeps it real.
Of course, some critics, by spoiling the movie, argued that it keeps it a little too real. Other critics, like Roger Ebert, argued that it's totally okay for movies to challenge convention—as well as our personal views. They claimed that those spoilsport critics don't understand the point of art: "It doesn't exist solely to reinforce our faith," claims Patrick Goldstein of The Los Angeles Times. "The most powerful art, from Sophocles to Shakespeare to Scorsese, seethes with provocation; it stirs our passion; pricks our conscience and tests our most firmly held beliefs" (source).
Million Dollar Baby does all of these things. It challenges you to keep your head up until the final bell—and stays with you long after the ring's been torn down.
P.S. We'd be remiss not to mention the whole assisted suicide controversy as a reason to care. On the long list of things people-tend-to-disagree-about, assisted suicide is up there. Start here, and then continue to flex those Google muscles to continue reading about both sides of the debate.
Lucia Rijker, the actress who plays dastardly Billie "The Blue Bear" Osterman, was also one of Hilary Swank's boxing coaches for the film. Rijker is a world champion boxer and kick-boxer. (Source)
Sandra Bullock and Ashley Judd were also in the running to play Maggie. Bullock ultimately dropped out due to her commitment to another Warner Brothers movie, Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous. We're sure she doesn't regret that decision at all. (Source)
The little girl with the dog at the gas station is Clint Eastwood's youngest daughter, Morgan Eastwood. (Source)
"Mo cuishle"—which is usually spelled "Mo chuisle"—literally means "my pulse." Remember that next time you're at the gym. (Source)
The Official Facebook Page
Click "Like" if you know how Scrap gets that ice in those water bottles.
Million Dollar Baby: Stories from the Corner (2000)
Here it is: F.X. Toole's original collection of short stories from which the movie's Oscar-nominated script was adapted.
Roger Ebert's Review (December 14, 2004)
He liked it! He really liked it!
A.O. Scott's Review (December 15, 2004)
Surprise! Scott dug it, too.
"'Million Dollar' mystery" (January 23, 2005)
Susan Wioszczyna examines the controversy surrounding the movie, the offense taken by conservative pundits, and the ethical questions posed by spoilers. This flick got a lot of people worked up.
"Critics Have No Right to Play Spoiler" (January 29, 2005)
More Ebert. This time the Chicago critic weighs in on the "To Spoil or Not To Spoil?" debate.
"'Plant Your Feet and Tell the Truth': An Interview with Clint Eastwood" (January 31, 2005)
"I must say that the first time I ever heard about women boxing I thought, 'This is an odd sport for a woman to do.'"
"How Dirty Harry Turned Commie" (February 13, 2005)
Frank Rich has a different take on what it is about Million Dollar Baby that got people all riled up.
"Clint Eastwood Sits Down with Bill O'Reilly" (February 25, 2005)
Eastwood addresses the hullabaloo around his boxing movie with FOX News' favorite son.
"Fighting Words" (February 26, 2005)
The New York Times' Wes Davis examines the movie's use, and misuse, of the Irish language.
"Frankie, Maggie, and Me: Inside the Million Dollar Maelstrom" (April 1, 2005)
Film critic Jeff Shannon, himself a C5-6 quadriplegic, offers his unique take on the media firestorm that engulfed Eastwood's Oscar winner.
The Official Trailer
In which Warner Brothers whets your appetite for boxing…and emotion!
Frankie Tells Maggie How It's Going to Be If He Trains Her
This guy sure has a lot of rules.
Maggie Fights the British Champ
For once, she doesn't knock her opponent out in, like, four seconds.
Maggie's Final Request
There are fights, and then there are fights.
Frankie: "I killed her."
Scrap: "Um, no you didn't."
Hilary Swank on What Million Dollar Baby is All About (2004)
By her own count, she says "real" a million times.
Clint Eastwood with Charlie Rose (January 14, 2005)
In this clip, Eastwood talks about Hilary Swank's training. Girlfriend put on close to twenty pounds of muscle.
Million Dollar Baby Wins Best Picture at the 77th Academy Awards (February 27, 2005)
And presenter Barbra Streisand really hams it up.
Clint Eastwood Wins Best Director at the 77th Academy Awards (February 27, 2005)
At age 74, Eastwood became the oldest person to win Best Director. He brought his 96 year-old mother, Ruth, as one of his dates.
Hilary Swank Wins Best Actress at the 77th Academy Awards (February 27, 2005)
Knocking out Annette Bening, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Imelda Staunton, and Kate Winslet.
Morgan Freeman Wins Best Supporting Actor at the 77th Academy Awards (February 27, 2005)
In a lovely tribute to Scrap, he was just hanging around backstage in the dark, waiting to overhear his name.
Million Dollar Baby in Five Seconds
The Guy Without Glasses gives Frankie and Maggie's story the TL;DR treatment.
This is the Clint Eastwood-penned main theme from Million Dollar Baby. Variations of it appear all throughout the movie.
This track accompanies Frankie's big decision, hence the clever title.
Clint Eastwood Behind the Camera
Million Dollar Baby is the 25th film he directed.
Hilary Swank On the Hit Pit Set
Just before the crew asked the Oscar winning actress to please stop punching the expensive cameras.
Morgan Freeman on Set
Scrap chillin' in the shadows, as always.
The Official Movie Poster
Go on, Swank. Show that back off. You earned it.
Spanish Lobby Card
Promotional lobby cards used to be all the rage back in the day. Today? Not so much—at least not in the U.S.
Swank Meets Eastwood's Mom, Ruth, at an Academy Awards After-Party
Check out Clint's swanky, "Mo Cuishle" green bowtie!