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Five important moments in mixed martial arts movie history

Five important moments in mixed martial arts movie history (photo)

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Baseball has “Field of Dreams.” Basketball has “Hoosiers.” Hockey has “Slap Shot.” In other words: you can’t be a major American sport without a major American sports movie.

It looks like mixed martial arts might have found its major sports movie with this week’s “Warrior,” the story of two brothers (Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton) who both enter a massive MMA tournament. The film’s already garnering rave reviews and strong social media word of mouth, and even generating some Oscar buzz. It looks on track to be one of the surprise hit of the fall.

While “Warrior” is certainly mixed martial arts’ biggest and potentially most acclaimed appearance on the silver screen to date, it’s far from the first movie set the world of MMA. We’ll have our review of “Warrior” later in the week; in the meantime, here is a look at five important milestones on MMA’s journey to cinematic legitimacy.

MMA invades the classic martial arts film
“Flash Point” (2007)
Directed by Wilson Yip

Fighters of different (or, y’know, mixed) martial arts disciplines have been testing their unique styles against one another for decades in Asian cinema. But modern MMA never really made its way onscreen in Asia in a significant way until mixed martial arts fan and Hong Kong megastar Donnie Yen incorporated it into his fight choreography for the 2007 film “Flash Point.” Yen became a serious fan of UFC during the several years he spent in Hollywood in the early 2000s and first experimented with MMA choreography in a fight with Sammo Hung in 2005’s “SPL.” He applied everything he learned from all those experiences to the awesome “Flash Point,” which became a massive blockbuster all over Asia. “In actual combat,” Yen said in an interview about the appeal of MMA, “anything goes. It won’t be turn-based, both [fighters] could be throwing out a punch at the same time. There might be some blows that miss. This is the true world of combat.”


MMA Gets Its “Karate Kid”

“Never Back Down” (2008)
Directed by Jeff Wadlow

Everyone loves a feel-good underdog story. Mixed martial arts got one of its own with 2008’s “Never Back Down,” a modern riff on “The Karate Kid” formula. Maybe riff is too generous; Mad Libs-esque plot substitution might be closer. Here, I’ll show you what I mean:

In “The Karate Kid,” “Never Back Down,” a new kid in high school named Daniel (Ralph Macchio) Jake (Sean Faris) gets picked on by a handsome and intensely Aryan bully (William Zabka) (Cam Gigandet) in a spat over the affections of a beautiful girl (Elisabeth Shue) (Amber Heard). Our fatherless hero finds unlikely support in the form of a pacifistic martial arts mixed martial arts instructor from a foreign land (Pat Morita) (Djimon Hounsou). Despite Daniel’s Jake’s reluctance to fight the bully, he eventually decides to enter a score-settling final tournament, where a crippling leg rib injury makes things even tougher. But it all works out in the end, thanks to Daniel’s Jake’s signature crane kick spinning roundhouse kick.

“Never Back Down” may be formulaic a photocopy of a classic, but it’s a fairly effective one, even if all the “teens” in the movie suffer from Stockard Channing’s Disease, an affliction that causes high school kids to look like they’re in their late twenties.


A bonafide auteur taps into the sport
“Redbelt” (2008)
Directed by David Mamet

By 2008, mixed martial arts had already grown into a massively popular sport, but in certain circles it was still considered less a sport than a modern version of gruesome gladiatorial combat. Movies like “Redbelt,” from a bonafide auteur like writer/director David Mamet went a long way toward combating that stigma. Organized MMA competitions were portrayed as a corrupt con game — like most organizations in David Mamet movies — but the idea of mixed martial arts, and particularly Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was treated as a grand intellectual pursuit. As practiced by BJJ trainer Mike Terry (Chiwetel Ejiofor), MMA is less a physical struggle than a beautiful chess match, a point reinforced by the fact that Ejiofor, rugged leading man though he might be is not exactly a hulking gym rat. For Mamet, mixed martial arts’ popularity doesn’t represent a debasement of cultural values. It’s a source of purity in an impure world.


Rocky goes to the ground game
“The Expendables” (2010)
Directed by Sylvester Stallone

No actor has done more for the sport of boxing in the last fifty years than Sylvester Stallone. While boxing itself has been beset by scandals, Stallone has propped up the myth and mystique of boxing with his six-film series of “Rocky” pictures about that lovable and indomitable fighter from the hard streets of Philadelphia. Earlier this year, Stallone was even inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame. So it was definitely a sign of the times when, in the interest of relevancy, Stallone integrated mixed martial arts into the fight scenes in last year’s “The Expendables.” Suddenly Rocky Balboa traded in his left uppercut for an flying armbar. Ironically — SPOILER ALERT! — none of the Expendables actually die in the movie. The only real casualty was Stallone’s longstanding loyalty to the sweet science.


MMA becomes the undisputed champion of direct-to-video
“Undisputed III: Redemption” (2010)
Directed by Isaac Florentine

A few months before “The Expendables” hit theaters in the fall of 2010 it was quietly upstaged and outdone by a direct-to-video film made for a lot less money with a lot fewer stars. “Undisputed III: Redemption,” was the second sequel to Walter Hill’s 2002 movie about a match in prison between two former champion boxers (boxing was supplanted by mixed martial arts in 2006’s “Undisputed II: Last Man Standing”). Without Stallone’s budget or topline cast, “Undisputed III” relies on technique and pure, frenetic action. Scott Adkins — martial artist and stuntman — stars as Yuri Boyka, a Russian prisoner and fighter in an international cage match tournament. If you’ve seen “Bloodsport,” or really any movie Jean-Claude Van Damme made between the years 1986 and 1990, you know the plot. But you haven’t seen stunt choreography or action of this caliber recently, and it cleverly takes full advantage of MMA-style throws and takedowns. It’s truly one of the best pure action movies of the last couple years. And the only real star in it is mixed martial arts.

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

via GIPHY

Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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