4 Best Movies to Watch by Muhammad Ali

Staff & contributors

There’s a scene early in the documentary when present-day Michael J. Fox, who famously suffers from Parkinson’s Disease, swaggers along a street and greets a fan, only to stumble at that very moment and have people surround him with concern. Instead of giving into their pity or pretending nothing happened, he cooly tells the fan, “It was so nice meeting you, you knocked me off of my feet!” 

This brief moment tells you all you need to know about the ‘80s icon—Fox refuses to be a victim. Still is his brilliant and admirable attempt at telling his well-known story on his own terms. It covers everything from his childhood and early work in Hollywood to his life-changing roles in Family Ties, Teen Wolf, and most memorably, Back to the Future. It also sheds light on Fox's life as a husband, father, and Parkinson's sufferer. Director Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth) does a genius job of using faceless reenactments and cuts from films and TV shows to accompany Fox’s narration, which pumps the film with a dynamism that matches Fox’s resilient spirit. 

Urgent, clever, and exciting, Still is one of the rare celebrity biographies that serves a higher purpose than just recounting a famous person's life. Anyone who understands the importance of constantly moving and evolving will appreciate this film's existence. 

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Christopher Lloyd, Crispin Glover, David Letterman, Donna Lysell, Eric Stoltz, Gary David Goldberg, Gene Siskel, Hannah Galway, Jason Calder, Jay Leno, Johnny Carson, Justine Bateman, Larry David, Meredith Baxter, Michael J. Fox, Michael McDonald, Muhammad Ali, Rick Pearce, Robert Zemeckis, Roger Ebert, Shayn Walker, Siobhan Murphy, Steven Spielberg, Thomas F. Wilson, Tracy Pollan, Woody Harrelson

Director: Davis Guggenheim

This fascinating documentary traces the roots of freestyling back to the rhythmic sermons of Baptist preachers, the improvisational energy of jazz music, and the spoken word artistry of the civil rights era’s Last Poets — but, like the form of rap it chronicles, it largely exists in the moment. The ephemeral nature of freestyling makes it a tricky thing to bottle, but The Art of Rhyme does so by mimicking the freewheeling energy of the MCs onscreen. And there are many legends of the medium featured here: from underground titans like Supernatural and Craig G (whose epic battles are shown here) to big names who crossed over into recording success like Talib Kweli, Mos Def, and even precious footage of a 17-year-old Notorious BIG. It’s as enlightening as you’d hope, but what makes this documentary such an impressive portrait of freestyle are all the ways it mirrors the impulsive, quick-thinking philosophy of the form in little over an hour.

Genre: Documentary, Music

Actor: Akim Funk Buddah, Bahamadia, Bobbito Garcia, Boots Riley, Debi Mazar, DJ Kool Herc, Eluard Burt, John Coltrane, Muhammad Ali, Planet Asia, The Notorious B.I.G., Tupac Shakur, Yasiin Bey

Director: Kevin Fitzgerald

As the face of kung fu, a sports documentary on Bruce Lee is practically expected for ESPN’s 30 for 30 series. So many of them have been produced since the actor’s death in 1973. However, in Be Water, director Bao Nguyen captures the icon not through his works, but through his philosophy. Starting with his first screen test, the camera rarely strays from him, keeping us hooked on his magnetic presence even during voice-overs of interviews from his friends and family. This, mixed with readings of letters he’s written, reveals a man whose self-discipline and attitude power through obstacles against him. The film only diverts its attention to identifying those obstacles, but it only better proves the actor’s strength. In martial arts and in film, Be Water respects Lee as a force of nature– the rare force that broke barriers and bridged the gap between East and West.

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Actor: Angela Mao Ying, Brandon Lee, Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris, Dan Inosanto, David Carradine, Diana Lee Inosanto, Fred Weintraub, Jay Sebring, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Linda Lee Cadwell, Muhammad Ali, Nancy Kwan, Paul M. Heller, Raymond Chow Man-Wai, Rudolf Nureyev, Shannon Lee, Tony Liu, William Dozier

Director: Bao Nguyen

For kids and kids-at-heart who find Jim Henson's technical mastery of puppets riveting, this documentary on the classic and still-contemporary Sesame Street provides a ton of behind-the-scenes footage that's endlessly fun to watch. Street Gang rebuts any arguments that could be made about children's TV being low-effort—showing just how much craft is needed in a show like this. But more importantly, the film's first act illustrates the risky process of building Sesame Street from the ground-up, specifically as programming for inner-city Black children who weren't getting the education they deserved. It's nothing short of an inspiration to see this ragtag group of creatives and communication experts—none of whom wanted to take sole credit—coming together like a superhero team to create one of the most iconic and enduring TV shows in American history.

Genre: Documentary, Family

Actor: Bob McGrath, Brian Henson, Caroll Spinney, Christopher Cerf, Dizzy Gillespie, Emilio Delgado, Fran Brill, Frank Oz, Fred Rogers, Holly Robinson Peete, James Earl Jones, Jesse Jackson, Jim Henson, Joan Ganz Cooney, Johnny Carson, Johnny Cash, Jon Stone, Lisa Henson, Loretta Long, Matt Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Norman Stiles, Orson Welles, Roscoe Orman, Sonia Manzano, Stevie Wonder, Will Lee

Director: Marilyn Agrelo