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When We Were Kings

When We Were Kings
Directed by Leon Gast
Produced by Leon Gast
David Sonenberg
Taylor Hackford[1]
Distributed by Gramercy Pictures (theatrical)
PolyGram Filmed Entertainment
Release dates
January 1996 (1996-01) (Sundance)
October 25, 1996 (1996-10-25)
Running time
89 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $2,789,985

When We Were Kings is a 1996 Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) on October 30, 1974.

The film features a number of celebrities, including Spike Lee and Thomas Hauser.

When We Were Kings was released in 1996 to strong reviews,[2] and won the 1996 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.[3]

It took Gast 22 years to edit and finance the documentary before it was finally released.[4]


  • Subject matter 1
  • Awards and recognition 2
  • References 3
  • External links 4

Subject matter

The film shows the buildup to the fight. Ali is shown talking about his beliefs regarding Africans and African-Americans, speaking of the inherent dignity of the native Africans and his hopes for African-Americans in the future. His relationship with the people of Zaire is shown, with the mutual love between Ali and the people of the nation contrasted with Foreman's awkward and unsuccessful efforts to build his own popularity. Promoter Don King is shown working on his first big promotion, and singers James Brown and B. B. King performing in Zaire. The film contains footage of the "black Woodstock" soul music festival accompanying the fight, which is more fully documented in the 2008 film Soul Power.[5] The film also emphasises the questionable ethics of locating the fight in Zaïre, as it was funded by the brutal dictatorship of Mobutu Sese Seko.

Spike Lee, Malick Bowens and Thomas Hauser gave interviews for the film, describing their impressions of Zaire, the fight itself, and particularly their impressions of Ali. The film itself contains these interviews, with many news clips and photos.

The film shows much of the fight itself, particularly Ali's famous "rope-a-dope" which caused Foreman to expend too much energy and resulted in his eighth-round knockout. It describes in detail Ali's repeated use of the "right-hand lead" in the early rounds, a rarely used punch in professional boxing because it opens the boxer up for easy attack, and therefore the punch that Foreman was least prepared for. Ali is shown taking what look like heavy blows from the hard-throwing Foreman, which are lessened by Ali's quick reflexes and use of the ropes. As Foreman throws with power, Ali is able to use his trademark quick hands to damage the heavyweight champion, and in the eighth round Ali knocks out the exhausted Foreman, regaining the championship taken from him for his refusal to be drafted into the United States Army during the Vietnam War.

A soundtrack album was released in 1997. It features live festival performances in addition to new music by Zelma Davis, the duet "When We Were Kings" performed by Brian McKnight and Diana King, and "Rumble In The Jungle", the final recording done by The Fugees, in a collaboration with A Tribe Called Quest and Busta Rhymes.

Awards and recognition

When We Were Kings is frequently regarded as one of the best boxing documentaries ever, and maintains a 98% positive rating at Rotten Tomatoes.[2] It received strong reviews from critics such as Roger Ebert[6] and Edward Guthmann.[7]

The film won the 1996 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.[3] At the presentation, both Ali and Foreman came up to join the filmmakers to make it clear they had long made peace since that match, with Foreman even helping Ali up the stairs. It was also nominated for the Grand Prix of the Belgian Syndicate of Cinema Critics.


  1. ^ "Movies: Complete Production Credits for When We Were Kings". The New York Times. 
  2. ^ a b Rotten Tomatoes page: "When We Were Kings".
  3. ^ a b "NY Times: When We Were Kings". NY Times. Retrieved 2008-11-21. 
  4. ^ "When We Were Kings". Entertainment Weekly. 
  5. ^ Fawcett, Thomas (2009-03-20). "SXSW Film: Daily Reviews and Interviews". Austin Chronicle. 
  6. ^ "When We Were Kings". Chicago Sun-Times. 
  7. ^ Guthmann, Edward (2011-01-10). "When Ali Was Young, Pretty and Powerful". The San Francisco Chronicle. 

External links

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