Clint Eastwood, the star of classic movies like The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, began directing films in 1971. The actor, producer, and director is no stranger to the business and art of making movies. In the early 2000s, we saw those decades of work come to good use in Million Dollar Baby, a movie he starred in and directed. That movie released on Netflix just recently, and audiences are rediscovering this 2004 sports drama co-starring Hilary Swank and Morgan Freeman.
As a director, Clint Eastwood has described Million Dollar Baby as “a surrogate father-daughter love story.” Eastwood plays Frankie Dunn. His character is grumpy, hardened with age, and clearly carrying some heavy burdens as he pushes people away. He’s a veteran boxing trainer with one friend, Scrap Iron, played by Morgan Freeman. Hilary Swank plays a 30 something woman from the Ozarks who wants to take her shot in the boxing ring, but no one will take her seriously because she’s both too old and a woman. Now in Los Angeles, she seeks out Eastwood’s character, wanting him to train her. He pushes her away, as he does everyone else, but since everyone pushes her away she isn’t put off by this. Eventually, he gives in, and the two become incredibly close as they face challenges together. You can see the two in character in the movie trailer below.
Million Dollar Baby gained a lot of attention when it released in 2004. Audiences took to it right away and the movie earned $216 million at the box office. Variety said that Clint Eastwood delivered another knockout punch with the film. Roger Ebert called it a “masterpiece” in the very first sentence of their review, not holding back any punches. And the Academy? Oh, the Academy loved it.
Over his long career, Clint Eastwood has clearly become used to award shows. When interviewed, many celebrities are asked where they keep their newly earned award, but Eastwood may be in need of multiple places. Possibly multiple rooms. He’s picked up quite a few over the years. That being said, he still seemed to genuinely care at the 2005 Oscars, where Million Dollar Baby saw seven nominations and took home four awards. The movie won Best Picture, Hilary Swank won Best Actress, Morgan Freeman won Best Supporting Actor, and Clint Eastwood took home Best Director for the film.
The story was based on fictional short stories from Rope Burns: Stories from the Corner, adapted into a script from Paul Haggis. Because so many sports-dramas are actually based on real-life, many believed the same of Million Dollar Baby, but that’s one of the ways this movie stands out. During a later interview with Hilary Swank, she said that from the time she first read the script to what we now see in the final movie, not one line was changed. She also described her first time meeting Clint Eastwood. She was star-struck, but says that during their first meeting, he offered her the role by way of saying, “You’re going to need to learn to box.”
Being a seasoned creator in Hollywood, Clint Eastwood clearly knows what he’s doing. He hired Hilary Swank quickly. He didn’t change a word of the script. And he filmed this Oscar-winner in only 37 days. That’s not much time at all, but since he wasn’t making any changes, he clearly had a directing-style that involved going in with a clear plan and getting the job done.
One of the fun things about watching Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby on Netflix today is that you’re going to see a lot of actors you know now in some of their earliest roles. One of the big examples for this particular movie is Anthony Mackie, who now plays Falcon in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He has a minor role in this movie, and he’s fun to spot. Audiences may not also be more familiar with Michael Peña, who we’ve since seen in Ant-Man, Crash, and American Hustle.
If you were to simply make your way through every Clint Eastwood movie ever, it would take you months. You’d be watching some of the biggest movies in cinematic history, and naturally, some that just didn’t take well with audiences. If you wanted to shorten that list and only watch the ones considered the essential Eastwood movies, Million Dollar Baby would make your list. This movie is often considered one of the very best from his later years, which includes movies like Gran Torino and Mystic River.