Thriller in Manila

Director: John Dower
Screenwriters: John Dower

Institute History

  • 2009 Sundance Film Festival


Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali fought three times. Their first highly anticipated encounter was dubbed the "fight of the century" before either boxer entered the ring. But it was their third and final confrontation on October 1, 1975, in the Philippines, that cemented their rivalry as one of history's greatest. By the late rounds, the fight had become “a contest of pure will” with both men on the verge of collapse. That moment—when a fight becomes more important than life and death—explains both the romance and the sickness of the sport. It wasn’t a fight for a belt; it was a war.

What’s remarkable about Thriller in Manila is how dramatically it conveys both the depths of this rivalry as well as the complex racial politics of the time. Using extensive archival footage and interviews (from cornermen in both camps, biographers, journalists, and Frazier himself), director John Dower tells the story from Frazier’s point of view, clearly finding in him not only an unsung hero but a counterpoint to Ali’s mystique. Though Ali famously disparaged all his opponents, Dower argues that his verbal taunting of Frazier was particularly vicious, racially charged, and a betrayal of their onetime friendship.

Thriller in Manila reminds us that to be captivated by a great sporting event is to be captivated by a great story. Surely this is both.

— John Nein

Screening Details


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