According to a 21st July 2011 article by Richard Chin published on the "The Smithsonian" website, "The Champ (1979) has been used in experiments to see if depressed people are more likely to cry than non-depressed people (they aren't). It has helped determine whether people are more likely to spend money when they are sad (they are) and whether older people are more sensitive to grief than younger people (older people did report more sadness when they watched the scene). Dutch scientists used the scene when they studied the effect of sadness on people with binge eating disorders (sadness didn't increase eating)".
The nickname of Ricky Schroder's character was "T.J." It stands for the first two name of his character Timothy Joseph Flynn. In the two earlier film versions of "The Champ", the character was known as"Dink".
Jon Voight was trained in boxing by Jimmy Gambina who had done the fight sequences for Rocky (1976). Gambina once described the big fight in The Champ (1979) as "the best boxing sequence for a movie I have ever seen - better even than Rocky (1976)".
To play the boxing character of Billy "The Champ" Flynn in this movie, actor Jon Voight had to learn a lot of things quickly and had a tough time physically working on the picture. To do the fight scenes, Voight had to undertake an intensive training schedule.
The film's two adult leads had both recently won Best Acting Academy Awards (Oscars), Jon Voight - Best Actor for Coming Home (1978) (this was Voight's first film after that movie) and Faye Dunaway - Best Actress for Network (1976) a couple of years earlier.
The original screen version of The Champ (1931) won two Academy Awards - Wallace Beery tied for Best Actor and Frances Marion won Best Writing, Original Story. This remake also got Oscar nominated - for Best Score for composer Dave Grusin, but did not win.
Actress Faye Dunaway played a mother in this movie. Around the time that the film was made, motherhood was a dream ambition for the actress. Dunaway became a mother in real life the year after the film was first launched.
After looking at thousands of child actors, screen testing Ricky Schroder and putting him up in a hotel with his family, the producers finally offered him the role on the condition that his parents sign an exclusive, 7-year contract on his behalf. Schroeder's mother refused, saying she couldn't do that to a little boy, and prepared to return home with her family. The producers relented, and offered the role with no strings attached.
The amount of time that Billy "The Champ" Flynn (Jon Voight) had not professionally fought was seven years. This was the same period of time that he had been estranged from his wife Annie (Faye Dunaway).
Actor Robert Redford was approached to play the lead after Ryan O'Neal withdrew from his offer to play Billy "The Champ" Flynn. Redford though wanted script changes which would push back the start date of principal photography, so the production then looked elsewhere.
Second remake and third screen version of "The Champ". The film was made and released about twenty-six years after the first remake and second version, The Clown (1953), which debuted around 1953, and around forty-eight years after the original first movie The Champ (1931), which had been first released in 1931.
Director Franco Zeffirelli wanted to contrast the stark realism of the ring fighter boxing world and racetrack and gambling scene with something colorful and flamboyant so he chose the Vizcaya Fashion Show, with outfits and costumes from the Helen Larson Collection, as a fashion show set-piece for the film. Moreover, interestingly, actress Faye Dunaway's previous picture had been the fashion photography thriller Eyes of Laura Mars (1978).
Ricky Schroder played the role which had been played by famous child star Jackie Cooper in the original film version of The Champ (1931). Cooper was nine years old when he appeared in that movie whereas Schroder was eight years when he appeared in this remake.
Whilst in London directing William Shakespeare plays for the National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company, director Franco Zeffirelli chanced seeing a TV re-run of the old MGM The Champ (1931) in his hotel one night. The film had made a big impression on him as a child. Zefirelli then rang his producer business associate Dyson Lovell and said "Turn on your TV and look at the movie we are going to make in the United States".
Producer Dyson Lovell once said of this remake and the original film of The Champ (1931): "1931 is a long time ago. The approach we're using is fresh. We've updated the characters and the story-line, and now it's less a boxing picture than the story of a broken marriage - set against the worlds of boxing, racing, and high fashion".
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
According to Wikipedia, "the final scene has been used in numerous psychology experiments to elicit a strong emotional response. According to Smithsonian magazine two psychologists, Robert Levenson and James Gross, conducted a study of more than 250 movie clips, and subjected them to 500 subjects in 1988, and concluded the last three minutes of the movie, where "T.J." sees his father win in his comeback fight only to witness his death in the dressing room afterwards, elicited the saddest response from a majority of the subjects. In the scene the grief-stricken "T.J." is inconsolable tugging his father's body while crying out "Champ, wake up. Please wake up, Champ"." As such, this picture has been labeled one of the saddest movies ever made.
The dramatic climax where T.J. watches his father die has since been used extensively by scientists in many psychological experiments. Where many movies proved unsuitable in eliciting a single type of emotion, many researchers found this scene particularly effective for inducing overwhelming sadness in their subjects.