Boxing has been a staple of Hollywood since before I was born. And why not? The drama of boxing matches and the back story of the game are tailored made for the big screen.
The most famous boxing movie is “Rocky” (1976), the first in that long series. The most critically acclaimed is “Raging Bull” (1980), Jake LaMotta’s story as told by Martin Scorsese and starring Robert De Niro.
The most melodramatic boxing film I’ve ever seen is “Champion” (1949), starring Kirk Douglas. The most sanctimonious has to be “The Harder They Fall” (1956), starring Humphrey Bogart.
My personal favorite is “The Set Up” (1949), a tight film noir classic starring Robert Ryan. Quentin Tarantino borrowed the premise for the Bruce Willis part of “Pulp Fiction” (1994).
My two favorites from this century are “Cinderalla Man” (2005) and “The Fighter” (2010), in that order. I also liked “Million Dollar Baby” (2004).
“The Southpaw” (2015) received some good reviews. I have not seen it, however.
A fair portion of boxing movies tell, or purport to tell, the story of real fighters, e.g., LaMotta, James J. Braddock, Rocky Graziano, Mickey Ward, and, of course, Muhammad Ali. In boxing, truth can be almost as strange as fiction, and more compelling.
The life of Bobby Chacon, the fierce featherweight who died last week at age 64, confirms this view. When I read this obituary I thought his story might make the next great boxing movie, one that could challenge “Champion” for melodrama. Check out the obit and see whether you agree.
What should the movie be called? I think there’s a title in this quote from Chacon: ““Life, it ain’t the friendliest place to be, but where else you going to be?”
Hollywood might opt for the first part. I prefer the second.