English Title: Rocky

Country of Origin: USA

Studio: Chartoff-Winkler Productions, United Artists

Director: John G. Avildsen

Producer(s): Irwin Winkler, Gene Kirkwood, Robert Chartoff

Screenplay: Sylvester Stallone

Cinematographer: James Crabe

Art Director: James H. Spencer

Editor: Richard Halsey, Scott Conrad

Runtime: 119 minutes

Genre: Drama

Starring/Cast: Burt Young, Carl Weathers, Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burgess Meredith

Year: 1976

Volume: American - Hollywood

Rocky Balboa is a struggling boxer living in Philadelphia and collecting debts for a local loan shark just to survive. Rocky’s former trainer Mickey owns a gym nearby, and believes that Rocky could have been very good boxer if he had only applied himself more. Rocky begins talking to a shy woman named Adrian at a pet store, and they start to see each other; Rocky’s best friend Paulie (also Adrian’s brother) helps them along.  Meanwhile, Apollo Creed, the current heavyweight boxing champion, decides to stage an exhibition match against a small-time fighter, and picks Rocky. Rocky trains for the fight with Mickey, but for Rocky, this is no exhibition match – he sees the fight as his one chance to be somebody.

Shot in just 28 days, Rocky is an amazing feat for many reasons. It became the ultimate example of a ‘sleeper hit’, as based on its cost it is still considered one of the most financially successful motion pictures ever made. The film and the franchise that followed inspired many real-life boxers and athletes in their own struggles, and the character and actor who played him continue to be a source of inspiration for many fans. Middle America (and nearly everyone else) strongly identified with the character of Rocky, who epitomized the American dream of making something of yourself despite social or cultural circumstances; the film might have also found an unlikely audience boost in Americans who were looking for positive inspiration in the shadows of the violent and depressing Vietnam conflict. In the film, Rocky is not educated, but his morals are centered and his will to succeed only becomes greater as the film progresses, and inspires others around him to reach for their best (if anything, the audience and the film industry identified too much with Rocky and Stallone – the actor never quite escaped the image of the character, and his career seems to be nicely bookended by his first and last portrayal of the character, thirty years apart).  
Stallone’s inspiration for the script came from a famous fight between Muhammad Ali and Chuck Wepner, where Wepner lasted all fifteen rounds, much longer than anyone expected him to. Apollo Creed’s swagger and ego is clearly influenced to a degree by Muhammad Ali, and there is a cameo in the film from Joe Frazier, a former champion who fought Ali. Stallone had to fight to play the role, as United Artists were considering casting a big name such as Robert Redford or Ryan O’Neal, but looking at the film now, it’s hard to imagine anyone else giving it the underdog quality that Stallone did. Burgess Meredith also makes a strong impression as Rocky’s trainer, Mickey; it was a late-career comeback for the actor who for many years had been best known for his tongue-in-cheek portrayal of the Penguin on the popular 1960s Batman television show. Rocky’s training montage (perhaps the film’s most noticeably iconic moment) became a staple of subsequent sequels, and widely parodied over the years. Rocky was interestingly one of the first films to utilize the Steadicam, Rocky’s final training sprint up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art was shot with it, and tracked audibly by Bill Conti’s score, which has itself become a world-famous theme. Stallone’s brother Frank appears and also recorded a song for the film.  
Rocky was the highest grossing film of 1976, and won three Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. The huge success of Rocky (grossing $225 million worldwide vs. a $1 million production budget) made Stallone an international star and helped him launch a long-running film franchise for the character. Throughout the series, Stallone charted Rocky’s rise and fall within both his professional and personal life, with the last entry, Rocky Balboa (2006), both reflecting on and contributing to the revival of Stallone’s own career. Rocky Balboa brings Stallone’s story and themes full circle: the film’s closing moments feature Rocky jogging up the famous Philadelphia Museum of Art steps made iconic by the training sequence in the first film, and over the closing credits, real-life Rocky fans are shown inspirationally climbing the steps themselves. A statue of Rocky commissioned by Stallone for use in 1982’s Rocky III was adopted by the city of Philadelphia and placed at the top of the now-famous museum steps; it now stands at the side of the steps.

Author of this review: Michael S. Duffy