Let’s Talk About ‘Rocky’ (1976)

If an actor is lucky, they will have that one character that they are forever attached to. Arnold Schwarzenegger will forever be The Terminator, Bruce Willis will never stop being John McClane, and Robert Downey Jr. is Iron Man.

However, some actors manage to strike gold twice and are known for two iconic characters. Harrison Ford immediately comes to mind having played both Han Solo and Indiana Jones. Next on the list would probably be Sylvester Stallone with Rocky Balboa and John Rambo, two instantly recognizable characters. But there would be no John Rambo if Rocky Balboa had not managed to secure himself a cinematic victory in 1976.

Background

After watching the championship match between Muhammad Ali and Chuck Wepner, Stallone wrote the screenplay for Rocky in three and a half days. Although, Stallone was motivated by the match he has denied that Wepner was any inspiration for the script. Despite this statement, there are parallels from the real life match to Rocky’s match, specifically the fact that nobody expected Chuck Wepner to last as long as he did in the fight (especially making it the the 15th round before a TKO’d). United Artists liked Stallone’s script and saw it as a potential vehicle for Robert Redford, Ryan O’Neal, Burt Reynolds, or James Caan. It is tough to imagine that Robert Redford or Burt Reynolds could have pulled off the same sort of energy that Stallone brought to the role.

According to commentary on the DVD release by director John G. Avildsen, the scenes where Rocky Balboa points out that the boxing banner of his likeness got the color of his shorts backwards, as well as Rocky’s robe being two big were actual goofs by the production department. Due to these issues being noticed on the day of filming, Stallone wrote into the script dialogue to make it not look like goofs. Not only is this quick thinking on Stallone’s part, but it adds more depth to the character of Rocky Balboa.

Story & Characters

I expected Rocky to tell the story of an underdog boxer getting his shot at a world championship match against the reigning champion Apollo Creed. While that is a storyline that runs throughout the film, the heart of the story is the relationship between Rocky and Adrian. These two both have setbacks that are seen as disadvantages in our society. Rocky isn’t exactly the brightest fellow, but he has a kind heart. Meanwhile, Adrian is too shy and lacks self-confidence. However, when you put these two together they bring out the best in each other. Adrian begins to open up and find her inner and outer beauty, and Rocky starts to believe in the impossible. Their love is the crux of the story with boxing taking a secondary position. I rooted more for Adrian telling her brother off than I did when Rocky fought Apollo.

I think that owes a lot to the cinema of the 1970s and ’80s. The films from those decades that we consider classics focus more on the characters than the plot. As long as the audience gets invested with the characters, the story can be as simple and straightforward as need be. A common complaint for any film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is that the films follow a three-act cookie cutter approach. But audiences come for the characters that they have fallen in love with. I don’t care who Captain America or Iron Man is fighting, I just want to see these characters continue to grow and evolve. The audience is invested in the character, not the story.

Which is why when you break it down Rocky is a simple underdog tale. It’s not complicated. It’s straightforward and to the point. Rocky has a shot at fighting the world champion. Rocky has a shot at a romance. Rocky takes the shots. Rocky comes out on the other side a changed man. If I had a motto for Hollywood it would be to keep it simple. Invest not only in the story, but in the characters that will inhabit that story.

So, personally, I liked Rocky. It had almost a Taxi Driver atmosphere to it. The streets were worn and beaten, the colors were darker and muted. It painted a realistic picture of the environment Rocky grew up in. It feeds itself into the underdog genre. When Rocky climbs those steps and makes it to the top and cheers, color is in the sky. There’s a parallel somewhere in there about his training to the lifestyle he is working so hard to rise above. Plus, I’m sort of biased in that I enjoy a good on-location shoot. Old films didn’t use much CGI, if any, and looking back it adds a certain quality that works in their favor.

The Training Montage and “Gonna Fly Now”

I’d be a fool if I didn’t talk more in depth about this montage. In some ways it is almost more iconic than the film itself. Ask anyone to name something they know about Rocky and they’ll either say “Eye of the Tiger” or mention the training montage.

The training montage works for one reason: Bill Conti‘s “Gonna Fly Now“, the theme song for Rocky. It’s a song that just builds you up. It gets you amped. It makes you feel like anything is possible. It makes you feel like you are Rocky and you can have your own underdog success story.

This montage has been parodied in countless television shows, from The Simpsons to Family Guy to The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. However, as far as my childhood memory archives go, I believe The Proud Family introduced me to the Rocky training montage first. To this day it is still the first thing my mind jumps to after Rocky himself. You gotta love Saturday morning cartoons.

What the Italian Stallion Means to Us

This movie is a god damn classic. What more needs to be said? It’s easily one of Stallone’s greatest achievements. He wrote it and refused to backdown when they wanted to cast someone else in the titular role. It’s such a simple and gritty portrayal of a guy just trying to do what he loves. And that is to box. I’m sure a lot of people gravitate towards Rocky IV due to the USA vs. Russia aspect. While that is all fine and dandy, this film remains the true standout of the series (also fuck Rocky V, that shit never happened). It’s original, it’s realistic and it’s awesome. And I’m not gonna lie Rocky Balboa comes a close second in my book.

– K. Alvarez


I was familiar with a handful of knowledge about the Rocky film series before I actually bothered to watch the first film. I knew “Eye of the Tiger” was the song of Rocky III (I actually thought it was from IV until I double checked), and that there was an iconic training montage that inspired countless parodies to come. I knew that Rocky shouted “Yo Adrian,” but didn’t know why. I knew about as little as possible to uphold a casual conversation about Rocky. With this minimal knowledge I expected Rocky to be a straightforward underdog boxing story, but that isn’t what I watched. The film played against my expectations in a way that delighted and engaged me. The story wasn’t so much focused on boxing as it was on Rocky himself and damn if if we all don’t feel like Rocky sometimes whether it’s the good or the bad.

– Marmaduke Karlston


There’s a pair of old, red Franklin boxing gloves hanging in my closet. The leather is cracked in places and the laces are mismatched – one white, one black. Of course, they don’t fit me anymore. My dad gave them to me when I was about 4 or 5. I have a picture somewhere of us “sparring” – him on his knees in a pair of black boxing gloves and me in my brand new Sugar Ray Leonard gloves and a gray warm up suit (like Rocky’s, of course).

Rocky came out the year I was born. You couldn’t have been alive at that time and not have at least heard of the movie. It’s great on its own merits, but it’s more than just a movie to me.To this day, I can’t watch Rocky or hear any of the theme music and not be reminded of those times spent learning some of life’s first lessons from my old man. And those were good times. And they’re good memories. That’s what Rocky means to me.

– Billy Dhalgren

Legacy

Oh man, where to begin? Rocky is the very definition of a sleeper hit grossing $225 million on a budget of $1.1 million. To put that into perspective, that would be about $1.02 billion in 2020. Yeah, Rocky played about as well as an Avengers movie. It’s absolutely crazy to think that a film with a budget of less than $5 million (what it would have cost in 2020) could gross over a billion, especially one that is not a well-known IP. That just wouldn’t happen nowadays.

Rocky would not only launch Stallone’s career, but also an entire franchise that is still going strong today. Michael B. Jordan is currently prepping to direct and star in Creed III, the ninth film in the series.

The film was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, including Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Original Screenplay. It won three for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Film Editing. It was the first sports film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture.


What are your fond memories of the Rocky franchise? Do you have a fun fact or piece of trivia on the film? Share it in the comments below!

Author: Marmaduke Karlston

"Wait a minute. Wait a minute Doc, uh, are you telling me you built a time machine... out of a DeLorean?"