- "His whole life was a million-to-one shot."
- ―Tagline for Rocky
Rocky is a 1976 film written by and starring Sylvester Stallone and directed by John G. Avildsen. It tells the rags-to-riches American Dream story of Rocky Balboa, an uneducated but good-hearted debt collector for a loan shark in Philadelphia. Balboa is also an amateur boxer who gets a shot at the world heavyweight championship when the scheduled contender breaks his hand. Also starring in Rocky are Talia Shire as Adrian, Burt Young as Adrian's brother Paulie, Burgess Meredith as Mickey Goldmill, Rocky's trainer and Carl Weathers as the champion, Apollo Creed.
The film, made for only US$1.2 million, and shot relatively fast in 28 days, was a sleeper hit; it made over US$117.2 million, won three Oscars, including Best Picture, and garnered mostly positive reviews which helped to launch Stallone's career. The film spawned five sequels: Rocky II, III, IV, V, Rocky Balboa and a spinoff of the series, Creed.
Sylvester Stallone's original concept for Rocky, and the character Rocky Balboa, was inspired by his viewing of a fight between Muhammad Ali and Chuck Wepner. The idea of an underdog boxer going the distance and putting up a fierce fight against all odds appealed to Stallone. Stallone then wrote the screenplay Paradise Alley. After reading that script, producers Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff invited Stallone to meet them. Stallone brought up his idea for Rocky, Chartoff was impressed with the concept and he and Winkler agreed to support Stallone financially while he wrote the script, with the understanding they would get to see the script first.
The studio liked the script, which was considered as a vehicle for established stars Burt Reynolds or James Caan, among others. Stallone held out, demanding he'd be given a chance to star in it. He later said that he would never have forgiven himself if the film become a success with someone else in the lead. He also knew that Winkler and Chartoff's contract with the studio enabled them to "greenlight" a project if the budget was kept low enough.
Certain elements of the story were altered during filming. The original script had a darker tone: Mickey was portrayed as racist and the script ended with Rocky throwing the fight after realizing he did not want to be part of the professional boxing world after all.
Although Winkler and Chartoff were enthusiastic about the script, they were at first somewhat hesitant to allow Stallone to play the main character. The producers also had trouble casting other major characters in the story, with Adrianna and Apollo Creed cast unusually late by production standards (both were ultimately cast on the same day). Real life boxer Ken Norton was initially handed the role of Apollo Creed but he pulled out and it was ultimately given to Carl Weathers. Interestingly, Norton had three fights with Muhammad Ali, who Creed was loosely based on. According to The Rocky Scrapbook, Carrie Snodgress was originally chosen to play Adrianna, but a money dispute forced the producers to look elsewhere. Susan Sarandon auditioned for the role but was deemed too pretty for character. After Talia Shire's ensuing audition, along with Avildsen, Chartoff and Winkler, insisted that she play the part.
During filming of Rocky, Sylvester Stallone and Carl Weathers suffered injuries due to filming the final fight with Stallone suffering bruised ribs and Weathers suffering a damaged nose. As Stallone was injured, the filming was put on hold for over 3 weeks for Stallone to recover. This happened as Stallone wanted the final fight to look believable and tried to make it real.
- Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa, an enforcer for a loan shark by day and a semi-pro boxer by night. He is given the chance at the heavyweight title.
- Talia Shire as Adrian Pennino, Rocky's love interest. Adrianna is a quiet pet store clerk who falls in love with Rocky and supports him through his training.
- Burt Young as Paulie Pennino, Rocky's close friend and Adrianna's brother. A meat-packing plant worker by trade, Paulie permits Rocky to train in the freezer.
- Carl Weathers as Apollo Creed, Rocky's opponent and heavyweight champion. The character was influenced by the outspoken, real-life boxing great Muhammad Ali.
- Burgess Meredith as Mickey Goldmill, Rocky's manager and trainer, a former bantamweight fighter from the 1920s and the owner of the local boxing gym.
With the character of outspoken Apollo Creed influenced by Muhammad Ali, one interesting detail is the cameo appearance of Joe Frazier, another real-life former world heavyweight champion who fought Ali three times. During the Academy Awards ceremony, Ali and Stallone staged a brief comic confrontation to show Ali was not offended by the film.
The poster seen above the ring before Rocky fights Apollo Creed shows Rocky wearing red shorts with a white stripe when he actually wears white shorts with a red stripe. When Rocky points this out he is told that "it doesn't really matter does it?". This was an actual mistake made amongst the props department that they could not afford to rectify, so Stallone ad-libbed the scene.
Rocky received positive reviews when it was released in 1976. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave Rocky 4 out of 4 stars, and Box Office Magazine claimed that audiences would be "...touting Sylvester (Sly) Stallone as a new star". However, Vincent Canby of the New York Times called it "pure '30s make believe" and slammed both Stallone's acting and Avildsen's directing, calling the latter "...none too decisive..."
More than 30 years later, the film enjoys a reputation as a classic and still receives generally positive reviews. Film-goers at the movie website IMDb voted Rocky a 7.9 out of 10 rating, and Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a 93% fresh rating. Another positive online review came from the BBC Films website, with both reviewer Almar Haflidason and BBC online users giving it 5/5 stars. In Steven J. Schneider's 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, Schneider says the film is "often overlooked as schmaltz."
Rocky received ten Academy Awards nominations in nine categories winning three:
- Best Picture (Robert Chartoff and Irwin Winkler) (won)
- Best Director (John G. Avildsen) (won)
- Film Editing (Richard Halsey and Scott Conrad) (won)
- Best Original Screenplay (Sylvester Stallone)
- Best Actor (Sylvester Stallone)
- Best Actress (Talia Shire)
- Best Supporting Actor (Burt Young)
- Best Supporting Actor (Burgess Meredith)
- Best Music, Original Song (Bill Conti, Carol Connors and Ayn Robbins for "Gonna Fly Now")
- Best Sound (Harry W. Tetrick, William L. McCaughey, Lyle J. Burbridge and Bud Alper )
The Directors Guild of America awarded Rocky its annual award for best film of the year in 1976, and in 2006, Sylvester Stallone's original screenplay for Rocky was selected by the Writers Guild of America as the 78th best screenplay of all time.
Rocky's soundtrack was composed by Bill Conti. The main theme song "Gonna Fly Now" made it to number one on the Billboard Magazines Hot 100 list for one week (from July 2 to July 8, 1977) and the American Film Institute placed it 58th on its 100 Songs. The complete soundtrack was re-released in 1988 by EMI on CD and cassette. Bill Conti was also the composer for Rocky II, III and V, and the sixth installment.
Although the Bill Conti version of "Gonna Fly Now" is the most recognizable arrangement, a cover of the song performed by legendary trumpeter Maynard Ferguson on his Conquistador album prior to the release of the motion picture soundtrack actually outsold the soundtrack itself.
U.S. Box Office
Rocky: US$117.2 million
The original Rocky was the most profitable entry of the series, with a budget of US$1.2 million.
Several video games have been made based on the film. The first Rocky video game was released by Coleco for Colecovision. Another was released in 1987 for the Sega Master System. More recently, a Rocky video game was released in 2002 for the Nintendo Gamecube, Nintendo Game Boy Advance, Sony PlayStation 2, and Microsoft Xbox, and a sequel (Rocky: Legends) was released in 2004 for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox. In 2007 a video game called Rocky Balboa was released for PSP. In 2015, a sequel to the popular "Real Boxing" was released called "Real Boxing 2: CREED" which includes Adonis "Hollywood" Creed and Rocky Balboa as characters.
- Rocky.com - Official site
- Official Rocky Anthology site
- Senior citizens perform Rocky
- ESPN.com - Page 2 - Reel Life: 'Rocky' trivia and stills
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