This article is about the 1976 film. For the series, see Rocky (film series). For other uses, see Rocky (disambiguation).
Rocky is a 1976 American sports drama film directed by John G. Avildsen and both written by and starring Sylvester Stallone. It tells the rags to riches American Dream story of Rocky Balboa, an uneducated but kind-hearted debt collector for a loan shark in the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Rocky starts out as a club fighter who later gets a shot at the world heavyweight championship. It also stars Talia Shire as Adrian, Burt Young as Adrian's brother Paulie, Burgess Meredith as Rocky's trainer Mickey Goldmill, and Carl Weathers as the champion, Apollo Creed.
The film, made on a budget of just over $1 million and shot in 28 days, was a sleeper hit; it earned $225 million in global box office receipts becoming the highest grossing film of 1976 and went on to win three Oscars, including Best Picture. The film received many positive reviews and turned Stallone into a major star. It spawned five sequels: Rocky II, III, IV, V and Rocky Balboa, all written by and starring Stallone, who also directed all sequels except for Rocky V (which was directed again by Avildsen).
On November 25, 1975, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) is introduced as a small-time boxer and collector for a loan shark named Anthony Gazzo (Joe Spinell) and is living in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia. The World Heavyweight Championship bout, with undefeated heavyweight champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) defending against Mac Lee Green, is scheduled to take place at the Philadelphia Spectrum on New Year's Day 1976, the year of the United States Bicentennial. When Green drops out because of an injured hand, Creed and his entourage are stymied on what to do. Other contenders say there is not enough time to get into shape.
Creed comes up with the idea of giving a local underdog a shot at the title and, because he likes Rocky's nickname "The Italian Stallion," he selects the relatively unknown fighter. He puts it in lights by proclaiming "Apollo Creed Meets The Italian Stallion." The fight promoter George Jergens (Thayer David) says the decision is "very American"; but Creed says, rather, that it is "very smart."
To prepare for the fight Rocky trains with a 1920s-era ex-bantamweight fighter and gym owner, Mickey Goldmill (Burgess Meredith). Mickey always considered Rocky's potential to be better than his effort--telling him he had heart but also calling him a "tomato" and "leg breaker for some cheap second-rate loan shark" among other endearments, and putting Rocky out of his gym locker preceding the "freak luck" opportunity that comes Rocky's way, and Rocky is initially skeptical of Mickey's motives and timing for wanting to train Rocky for the big fight. Rocky's good friend Paulie (Burt Young), a meat-packing-plant worker, lets him practice his punches on the carcasses hanging in the freezers.
Rocky courts and eventually dates Paulie's shy, quiet sister, Adrian (Talia Shire), who works as a clerk in a local pet store. He draws Adrian out of her shell and, as Rocky's girlfriend, she begins to gain in confidence. Paulie, however, is jealous of the relationship. The night before the fight, Rocky privately tours the Spectrum and notices the photograph of him wearing the wrong colored shorts. Mr. Jergens tells Rocky the incorrect photograph doesn't really matter. Dejected, Rocky confides to Adrian that he does not expect to beat Creed and that all he wants is to go the distance because no one had ever gone the distance with Creed.
On New Year's Day, the climactic boxing match begins. Apollo Creed has never taken the fight seriously, and Rocky unexpectedly knocks him down in the first round (the first time Creed has been knocked down in his professional career), embarrassing Creed, and the match turns intense. Creed's prediction that he would knockout Rocky in three rounds is quickly erased as the two fighters engage in a brutal match. Creed realizes that he has underestimated his opponent and desperately defends his title. The fight indeed lasts 15 rounds, with both fighters sustaining many injuries; Rocky suffers his first broken nose and debilitating trauma around the eye, and Creed sustains brutal blows to his ribs with substantial internal bleeding. As the match progresses, Creed's superior skill is countered by Rocky's apparently unlimited ability to absorb punishment, and his dogged refusal to be knocked out. As the final round bell sounds, with both fighters locked in each other's arms, an exhausted Creed vows "Ain't gonna be no re-match," to which an equally spent Rocky replies, "Don't want one."
After the fight, multiple layers of drama are played out: sportscasters and audience are going wild; the promoter/ring announcer George Jergens announces over the loudspeaker that the match was "the greatest exhibition of guts and stamina in the history of the ring"; Rocky calls out repeatedly for Adrian, who runs down and comes into the ring as Paulie distracts the security personnel. As Jergens declares Apollo Creed the winner by virtue of a split decision (8:7, 7:8, 9:6), Adrian and Rocky embrace while they profess their love to one another, not caring about the result of the fight.
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; a shy and quiet pet store clerk who falls in love with Rocky and supports him through his training,
Burt Young as Paulie Pennino, Adrian'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 the heavyweight champion (the character was influenced by the outspoken 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,
Thayer David as Miles Jergens, the fight promoter who has "promoted fights all over the world",
Joe Spinell as Tony Gazzo, loan shark and Rocky's employer,
Tony Burton as Tony "Duke" Evers, Apollo Creed's manager and trainer (Burton's role became more prominent in later Rocky films),
Boxer Joe Frazier has a cameo appearance in the film. The character of Apollo Creed was influenced by outspoken boxer Muhammad Ali who fought Frazier three times. During the Academy Awards ceremony, Ali and Stallone staged a brief comic confrontation to show Ali was not offended by the film. Some of the plot's most memorable moments--Rocky's carcass-punching scenes and Rocky running up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, as part of his training regime--are taken from the real-life exploits of Joe Frazier, for which he received no credit.
Due to the film's comparatively low budget, members of Stallone's family played minor roles. His father rings the bell to signal the start and end of a round, his brother Frank plays a street corner singer, and his first wife, Sasha, was stills photographer. Other cameos include former Philadelphia and then-current Los Angeles television sportscaster Stu Nahan playing himself, alongside radio and TV broadcaster Bill Baldwin; and Lloyd Kaufman, founder of the independent film company Troma, appearing as a drunk. Diana Lewis, then a news anchor in Los Angeles and later in Detroit, has a small scene as a TV news reporter. Tony Burton appeared as Apollo Creed's trainer, Tony "Duke" Evers, a role he would reprise in the entire Rocky series, though he is not given an official name until Rocky II. Though uncredited, Michael Dorn who would later gain fame as the Klingon Worf in Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, made his acting debut as Creed's bodyguard.
United Artists liked Stallone's script, and viewed it as a possible vehicle for a well-established star such as Robert Redford, Ryan O'Neal, Burt Reynolds, or James Caan. Stallone appealed to the producers to be given a chance to star in the film. He later said that he would never have forgiven himself if the film became a success with someone else in the lead. He also knew that producers Irwin Winkler's and Robert Chartoff's contract with the studio enabled them to "greenlight" a project if the budget was kept low enough. The producers also collateralized any possible losses with their big-budget entry, New York, New York (whose eventual losses were ironically covered by Rocky's success).
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 Chartoff and Winkler were enthusiastic about the script and the idea of Stallone playing the lead character, they were hesitant about having an unknown headline the film. The producers also had trouble casting other major characters in the story, with Adrian and Apollo Creed cast unusually late by production standards (both were ultimately cast on the same day). Real-life boxer Ken Norton was initially sought for the role of Apollo Creed, but he pulled out and the role was ultimately given to Carl Weathers. Norton had had three fights with Muhammad Ali, upon whom Creed was loosely based. According to The Rocky Scrapbook, Carrie Snodgress was originally chosen to play Adrian, but a money dispute forced the producers to look elsewhere. Susan Sarandon auditioned for the role but was deemed too pretty for the character. After Talia Shire's ensuing audition, Chartoff and Winkler, along with Avildsen, insisted that she play the part.
Inventor/operator Garrett Brown's new Steadicam was used to accomplish smooth photography while running alongside Rocky during the film's Philadelphia street jogging/training sequences and the run up the Art Museum's flight of stairs. It was also used for some of the shots in the fight scenes and can be openly seen at the ringside during some wide shots of the final fight. (Rocky is often erroneously cited as the first film to use the Steadicam, although it was actually the third, after Bound for Glory and Marathon Man.)
While filming Rocky, both Stallone and Weathers suffered injuries during the shooting of the final fight; Stallone suffered bruised ribs and Weathers suffered a damaged nose, the opposite injuries of what their characters had.
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?". According to director Avildsen's DVD commentary, this was an actual mistake made by the props department that they could not afford to rectify, so Stallone wrote the brief scene to ensure the audience didn't see it as a goof (Carl Weathers would, ironically, wear white-striped red shorts for the Creed-Balboa rematch in Rocky II). Avildsen said that the same situation arose with Rocky's robe. When it came back from the costume department, it was far too baggy for Stallone. And because the robe arrived on the day of filming the scene and there was no chance of replacing or altering it, instead of ignoring this and risk the audience laughing at it, Stallone wrote the dialogue where Rocky himself points out the robe is too big.
The first date between Rocky and Adrian, in which Rocky bribes a janitor to allow them to skate after closing hours in a deserted ice skating rink, was shot that way only because of budgetary pressures. This scene was originally scheduled to be shot in a skating rink during regular business hours. However, the producers ultimately decided that they couldn't afford to hire the hundreds of extras that would have been necessary for that scene.
The production budget for Rocky was $1,075,000, with a further $100,000 spent on producer's fees and $4.2 million of advertising costs. It eventually earned worldwide box-office receipts exceeding $225 million with $117 million coming from North America.
The film draws inspiration from the careers of at least three boxers.
The character's name and ethnicity harken to Rocky Marciano.
The main plot of the film may have been based on the match between Muhammad Ali and Chuck Wepner at Richfield Coliseum in Richfield, Ohio on March 24, 1975. Wepner was TKO'd in the 15th round by Ali, but nobody ever expected him to last as long as he did. Stallone watched the Wepner-Ali fight and shortly afterwards wrote the script for Rocky, but Stallone subsequently denied that Wepner provided any inspiration for the script. ) Other possible inspirations for the film may have included Rocky Graziano's autobiography Somebody Up There Likes Me, and the movie of the same name. Wepner filed a lawsuit which was eventually settled with Stallone for an undisclosed amount.
The Philadelphia setting and details of training (including using sides of beef) come from the life of Joe Frazier.
The famous scene of Rocky running up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art has become a cultural icon. In 1982, a statue of Rocky, commissioned by Stallone for Rocky III, was placed at the top of the Rocky Steps. City Commerce Director Dick Doran claimed that Stallone and Rocky had done more for the city's image than "anyone since Ben Franklin."
Differing opinions of the statue and its placement led to a relocation to the sidewalk outside the Spectrum Arena, although the statue was temporarily returned to the top of the steps in 1990 for Rocky V, and again in 2006 for the 30th anniversary of the original Rocky (although this time it was placed at the bottom of the steps). Later that year, it was permanently moved to a spot next to the steps.
The scene is frequently parodied in the media. In You Don't Mess with the Zohan, Zohan's nemesis, Phantom, goes through a parodied training sequence finishing with him running up a desert dune and raising his hands in victory. In the fourth season's finale of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, as the credits roll at the end of the episode, Will is seen running up the same steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art; however, as he celebrates after finishing his climb, he passes out in exhaustion, and while he lies unconscious on the ground, a pickpocket steals his wallet and his wool hat. Also in The Nutty Professor, there is a scene where Eddie Murphy is running up the stairs and throwing punches at the top.
In 2006, E! named the "Rocky Steps" scene #13 in its 101 Most Awesome Moments in Entertainment.
During the 1996 Summer Olympics torch relay, Philadelphia native Dawn Staley was chosen to run up the museum steps. In 2004, Presidential candidate John Kerry ended his pre-convention campaign at the foot of the steps before going to Boston to accept his party's nomination for President.
Rocky received mixed to positive reviews at the time of its release. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave it 4 out of 4 stars and said that Stallone reminded him of "the young Marlon Brando. " Box Office Magazine claimed that audiences would be "touting Sylvester 'Sly' Stallone as a new star". The film, however, did not escape criticism. Vincent Canby, of The New York Times, called it "pure '30s make believe" and dismissed both Stallone's acting and Avildsen's directing, calling the latter "none too decisive".Frank Rich liked the film, calling it "almost 100 per cent schmaltz," but favoring it over the cynicism that was prevalent in movies at that time, although he referred to the plot as "gimmicky" and the script "heavy-handed". He attributed all of the film's weaknesses to Avildsen, describing him as responsible for some of the "most tawdry movies of recent years", and who "has an instinct for making serious emotions look tawdry" and said of Rocky, "He'll go for a cheap touch whenever he can" and "tries to falsify material that was suspect from the beginning. ... Even by the standards of fairy tales, it strains logic." Rich also criticised the film's "stupid song with couplets like 'feeling strong now/won't be long now.'"
Several reviews, including Richard Eder's (as well as Canby's negative review), compared the work to that of Frank Capra. Andrew Sarris found the Capra comparisons disingenuous: "Capra's movies projected more despair deep down than a movie like Rocky could envisage, and most previous ring movies have been much more cynical about the fight scene," and, commenting on Rocky's work as a loan shark, says that the film "teeters on the edge of sentimentalizing gangsters." Sarris also found Meredith "oddly cast in the kind of part the late James Gleason used to pick his teeth." Sarris also took issue with Avildsen's direction, which he described as having been done with "an insidious smirk" with "condescension toward everything and everybody," specifically finding fault, for example, with Avildsen's multiple shots of a chintzy lamp in Rocky's apartment. Sarris also found Stallone's acting style "a bit mystifying" and his character "all rough" as opposed to "a diamond in the rough" like Terry Malloy.
More than 30 years later, the film enjoys a reputation as a classic and still receives positive reviews; Rocky holds a 92% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with the consensus stating: "This story of a down-on-his-luck boxer is thoroughly predictable, but Sylvester Stallone's script and stunning performance in the title role brush aside complaints." 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."
In 2006, Rocky was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
In June 2008, AFI revealed its "Ten top Ten" -- the best ten films in ten "classic" American film genres -- after polling over 1,500 people from the creative community. Rocky was acknowledged as the second-best film in the sports genre, after Raging Bull.
In 2008, Rocky was chosen by Empire magazine as one of The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time.
Academy Awards - 1976:
Rocky received ten Academy Awards nominations in nine categories, winning three:
Robert Chartoff and Irwin Winkler
John G. Avildsen
Best Original Screenplay
Best Supporting Actor
Best Supporting Actor
Best Film Editing
Richard Halsey and Scott Conrad
Best Music (Original Song) for "Gonna Fly Now"
Bill Conti, Carol Connors, Ayn Robbins
Best Sound Mixing
Harry Warren Tetrick (posthumous), William McCaughey, Lyle J. Burbridge, Bud Alper
Rocky has also appeared on several of the American Film Institute's 100 Years lists.
AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies (1998) - #78.,
AFI's 100 Years... 100 Thrills (2001) - #52,
AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions (2002) - Nominated,
AFI's 100 Years... 100 Heroes and Villains (2003)
Rocky Balboa - #7 Hero.,
AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs (2004)
"Gonna Fly Now" - #58,
AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movie Quotes (2005)
"Yo, Adrian!" - #80.,
AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores (2005) - Nominated,
AFI's 100 Years... 100 Cheers (2006) - #4.,
AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) (2007) - #57,
AFI's 10 Top 10 (2008) - #2 Sports Film,
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 for the Writers Guild of America Award as the 78th best screenplay of all time.
Home video release history:
1979 - First telecast on American Television (CBS-TV),
1982 - CED Videodisc and VHS; VHS release is rental only; 20th Century Fox Video release,
October 27, 1990 (VHS and laserdisc),
April 16, 1996 (VHS and laserdisc),
March 24, 1997 (DVD),
April 24, 2001 (DVD, also packed with the Five-Disc Boxed Set),
2001 (VHS, 25th anniversary edition),
December 14, 2004 (DVD, also packed with the Rocky Anthology box set),
February 8, 2005 (DVD, also packed with the Rocky Anthology box set),
December 5, 2006 (DVD and Blu-ray Disc - 2-Disc Collector's Edition, the DVD was the first version released by Fox and was also packed with the Rocky Anthology box set and the Blu-ray was the first version released by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment),
December 4, 2007 (DVD box set - Rocky The Complete Saga. This new set contains the new Rocky Balboa, but does not include the recent 2 disc Rocky. There are still no special features for Rocky II through Rocky V, although Rocky Balboa's DVD special features are all intact.),
November 3, 2009 (Blu-ray box set - Rocky The Undisputed Collection. This release included six films in a box set. Previously, only the first film and Rocky Balboa were available on the format. Those two discs are identical to their individual releases, and the set also contains a disc of bonus material, new and old alike.),
All music by Bill Conti.
"Gonna Fly Now (Theme from Rocky)" (vocals: DeEtta Little/Nelson Pigford) - 2:48,
"Philadelphia Morning" - 2:22,
"Going the Distance" - 2:39,
"Reflections" - 3:19,
"Marines' Hymn/Yankee Doodle" - 1:44,
"Take You Back (Street Corner Song from Rocky)" (vocals: Valentine) - 1:49,
"First Date" - 1:53,
"You Take My Heart Away" (vocals: DeEtta Little/Nelson Pigford) - 4:46,
"Fanfare for Rocky" - 2:35,
"Butkus" - 2:12,
"Alone in the Ring" - 1:10,
"The Final Bell" - 1:56,
"Rocky's Reward" - 2:02,
Rocky's soundtrack was composed by Bill Conti. The main theme song, "Gonna Fly Now", made it to number one on the Billboard magazine's Hot 100 list for one week (from July 2 to July 8, 1977) and the American Film Institute placed it 58th on its AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs. The complete soundtrack was re-released in 1988 by EMI on CD and cassette. Conti was also the composer for Rockys: II, III, V, and Rocky Balboa.
The version of "Gonna Fly Now" used in the film is different from the versions released on later CDs and records. The vocals and guitars are much more emphasized than the versions released. The "movie version" has yet to be released.
Although the 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.
US Billboard 200
US Top R&B Albums (Billboard)
A paperback novelization of the screenplay was written by Rosalyn Drexler and published by Ballantine Books in 1976.
Several video games have been made based on the film. The first Rocky video game was released by Coleco for ColecoVision in August 1983 titled Rocky Super Action Boxing; the principal designer was Coleco staffer B. Dennis Sustare. Another was released in 1987 for the Sega Master System. More recently, a Rocky video game was released in 2002 for the Nintendo GameCube, Game Boy Advance, PlayStation 2, and 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 1985, Dinamic Software released a boxing game for the Sinclair ZX Spectrum (also advertised for and/or published on the Sega Master System, Amstrad CPC and MSX) called Rocky. Due to copyright reasons it was quickly renamed "Rocco".
See also: Rocky the Musical
A musical has been written by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens (lyrics and music) with the book by Thomas Meehan based on the film. The musical premiered in Hamburg, Germany in October 2012 and began performances at the Winter Garden Theater on Broadway on February 11, 2014 and officially opened on March 13, 2014.
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