The rags-to-riches story of a nobody trying to make the best of his one shot began in the mind of an unknown actor named Sylvester Stallone. Stallone witnessed a boxing match between the legendary Muhammed Ali and virtual unknown Chuck Wepner and the spark was born. After mulling it over in his mind for about a month, Stallone sat down and punched out a first draft in only three days. Little did he know just how far that script would take him in his career, as Rocky and its multiple sequels would enthrall movie audiences for years to come.

After pitching his script to Irwin Winkler and Robert Chertoff at a casting call, Stallone-the-writer was on his way. But Stallone-the-actor’s bid to play the title character came only after the price tag for Hollywood heavyweights such as Burt Reynolds, Robert Redford, James Caan, and Ryan O’Neal turned out to be a bit too high. The role of Adrian was offered to big name actresses Susan Sarandon and Bette Midler but eventually went to Talia Shire on the strength of her audition.

Shot in twenty-eight days for the basement price of $1.1 million, the film was so strapped for time and money that Stallone had to get drunk in order to do one scene (where he confesses his doubts and fears to Adrian before the fight) so as to overcome his nervosa of only having one take to get it right. The film also marks the first ever use of the Garrett Brown Steadicam (now the industry standard) for the scene where Rocky runs up the stairs to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

A dead-end enforcer named Rocky Balboa works for a local loan shark and spends his night boxing and hoping for a chance to change his fortunes. When circumstances conspire to eliminate his potential bouts, the current heavyweight boxing champion, Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), decides to give one of Philadelphia’s underdogs a chance at the title. Despite the fierceness of his bantamweight trainer Mickey Goldmill (Burgess Meredith), Rocky struggles to overcome his self doubt as the fight approaches. But when he falls in love with his best friend’s sister Adrian, a new focus awakens in him and he dedicates himself to making the most of his one shot.

Leading up to the title match, Creed blows off the fight as a spectacle rather than a challenge, even showing up in a George Washington costume. The smirk is wiped off his face in the first round, however, as Rocky becomes the first man ever to knock Creed to the canvas with a left hook. The fight goes the full fifteen rounds until Creed finally wins by decision. The two fighters embrace in mutual respect and the film ends with the memorable image of Rocky and Adrian calling out for each other through the throng.

Although often mimicked and parodied to death, Rocky won the 1976 Academy Award for Best Picture and earned Stallone, Shire, Meredith, and Young all nods for their performances (Stallone was also nominated for Best Original Screenplay). John G. Alvidsen took home the hardware for his directing. Besides the fact that the film became the sleeper hit of the year, grossing over $111 million domestically, it has earned a place in the Hollywood pantheon as one of the greatest films of all time. The character of Rocky Balboa is considered by many lists and standards to be one of the top ten all-time movie heroes, a fact a that is substantiated by five sequels, including 2006’s Rocky Balboa. The Rocky soundtrack is also considered to be one of the best ever, with Bill Conti’s “Gonna Fly Now” going all the way to number one on the pop charts.

And almost 40 years since its original release, Rocky remains a contender for one of most beloved sports films of all time, a feelgood film that reminds us that, even under seemingly insurmountable odds, one can dig deep, work hard, and emerge a champion.

Did you cheer as Rocky Balboa battled it out with Apollo Creed on the big screen back in 1976? We’d love to hear all of your Rocky memories in our comments section below, as we tip our hat to this iconic film.

One Response to “Rocky”

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  1. One of my fondest memories from the Rocky movie revolves around the third or fourth time I saw it. I suddenly realized that while everyone who had heard of the phenomenon ASSUMED Rocky was victorious in the big fight against Creed, they were all wrong. Rocky overcomes HIMSELF in this film, not Creed. Creed wins the boxing match but Rocky is the one we remember as the champion. Why? Because he bested his own self doubt. I always felt the sequels took a bit away from that initial film in that Rocky is almost always victorious in the final, big fight. But I do have a special place in my heart for Rocky IV because the fight against Drago is so over the top, LOL!

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