The first film opens with Rocky "The Italian Stallion" Balboa as a Dumb Is Good hero in Philadelphia, trying to make a living by boxing in seedy clubs and collecting money for a Loan Shark (although he seems rather more gentle about it than most mob enforcers). He has nothing else on his mind other than trying to inspire some kids from the neighborhood to set themselves straight and being a Dogged Nice Guy suitor to a real-life Meganekko girl, Adrian.Everything changes, however, when reigning heavyweight champion Apollo Creed sees his next opponent back out of an upcoming match and has to pick a replacement on short notice. He ends up picking Rocky just because he liked his nickname "The Italian Stallion", giving Rocky a chance to make it to the big time for the first time in his life. No-one seems to treat him as a serious contender, but Rocky is determined not to let this opportunity go to waste, to show the world that he "ain't some bum from the neighbourhood".Viewers who have come to associate the Rocky films specifically with the action-packed fights might be surprised to learn upon viewing this film that it focuses mostly on the characters, their relationships and lives, and the sudden possibility to make a new and better life.It was later adapted as a musical which first premiered in Germany in 2012 to good reviews and will be making its Broadway debut in 2014.
This film has the examples of:
- American Dream: Apollo alludes to it during the preparation of his stunt bout in the first movie, reasoning that giving an opportunity to an Italian-American boxer is very fitting.
- Beautiful All Along: Played straight with Adrian in the first film.
- California Doubling:
- At least in the first movie, what's portrayed as The Spectrum is actually the Los Angeles Sports Arena.
- This trope is largely averted though. The vast majority of the first movie was filmed in Philadelphia and the city and movie are still synonomous with each other in many ways.
- Dogged Nice Guy: Towards Adrian, Rocky is this to a T.
- Fallen-on-Hard-Times Job: Rocky's collecting for a local loan shark.
- The Glasses Come Off: Adrian in the first film.
- Improvised Training: Tenderizing the beef.
- I Need a Freaking Drink: After Paulie teases Rocky about having sex with Adrian, Rocky responds by beating the crap out of a side of beef while Paulie looks on very nervously. When Rocky leaves, he pulls off his flask and has a drink. Stallone said it was the first time Paulie saw that his buddy wasn't just a sweet guy and could be a very dangerous person to anger.
- Nice Hat:
- Rocky's got one in the first movie.
- Adrian has a new hat which she wears to the fight, but it gets knocked off or something when she runs up to see him after it's over. His response upon seeing her is, "Where's your hat"?
- Oh, Crap:
- Apollo does a somewhat understated version of this towards the end of his fight with Rocky in the first film, when he gets up for the last time in the 14th round. Apollo's already celebrating, and Rocky drags himself to his feet and is all "Come on!" Apollo looks at Rocky like "You've got to be kidding me."
- Apollo gets this in the very first round, in which Rocky knocks him down. It's the first time anybody has done that to him. It's this moment that he realizes that Rocky is treating this exhibition match like a real fight.
- Raw Eggs Make You Stronger: The famous "egg drinking scene" is the Trope Maker.
- Real Life Writes the Plot: This even applies to the first film, as Stallone was an utter Determinator as a screenwriter, never giving up on trying to get one sold no matter how many were turned down, until he had over thirty failed scripts to his name by the time United Artists bought Rocky. This is mirrored in Rocky's own "going the distance" victory.
- Ripped from the Headlines:
- Real life: A journeyman boxer named Chuck Wepner (who has never made enough money from the game to train full time for a bout) gets picked for a fight against controversial, charismatic, and overconfident champion Muhammad Ali. Wepner shocks audiences when he scores a not quite legit knockdown against Ali, who proceeds to extract revenge by knocking Wepner out in the last round.
- Rocky I: Rocky Balboa, a journeyman boxer who has never made much money in the game (to the point where his main job is a mafia debt collector) gets picked to fight against controversial, charismatic, and overconfident champion Apollo Creed. Rocky immediately does better than expected, knocking Creed down in round 1, Creed almost knocks Rocky out in the next to last round, and wins a close decision victory.
- Second Place Is for Winners: In the first film, Rocky loses the match. His victory comes from lasting as long as he does against a seasoned champ, and moreso considering the previous record against Apollo was three rounds.
- Victory Pose: Rocky raises his arms at the end of the training montages and does a little boxing dance after climbing the Philadelphia Museum of Art stairs. He also does it at the end of a bout. His statue at Philadelphia recreates it and the saga ends with an uplifting montage of anonymous Philadelphians doing it during the credits.