, "The Italian Stallion" Rocky Balboa.
, then a down-on-his-luck-actor, went to see a Muhammad Ali bout against Chuck Wepner. Wepner was a tough fighter with a lot of heart but little skill and a bad record, and he was most famous for frequently bleeding profusely during his bouts. The bout was intended to be a breather — an exhibition for Ali after his
over George Foreman less than six months earlier — but to the astonishment of all, Wepner managed to knock Ali down in the ninth round (video replays showed it was actually more of a trip; Wepner happened to be standing on Ali's foot when the blow landed, which caused Ali to lose his balance when he tried to move).
Although an incensed Ali made Wepner pay dearly for that — and eventually knocked Wepner down and out for the only time in his career — the roar of the crowd as an
knocked down the greatest athlete in his sport inspired Stallone, who went home and spent the next few days writing furiously nearly around the clock. The end result?
was born. (Though that's slightly mythologized too. When Stallone was asked how he managed to write the screenplay in three days, he replied "I didn't write the screenplay in three days, I wrote
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
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. The film was a box-office smash and an underdog movie that ended up winning Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Film Editing in 1976. 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.
Notably, Rocky loses
the climactic boxing match; it goes to the scorecards, with Creed having the better judges' scores. But he proves his determination by remaining on his feet all the way through the final round.
After the success of the first film, sequels naturally began to come along. In Rocky II
, Apollo Creed isn't happy about leaving the ring with a guy like Rocky going toe-to-toe with him, and he demands a rematch to prove his superiority. Rocky declines, however, as he already felt he accomplished what he set out to do with the first fight. Much of the film deals with both the benefits and drawbacks to the fight — Rocky is unable to manage his newfound fame and loses most of the money he earned from opportunities afterwards, and Apollo's career is in turmoil from backlash against his win against the underdog. Ultimately, both men need the fight for personal and practical reasons, and they eventually schedule a rematch. Another subplot shows Rocky marrying Adrian and the troubled birth of their son. This film also contains the famous scene in which Rocky, repeating his iconic run up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, is followed by a growing crowd of fans and onlookers (a scene that in real life took 800 extras). Unlike the first film, Rocky defeats Apollo this time, either a Crowning Moment of Awesome
or a Lost Aesop
depending on who you talk to.
At this point, the series had become less about the characters and more of a showcase of an interesting or unique opponent for Rocky to fight. Five years after the fight at the end of the previous film, Rocky has become the heavyweight champion and a major celebrity. Another young up-and-comer, Clubber Lang
(played by the inimitable Mr T
) wants a shot at him, though, and the film contrasts Rocky's newfound cockiness with Clubber's intensity (a reversal of Rocky and Apollo's roles in the first film). Rocky loses his fight against the better-trained Lang just as his beloved mentor, Mickey, passes away
— which leads to Apollo Creed offering to become Rocky's trainer. Apollo initially makes the offer just to get back at Lang, but over the course of their training, he and Rocky bond and become close friends. Rocky wins against Clubber in a rematch, and the film ends with a final match between Apollo and Rocky, though now only as a friendly spar. This film also spawned the legendary song "Eye of the Tiger"
, performed by Survivor.
Rocky is pitted against Russian super-athlete Ivan Drago in a heavily Cold War
themed film, which mostly revolves around the two fights with Drago. In the first, the once-again retired Rocky coaches Apollo for an exhibition match with Drago that leads to Drago killing Apollo in the ring
. In the second, Rocky uses good ol' fashioned patriotism to beat down the cold-hearted Russian as an act of revenge
. While the film is not as well regarded critically (or by the fanbase) as the previous three, it is the highest grossing film in the series, and numerous fans and critics consider this film's Training Montage
to be the best directed one of the series. It also spawned a pair of Crowning Music of Awesome
songs — namely "Burning Heart", performed by Survivor, and "War", performed by Vince Dicola — though neither of them quite
managed to surpass "Eye Of The Tiger" in the public consciousness
. James Rolfe
said it best when he said "real men like Rocky IV!"
In the final numbered film in the series, which picks up directly from the previous film, Rocky is forced to retire when he learns he has brain damage from the fight with Drago; additionally, the manager put in charge of his fortune lost most of the fortune Rocky had accumulated over the years, thus leading to him retiring to his old working-class neighborhood (again) and his wife returning to her job at the pet store (again; notice a pattern?
). Working at Mickey's old gym (which Rocky now owns thanks to his son technically assuming ownership as Mickey wishes), Rocky tries to train a young up and comer named Tommy Gunn, which ruins his relationship with his own son Robert. Tommy quickly turns to The Dark Side, however, when he becomes frustrated at being seen only as Rocky's student and not as a fighter in his own right; Gunn falls in with a Don King ersatz who takes over his management, giving him the title bouts and money he's been craving. The film leads into Rocky having a street fight with Tommy, which Rocky wins despite his age and lack of practice.
The film, expected to be the centerpiece of the holiday season of 1990, was knocked out early by sleeper hit Home Alone
and was the worst reviewed (and worst performing) film of the series. The franchise appeared to have effectively ended on a low note, and stayed that way for sixteen years (even Sylvester Stallone disowned this film and does not consider this film to actually exist
Finally, in a largely successful attempt to salvage the original story and resolve any hanging threads (and because Stallone likes revisiting his old movie franchises), the sixth and final film — Rocky Balboa
— was released, thirty years after the first. Despite the cynics joking about "Rocky Five... Thousand
", the film was more of a return to the original film's focus on an engaging character story — and it ended up being a surprise hit.
Despite losing Adrian to cancer some years prior
and having a strained relationship (at best) with his son, Rocky has something of a good life — he has become a living landmark in Philadelphia, running his own restaurant
and telling boxing stories to his customers. Over in the boxing world, current reigning heavyweight champion Mason
is disliked by pundits and fans alike for his easy fights finished in the first round
. When a realistic computer simulation pits Dixon against an in-his-prime Balboa — with Dixon losing
— publicists see a goldmine of an opportunity in an exhibition match between Rocky and Dixon to improve their client's image. Rocky is unsure of accepting the challenge because of his age and his relationship with his son, but he eventually accepts out of a desire to have one last great fight and rid himself of all of his inner demons. The film was intended to be the true ending to the franchise, serving as a coda to the series — it even ended with a tribute to the longtime fans of the series by showing them running up the famous steps themselves. Rocky Balboa
found critical and commercial success, and between it and Rambo
, the film briefly revitalized Stallone's lagging career.
There were also a handful of video games that were made based on the series. The most notable, and faithful is
for the Playstation Portable.
. It will be focusing on Apollo Creed's son, Adonis Creed, who was born into wealth and decided to become a fighter, with Sylvester Stallone reprising his role as Rocky, who is to be his trainer. Ryan Coogler will write and direct the film, and his
will play Creed. The film is set to premiere most likely in 2016, matching with the 40th anniversary of the debut film.