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Film / Rocky

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"Rocky, it's the chance of a lifetime. You can't pass it by. What do you say?"
"Nobody's ever gone the distance with Creed, and if I can go that distance, you see, and that bell rings and I'm still standin', I'm gonna know for the first time in my life, see, that I weren't just another bum from the neighborhood."
Rocky Balboa

The one that started it all.

Rocky is a 1976 American sports drama film directed by John G. Avildsen and both written by and starring Sylvester Stallone.

Rocky Balboa (Stallone) is a Dumb Is Good everyman scraping out a living on the streets of Philadelphia, making money as a collector for a Loan Shark and by boxing in seedy clubs as "The Italian Stallion". 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 the Shrinking Violet Adrian (Talia Shire), who works at a local pet store.

However, everything changes for Rocky when reigning World Heavyweight Champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) suddenly has to find a replacement opponent for his next exhibition match on short notice. Apollo decides to give the bout to a local underdog as a publicity stunt, and picks Rocky just because he likes the sound of his nickname. No one seems to treat Rocky as a serious contender, but Rocky is determined not to let the opportunity go to waste, and steps up to show the world and himself that he "ain't some bum from the neighborhood".

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's largely a quiet and focused character drama which spends most of its runtime on the cast's lives and relationships, their regrets and hopes, and the sudden possibility to make a better life.

Rocky was the highest-grossing film of 1976. The film was nominated for ten Oscars and won three: Best Picture, Director and Editing. Stallone was nominated for both Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay.

The film spawned a franchise which includes five sequels centered around Rocky — Rocky II (1979), Rocky III (1982), Rocky IV (1985), Rocky V (1990), and Rocky Balboa (2006). Creed, a Spin-Off about Apollo Creed's son, was released in 2015 and has itself received two sequels, Creed II (2018) and Creed III (2023). Stallone portrays Rocky in all sequels and the first two spin-offs, wrote all the main series films and co-wrote the second spin-off, and directed all of them except Rocky V and the Creed films. See the franchise page for tropes that stretch across the series or multiple films.

It was later adapted as a musical which first premiered in Germany in 2012 and then made its Broadway debut in 2014.

Rocky contains examples of:

  • All There in the Script: The original script contains a few details that weren't directly spelled out in the film:
    • Gazzo has his bodyguard bet $3,000 on Rocky in the Apollo Creed fight.
    • Paulie stated the reason he wanted Rocky to put in a good word for him with Tony Gazzo was because working in the cold, rough climate of the meat plant inflamed and swelled his joints constantly.
    • The conversation between Rocky and Gazzo, when Gazzo gives Rocky the money for training expenses, was extended. Gazzo asks Rocky if he has plans for the money he'll be getting from the Creed fight, and he suggests Rocky consider putting it into the stock market.
  • Beautiful All Along: Played straight with Adrian in the first film. She is dressed in as unflattering a manner as possible, with a bad hairdo and ugly glasses... but The Glasses Gotta Go, and she gets a better haircut, and she becomes Talia Shire.
  • Benevolent Boss: Say what you will about Gazzo but he is never anything but kind to Rocky.
  • Big Game: A fight for the heavyweight championship! Apollo Creed picks Rocky for his opponent as a marketing gimmick.
  • Bilingual Bonus: "Stallone" is Italian for stallion, and Rocky's nickname is the Italian Stallion.
  • Bland-Name Product: A magazine called "TEMPO" — that is, TIME Magazine — with Rocky's picture on the cover is hanging on the wall of his apartment.
  • Call-Back: The iconic scene where Rocky runs up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art is a call back to an earlier moment, at the start of Rocky's training. In that earlier scene he's gasping and clutching his side as he staggers up the steps, while the second time around he runs up in triumph.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: When Mickey - who is the closest thing Rocky has to a father figure - shows up at his apartment offering to become his manager for the big fight, Rocky initially rejects him: pointing out that for seven years Mickey had looked down his nose at Rocky and his lifestyle (living in poverty and working as a mob enforcer to make ends meet), and never once offered to help him make a better life by training his boxing skills until the publicity of the exhibition match came along.
  • Calm Before the Storm: The night before the match with Apollo Creed, Rocky goes to the ring, looking around the empty seats and the giant posters of himself (though his shorts are the wrong color) and Apollo. Then he goes home and admits to Adrian that he doesn't think he can win, but if he can just go the distance, all 15 rounds, he can be satisfied.
  • The Cameo: Real life heavyweight champion Joe Frazier cameos as himself to promote the fight between Apollo and Rocky.
  • Can't Catch Up: Rocky realises the night before the fight that he has no chance of defeating Apollo Creed, having only trained seriously for five weeks compared to Apollo's dominant career as World Heavyweight Champion. He instead changes his objective to "going the distance" (lasting until the end of a fifteen-round match without being knocked out), which no fighter has ever managed against Apollo.
  • Champions on the Inside: Rocky ultimately loses his fight to Apollo, but the point was that he achieved his personal goal of winning the respect of his loved ones and the wider boxing world by showing he was more than a faceless bum for Apollo to defeat.
  • Creator Cameo: Director John Avildsen and cinematographer James Crabe are the cameraman and lighting man for Rocky's TV interview in the meatpacking plant, respectively.
  • Defeating the Undefeatable: One of the most famous subversions in film: Rocky, while training hard and seriously, realizes there's no way he can beat the more experienced, skilled, and refined Apollo Creed. Instead, he changes his objective to "going the distance" (lasting to the end of a fifteen-round match without being knocked out), which no fighter has ever been able to do against Apollo.
  • The Determinator: Forms the core of Rocky's character and one of the main themes of the Rocky series. Rocky must continually meet and overcome the challenges before him with every ounce of courage and persistence in him, and the Rocky series practically created the Training Montage in film.
  • Dogged Nice Guy: Towards Adrian, Rocky is this to a T.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: This film is a carefully paced character drama with boxing as a backdrop, to the point where it could barely be called a "sports film". The later Rocky movies refined and accentuated the sporting elements to become the modern "underdog sports film" formula.
    • Apollo Creed shows up about a half hour in to establish the turn of events that leads him to give Rocky a shot. Apollo and Rocky don't actually interact until the climactic match (aside from Rocky watching Apollo on a news broadcast and the two doing a brief publicity spot on TV). Rocky treats Apollo with nothing but respect the whole time, and Apollo is positioned as a powerful opponent rather than an enemy or antagonist. Later films would become heavily defined by the particular rival Rocky is given, and spend time establishing a hostile - or at least personally antagonistic - relationship between them.
    • Rocky and Apollo are both in good physical shape but they have more realistic physiques suited for career athletes rather than the ultra-shredded action hero bodies.
    • The movie is largely filmed on location with numerous scenes showing the natural urban environments of Philadelphia. A couple of scenes are basically a Walk and Talk going through the neighborhood while Rocky has a long monologue. Later films lean more into the upgraded lifestyle Rocky acquires and the spectacle of the boxing matches.
  • Easily Forgiven: Paulie goes into a drunken rant over Rocky ignoring his requests to make some money off his name and feigned outrage over dating his sister, even grabbing a bat and smashing items around the house. While this results in Adrian moving in with Rocky it's barely acknowledged afterwards and Rocky agrees to help Paulie with some sponsorships.
  • Establishing Character Moment: When Rocky comes home to his apartment after winning $65 in a fight, and feeds his pet fish and turtle while chatting with them, he is established as a gentle soul despite working in a brutal sport.
  • Fallen-on-Hard-Times Job: Rocky's collecting for a local loan shark, after his boxing career has gone so badly that Mickey has tossed him out of the gym. He's bad at that too, because he's a nice guy unwilling to hurt people.
  • Foreshadowing: A couple of instances in the film foreshadow the difficulty that Apollo will have with Rocky during the fight.
    • The film repeatedly seeds the fact that Rocky is a southpaw (left-handed), and that right-handed boxers are generally reluctant to fight southpaws because the left-handedness throws off their rhythm and muscle memory. When Apollo chooses Rocky purely on the strength of Rocky's nickname, Apollo's trainer Duke looks at Rocky's data more carefully, immediately notices that he's a southpaw, and tries to warn Apollo away from fighting him ("I don’t want you messing around with southpaws, they do everything backwards!").
    • The second instance also features Duke: this time as Apollo and the rest of his crew are planning the publicity around the fight. Duke is watching a news broadcast showing Rocky in a meat locker training by using a slab of meat as a punching bag. He sees that Rocky's punches are landing very hard and tries to call Apollo over, but Apollo is too distracted to acknowledge him, demonstrating how much he is underestimating Rocky.
    • Buddy, Gazzo’s driver, rudely suggests he take Adrian out to the zoo for their date. Rocky gets angry. Guess where Rocky ends up proposing in the sequel?
  • The Glasses Come Off: Adrian in the first film, when Rocky gently coaxes her into taking off her unflattering glasses. Sure enough, she's beautiful underneath.
  • High-Class Call Girl: Paulie brags about paying a woman $250 to go to the fight with him.
  • Hypocritical Humor: At one point, a drunken Paulie violently derides his sister Adrian for no longer being a virgin, letting a man (Rocky) "take down her pants." Later, at the title fight, Paulie proudly unveils the hooker he paid to escort him to the event.
  • I Coulda Been a Contender!: Mickey was a great fighter in his prime, but he never made it big because he didn't have a manager. He tries to help Rocky avoid this.
  • I Don't Pay You to Think: When Rocky only collects $130 from someone who owed his boss $200:
    Rocky: I figured... look, I figured if I break the guy's thumb, he gets laid off, right? Then he can't make...
    Gazzo: Yeah, well don't figure! Let me do the figurin', okay, Rock? From here on in, just let me do the figuring, you know? These guys think we're running some kind of charity or something. That they can get off light. From here on in, do what I tell you to do, because it's bad for my reputation! You understand?
  • Ignored Expert: Apollo's trainer Duke objects to choosing Rocky as his opponent because he is a southpaw and they notoriously throw trained boxers off their rhythm, but is overruled. He later catches a news broadcast of Rocky training at the meat plant and tries to warn Apollo again that Rocky is taking this bout seriously. Apollo's entire entry into the arena and commentators indicate that he is simply not taking the fight seriously and assumes it's a wash that will be over after three rounds. Two rounds in Duke reiterates that Rocky is in to win and Apollo can't brush it off anymore.
  • 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.
  • Implied Death Threat: Somewhat downplayed, but after he insults Adrian, Rocky tells Buddy, Gazzo’s Jerkass driver, he should count his blessings as he’s “still healthy.” Rocky was letting him know he could easily clobber him into the ground if he wanted.
  • Improvised Training: Tenderizing the beef. Rocky can't rent out a gym and pay sparring partners like Apollo can, so he goes to a slaughterhouse and punches the sides of beef hanging on hooks.
  • Large Ham: Apollo comes rolling in for the big fight in a recreation of the painting of Washington crossing the Delaware. It underlines how Apollo isn't taking the fight seriously.
    Announcer: I've never seen a fighter that concerned about his hair.
  • Limited Lyrics Song: "Gonna Fly Now", the film's beloved, Oscar-nominated theme song, is only thirty words long, with only half of them unique and the rest repetitions.
  • Lonely Piano Piece: Before "Gonna Fly Now" plays with 30 minutes left, almost the only music in the film is a quiet Lonely Piano Piece that underscores a few emotional moments, like Rocky's humiliations as a loan shark enforcer or the moment where he finally reconciles with Mickey.
  • Meaningful Background Event: An audio version. One has to listen closely at the end to hear the emcee announcing "...still heavyweight champion of the world, Apollo Creed!"
  • Mook: Rocky Balboa himself, earning money as muscle for a loan shark.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: The movie was Based on a True Story but altered just enough to not be the exact event, that of Chuck Wepner vs Muhammad Ali and the idea of a relative nobody (Wepner was mildly successful but far from a name like Ali) getting a chance to go against the world champion. Rocky's surprise knock-down on Apollo in the first round reflects Wepner doing the same to Ali in the ninth, and while Rocky went the distance against Apollo, Ali was able to knock out Wepner a few seconds before the last round ended. Rocky himself took his name from real life boxing heavyweight champ Rocky Marciano. At the Oscars, Muhammed Ali himself jokingly claimed they stole his story, and he said he wished he had thought of the "Master of Disaster" moniker Apollo used.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Duke, Apollo's trainer, gets a very subtle moment of this as he's watching the local TV interview of Rocky in the meat locker. At first, he's just watching because it's kind of a wonky spectacle. But as Rocky goes to town on the sides of beef, Duke visibly squirms in his seat, as he realizes that this bum his fighter has plucked off the street hits hard.
    • Apollo does a somewhat understated version of this towards the end of his fight with Rocky in the first film, when Rocky 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 springs an uppercut out of nowhere and 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.
      Duke: He doesn't know it's a damn show! He thinks it's a damn fight!
  • Rage Against the Mentor: This happens twice:
    • The first time, Rocky gets fed up with Mickey's insults and demands to know why Mick has been sticking it to him for so long. Although Mickey gets the last word, calling Rocky out for wasting his talent as a fighter and working for a loanshark.
    • The second time happens when Mickey comes to Rocky's apartment, offering to be his manager. This time, Rocky calls Mickey out for not offering his help "about ten years ago," and lashing out at Mickey while he leaves, ashamed of himself. However, Rocky quickly makes up his mind after getting all his feelings out, and he and Mickey reconcile and decide to work together.
  • Raw Eggs Make You Stronger: The famous "egg drinking scene" is the Trope Maker.
  • Reality Has No Soundtrack: For the first 3/4 or so of a two-hour movie, there is almost no soundtrack; most of the soundtrack is a quiet Lonely Piano Piece and all the score probably doesn't add up to two minutes. The lack of soundtrack reinforces the mood of gritty realism in the film, so when "Gonna Fly Now" does finally play with a half-hour left, it has quite an impact.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: 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.
  • Revised Ending: The original ending would have had Rocky and Apollo's fans carrying them out of the ring on their shoulders after Apollo's narrow victory. Rocky then goes backstage looking for Adrian. He finds her behind the curtain at the back of the arena, and the two walk off hand in hand towards the dressing room. Ultimately, Sylvester Stallone found this scene unsatisfying, and so re-shoots were done a week or so later with the now memorable ending. Despite this, the portrait of Rocky and Adrian walking off together was the widely used poster shot.
  • 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 stopping Wepner 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.
  • Say My Name: "Yo, Adrian!"
  • Second Place Is for Winners: Rocky loses the match. His victory comes from lasting as long as he does against a seasoned champ, and more so considering the previous record against Apollo was three rounds.
    Rocky: All I wanna do is go the distance. Nobody's ever gone the distance with Creed, and if I can go that distance, you see, and that bell rings and I'm still standin', I'm gonna know for the first time in my life, see, that I wasn't just another bum from the neighborhood.
  • Sequel Hook: Even though this movie kicked off a long running series, the very end of the film averts this trope:
    Apollo: Ain't gonna be no rematch.
    Rocky: Don't want one.
  • Southpaw Advantage: Creed's trainer is worried about Rocky the "southpaw." The trainer is worried that Rocky's southpaw stance, the opposite of what Apollo usually sees, will cause Apollo problems. He's right. Rocky himself blames his southpaw status for his failed boxing career, claiming other fighters are reluctant to fight him.
  • Training Montage: One of the more famous in movie history, a montage set to "Gonna Fly Now" in which Rocky runs through the streets and punches the heavy bag and does one-handed push-ups in the gym, culminating with the run up the museum steps.
  • Trashcan Bonfire
    • A fire in a trash can with a small crowd of people around it appears during a nighttime scene (with Rocky walking by it) in the opening credits of the movie.
    • A trashcan bonfire can be seen near the start of the famous Training Montage, as Rocky runs through a dilapidated neighborhood, reinforcing the look of 1970s urban decay.
  • Unskilled, but Strong: Rocky can take a punch and certainly dish it out but he is a sloppy fighter who has no strategy other than taking a few punches before going on an Unstoppable Rage. Mickey helps him to refine his style a little bit but simply doesn't have the time for proper full-time training before his match with Apollo. Apollo doesn't take him seriously, though, and leaves himself open to a brutal uppercut from Rocky near the end of the first round. Despite winning the match via split decision Apollo got a few broken ribs in the process.
  • Victorious Loser: Rocky loses to Creed, but he and his friends congratulate himself anyway just for going the distance against a boxing champion.
  • 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.


Video Example(s):



The Ur-Example; Rocky Balboa trains for his once-in-a-lifetime bout with Apollo Creed

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Main / TrainingMontage

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