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 bout on short notice. Apollo decides to give the exhibition match 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 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 focuses mostly on the characters, their relationships and lives, and the sudden possibility to make a new and 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 Screenplay.
The film has spawned six sequels: Rocky II (1979), Rocky III (1982), Rocky IV (1985), Rocky V (1990), Rocky Balboa (2006), and Creed (2015), the latter a Spin-Off about Apollo Creed's son, which itself got a sequel, Creed II (2018). Stallone portrays Rocky in all seven sequels, wrote the first six, and directed all of them except Rocky V and the Creed films. See the Rocky 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 to good reviews and made its Broadway debut in 2014.
Rocky contains examples of:
- All There in the Script: In the original script, Gazzo has his bodyguard bet $3,000 on Rocky in the Apollo Creed fight.
- In the original script, 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.
- In the original script, 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's the closest thing Rocky has to a father figure, shows up at his apartment offering to become his manager, Rocky rejects him, saying that he needed Mick's help before and he didn't care, and going on a rant about what he's had to endure as an underdog with no future and no one to look out for him. Mickey sadly leaves, but Rocky changes his mind, accepting his offer and reconciling with him.
- The Cameo: Real life heavyweight champion Joe Frazier cameos as himself to promote the fight between Apollo and Rocky.
- Champions on the Inside: Rocky ultimately loses his fight to Apollo, but the point was that he took the champion to a place he's never been to; the full length of a match. In doing so, he accomplished his goal of proving his own self-worth and showing the world that he isn't just some bum.
- Can't Catch Up: Rocky realizes before the fight: He won't be able to beat Apollo. He just got taken from an obscure life in the streets a few weeks beforehand, and it's not for nothing that Apollo Creed is a heavyweight champion.
- 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.
- Dogged Nice Guy: Towards Adrian, Rocky is this to a T.
- 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 first is when Apollo chooses Rocky out of the list of prospective opponents, simply on account of Rocky's nickname, "The Italian Stallion". Apollo's trainer Duke, however, looks at Rocky's data more carefully, and immediately picks on the fact that Rocky's a southpaw, and tries to warn Apollo away from fighting him because of that ("I dont 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 details of the fight while Duke is watching a news broadcast showing Rocky in the meat locker, punching a slab of meat. Duke instantly sees that Rocky's punches are landing very hard and tries to call Apollo to come and see. Once again, Apollo all but ignores him.
- Buddy, Gazzos 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 dollars 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 ones 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 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.
- 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.