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 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, who works at a local pet store.
However, everything changes for Rocky when reigning World Heavyweight Champion Apollo Creed 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 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.
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.
This film has the 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.
- Bilingual Bonus: "Stallone" is Italian for stallion, and Rocky's nickname is the Italian Stallion.
- 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.
- Dogged Nice Guy: Towards Adrian, Rocky is this to a T.
- Fallen-on-Hard-Times Job: Rocky's collecting for a local loan shark.
- 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 very hard and tries to call Apollo to come and see. Once again, Apollo all but ignores him.
- The Glasses Come Off: Adrian in the first film.
- I Don't Pay You to Think: There is an example of this 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?
- 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!:
Duke: He doesn't know it's a damn show! He thinks it's a damn fight!
- 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: 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.
- Reality Ensues: 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.
- 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 reshoots 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 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.
- Say My Name: "Yo, Adrian!"
- 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.