Rocky Balboa (2006) is the sixth installment in the Rocky franchise that began with the Academy Award-winning Rocky thirty years earlier in 1976, written, directed by, and starring Sylvester Stallone who reprises his role as the title character.
The film catches up with Rocky Balboa two decades after the events of Rocky V. Having become something of a living landmark in Philadelphia, Rocky runs a small but successful Italian restaurant where he tells old boxing stories to his customers. However, in his private life, Rocky still grieves over the death of his wife Adrian from cancer several years prior, and has an estranged relationship with his son Robert (Milo Ventimiglia), who has an unhappy life as a mid-level corporate employee.
Meanwhile in the boxing world, the reigning World Heavyweight Champion, Mason "The Line" Dixon, celebrates an incredible professional career but is frustrated with his public image. A long record of fast and decisive victories has left fans, pundits, and even his closest managers believing that his opponents were weak, feeding into a derogatory perception that Mason is a mediocre champion who could not handle a truly powerful adversary. This tension comes to a boiling point when a television show uses a computer simulation to pit a virtual Mason against an in-his-prime Rocky Balboa, leading to Mason's defeat via knockout.
Rocky is inspired by the computer simulation to re-apply for his boxing license so he can tie up the last few loose ends in his life. Although Rocky had only intended to fight in small local events for fun and charity, he is quickly approached by Mason's managers who want to stage a real version of the computer simulation as a high-profile charity exhibition match. The film follows both Rocky and Mason as they prepare for the bout: Rocky using it to fulfil his dream of one last great match, and help restore his relationship with Robert; and Mason fighting to earn the respect he is owed from the world through a trial-by-fire from one of boxing's most respected champions.
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. Eventually a sequel/Spin-Off film called Creed, with Stallone reprising the Rocky character and focusing on the son of Apollo Creed (named Adonis), was released in November 2015.
This film has the examples of:
- The Ace: Dixon is the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world, meaning that he either defeated all the world champions before him and unified the belts or defeated the guy who did it. He's so good that nobody takes him seriously because he doesn't appear to have faced any real challenges.
- Ascended Extra: Lil' Marie (the one who told Rocky "Screw you, creepo!") in the original Rocky makes a return in this film and receives a much bigger part.
- Ascended Fanboy: One of the fight commentators, Max Kellerman of First Take fame, mentioned with some glee that he grew up watching Rocky and never expected to be at one of his matches.
- Back for the Finale: Paulie, Duke, Robert (Rocky Jr.), and even lil' Marie and Spider Rico all reunite with Rocky. If it weren't for certain complications, Clubber Lang and Ivan Drago would have reappeared as well. Carl Weathers wanted to appear as Creed himself, but for obvious reasons, Stallone denied that.
- Call-Back: When Rocky meets Little Marie for the first time since the first Rocky movie, a younger woman shows up trying to get Rocky to buy a round of beer for her friends. When Rocky tries to tell said woman that one of her "friends," a rude man a few years shy of being as old as Rocky; is taking advantage of her, she reacts with the same attitude Marie herself used to react. However when the fight between Rocky and Mason is being broadcasted in the bar they hang out in, the woman takes Rocky's warning to heart and tells off the man.
- Canon Discontinuity: All previous movies of the franchise are referenced except for Rocky V. This would have been different in the film's original longer cut, which contained a scene where Rocky's brain damage, as diagnosed in Rocky V, would have been disproven in another medical check up.
- Dude, Where's My Respect?: Despite being the current Heavyweight champion and undefeated, Dixon doesn't get any respect from the crowd. He does get it after his fight with Balboa. There's a bit of Truth in Television here. There have been many fighters who didn't get the respect they deserve because the guys around are nowhere near their level. Therefore, it creates the illusion that a dominant champion is fighting nothing but bums. In contrast, Muhammad Ali received platitudes not just because of his tremendous skills, but because of the high level of the other heavyweights around, nearly all of whom Ali fought and beat.
- Earn Your Happy Ending:
- Mason spends much of the movie bitter about being disrespected by the general public due to constantly never having gone up against someone who could go the distance with him. After achieving exactly that against Rocky the crowd finally gives him the respect he deserves.
- Rocky does this before the events of the movie, as it gently retcons some of the harsher elements of Rocky V. Rocky may not be a millionaire anymore but he's comfortably well off and has the respect of fans again.
- Fake Shemp: All of Rocky's flashback footage to his fights against Creed used a stand-in for Carl Weathers; while Mr. T & Dolph Lundgren gave their permission for Stallone to use archive footage of them from their movies, Weathers apparently wanted to be in the movie (despite his character dying in Rocky IV). Stallone refused, so Weathers wouldn't allow his likeness to be used, forcing them to use a lookalike.
- HeelFace Revolving Door: In rewrites to the script, it's fairly clear that the writers didn't know what direction to take Mason Dixon's character. Throughout the movie, he pinballs back and forth between an egotistical athlete looking out for his legacy, to an honest boxer fed up with the chicanery and politics in the boxing promotion world, to a primadonna with no respect whatsoever for Rocky and his accomplishments. Surprisingly, it accidentally develops a very three dimensional character.
- Invincible Hero: Mason Dixon. The exhibition fight against Rocky goes down largely because Dixon's winning streak against perceived weak opposition has boxing fans bored.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Mason Dixon shows this, particularly towards the end. He's a jerk who only fights weaklings (admittedly not by choice, he doesn't think there's anyone out there who can match him) and has a large ego, but during (and especially after) the fight, he shows the utmost respect for Rocky.
- Lonely at the Top: Mason Dixon is without a doubt the most talented boxer in his generation, but gets no respect from his fans, the media, or even his publicists and managers. He has no real friends or peers other than his entourage and his former manager, whom he was pushed to leave behind as he moved forward.
- The Lost Lenore: Adrian. Even years after her death, Rocky is shown to still be taking the loss very hard. Stallone explains in the behind-the-scenes featurette that Adrian is killed off prior to the movie, because he believed that if Rocky were too content, then there would be little motivation for him to get back in the ring. Adrians death provides sufficient grief and rage to motivate his Hero's Journey.
- Newscaster Cameo: The Dixon vs. Balboa computer simulation is aired on ESPN. Although the boxing show ("Then Vs. Now") is fictional, the ESPN graphics are authentic, and the studio panelists (sportswriters Chuck Johnson, Bernard Fernandez, and Bert Sugar; ESPN host Brian Kenny) are playing themselves.
- Oh, Crap!: After Rocky takes a particularly hard fall, he rises with the support of everyone who's backed him (including the memories of both Adrian and Mickey) when he gets up bearing a picture perfect "I'm not done yet" face, Dixon backs up a step with an equally perfect "how the hell did you get up" look.
- Opposing Sports Team: Dixon is an example of playing with this trope. In-universe, he is seen as such, as his extreme talent has made him an unsympathetic wrecking ball whose fights are never even close - yet put up against Rocky, with a broken hand and completely out of shape, he proves as much a Determinator as the titular underdog and wins the respect of the crowd in doing so.
- Present Absence: Adrian's death is ultimately what drives Rocky's desire to get back into the ring.
- Punny Name: For those who don't get the joke, the Mason-Dixon line was the result of a compromise in 19th century American Politics on where slavery would be legal. South of the line it was legal, north of the line it was not.
- Reality Ensues: Rocky is a former fighter who keeps himself in quite good shape for a man his age, and he goes through a formidable Training Montage to get ready to face Dixon... and Dixon beats the crap out of him and makes Rocky look like someone who's stepping into a boxing ring for the first time because Dixon is just so much faster and so much younger, while age and injuries have slowed Rocky and taken away the things that made him a great fighter. Only after Dixon injures himself by badly breaking his hand does the fight actually become a real contest.
- Real Life Writes the Plot:
- The simulated match between Rocky and Dixon was based on the "Super Fight" between Rocky Marciano and Muhammad Ali. Rocky ends up owning a restaurant, like former heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey did.
- The film centers around a retired Rocky who still wants to fight but is simply laughed at by most people due to his age and is called "overrated" by an analyst. He has to fight to get his license, and when he actually gets in his last fight and starts to kick a little ass, his son says "Everyone thought this was a joke, including me. Now nobody's laughing." This could be seen to mirror Sylvester Stallone's own troubles in his character, as he's grown old and become something of a joke for his cheesy movies to many people, who may have forgotten that he once made a great movie. Rocky's struggle to get his license mirrors Stallone's struggles to get the movie made, and his attempt at making another Rocky movie was seen as a joke by most people until they saw the movie and (mostly) realized it was a good movie.
- Stallone's son not playing Robert Jr. as he had in Rocky V was done to avert this trope. Robert Jr. makes a big deal about how he's only ever had a career because he's Rocky's son, and nobody looks at him as anything else. Stallone did not want audiences to think this of his son, and refused to let him reprise the role. Sage himself said he wouldn't have anything to do with it. "No more Rocky for me" is an exact quote when he spoke of turning the role down.
- Revised Ending: The film was shot with four endings so as not to spoil the end to the watching crowd. They are:
- Rocky loses the fight by decision
- Rocky loses the fight by K.O.
- Rocky wins the fight by decision
- Rocky wins the fight by K.O.
- Second Place Is for Winners: Rocky loses in a split decision to Mason Dixon, but even Dixon seems to acknowledge that Rocky was the real winner of that match.
- Shout-Out: On the DVD commentary, Stallone says he based the idea of Rocky owning a restaurant and spending his time telling old fight stories on former world heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey.
- Simple, yet Awesome: Duke's gameplan for Rocky's training. Since Rocky can no longer match an opponent's speed, and his body's no longer fit for his previous hard-running cardio, then the focus of training and beating Mason is simple: pure, raw power.Duke: Let's start building some hurtin' bombs!
- Soundtrack Dissonance: Rocky entering the ring with Dixon to the jingle of "High Hopes."Paulie: I like Sinatra.
- Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Both Rocky and Paulie feel this way about Adrian. A deleted scene even has Paulie breaking down and saying it should have been him who died.Paulie: [sobbing] Why didn't I die instead of my sister? I miss my sister, Rocky, I miss her! She never hurt nobody, Rocky!
Rocky: I know.
- "World of Cardboard" Speech: Two, one given by Rocky to the athletic board after they refuse his boxing license despite passing all the medical tests they put him through. The second was given to his son when Rocky Jr. calls him out for supposedly seeking the spotlight, where Rocky explains that we can't and shouldn't blame others for our problems.
- Worthy Opponent: Mason Dixon, the current champ, is suffering from this; he's so talented at boxing that he made rising to the championship look easy, and his popularity is suffering because the public won't believe he's not being handfed easy fights when he steamrolls everybody dumb enough to climb into a ring with him. Rocky is a true challenge for him, which he relishes.