Rocky – A Powerful Story of Hard Work, Motivation, and Success
Last Updated: June 23, 2022
Rocky is undoubtedly one of the most popular sports movies of all time and a film that propelled Sylvester Stallone’s career into superstardom.
The movie quickly gained a cult following among both sports fans and film enthusiasts and launched a franchise that is still well-known to this day.
It’s certainly a fun movie to discuss and review. Whether or not you’re a sports fan, boxing fan, or just follow pop culture, it’s impossible not to have heard about this movie at some point in your life.
Even if you’ve never watched the movie, you’re probably familiar with its iconic soundtrack or have seen a scene or two from it.
So, what makes Rocky so special? Read our review and find out the story of the most famous fictitious boxer in cinema history.
How It Started – Creating the Character
In 1975, Sylvester Stallone was an unknown actor auditioning for small roles and working odd jobs just to make a living while chasing his dream.
He was living in his car and even sold his dog because he couldn’t afford to feed him. While he was also an aspiring scriptwriter, Stallone simply couldn’t catch a break.
One night, Stallone saw a boxing match between Muhammad Ali and a journeyman boxer who was a huge underdog in the fight.
Despite this, the under-favored opponent managed to put up a good fight and lasted the entire 15 rounds before losing to a technical knockout.
The legend says that Stallone, inspired by the underdog fighter’s heart and determination to stay in the fight, created the character of Rocky the same night.
He typed out the entire script in just three days in a huge wave of inspiration.
Stallone quickly received an offer from a studio to sell the script. However, the studio wanted a big-name actor for the lead role, which was a problem for Stallone. Eventually, the studio agreed for Stallone to play the main role.
However, he had the tough task of bringing his vision to the big screen, as the studio gave him a budget of only $1 million.
This was a measly amount even nearly fifty years ago, making this movie more of a budget project than a blockbuster sports drama.
The movie begins in late 1975. The beginning scenes center around the current champion Apollo Creed hyping up his next big fight in Philadelphia.
Right from the onset, we can see that Apollo is flashy, confident, and quick-witted. It’s not difficult to guess which real-life boxing legend Stallone based Apollo Creed’s character on.
However, while popular and highly acclaimed, Apollo loses his next opponent and has trouble finding anyone to box him.
Along with his team, they come up with the idea to give one anonymous boxer the opportunity to make a name for himself and box the champ.
From Apollo’s perspective, it’s nothing more than a publicity stunt to increase his status among boxing fans further.
After assessing local boxers, Apollo and his team settle on Rocky, picking him over all other fighters for one unusual reason. They liked Rocky’s nickname, “The Italian Stallion,” thinking that it has a nice ring to it.
At this point, we are introduced to Rocky Balboa, who is struggling in his life, living in a bad part of Philadelphia in an apartment that’s falling apart.
Rocky is working as an enforcer for a local loan shark and is a fairly unsuccessful boxer with mixed results.
Rocky is presented as a boxer of limited talent. Someone who never was and never will be anything more than a semi-successful amateur fighter.
He doesn’t have much going for him in his life, apart from his new relationship with Adrian, a shy local shopkeeper.
We see Rocky as a good-natured man who is unfortunately forced to do bad things to survive. From the start, we see his character develop into a real, believable person.
Rocky is upbeat, cocky, and confident but also has anger issues and doubts himself. He is a child at heart but is frustrated that he will never make anything of himself.
As Rocky is approached to fight Apollo Creed, he turns down the offer at first, justifying it by thinking that he wouldn’t have any chance in the ring anyway. However, he accepts after some persuasion.
Initially, Rocky starts training alone. Soon after, a trainer in his boxing gym called Mickey approaches him with an offer to train him. Rocky accepts, despite the turbulent past they share.
As he continues to train, Rocky finally feels like he has a purpose in life. He still thinks that he doesn’t have any chance.
But, he is motivated to give his all and prove that he’s a good fighter and that he deserves the chance many never get during their lifetime.
As the big fight between Apollo and Rocky finally comes, the two boxers approach it very differently.
At the start of the fight, Apollo dances around the ring, approaching the fight more like a sparring session than a title bout.
However, as Rocky throws a wild punch that knocks him down, Apollo realizes that his opponent can present a real danger.
In the following rounds, Apollo starts dealing heavy damage to Rocky, who seems like he just won’t quit.
Although badly bruised, Rocky manages to throw a few big body punches and hurt Apollo, breaking his ribs with a powerful body blow.
When Apollo’s combination of heavy punches floors a badly hurt Rocky, it all seems to be over. Adrian watches in despair, and Rocky’s trainer Mickey begs him to stay down and avoid getting hurt even more.
Apollo starts celebrating as the music gets more emotional, only for us to see Rocky get up once again, proving that he will never give up.
The following few minutes make for flawless cinema, packed with emotion, heart, and inspiration.
No matter how badly he’s hurt, Rocky will fight to the last breath and give Apollo everything he’s got.
As they approach the end of the final round, both seem to be barely standing, and the fight goes to the judges’ cards.
The judges announce Apollo as the winner, but Rocky doesn’t mind this outcome. He already proved that he could go toe to toe with the champ and last the entire fight.
Building up to this pivotal moment, the pacing is outstanding, perhaps some of the best we’ve seen in any sports drama.
Rocky, Adrian, and Mickey are all given enough screen time to weave complex relationships that makes you feel for the characters.
The Side Characters That Make the Story Feel Real
As we’ve previously mentioned, the pacing and character development is a big reason why Rocky hits so close to home and still remains one of the most endearing sports dramas, even nearly fifty years after the movie’s initial release.
From Stallone to the last major supporting character in the movie, everyone carries their role perfectly, proving how some actors seem destined for certain roles during their lifetime.
And, while we’ve already dissected Rocky’s persona and image, the side characters are so impeccably written that they also deserve a lot of attention.
Carl Weathers plays Rocky’s opponent, the champion Apollo Creed. While we’re rooting for Rocky to win against him, Apollo isn’t presented as a villain.
He is simply his adversary and the ultimate obstacle in his path.
In fact, as the movie unfolds, we learn that Rocky and Apollo are two completely contrasting personalities.
While Rocky is humble and monotone when expressing himself, Apollo is well-spoken and charismatic, a true showman.
These contrasting styles are perfectly presented in the ring as well. Apollo is a technical fighter who aims for precision and maintains a light, flowing style.
In contrast, Rocky’s style is crude, perfectly summarized in the iconic line: “It ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.”
Lastly, the two have very different approaches. Rocky is hungry and will give all of himself to win the fight. Apollo is complacent, overconfident, and expects to beat Rocky as easily as he did most of his previous opponents.
Rocky’s love interest, Adrian, is played by Talia Shire. She is quiet and shy for most of the movie but finally stands up to her brother Paulie later in the movie, in a tearful confrontation in front of Rocky.
Burt Young plays Paulie Pennino, Adrian’s abusive and controlling brother. He’s presented as the reason why Adrian is so timid and sheepish.
Young perfectly walks the line between portraying a man who seems equally a friend and enemy to Rocky. He’s dark and troubled and is portrayed significantly differently than in the next Rocky movies.
Burgess Meredith was already a renowned actor before portraying Mickey Goldmill, but his performance in this movie cemented him as a legend.
He was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor, alongside his co-star Burt Young.
Mickey is a professional boxing trainer and former boxer. Initially, Mickey doesn’t treat Rocky with respect. He demeans him and doesn’t want him around.
However, we later learn that he wanted Rocky to fulfill his potential and was disappointed in the past that Rocky never accomplished nearly as much as he could.
The movie’s soundtrack is so iconic that it deserves a special mention. It perfectly fits the movie and has become one of the most recognizable movie songs of all time.
From the inspirational Gonna Fly Now, which is to this day a commonly used workout song, to the slower, more emotional tracks. Every piece perfectly fits the scene and immerses you in the movie.
Summing It Up
Rocky taps into a universal need and feeling all of us can relate to. Everyone wants to succeed. Moreover, everyone wants to experience at least the opportunity to make it big.
This is why Rocky manages to outlast time and will likely do so for many decades in the future.
Most people never catch a big break in life, and Rocky taps into this longing. Moreover, it doesn’t emphasize the “winning” part of the opportunity.
Instead, it accentuates that giving your all and refusing to give up are often more important than just winning or losing.