- Directed by John G. Avildsen
- November 21, 1976 (New York City) / December 3, 1976 (US)
A small-time boxer gets the chance to fight the heavyweight champion.
It’s no secret that the original Rocky is the ultimate underdog tale. Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) is a down on his luck average joe who gets a shot at glory and does his best and comes out a winner. Rocky is a winner not because he goes the distance but because he it gave his best shot. He stood tall and strong against impossible odds and fought on despite the deck clearly being stacked against him.
Rocky rises to the struggle and puts his best foot forward. He is not perfect. Quite possibly he is a failure in everything in life. He’s not that smart. He has no strong skill set. The only thing he has going for him are his fists and it appears he has been using them to just get by in life. He starts the film out as a debt collector for a loan shark (Joe Spinell) in the slums of Philadelphia! Definitely no saintly job.
Rocky doesn’t even really have the respect of too many people. He is an uneducated man. His loan shark boss respects his muscles but not his brain. He has been spending his life just getting by. At the beginning of the film he has clearly been fighting people that are beneath him in skill and ability but he doesn’t try that hard himself. That’s the reason Mickey (Burgess Meredith) takes him out of his locker. Based on his reaction having a locker at Mickey’s gym was a status symbol and losing it was a step down on the social hierarchy.
Like all of us Rocky is just looking for a little success in life and a little love. He’s persistent with Adrian (Talia Shire) but not creepy about it. He really likes her and won’t give up on her. But the simple man is perhaps a bit shy in his approach to her and rather tepid. Visit her at work and tell bad jokes? That is weak sauce.
Adrian lives with her alcoholic and abusive brother Paulie (Burt Young). Maybe not physically abusive but certainly emotionally abusive. Paulie blames Adrian for so much in his life when in the end he is the problem. This a story filled with imperfect people. They are the common individual. We know at least one or maybe two people like Rocky or Adrian or even Paulie.
The heroes of Rocky are the common person. They are the average joe. These are people you would find in most cities or at the mall or wherever. Stallone gave us real people. This is something dramas have a tough time doing even among the best of them.
Stallone wrote and acted in a fantastic film. This isn’t the type of 80s action movie he’s best known for but rather this is a character driven story. More importantly you believe Stallone is Rocky. I genuinely believe Stallone is a talented actor. There is no way he could’ve pulled this off as effective as it is if he wasn’t yet he has known for 80s adrenaline fueled action movies.
Our villain is legendary fight Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers). Creed is this polar opposite of Rocky. He is everything Rocky is not. He is cocky and boastful and successful and on top of the world. He hooks down on people and is a blatant self-promoter.
That is another reason this works. It is because the hero and the villain are diametrically opposed characters. Their philosophies and actions are the opposite of one another, yet you can still understand both. Apollo Creed is not boastful for the sake of being boastful. He has a long list of success behind him that backs that boastfulness up. But while Rocky treats everyone decently and gives them a fair shake, Creed sees people as there to serve him. And that’s his flaw.
The music and the performances and just about everything in this film is iconic. It set a template for the sports drama that has been imitated but never equaled since. There’s a reason this character has repeatedly come back in sequels. It is because we want to see more of this underdog. We feel his pain. We feel his highs and his lows. And because he’s good at heart and he rises the occasion we want him to always succeed.
Rocky is not a film I would normally gravitate towards. In fact I avoided the original along with all the sequels for a good chunk of my life. I’m not a sports guy and a film that uses sports was just not for me. But I have matured a little bit and I gave this a shot and it’s absolutely one of my favorite films. It’s uplifting and powerful and moving.
Rocky is a fantastic example of 70s cinema. It’s also one of the greatest sports films ever made. It is character driven and heartfelt and uplifting. If you haven’t seen this, you should right away. I cannot recommend this enough. This is a must see!
7 thoughts on “Rocky”
I’ve never bought any of the Rocky films but I think I’ll break that rule for the upcoming 4K UHD releases; certainly for the first one- as you say, its a genuinely good film in its own right. Like the Rambo films, the Rocky series rapidly degenerated into something approaching self-parody (maybe that was an ‘eighties thing re: sequels?).
I think the issue was a need to keep churning them out rather than churning them out with a good story. Content over quality which is still and probably always will be an issue.