See biography by R. Sullivan (2002).
Rocky is a 1976 film written by and starring Sylvester Stallone and directed by John G. Avildsen. It tells the rags-to-riches American Dream story of Rocky Balboa, an uneducated but good-hearted debt collector for a loan shark in Philadelphia. Balboa is also a club fighter who gets a shot at the world heavyweight championship when the scheduled contender breaks his hand. Also starring in Rocky are Talia Shire as Adrian, Burt Young as Adrian's brother Paulie, Burgess Meredith as Rocky's trainer Mickey Goldmill, and Carl Weathers as the champion, Apollo Creed.
The film, made for only US$1.1 million, and shot relatively fast in 28 days, was a sleeper hit; it made over US$117.2 million, and won three Oscars, including Best Picture. The film was reviewed very well and launched Stallone's career into the stratosphere. It spawned five sequels: Rocky II, III, IV, V, and Rocky Balboa.
Certain elements of the story were altered during filming. The original script had a darker tone: Mickey was portrayed as racist and the script ended with Rocky throwing the fight after realizing he did not want to be part of the professional boxing world after all.
Although Winkler and Chartoff were enthusiastic about the script, they were at first somewhat hesitant to allow Stallone to play the main character. The producers also had trouble casting other major characters in the story, with Adrian and Apollo Creed cast unusually late by production standards (both were ultimately cast on the same day). Real-life boxer Ken Norton was initially sought for the role of Apollo Creed, but he pulled out and the role was ultimately given to Carl Weathers. Interestingly, Norton had had three fights with Muhammad Ali, upon whom Creed was loosely based. According to The Rocky Scrapbook, Carrie Snodgress was originally chosen to play Adrian, but a money dispute forced the producers to look elsewhere. Susan Sarandon auditioned for the role but was deemed too pretty for the character. After Talia Shire's ensuing audition, Chartoff and Winkler, along with Avildsen, insisted that she play the part.
Garrett Brown's Steadicam was used to accomplish a smooth shot running alongside Rocky during his training run up the flight of stairs. It was also used for some of the shots in the fight scenes and can be openly seen at the ringside during some wide shots of the final fight. (Rocky is often erroneously cited as the first film to use the Steadicam, although the distinction actually goes to Bound for Glory as the first production to use it. Marathon Man also has a claim, as it premiered prior to either film.)
While filming Rocky, both Sylvester Stallone and Carl Weathers suffered injuries during the shooting of the final fight; Stallone suffered bruised ribs and Weathers suffered a damaged nose.
The poster seen above the ring before Rocky fights Apollo Creed shows Rocky wearing red shorts with a white stripe when he actually wears white shorts with a red stripe. When Rocky points this out he is told that "it doesn't really matter does it?". This was an actual mistake made by the props department that they could not afford to rectify, so Stallone wrote the brief scene to ensure the audience didn't see it as a goof. The same situation arose with Rocky's robe. When it came back from the costume department, it was far too baggy for Stallone, so rather than ignore this and risk the audience laughing at it, Stallone wrote the dialogue where Rocky himself points out the robe is too big.
To prepare for the fight, Rocky trains with 1920s-era ex-bantamweight fighter Mickey Goldmill, while Rocky's best friend, Paulie, a meat-packing plant worker, lets him practice his punches on the carcasses hanging in the freezers. During training, Rocky dates Paulie's quiet sister, Adrian. The night before the fight, Rocky confides in Adrian that he does not expect to beat Creed, and that all he wants is to go the distance with Creed, meaning that lasting 15 rounds (the typical scheduled length of championship fights at the time) against him would mean he "... wasn't just another bum from the neighborhood."
Creed does not initially take the fight seriously, but Rocky unexpectedly knocks him down in the first round and the match turns intense. The fight indeed lasts 15 rounds with each fighter suffering many injuries. After the fight, Rocky calls out for Adrian, who runs down to the ring. As Creed is announced the winner by split decision, Adrian and Rocky embrace while they profess their love to one another, not caring about the results of the fight.
Due to the film's low budget, members of Stallone's family played minor roles. His father rings the bell to signal the start and end of a round, his brother Frank plays a street corner singer, and his first wife, Sasha, was the set photographer. Other cameos include Los Angeles television sportscaster Stu Nahan playing himself, alongside radio and TV broadcaster Bill Baldwin and Lloyd Kaufman, founder of the longest-running independent film company Troma, appearing as a drunk. Longtime Detroit Channel 7 Action News anchor Diana Lewis has a small scene as a TV news reporter. Tony Burton appeared as Apollo Creed's trainer, Tony "Duke" Evers, a role he would reprise in the entire Rocky series, though he is not given an official name until Rocky II. Brad Leahy played a hot dog vendor.
More than 30 years later, the film enjoys a reputation as a classic and still receives positive reviews; Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a 93% fresh rating. Another positive online review came from the BBC Films website, with both reviewer Almar Haflidason and BBC online users giving it 5/5 stars. In Steven J. Schneider's 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, Schneider says the film is "often overlooked as schmaltz.
In June 2008, AFI revealed its "Ten top Ten"— the best ten films in ten "classic" American film genres— after polling over 1,500 people from the creative community. Rocky was acknowledged as the second-best film in the sports genre.
Rocky has also appeared on several of the American Film Institute's 100 Years lists.
The Directors Guild of America awarded Rocky its annual award for best film of the year in 1976, and in 2006, Sylvester Stallone's original screenplay for Rocky was selected for the Writers Guild of America Award as the 78th best screenplay of all time.
The version of "Gonna Fly Now" used in the film is different from the versions released on later CDs and records. The vocals and guitars are much more emphasized than the versions released. The "movie version" has yet to be released.
Although the Bill Conti version of "Gonna Fly Now" is the most recognizable arrangement, a cover of the song performed by legendary trumpeter Maynard Ferguson on his Conquistador album prior to the release of the motion picture soundtrack actually outsold the soundtrack itself.
The original Rocky was the most profitable entry of the series, with a budget of US$1.2 million.
The famous scene of Rocky running up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art has become a cultural icon. In 1982 a statue of Rocky, commissioned by Stallone for Rocky III, was placed at the top of the Rocky Steps. City Commerce Director Dick Doran claimed that Stallone and Rocky had done more for the city's image than "anyone since Ben Franklin."
Differing opinions of the statue and its placement led to a relocation to the sidewalk outside the Philadelphia Spectrum Arena, although the statue was temporarily returned to the top of the steps in 1990 for Rocky V, and again in 2006 for the 30th anniversary of the original Rocky movie (although this time it was placed at the bottom of the steps). Later that year, it was permanently moved to a spot next to the steps.
The scene is frequently parodied in the media. In the Simpsons episode "I'm Spelling as Fast as I Can", Lisa Simpson runs up a flight of stairs wearing a tracksuit similar to the one worn by Rocky. In the movie You Don't Mess with the Zohan, Zohan's nemesis, Phantom, goes through a parodied training sequence finishing with him running up a desert dune and raising his hands in victory.
In 2006 E! Entertainment Television named the "Rocky Steps" scene number 13 in its 101 Most Awesome Moments in Entertainment.
During the 1996 Summer Olympics torch relay, Philadelphia native Dawn Staley was chosen to run up the museum steps. In 2004, Presidential candidate John Kerry ended his pre-convention campaign at the foot of the steps before going to Boston to accept his party's nomination for President.