Sunday, December 06, 2015


The story behind Sylvester Stallone’s star-making sleeper hit is well known. Struggling actor writes a kitchen sink drama about a third-rate Philadelphia boxer, refuses to sell it to a studio unless he can play the leading role, film gets made by producers Robert Chartoff and Irwin Winkler for United Artists, becomes the most popular release of 1976 and nominated for ten Academy Awards. ROCKY won three Oscars: Best Film Editing, Best Director (John G. Avildsen), and Best Picture in one of the strongest categories of all time. If you wanted to argue ROCKY isn’t as good as ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN, BOUND FOR GLORY, NETWORK, or TAXI DRIVER, you’d obviously have some strong points in your favor. But ROCKY is a great film.

Two of those Academy Award nominations went to Stallone for his screenplay and his performance as Rocky Balboa, a good man who believes hard work, determination, and a will to succeed are all you need to capture your dreams. And he’s right. First seen punching it up in smoke-filled rooms for forty bucks a fight away from his day job as a thumb-breaker for loan shark Gazzo (Joe Spinell), Rocky begins a tentative romance with shy pet-store clerk Adrian (Talia Shire) on the way to his big break. Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), the world’s heavyweight champion, agrees to give the unknown Balboa a shot at the title, so Rocky hires crusty Mickey (Burgess Meredith), who always believed Rocky had wasted his potential, to get him in shape.

ROCKY spawned six sequels, including 2015’s CREED, which featured Stallone in a supporting role as Rocky training Apollo’s illegitimate son (Michael B. Jordan) for the title. That audiences loved Sly and this character so much is no mystery. Americans love underdogs, sure, but Stallone’s heart and soul went into this picture. No matter how cartoonish or excessive the sequels got (Rocky buys a damn robot butler in ROCKY IV), Rocky’s underlying decency was always there. In addition to Stallone, Shire and Meredith also receiving Oscar nods for their acting, as did Burt Young, in the running for worst ever Oscar-nominated actor, for his mumbling and fumbling as Paulie, Rocky’s friend and Adrian’s brother. Somehow, the Academy overlooked Bill Conti’s iconic score, but not his theme song, “Gonna Fly Now.” Virtually the entire cast returned for ROCKY II with Stallone also directing in addition to writing and starring.

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