***** Out of 5
Tagline- His Whole Life Was a Million to One Shot
Release Date- December 3rd, 1976
Running Time- 119-Minutes
Screenplay- Sylvester Stallone
Director- John G. Avildsen
Starring- Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers and Burgess Meredith as Mickey
Released in 1976 Rocky took the world by storm and I don’t think anyone involved could have ever imagined this film would not only become a huge hit, but become so powerful it became a highly successful franchise. Rocky was produced on about a million dollar budget, but some listings have it under that and would make over 100-million and received several Oscar nominations including winning best director and best picture. Rocky to me is the greatest underdog story ever made and while others followed its format no film has ever come close to matching its heart and power. Rocky truly is a great film and as much as I enjoy the sequels I think people forget sometimes how brilliant of a film this was. At the time Rocky was released Stallone had been in the film industry for a few years without much success and this film is what got Stallone’s career going. However even after this, success would still be a bit elusive as his only real big hits after this were Rocky II and Rocky III. The 3rd Rocky was released in 1982 the same year as First Blood, which was Stallone’s biggest hit that wasn’t a Rocky film and after that his career really took off, but again it all started with Rocky, which was a truly amazing film.
Rocky Balboa (Stallone) is a broke club fighter living in Philly and gets the opportunity of a lifetime to fight Apollo Creed (Weathers) the heavyweight champion of the world. Nobody expects Rocky to win or even compete and Rocky himself doesn’t expect to win he just wants to go the distance.
The screenplay by Stallone is truly wonderful and all aspiring writers should follow its structure. The film is well plotted, often funny, dramatic and very powerful and emotional and with Rocky, Stallone created one of the most lovable characters in film. All the characters are terrific and deeply developed and the characters are also quite interesting in particular Paulie (Young). Paulie is a jerk simple as that though starting in part 3 he became a lovable Archie Bunker type character. Paulie is angry and bitter about how his life turned out and had to take care of his sister Adrian (Shire). I think the more of a jerk he is in a way is his way of showing he cares, but he just can’t express himself. With Paulie, Stallone wrote such a complex character and Burt Young played it brilliantly.
Director John G. Avildsen crafts a gritty and often powerful film. Avildsen would take home the Oscar for best director and he was very deserving. Honestly I’d say Martin Scorsese was the best director for his work on Taxi Driver, but he wasn’t nominated. But that’s not to take anything away from Avildsen who again was deserving. Rocky is well paced and its a very inspiring film and while I would give most of the credit to Stallone’s screenplay and score by Bill Conti, Avildsen’s contributions shouldn’t be under estimated.
Speaking of the score, Bill Conti in my opinion delivers one of if not the greatest score for any film. Conti’s music is so powerful and adds such a layer of depth to an already powerful film.
When people say Stallone is a poor actor I just have to laugh. While sure there are films where his acting wasn’t exactly great though I never really had an issue, but as Rocky Stallone was brilliant. Sly was nominated for the Oscar for best actor, but lost out to Robert De Niro for Taxi Driver and its hard to argue against that since De Niro’s performance is among the greatest of all time, but Sly was every bit as good. The entire cast were excellent and every single one of them brought something to the film and helped elevate it.
Some people were upset at the end that Rocky doesn’t win, but the ending was perfect. Rocky gave Apollo everything he had and lost a split decision and proved to everyone and more importantly himself he wasn’t a bum and could compete with anyone. The ending was brilliant and perhaps the more satisfying ending would be Rocky winning, but he did win by going the distance. As the decision is being announced its in the background as Rocky is calling for Adrian since winning the fight wasn’t the point.
Overall Rocky is truly an American movie classic. It’s such a deep and powerful film and no matter how many times I see it I can’t help but get choked up during certain scenes.
Tony Burton who played Tony, Apollo’s trainer was actually a real boxer winning 4 fights and losing 3 in the light heavy weight division and besides appearing in all 6 Rocky films he also appeared in the John Carpenter cult classic Assault on Precinct 13, which like Rocky was also released in 1976. Joe Spinell best known to horror fans for his role in the 1980 cult classic Maniac appears Tony Gazzo and would return for Rocky II. Spinell was once very close with Stallone and was the godfather to his son Sage Stallone. Also Lloyd Kaufman who runs Troma films also has a very bit part as a drunk Rocky carries into the bar and Kaufman also served as pre-production manager and lastly the boxing choreography was done by Stallone and he would also resume that role in Rocky II & III.