Rocky is a 1976 American sports drama film directed by John G. Avildsen and both written by and starring Sylvester Stallone. It tells the rags to riches American Dream story of Rocky Balboa, an uneducated but kind-hearted working class Italian-American boxer working as a debt collector for a loan shark in the slums of Philadelphia. Rocky starts out as a small-time club fighter, and later gets a shot at the world heavyweight championship. The film also stars 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 on a budget of just over $1 million and shot in 28 days, was a sleeper hit; it earned $225 million in global box office receipts, becoming the highest grossing film of 1976, and went on to win three Oscars, including Best Picture. The film received many positive reviews and turned Stallone into a major star. In 2006, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". Rocky is considered to be one of the greatest sports films ever made and was ranked as the second-best in the genre, after Raging Bull, by the American Film Institute in 2008.
The film has spawned six sequels: Rocky II (1979), Rocky III (1982), Rocky IV (1985), Rocky V (1990), Rocky Balboa (2006), and Creed (2015). Stallone portrays Rocky in all six sequels, wrote the first six, and directed four (Avildsen returned to direct Rocky V and Ryan Coogler directed Creed).
Set in modern day 1970s, Rocky Balboa is a hard-living, but failing prize fighter from an Italian neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Between fights, he works as an enforcer for loan shark Anthony Gazzo, and is regarded by many of his neighbors as a bum. The World Heavyweight Champion, Apollo Creed, announces plans to hold a match in Philadelphia during the upcoming United States Bicentennial. However, he is informed five weeks from the fight date, that his scheduled opponent, Mac Lee Green, is unable to compete due to an injured hand. With all other potential replacements booked up or otherwise unavailable, Creed decides to spice things up and give a local contender a chance to face him. He finds Balboa in the paper. He wants to fight Rocky because his name "The Italian Stallion" and his fighting style, being Southpaw, can be promoted.
Rocky meets with promoter Miles Jergens and agrees to the match. After several weeks of training using whatever he can find, including meat carcasses as punching bags, Rocky accepts an offer of assistance from former boxer Mickey "Mighty Mick" Goldmill, a respected trainer who always criticized Rocky for wasting his potential.
At the same time, Rocky begins a relationship with Adrian, a clerk at the local pet store. He gradually gains the shy Adrian's trust, culminating in a kiss. Her alcoholic brother Paulie becomes jealous of Rocky's success, but Rocky calms him by agreeing to advertise his meatpacking business at the fight. The night before the match, Rocky becomes depressed after touring the arena. He confesses to Adrian that he does not expect to win, but is content to go the distance against Creed and prove himself to everyone.
On New Year's Day, the climactic boxing match begins, with Creed making a dramatic entrance dressed as George Washington and then Uncle Sam. Taking advantage of his overconfidence, Rocky knocks him down in the first round—the first time that Creed has ever been knocked down. Humiliated, Creed takes Rocky more seriously for the rest of the fight, though his ego never fully fades. The fight goes on for the full 15 rounds, with both fighters sustaining many injuries; Rocky suffers his first broken nose and debilitating trauma around the eye, and Creed sustains brutal blows to his ribs with substantial internal bleeding. As the match progresses, Creed's superior skill is countered by Rocky's apparently unlimited ability to absorb punches, and his dogged refusal to be knocked out. As the final round bell sounds, with both fighters locked in each other's arms, they promise to each other that there will be no rematch.
After the fight, multiple layers of drama are played out: the sportscasters and the audience go wild, Jergens announces over the loudspeaker that the match was "the greatest exhibition of guts and stamina in the history of the ring", and Rocky calls out repeatedly for Adrian, who runs down and comes into the ring as Paulie distracts arena security. As Jergens declares Creed the winner by virtue of a split decision (8:7, 7:8, 9:6), Adrian and Rocky embrace and profess their love to each other.
Directed by John G. Avildsen
Written by Sylvester Stallone
Sylvester Stallone as Robert "Rocky" Balboa, "The Italian Stallion"
Talia Shire as Adrianna "Adrian" Pennino, Rocky's love interest
Burt Young as Paulie Pennino, Rocky's friend, and Adrian's brother
Carl Weathers as Apollo Creed: Rocky's opponent and the heavyweight champion
Burgess Meredith as Mickey Goldmill, Rocky's manager and trainer
Thayer David as Miles Jergens, the fight promoter
Joe Spinell as Tony Gazzo, Loan shark and Rocky's employer
Tony Burton as Tony "Duke" Evers, Apollo Creed's manager, trainer, and friend
Pedro Lovell as Spider Rico, A Puerto Rican boxer
Music by Bill Conti
Cinematography James Crabe
Edited by Richard Halsey Scott Conrad
Production companies Chartoff-Winkler Productions
Distributed by United Artists
Release dates November 21, 1976 (New York City premiere)
December 3, 1976 (United States)
Running time 119 minutes
Country United States
Budget $1.1 million
Box office $225 million
Rocky grossed $5 million during its opening weekend and eventually reached $117 million at the North American box office. Adjusted for inflation, the film has earned nearly $460 million in North America at 2015 prices. Overseas Rocky fared just as well, grossing $107 million for a worldwide box office accumulation of $225 million. With its production budget of $1 million, Rocky is notable for its worldwide percentage return of over 11,000 percent. It was the highest-grossing film of 1976 in the United States.
Rocky received mixed to positive reviews at the time of its release. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave it 4 out of 4 stars and said that Stallone reminded him of "the young Marlon Brando." Box Office Magazine claimed that audiences would be "touting Sylvester 'Sly' Stallone as a new star". The film, however, did not escape criticism. Vincent Canby, of The New York Times, called it "pure '30s make believe" and dismissed both Stallone's acting and Avildsen's directing, calling the latter "none too decisive". Frank Rich liked the film, calling it "almost 100 per cent schmaltz," but favoring it over the cynicism that was prevalent in movies at that time, although he referred to the plot as "gimmicky" and the script "heavy-handed". He attributed all of the film's weaknesses to Avildsen, describing him as responsible for some of the "most tawdry movies of recent years", and who "has an instinct for making serious emotions look tawdry" and said of Rocky, "He'll go for a cheap touch whenever he can" and "tries to falsify material that was suspect from the beginning. ... Even by the standards of fairy tales, it strains logic." Rich also criticised the film's "stupid song with couplets like 'feeling strong now/won't be long now.'"
Several reviews, including Richard Eder's (as well as Canby's negative review), compared the work to that of Frank Capra. Andrew Sarris found the Capra comparisons disingenuous: "Capra's movies projected more despair deep down than a movie like Rocky could envisage, and most previous ring movies have been much more cynical about the fight scene," and, commenting on Rocky's work as a loan shark, says that the film "teeters on the edge of sentimentalizing gangsters." Sarris also found Meredith "oddly cast in the kind of part the late James Gleason used to pick his teeth." Sarris also took issue with Avildsen's direction, which he described as having been done with "an insidious smirk" with "condescension toward everything and everybody," specifically finding fault, for example, with Avildsen's multiple shots of a chintzy lamp in Rocky's apartment. Sarris also found Stallone's acting style "a bit mystifying" and his character "all rough" as opposed to "a diamond in the rough" like Terry Malloy.
Four decades later, the film enjoys a reputation as a classic and still receives universal praise; Rocky holds a 93% "Certified Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 54 reviews, with an average rating of 8.4/10. The site's consensus states: "This story of a down-on-his-luck boxer is thoroughly predictable, but Sylvester Stallone's script and stunning performance in the title role brush aside complaints." One of the positive online reviews 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 2006, Rocky was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
Rocky received ten Oscar nominations in nine categories at the 49th Academy Awards, winning three: