Top 100 Movie Review: No. 040 – Rocky (1976)

Ranked 040 on the IMDb Top 100 Movie List (as at May 2017). Watched movie during May 2020.

Cast: Sylvester Stallone (Rocky), Talia Shire (Adrian), Burt Young (Paulie), Carl Weathers (Apollo), Burgess Meredith (Mickey)
Director:  John G. Avildsen
My rating: 8.5 / 10

In 1975, the heavyweight boxing world champion, Apollo Creed, announces plans to hold a title bout in Philadelphia during the upcoming United States Bicentennial. However, he is informed five weeks from the fight date that his scheduled opponent 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 by giving a local contender a chance to challenge him.

Creed selects Rocky Balboa the ‘Italian Stallon’, a journeyman southpaw boxer who fights primarily in small gyms and works as a collector for a loan shark. Rocky meets with promoter George Jergens under the presumption that Creed is seeking local sparring partners. Reluctant at first believing he has know chance and will look foolish, Rocky eventually agrees to the fight which will pay him $150,000. Rocky undergoes several weeks of unorthodox training, such as using sides of beef as punching bags.

Rocky is later approached by Mickey Goldmill, a former bantamweight fighter who turned trainer and whose gym Rocky frequents, about training him further. Rocky is not willing initially, as Mickey has not shown much interest in helping him before as Micky saw Rocky as a wasted talent who accepted loan shark collection role instead of focusing.  Eventually after emotional scene Rocky accepts the offer.

Before learning he would get this opportinity Rocky had began to build a romantic relationship with Adrian Pennino, who is working part-time at the J&M Tropical Fish pet shop. Adrian’s brother, Paulie helps him get a date for his sister.

Later when Rocky has agreed to the fight Paulie offers to work as a corner man and slowly becomes jealous of Rocky’s success. Rocky still likes Paulie for helping him before he got this fight so him helps Paulie by agreeing to advertise the meat packing business Paulie works for as part of the upcoming fight. We get many inspirational training montages including Rocky first struggling and later easily climbing the Philadelphia Museum of Art steps.

The night before the fight, a sleepless Rocky visits the Philadelphia Spectrum and begins to lose confidence. He confesses to Adrian that he does not believe he can win, but strives to go the distance against Creed, which no other fighter has done, to prove himself to everyone. That is he can go the distance and still standing he won’t be another bum from a neighbourhood.

On New Year’s Day, the fight is held 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. Humbled and worried, Creed takes Rocky more seriously for the rest of the fight, though his ego never fully fades and he has been hurt.

The fight goes on for the full fifteen rounds, with both combatants sustaining various injuries. Rocky, with hits to the head and swollen eyes, requires his right eyelid to be cut in order to restore his vision. Apollo, with internal bleeding and a broken rib, struggles to breathe. Rocky tells Micky he will kill him if he stops the fight. 

As the fight concludes, Creed’s superior skill is countered by Rocky’s apparently unlimited ability to absorb punches, and his dogged refusal to go down. 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, the sportscasters and the audience go wild. The announcer says over the loudspeaker that the fight 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 Apollo is declared 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, not caring about the outcome of the fight.

What’s to Like
The amazing music, the uplifting story, the realistic working class characters

What’s not to Like

This is in my opinion the greatest sports movie, mostly because it is about so much more than just sport, it’s about the struggles of life and the tough choices poor and struggling people have to make in order to not be homeless.  It’s about how alcohol destroys.  It’s an underdog story about the protagonist doesn’t win the sporting contest, he wins something even more important, the knowledge that he is someone and not a bum that he has character. 

It’s often missed by people when they first watch the movie but Rocky doesn’t win the championship, that makes it unless for the many sporting underdog movies which always have they leading man or woman win (which the exception of the magnificent Million Dollar Baby). 

By not having Rocky win the fight it makes an unrealistic situation, an average fighter getting a shot at the World Heavyweight Title more realistic.  Apollo underestimates his opponent seeing this mostly as a marketing and promotion event but he is still the greatest and undefeated boxing champion so even when not preparing correctly him losing would take away from the working class struggles themes and go to far into wish fulfillment.  All the main actors provide outstanding perofrmances.

Sylvester Stallone, a struggling actor, wrote this screenplay and it is what started and made his career.  Stallone playing a damaged, not too bright but still hopeful character is right in his wheelhouse. I’m seen this movie many times and watching in again for this review I still got drawn in to the drama and struggles.  This movie leads to many sequels some good some bad but whatever happens later can’t take away from this classic.

Academy Awards

  • Best Picture – winner
  • Best Director (John G. Avildsen) – winner
  • Best Film Editing – winner
  • Best Actor in a Leading Role (Sylvester Stallone) – nominee
  • Best Actress in a Leading Role (Talia Shire) – nominee
  • Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Burgess Meredith) – nominee
  • Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Burt Young) – nominee
  • Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen (Sylvester Stallone) – nominee
  • Best Sound – nominee
  • Best Music, Original Song – nominee

About Nathan

A World traveller who has so far experienced 71 countries (76 by June 2023) in this amazing world.
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