First LookIn Theaters December 20, 2006
The greatest underdog story of our time is back for one final round of the Academy Award-winning Rocky franchise. Former heavyweight champion Rocky Balboa steps out of retirement and back into the ring, putting himself against a new rival in a dramatically different era. After a virtual boxing match declares Rocky Balboa the victor over current champion Mason "The Line" Dixon, the legendary fighter’s passion and spirit are reignited. But when his desire to fight in small, regional competitions is trumped by promoters calling for a rematch of the cyber-fight, Balboa must weigh the mental and physical risks of a high profile exhibition match against his need to be in the ring.
STARRING: Sylvester Stallone, Burt Young, Milo Ventimiglia, Tony Burton, James Francis Kelly III, Antonio Tarver, Geraldine Hughes
DIRECTOR: Sylvester Stallone
RATING: PG (For Boxing Violence and Mild Adult Language)
Wild About Movies Grade: A-
Yes. We were quite surprised. Going into the screening of "Rocky Balboa" a few weeks ago, we were hesitant. How bad could it be? We thought it was going to be dreadful. Sylvester Stallone is over 60. Twenty years ago, that was over the hill.
Fear not. This "Rocky," hopefully the last in the series, goes out with a bang and is undoubtedly one of the best movies of 2006.
A perfect companion bookend to the first in the series. "Rocky," released thirty years ago won the Best Picture Oscar and Sylvester Stallone was nominated for the Best Actor Academy Award. Yes. It's all true.
While there is no chance that "Rocky Balboa" will win a Best Picture Oscar, let alone get a nomination, it's certain that the film is a winner, even wih its somewhat cliched writing. And the "Rocky" and his estranged son bit goes on a bit too long.
However, "Rocky Balboa," which Sylvester Stallone wrote, stars in and directed, is a gem. Especially if nostalgia is what you're looking for. And face it. "Rocky Balboa" isn't geared towards the thirteen - twenty year olds of today. It's geared to the thirteen - twenty year olds of thirty years ago. And you're gonna love it.
Behind The Scenes
Thirty years ago he was a man with no future, working for a small time loan shark on the South Side of Philadelphia. When blind luck landed him the chance to enter the ring against reigning champ Apollo Creed, it was the million-to-one-shot of a lifetime. And all he wanted was to go the distance. His courage and perseverance, both in life and in the ring, gave hope to millions.
Now, glory has come and gone and Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), the one-time Italian Stallion, spends his evenings telling old stories to the patrons of his restaurant, Adrian’s, named after his late wife, whom he quietly mourns. His son (Milo Ventimiglia) doesn’t want to spend time with him; he’s too busy trying to live his own life. Time and knocks have humbled Rocky, deformed his fists, slouched his shoulders and taken away all he had except his old stories, but in his heart he’s still the same man.
In his heart, he’s still a fighter.
Mason "The Line" Dixon is the reigning heavyweight champion distinguished only by the ease with which he took the title. Since he has never had to prove himself, never faced a truly equal opponent, he is considered by fans to be all skill and no heart, with no real future in the sport…
Until a computer simulation matches him against Rocky Balboa in his prime. Who really would win if the two were evenly matched – Dixon’s skillful jabs and footwork versus Rocky’s passion and blunt force trauma? Dixon’s manager has an idea how to revitalize his client’s career and suddenly, heavyweight boxing captures the public’s imagination again.
It seems like a lark, a joke even. But to Rocky, nearly twice the age of his opponent, the prospect of a fight with Dixon is the second chance he never thought he’d get – a billion-to-one shot to prove to himself and to those he loves that while the body changes, the heart only grows stronger.
MGM Pictures presents writer/director/star Sylvester Stallone’s return to the character that launched his career and became a cultural icon around the world. The Revolution Pictures and Chartoff/Winkler Production is the final chapter in the 30-year saga that began in 1976 with Rocky, a film that, like its title character, came out of nowhere to make history – breaking box office records and winning Oscars for Best Picture, Directing and Editing out of an astounding 10 nominations.
Like its predecessor, Rocky Balboa is written and stars Stallone, who also directs and produces. Reprising their roles from the original are Burt Young as Paulie, Rocky’s conflicted lifelong friend and brother-in-law, who has appeared in all 6 Rocky films; and Pedro Lovell as Spider, a one-time opponent who now lingers at Rocky’s restaurant because he has no where else to go.
Joining the cast are Geraldine Hughes as Marie, a single mom who as a teenager mouthed off to Rocky after he escorted her home, lecturing her on the dangers of hanging out with street gangs; and James Francis Kelly, III, as her son Steps. Milo Ventimiglia stars as Robert, Rocky’s only son who has spent his life trying to emerge from his father’s famous shadow. And light heavyweight champion Antonio Tarver stars as Mason "The Line" Dixon, the film’s reigning champion of the world.
Produced by Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff, Rocky was released by United Artists in 1976 and became an international box office phenomenon and all-time movie classic. A low-budget "sleeper" that came out to nowhere to flatten the big-budget competition at awards time, it was nominated for an astounding 10 Academy Awards, winning the coveted Best Picture Oscar, ahead of such legendary films as Taxi Driver and Network, as well as Academy Awards for director John G. Avildsen and editors Richard Halsey and Scott Conrad.
Stallone, who had stuck to his guns and insisted that if the picture got produced it would be with him in the title role, was nominated for two Oscars – Best Actor and Best Screenplay. The film also starred Talia Shire as Adrian; Burt Young as her brother and Rocky’s friend Paulie; plus Carl Weathers as the reigning champ Apollo Creed; and Burgess Meredith as Rocky’s grizzled trainer Mickey. Shire, Young and Meredith were nominated for acting Oscars, with the Academy also recognizing the film’s sound and the Best Original Song slot, for the memorable "Gonna Fly Now."
Through five sequels, in theatrical revivals and home entertainment releases, the film has continued to attract new generations of fans. "It’s humbling to see how Rocky has affected so many people over the years," Stallone says. "I think that the people who have been so supportive and loyal will be happy with the final chapter in Rocky Balboa’s life because I think we bring the character to a final and noble conclusion."
For Sylvester Stallone, Rocky strikes a resonant chord because audiences see themselves in the character. With a 30-year span since the release of the first film, Stallone sought to create a story that would connect these ideas to a new generation – the film’s central truth that anything is possible if you believe enough.
"It’s a pretty universal dream to try to rise up and take your best shot at life," says the writer/director/star of Rocky Balboa. "You may not totally be successful but at least you had the chance. I think that’s the biggest frustration a lot of people have in their own lives – never getting their shot."
Producer Charles Winkler notes that Rocky Balboa represents the completion of Stallone’s decades long quest to bookend the story with a worthy finale. "Sylvester was a man on a mission," Winkler says. "He wanted it to end on the right note – a story that could make you a believer again."
Adds producer William Chartoff, "Rocky has never really left Sylvester’s system. To him, it was unfinished business, just as it is to the character’s legion of fans around the world. Though Rocky Balboa is really the last sequel, in many ways it’s the most like the original."
"The first movie was a little film, but written like a masterpiece," says Burt Young, who has portrayed the complex character of Paulie, Rocky’s best friend and brother-in-law, for three decades and six films. "Ninety-eight pages of street prose. There was no fat. And it was very romantic. Lots of people never fully appreciated how terrifically romantic it was. I was excited by it. It was probably the best screenplay I ever read."
In Rocky Balboa, the title character has, in many ways, returned to the same kind of existence he had in the first film. "He’s literally back where he was at the beginning, all alone, except he has lost his naiveté," says Stallone. "He’s very worldly. There’s a certain calm about him. He carries himself with a weight on his shoulders but with that also comes a kind of enlightenment. He knows more and tries to convey more. He doesn’t have as big a chip on his shoulder that he had."
But his only safety net in a tricky world is now gone: Adrian has been taken too early by cancer and Rocky, not the type to complain, has lost the shoulder he always had to lean on. "If the most precious thing is taken away from you and your stability is askew, your best years have supposedly come and gone and you’re alone, you wonder, ‘What do I do now?’" explains Stallone. "He has had all the glory he’s ever wanted, but his wife has died; his son has moved on. Everything he thought was the ultimate dream is gone and now he’s just alone."
"Rocky has terrible hurt, awful anger, and he doesn’t know how to get rid of it," says Burt Young. "That’s what this movie is about. About all us characters standing in empty rooms, trying to fill them up somehow."
Rocky has made a home for Paulie, even cooking breakfast for his best pal and brother-in-law. "Paulie is a little bit insensitive but in the end, he adores Rocky," comments Stallone. "It’s his buddy and he couldn’t live without him, but it’s just that sometimes familiarity breeds contempt."
Rocky regularly visits his wife’s grave – including it on his tour of all the places that meant something to him. "The pet shop is boarded up," he describes. "He (Rocky) reminisces in the ice skating rink, which is completely gone into oblivion. But he’s out there among the bricks and rubble still in his mind skating with Adrian, until Paulie snaps him out of it."
Rocky’s attempts to reach out to Robert, his son, go unreciprocated. "It’s a very meager emotional relationship that he has with his son, which is the last link he has to his wife," explains Stallone. "His son has a problem that a lot of children living in the shadow of a successful father do. He can’t compete with his father, which he shouldn’t. So he has chosen to live and dress and move and do everything in a way that is diametrically opposed to his father."
Milo Ventimiglia plays Robert Balboa, Jr. The actor, who has worked primarily in television the past decade on such series as Gilmore Girls and Heroes, notes that as in the original film, Rocky starts the tale down and out. "He’s got to turn things around but he needs the people he loves at his side," says the young actor. "And they’re not there. This film really connects emotionally with the first one. They’re both simple, human stories."
Irish-born actress Geraldine Hughes, author and star of the acclaimed play "Belfast Blues," was selected by Stallone to play "little Marie," now grown and a single mother living on a particularly dodgy street in South Philadelphia.
The character, originally played as a teenager by Jodie Letitizia, got the biggest laugh in the first film by calling out to Rocky – "Screw you, creep" – after he walked her home, saving her from a juvenile delinquency. Hughes notes that while Rocky and Marie form a tentative relationship, it’s too early for Rocky to let go of Adrian. "Both Adrian and Talia Shire, who created the role, are completely irreplaceable," she says. "She remains an enormous force in Rocky’s life in this film."
But in Marie, Rocky finds a human connection that he desperately needs. "Marie and Rocky do have a beautiful journey together in the story," she says, "but it’s not romantic. They’re completely alone in their lives. Marie feels invisible and Rocky takes the time to stop and see her, then take her along on his new adventure."
With his own son so distant, Rocky also reaches out to Marie’s teenage son, Steps (James Francis Kelly III), and ultimately invites both Marie and Steps to come and work at Adrian’s. "He starts to mentor her in a sense, to protect her," says Stallone. "And he starts to show her kid a little bit of attention and this kid begins to blossom. So, in a way, Rocky’s grief also brings about some good things."
"Steps is slow to trust, and when he first sees Rocky he thinks only the worst," says Kelly. "But pretty soon he realizes Rocky’s not a bad guy and actually kind of cool."
When ESPN’s "Man vs. Machine" pits two athletes from different eras against each other in a computer-generated competition – the current heavyweight champion Mason "The Line" Dixon against former two-time champ Rocky Balboa – Rocky’s life takes a nearly imperceptible turn.
The computer-generated fight and its curious outcome energize him to apply for his boxing license, which he doesn’t get without a fight, thinking he will perhaps take on some small-scale local bouts. "Rocky sees that and the light bulb goes off," explains Stallone. "He says, ‘Wow, I can do something I love. And I’d rather do something I love badly than to feel bad about not doing it.’ But that effort brings all this wrath down on him, the humiliation, the prejudice, the stereotype about age. Even his son says he’s just making them both look bad."
There is so much that Rocky wants to communicate to his son, but Robert grew up so different from his dad that Rocky just seems ridiculous to him. "Rocky wants his son to know that life ain’t all sunshine and rainbows," Stallone says. "It’s a rough, nasty place and it will beat you to the ground unless you can stand up. And it’s not how hard you can punch; it’s how hard you can take a punch. That’s what Rocky is about."
To play Mason Dixon, Stallone sought out the real life light heavyweight champion at the time, Antonio Tarver. "If you’re going to go around one last time why not end it with a real fighter, someone who doesn’t have the benefit of the magic of choreography? Antonio can really fight and he went in there with a great deal of practice to throw a reckless amount of punches."
Dixon has won every fight but is nonetheless disrespected by the people who should be his fans. His promoters have a brainstorm about a surefire way to turn that around. They want to lure Rocky back into a championship fight. "Technically, he never lost the belt in the ring; he retired," comments A.J. Benza, who plays L.C. Luco, Dixon’s manager. "So, in a sense, both he and Mason Dixon are champs. They guarantee he won’t get hurt, so everybody wins."
"Mason doesn’t understand why the public isn’t on his side," says Tarver. "It’s not until he’s in the ring with Rocky, having to put up or shut up, that he realizes that respect has to be earned. In a lot of ways he’s fighting for his life."
Though Rocky is reluctant to put himself out there to be potentially "pounded and embarrassed," Marie reminds him that while this may be a publicity stunt for the other side, it doesn’t have to be for him.
"Your fight is with yourself," adds Stallone. "Mason is a vastly superior fighter but he lacks one thing: he’s never been in deep. He’s never been taken out into the deep waters and let go. And the last place you think you’re going to have that moment when you’re going to be forced to do something remarkable or fail is in the ring with a 58-year-old man. For the first time in his life the champion has to prove that he has more inside, that he has been carried and protected and now he’s exposed."
For Rocky, the fight is for everything he ever loved in his life – for Adrian, for Robert, for Marie and Steps, for Paulie – and for anyone who ever believed in the dream. "You cannot listen to anything other than your heart," says Stallone.
For the actor, a return to the story of the Italian Stallion gave him a chance to express to a whole generation the idea that when you want something badly enough, no one can tell you not to go after it. "Know that, yeah, you’ve got to be a little realistic," he says. "You’re not going to do something that’s physically impossible, but you can go far beyond what people think you can do if you believe in it. It’s about commitment to one’s self and also loyalty to the ones around you that you love."
The legend lives on.
Returning to shoot in the south side of Philadelphia (in addition to practical locations in Las Vegas and Los Angeles), Stallone wanted to reflect Rocky’s world as it was, not a clean Hollywood version but a gritty reality. "This is going to be as real as possible," he told himself, recalls co-producer Guy Reidel. "Consequently, not one frame of the film was shot on a stage," Reidel notes. "It was all done in the real world, which adds a whole new set of challenges to filmmaking."
With finite resources and only five weeks in which to shoot, Stallone adopted a spare, down-and-dirty shooting style that he sees as completely harmonious with the central tenets of the film. "No tracks, a lot of handheld, no cranes, none of these elaborate tracking shots," he describes.
Stallone worked with director of photography Clark Mathis to infuse the film with that pared-down style he sought that nonetheless reflected the characters of the film.
"I tried to keep it almost the way the personalities of the characters are," he says. "Some scenes are frenetic and internally disturbing. When I’m shooting Dixon it’s very light and bright and sterile, nothing dramatic in the lighting. I wanted to show that his life is without color, without shadows, without any ambience until the fight."
The first to be scheduled and most daunting challenge of the shoot was the monumental title fight between Rocky and Mason "The Line" Dixon, which was to be an exciting Vegas-style event.
Stallone had just completed a grueling training regimen and was in top shape, a benefit he would lose the longer the shoot progressed as directing and acting ate up his training time. Consequently, the fight scenes would have to be shot up front. "Boxing is very unique," he comments. "It’s a skill set that takes years and years to learn."
With a start date looming, they began a search for a boxing venue. Each suitable arena they found had a full schedule and could not accommodate a movie crew.
Stallone was aware that HBO planned to shoot a pay-per-view match -- Bernard Hopkins vs. Germaine Taylor -- in Las Vegas. An independent filmmaker at heart, Stallone struck on the idea of piggybacking on that event, and benefiting from a crowd the production could ill-afford to hire on as extras. But the match was set for two weeks earlier than principal photography was scheduled to start. Ever-resourceful, Stallone’s solution was to move up the start date by two weeks.
"Nothing is impossible with Stallone involved," muses Burt Young. "I’ve never seen a human who can do so many jobs so well all at once. When he has a feeling, he jumps on it so quick. He never thinks anything is impossible. It’s what he’s about and it’s what this movie is all about."
The production set about negotiating with HBO and the Mandalay Bay Resort And Casino, where the action was to take place, to secure the benefit of the real life fight. But while the production demanded nine days, the Mandalay Bay could only give the filmmakers six.
As the producers figured out how to make it work, Stallone immersed himself in casting. "I didn’t want the screen filled with people you’ve seen in a dozen other movies," the director explains. "You lose a certain reality when you use familiar faces."
To play Mason "The Line" Dixon, Stallone cast boxing superstar Antonio Tarver, light heavyweight champion. Going into rehearsals five weeks before the start of filming, southpaw (i.e. left-handed) Tarver would need to add 20 pounds to his frame to take him from light heavyweight to heavyweight status.
As they began the rehearsal process, Tarver had to adjust to the demands of acting, as opposed to the fighting demands he’d been trained his whole life to meet. "The actual fighting wasn’t the challenge with Tarver," co-producer Guy Reidel explains. "The man’s got 30-plus knockouts to his credit. But he had to learn the choreography for every punch to be certain it matched the dramatic impact of the moment. And, of course, just when we were making headway in the rehearsals, Sly, because of the many hats he was wearing, would have to be pulled away to meet with the production designer, or director of photography, or costume people, or the editor or studio people."
Ultimately, Stallone’s experience in creating the distinct Rocky brand of movies smoothed the process enormously for both cast and crew as he quantified for them the dramatic value contained in every second of fighting. Who is winning at what point? Where is Rocky in both his physical and emotional journey? "Every second has an emotional beat that had to be in sync with the physical movement," says Tarver. "That’s what gives their fight its life."
"We were shooting right up against a live event, live weigh in, real press conference," describes Stallone. "We’d shoot portions of the live HBO activities, then rush right in afterwards with our cast and crew to take advantage of the sets. It was a challenge to say the least."
When the time came for the weigh-in, Stallone revealed the results of his intensive training period for the first time. "Everyone was just stunned," recalls Winkler. "He was so cut. He looked so amazing. At that instant, we all knew that if we did our jobs properly, the movie absolutely would work."
In the 1976 Rocky, Stallone hit the meat carcasses he used as punching bags for real. In this film, he didn’t want the fight to appear simulated, didn’t want the usual angles and impressions of a heavyweight match, and worked with the choreographers and Antonio Tarver to make the fight as real as possible without them getting destroyed, with real blows hitting actual muscle. "It’s a 25-minute segment that lives or dies on its own," he explains. "We set up the cameras in four spots and we let it wing. And you were there. The hardest thing was getting Antonio to connect and hit me because he felt bad. But it worked." He adds with a laugh, "He didn’t try to kill me. His punches hurt but they weren’t heart-stopping."
To add to the verisimilitude, the producers enlisted real life commentators Jim Lampley, Larry Merchant and Max Kellerman to play themselves, with Michael Buffer serving as ring announcer for the Dixon-Balboa match, dubbed "The Rage Against The Age." Boxer Mike Tyson plays himself in the film, much as Joe Frazier did at the title fight in Rocky.
The single most thrilling moment of the production for all concerned came when HBO allowed the production to take advantage of the Hopkins-Taylor crowd and have Rocky enter the full arena, walk down the aisle and into the ring with six cameras covering the action. As he raised his arms, 14,000 real fight fans screamed "Rocky! Rocky! Rocky!" in a frenzy that could not have been matched with paid extras.
"They were shouting louder for Rocky than they did during the main event," recalls Chartoff. Adds Winkler, "It was the best moment of the show. You couldn’t help but get chills."
With realism being key during the fight scenes, Stallone made the choice to shoot it with high definition cameras. "I wanted the dialogue to have one feel, but the fight to look like sports fans expect a fight to look - bright, bold, crisp," notes Stallone.
The Balboa-Dixon fight being, for all intents and purposes, an HBO fight, Stallone wanted to give fans of such events an experience unlike any other. "I grew up seeing boxing movies and had this pre-conceived conviction that they should be shot with very stylistic camera moves," says Chartoff.
But Stallone wanted to take the fight in Rocky Balboa one step further. "This is not a HD picture and not a 35 millimeter film," adds David Winkler. "It’s a mix, one of few films to do this. As a result, it looks like what it is supposed to be – violent, fierce. When you see those guys hitting each other, there’s no hint of Hollywood fakery."
"Sly is the kind of guy who perfected shooting boxing in what is now perceived as the traditional way," says Charles Winkler. "He mastered it in the first five films. Then he just turned his back on his own style and said he wanted something different. He thrives on re-inventing."
After a week in Vegas, the company returned to Los Angeles for 16 shooting days on locations that supplement the scenes to be shot in Philadelphia. Major and most challenging of the L. A. locations was Bro Pack Meats in Pico Rivera, which serves as Paulie’s place of employment for the past 30 years.
A working operation, the plant could not be shut down to accommodate the production. "Like us, they had a schedule to meet, and we had to work around that," explains Stallone. "It is a very protected and fragile environment, especially regarding temperature. We had to play by their rules but luckily, they were very cooperative and it worked. But it was one of our most complex locations."
While the movie makers worked at Bro Pack Meats, the set was visited by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger – Stallone’s one-time fellow action film titan – who presented the actor/filmmaker with a certificate thanking him for supporting the California motion picture industry. Later, the meat and film companies jointly donated over 300 pounds of prime beef to the Los Angeles Food Bank.
Then it was off to the heart of Rocky territory – Philadelphia, PA. The company’s original challenge was to locate all the landmarks seen in the original picture -- the pet store, the church, the ice skating rink, and others. Fortunately, most still existed.
In Philly, Stallone wanted Rocky to train in the hard, raw edge that cold creates, and utilize the full benefit of the smoky effect that results from hot breath confronting frigid air. But the weather, at least initially, didn’t comply. Sunshine in January in Philadelphia?
Another unexpected aspect of shooting in the City of Brotherly Love was the great affection the city still harbors for both Rocky and Stallone – heroes of rather majestic proportions in Philadelphia – a factor which ultimately inspired not only the director but the whole company. Enthusiastic crowds met the crew at every turn. Fans at the Italian Market were particularly evident because of numerous entrances. But everywhere the production shot, fans were almost always respectful and cooperative. "What do you expect when Rocky returns to Philadelphia?" comments producer Kevin King. "It really was heartwarming to see the outpouring of love. I’m sure Sly felt the same way."
Comments Stallone, "It was an extraordinary experience because they’re not yelling for Sylvester Stallone; it’s all ‘Rocky! Rocky! Yo Rock!’ There’s no separation between the two identities."
Among other locations in the historic city were the old Laurel Hill Cemetery, Tasty Cake factory, Cira Centre, a modern office building behind Penn Station, the Kensington neighborhood and City Hall.
Says co-producer Guy Reidel, "Our production designer Franco Carbone, did a lot of scouting, then a lot of work was done by showing Sly photographs, video, internet sites. Not an ideal situation, but in this case it worked because of Sly’s eye and his familiarity with every aspect of the project."
Moving around the city, the company had a number of visitors to the set that ran the gamut from football great and gubernatorial candidate Lynn Swann to former light-heavyweight champ Matthew Said Muhammad. Particularly interesting, both in Philadelphia and Las Vegas, was the number of people from all over the U.S. and Europe that said they came to town specifically to see Rocky.
Even 30 years later, the most affecting moment comes when Rocky sprints up the grand steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which opens out to the city’s breathtaking skyline. It is the most familiar and beloved moment among all the Rocky movies. A day does not go by, probably never an hour, that locals and tourists don’t make that same run, raising their arms in triumph, hearing Conti’s iconic theme in their heads. "That run is the distillation of Rocky’s existence," says David Winkler.
On the day the production was to shoot the sequence in which Rocky runs up the steps with his dog Punchy, the script called for snow, but none but a few random snowflakes was forthcoming … until the sky opened up. Production cranked into motion.
"So, I ran up the steps with Punchy, and when we finished it stopped," Stallone recalls. "The last run up the steps was in this cloudburst of white, and we shot from the beginning to the end of this burst. It was a very emotional time for me. I was thinking, ‘When I’m done cutting it’s over.’ It’s like a 30-year journey – everything I’ve ever had in my life, everything that I’ll accomplish that is really worthy, is done. And I’m looking at the city; the sun is going down, and I think, ‘At least you did it. You got here. You ended it, in the snow, on the steps in Philadelphia. Perfect, thank you, Lord. And then it was over."
The origins of the Rocky iconography are well documented. Sylvester Stallone was a struggling actor and writer when he watched the Chuck Wepner-Muhammed Ali fight – a match in which club fighter Wepner nearly went the distance against the great Ali. Stallone, unemployed and broke, was so impressed by the miraculous performance that he sat down and wrote Rocky.
Stallone identified so much with the script that he refused to sell it unless he would be cast in the title role. The studios wanted the big stars of the day – Burt Reynolds, Ryan O’Neal, James Caan – and could not imagine bankrolling an unknown actor with an unlikely name. Against all advice and prevailing wisdom, Stallone stuck to his guns, and today it’s virtually impossible to imagine anyone else in the part.
Some call it the best boxing film ever made, but what elevated Rocky in the eyes of critics and audiences alike is that it’s about real people in everyday desperate situations who long for something better. Even without boxing, the story has almost universal relevance, yet, as Roger Ebert wrote, "It wants to involve us on an elemental, a sometimes savage, level. It’s about heroism and realizing your potential, about taking your best shot and sticking by your girl. It sounds not only clichéd but corny – and yet it’s not, not a bit, because it really does work on those levels. It involves us emotionally. It makes us commit ourselves: We find, maybe to our surprise after remaining detached during so many movies, that this time we care."
Stallone, like Rocky, dared to dream in the face of overwhelming odds and rose instantly from obscurity to worldwide acclaim. The extraordinary writing, directing and acting in Rocky moved the audience to root for all the characters – not just the guy who has to step into the ring. It is that spirit that bonds the first film to this, the last.
Rocky II, released in 1979, reunited Stallone in the title role with Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers and Burgess Meredith. Rocky and champ Apollo Creed get a ring rematch and both Rocky and his wife Adrian fight for their lives in different arenas. Particularly memorable is the boxing that climaxes the picture directed by Sylvester Stallone, who, simply put, knows Rocky better than anyone in the world.
Rocky III, released in 1982, again starred Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Burgess Meredith and Carl Weathers, with the addition of Mr. T. A new twist on the winning formula has the Italian Stallion trained by his former foe Apollo Creed after being dethroned by an obnoxious fighter. Made soft by success, Rocky has to dig deep to find motivation to stay on top. Stallone directed this chapter of the story, which featured the popular Academy Award-nominated original song, "Eye Of The Tiger."
Rocky IV, released in 1985, starred Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren, Carl Weathers, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Brigitte Nielsen, Michael Pataki and James Brown under Stallone’s direction. This time, Rocky avenges a friend’s death and fights for American Glory against a superhuman Russian champ, traveling to Siberia to train like his opponent.
Rocky V, released in 1990, saw the return of Academy Award-winning director John G. Avildsen. It starred Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Sage Stallone, Burgess Meredith, Tommy Morrison and Richard Gant. The Italian Stallion is back in the old Philly neighborhood and trains a promising young fighter who turns out to be in ingrate. Against overpowering odds and despite diminished powers, Rocky lays it all on the line to risk another bout.
Rocky Balboa, released in 2006, stars Sylvester Stallone, Burt Young, Antonio Tarver, Geraldine Hughes, Milo Ventimiglia, Tony Burton and is the third Rocky film to be directed by Stallone.
The only principal actor to travel the entire arc with Rocky is Paulie, played by Burt Young, who was honored with an Academy Award nomination for creating the role. Also participating in all six rounds of the record-breaking series is former fighter Tony Burton, who began as Apollo Creed’s corner man before moving to Rocky’s corner. The character Marie, played as a young girl by Jodie Letitizia, reappears in this installment as a grown woman played by Geraldine Hughes. And movie trivia buffs might be interested to know that Cuff and Link, the two turtles who were probably Rocky’s best friends at the start of the first picture, have come out of retirement to reprise their roles in the current film.
Stallone received Academy Award nominations for starring in and writing "Rocky," and the 1976 MGM film won an Oscar for best picture, best director (John G. Avildsen) and best editing (Richard Halsey, Scott Conrad). The movie grossed $117.3 million at the domestic boxoffice, making Stallone a film star and creating one of cinema's most famous characters.
The original "Rocky" also launched one of the most successful film series of its time. 1979's "Rocky II" grossed $85 million, and 1982's "Rocky III," which featured Mr. T, grossed $120.2 million. "Rocky IV," with Dolph Lundgren, made $125.4 million after its 1985 release. By the decade's close, however, audiences seemed to have tired of the character. "Rocky V," released in 1990, made only $40 million.