Watch with a raw egg milkshake for extra authenticity.
Rocky (1976): 10 out of 10: is an iconic sports drama film that tells the inspirational story of an underdog determined to overcome the odds. Directed by John G. Avildsen and written by its star, Sylvester Stallone, the film follows the journey of Rocky Balboa, a small-time club fighter from Philadelphia, who gets an unlikely shot at greatness.
Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) is a down-on-his-luck, kind-hearted boxer struggling to make ends meet. He spends his days working as a debt collector for a loan shark and his nights fighting in local boxing clubs. Despite his talent, Rocky’s life seems to be going nowhere until a twist of fate presents him with the opportunity of a lifetime.
When the reigning heavyweight champion, Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), loses his scheduled opponent for an upcoming title fight, he gives an unknown local fighter a chance to compete. Creed chooses Rocky as his opponent, believing that the “Italian Stallion” will be an easy win and a good publicity stunt.
Seizing this opportunity, Rocky dedicates himself to rigorous training with the help of his cantankerous but knowledgeable trainer, Mickey Goldmill (Burgess Meredith). Along the way, Rocky finds love and support in Adrian (Talia Shire), a shy pet store clerk who becomes his rock and confidante.
As the big fight approaches, Rocky’s determination, courage, and resilience in the face of adversity inspire the city of Philadelphia and the entire nation. The film culminates in a thrilling and emotional showdown between Rocky and Apollo Creed, leaving audiences cheering for the ultimate underdog.
Rocky (1976) is not only a captivating sports drama, but also a powerful tale of human spirit and perseverance. The film’s iconic training montages, memorable characters, and rousing score by Bill Conti have made it a classic that continues to resonate with audiences over four decades after its release.
The Good: Rocky was the Best Picture winner in 1977 and looking back almost fifty years later (Good God) it certainly deserved it.
The movie features an outstanding performance from Sylvester Stallone in the lead role of Rocky Balboa. He delivers a raw and nuanced performance that is both captivating and emotional. Stallone wrote the script with the idea of himself playing the lead. He certainly knew his strengths as an actor and highlights them very well here.
The training montage sequence in Rocky is one of the most iconic and memorable scenes in cinematic history. It features Rocky training for his big fight with the legendary Apollo Creed, set to the iconic soundtrack of “Gonna Fly Now”. One of the really brilliant moves in Rocky is it keeps its powder dry. Bill Conti’s memorable score does not even make an appearance till the last training sequence at the end of the film. The film has been so quiet up till then that the effect is tenfold and truly gets one shifted from small scale drama to sports film mode.
The film is set in Philadelphia and provides a realistic portrayal of the city’s working-class neighborhoods, with their gritty streets and tough, no-nonsense people. The Seventies was excellent about gritty realism and showing actual poverty without the veneer of commentary. There are few films that do this better than Rocky.
The supporting cast of Rocky is also exceptional, with standout performances from Talia Shire as Rocky’s love interest Adrian, Burgess Meredith as his trainer Mickey, and Carl Weathers as his opponent, Apollo Creed.
The climactic fight scene between Rocky and Apollo Creed is a thrilling and emotional climax that leaves audiences cheering for Rocky’s victory. (Of course Rocky does not win. A fact that is misremembered or lost on most people who have seen the film in a while. A true Mandela Effect for people who thought he won.)
The Bad: While I love the naturalistic interactions in Rocky, not all of them are home runs. There is a feud between Rocky and Tony Gazzo’s driver (Joe Sorbello) that seems to go nowhere and is apropos of nothing.
The Ugly: I streamed Rocky this time around and it was available on both Amazon Prime and Netflix. Unfortunately, both services seemed to have a print with a lot of grain and noise at least in the first ten minutes and the last fight scene.
While Rocky is from way back in 1976, it is hardly an excuse that the picture is not cleaned up on the film. When giant bunny rabbit romp Night of the Lepus from 1972 has a cleaned up print, I would expect the best picture from 1977 to follow suit.
In Conclusion: Rocky is a magnificent film that hardly belongs in the same universe as its sequels. (Stallone’s other big film franchise, Rambo, certainly suffers the same fate.). It still holds up fifty years later, giving us a window into a grittier America. A fantastic film achievement.