Release Date: November 21st, 1976 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: John G. Avildsen
Written by: Sylvester Stallone
Music by: Bill Conti
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers, Burgess Meredith, Tony Burton, Joe Spinell, Chino ‘Fats’ Williams (uncredited)
Chartoff-Winkler Productions, United Artists, 119 Minutes
“You’re gonna eat lightnin’ and you’re gonna crap thunder!” – Mickey
Every time I rewatch Rocky, I am reminded that it is a film that is much better than most people give it credit for. Maybe having over a half dozen sequels over the decades has cheapened the greatness of the original but it won three Academy Awards for a reason. Point blank, it’s a damn fine motion picture and still, the greatest boxing movie I have ever seen.
I know that this was his breakout role but if I’m being completely honest, Sylvester Stallone has never been better. Sure, his other outings as Rocky Balboa were also great (yes, I even like Rocky V) and it is hard to deny just how good he was as John Rambo in First Blood. Stallone just captured lightning in a bottle with this film though.
His acting was accented by his great script but I feel that Rocky is an extension of Stallone’s soul. You see, although Rocky was a boxer and Stallone was a guy trying to make it in Hollywood, their stories really kind of mirror each other. Rocky needed that break and made magic happen, Stallone did the same with this movie. The thing is, for anyone who has gotten to know Stallone over the years, it is really hard to deny that there are very close similarities between the real man and the character of his creation, Rocky Balboa. This is why I think that the film felt so real and why it captured the hearts of people. It’s a film with a lot of pain in it but it is authentic because it is really Stallone’s pain coming out.
The rest of the cast is also absolutely fantastic. Talia Shire was perfection as Adrian, the extremely shy woman who stole Rocky’s heart. Burt Young was great as Paulie, Adrian’s drunk and cantankerous older brother. The real scene stealer though was Burgess Meredith’s Mickey, the man who trains Rocky even though they have a harsh and turbulent relationship until they find something in each other.
It is also hard to deny the direction of John G. Avildsen, who won an Oscar for his efforts. He would also be behind a similar film a decade later, featuring karate instead of boxing and a younger protagonist. That film was The Karate Kid.
The one thing that really sticks with you though, is the score by Bill Conti. In fact, it is one of the most memorable scores of all-time. Some how his theme “Gonna Fly Now” didn’t win the Oscar and was beat out by a Barbara Streisand song from A Star Is Born. Looking back, that was damn criminal.
Rocky is a true underdog story in the best way possible. It is about getting your big break and making it matter. For Rocky, it isn’t about winning, it’s about whether or not he can hang with the best and leave his mark in the only way he knows how. And wasn’t that the same thing Stallone had to do with the opportunity he had in giving the world this movie? And just like Rocky, Stallone still has staying power, forty-one years later.