Release Year: 1976
Genre: Drama, Sport
Director: John G. Avildsen
Writer: Sylvester Stallone
Name a movie franchise that has lasted almost forty—yeah, forty—years… but doesn't include intergalactic space battles or debonair British spies.
Need a hint? It's set in Philadelphia, where there's a statue honoring its main character. And it features an iconic song that you might hum whenever you jog up the stairs.
Still don't know? Does this ring a bell: "Yo, Adrian!"
It's Rocky, of course, which introduced us to Rocky Balboa—one of the greatest names in cinema—in 1976. Rocky and his rival, Apollo Creed, threw jabs, hooks, and uppercuts across six sequels, all the way up through 2015's Rocky-as-mentor flick Creed.
But we're going back to the beginning, before Rocky was the heavyweight champ of the world, and before he was one of the most recognizable film characters in history. Rocky is the story of Rocky Balboa, a boxing bum with a heart of pure gold.
The down-on-his-luck bruiser catches a big break—the opportunity to fight Apollo Creed, the heavyweight champion. In order to go the distance with the champ and regain his self-respect, Rocky trains hard, running up every step in Philly and tenderizing every side of beef hanging in the local meatpacking plant. Aw, yeah.
But Rocky's eyes are also on another prize: the shy pet store clerk, Adrian. No amount of burpees can win her over, but it turns out that Rocky's sweetness, persistence, and adorable monologues are just the ticket to Adrian's heart. Aww. Yeah.
On November 21, 1976, no one imagined that Rocky would win three Academy Awards (including Best Picture, y'all), launching a franchise and Sylvester Stallone's career. Sly is now a household name, thanks in large part to his role as Mr. Balboa.
But don't think Sly Stallone is all brawn and no brain. He also wrote the script of Rocky, and, in a move that rivals Rocky himself for sheer cuteness, insisted that his family get cameos.
The Rocky films also star Talia Shire as Adrian. Shire may not be as big a name as Stallone, but all indie film fans know her famous son, Jason Schwartzman, one of Wes Anderson's favorite leading men. Who knew Grand Budapest Hotel and Rocky would have something in common? (Besides being heartwarming.)
Rocky is a lover and a fighter. He's a romantic, and one of the most iconic underdog success stories of all time, for both Rocky and Stallone. Decades after Rocky's premiere, fans still flock to Philly to run up the Rocky steps, see the Rocky statue, and stand in Rocky's footprints.
Rocky is practically a real-life superhero. He doesn't have super-strength, but he has the power to inspire millions. The 1976 original is Rocky's origin story, and a must-see for anyone who wants to know how a man goes from smacking steaks in a freezer to one of the most popular characters of all time.
Rocky is the most inspirational movie. Ever.
Okay, maybe there are a few other contenders for the title of Heavyweight Inspirational Movie Champion of the World—looking at you, Babe: Pig In The City—but Rocky goes the distance. Rocky will go fifteen rounds with other oh-so-inspiring flicks as Groundhog Day and emerge, if not victorious, than at least still standing tall.
And that's not just because Rocky is a film about a meaty, tenderhearted boxer who boxes frozen meat until it's tender. It's not just because it's a movie about two awkward people finding true romance. It's not just because it's a movie about a streetwise thug who turns his whole life around and becomes a champ. It's not just because it's a movie about a guy who overcomes paralyzing self-doubt… which is basically the hardest thing to overcome single-handedly.
Nope. There's another reason why Rocky is the most inspirational movie ever made.
Excuse us while we put on out film history-buff hat (it's a fedora, but not as cool a fedora as Rocky sports). Ahem-hem.
Rocky is so dang inspirational because of its origin story, and how it launched Sly Stallone into the superstar stratosphere.
Here's the thing: Rocky shouldn't have been this successful. It was made on a shoestring budget with mostly unknown actors. It's a feel-good boxing/love story amid the grit-happy we-love-anti-heroes film fest that was the 1970s. And it was written by Stallone himself, a nobody actor that had previously had bit parts in a few nothing films. In fact, a large part of the reason that Stallone was cast as Mr. Balboa himself was because Stallone (as a nobody) was so dang cheap.
Talk about an underdog becoming a top dog. Rocky is basically underdog-ception: a story about a humble man's meteoric rise to fame, in a movie that started humble and spawned a franchise, written by a dude who started humble and became a household name.
And if that doesn't inspire you, nothing will… unless it's Rocky's theme song, "Gonna Fly Now."
The man who "invented" punching slabs of beef for training is in the movie… and it isn't Rocky, even though he says he invented it. Heavyweight boxing champion Joe Frazier, who cameos in the movie, grew up in Philly, and was known for pounding slabs of beef. (Source)
There are two Stallone family cameos in Rocky—one is a mangy mutt Stallone does a favor for… and the other is Stallone's dog Butkus. Sylvester Stallone's musical brother, Frank, is the acapella singer in the alley, and the dog Stallone adopts is played by his real-life dog. (Source)
Rocky's real name is "Robert," allegedly according to a draft of Rocky II. Rocky is simply a nickname. And it looks a lot better on a movie poster than Robert. (No offense to any Bobs out there.) (Source)
The fansite Total Rocky can't help you train for a championship fight, but it can help you deck out your movie room with Mickey posters and other Rocky artwork for a total Rocky experience.
Passing the Torch
Rocky may not be the star of the Rocky franchise anymore, but Sly Stallone's website still keeps you updated on news of the Rockyverse.
Back before you could watch and re-watch movies on VHS tape, you had to settle for re-reading it in book form. The novelization of Rocky is a must-read for Rocky fans.
Stallone actually had two turtles named Cuff and Link around the time of Rocky II. He talks about that, and the outlandish idea for Rocky III, in this 1979 interview.
The Centrum multivitamin must not have been around in 1976, when Stallone took 113 vitamins daily to stay in shape for Rocky.
Rocky on Ice
Talia Shire thinks Rocky and Adrian's first date would make a perfect ice ballet. We agree.
Speaking of ballet, the entire final fight had to be choreographed, like a bloody dance. Stallone took inspiration from Muhammad Ali and other great fighters of the era.
Sunday with Sly
Stallone walks in his own footsteps, telling the story of Rocky on CBS Sunday Morning.
Carving out Rocky
Stallone is the brains behind the brawn, and he talks his way through his creative process in this video.
Living on a Prayer
Rocky's religious sub-text became text-text with the 2006 Rocky Balboa.
We Believe You Can Fly
"Gonna Fly Now," the theme from Rocky, is a must-have on every workout mix.
This Best Buy commercial uses the final song from Rocky, "The Final Bell." If you punch someone out on Black Friday, remember to hum this after.
This poster reminds us that no staircase will ever be a match for us.
Doesn't Hold a Candle to the Original
Rocky's wax figure looks a little melted.