Ever notice that every blockbuster movie has the same fundamental pieces? A hero, a journey, some conflicts to muck it all up, a reward, and the hero returning home and everybody applauding his or her swag? Yeah, scholar Joseph Campbell noticed first—in 1949. He wrote The Hero with a Thousand Faces, in which he outlined the 17 stages of a mythological hero's journey.
About half a century later, Christopher Vogler condensed those stages down to 12 in an attempt to show Hollywood how every story ever written should—and, uh, does—follow Campbell's pattern. We're working with those 12 stages, so take a look. (P.S. Want more? We have an entire Online Course devoted to the hero's journey.)
Many 1970s films spend a long time establishing the world the character lives in, and Rocky is no different. He boxes. He roughs up people who owe money. He attempts to woo Adrian at the pet store. He feeds his turtles. By the time Rocky finally has a plot, we feel like we're living in Philly with him.
Call To Adventure
Being picked to fight the heavyweight champion of the world would be a nightmare for many people, but for Rocky it's a dream come true. He has always wanted an opportunity to prove himself, and Apollo gives him the shot he has always wanted.
Refusal Of The Call
When Jergens tells Rocky he has been selected to fight Apollo, Rocky refuses. Rocky's like a guy who believes anyone he wants to date is out of his league. Rocky doesn't want to date Apollo (although boxers do hug a lot), but he feels Apollo is in another league athletically. Rocky thinks he would be a disappointment as soon as he sets foot in the ring.
Meeting The Mentor
The mentor in this context would be Apollo. Apollo charms Rocky and gets him in front of the press to build up his confidence enough to fight him. The more publicity Rocky gets, the more he wants to succeed at the fight. Not for the fame, but simply to prove that he isn't a bum.
Crossing The Threshold
Rocky doesn't just want to fight Apollo; he wants to win Adrian's heart… and that might be even more nerve-wracking for him than boxing the champ. Crossing the threshold into Adrian's house, and asking her out on a date, almost turns Rocky into a nervous wreck. But he does it, and the two become inseparable.
Tests, Allies, Enemies
Rocky's a bit of a loner. But Adrian supports him, and Paulie provides him with a warehouse full of raw meat to hit. (Yum.)
The physical training isn't that much of a test for the buff brawler. It's the emotional challenge that is much more difficult for Rocky. He'll have to proceed to the next step to conquer that obstacle.
Approach To The Inmost Cave
Rocky confronts his biggest fear during the argument with Mickey in his apartment. During his outburst, Rocky reveals that he's afraid he'll always be a nobody. By acknowledging this, he's able to put aside his grudge against Mickey and team up with him to train for the big fight.
Rocky's intense training and diet regimen—getting up at 4 a.m. and drinking five raw eggs!—is quite an ordeal. But least he gets to do it to some of the best music in film history.
Reward (Seizing The Sword)
Rocky's reward is his own confidence and self-esteem. With the support of Adrian and Mickey (and to a lesser extent, Paulie), Rocky realizes that he doesn't even have to beat Apollo to feel like he's won. He needs to go the distance with the champ, and Rocky feels like he can do it.
The Road Back
Rocky begins and ends with a fight. But the finale fight is totally different from the dingy gym where Rocky fought Spider Rico at the beginning. Rocky may be basically the same person, but his surroundings are completely different. And—aww—he has Adrian by his side.
After being knocked down a few times, Rocky always gets back up, stronger and more determined than before. When he gets off the mat, he knows he can stay up and go the distance with Apollo… and he does.
Return With The Elixir
Even though Rocky doesn't win the championship title, he doesn't care. He's won two things much more important for him—his own self-esteem, and Adrian's love. Rocky doesn't even listen to the verdict of the fight. He yells for Adrian who races into the ring and says she loves him. He loves her too.