Rocky made both Stallone and director John G. Avildsen into champions. Just like Rocky was down on his luck before having a shot at the title, Avildsen, who had small critical success with Joe (1970) starring Peter Boyle and Susan Sarandon, had been fired from Serpico and Saturday Night Fever.
But along came Rocky, and an Academy Award for Best Director for Avildsen. Avildsen later returned for Rocky V (1990), but he preferred the low-budget original, saying it forced the team to make more creative decisions, like filming Rocky and Adrian's date inside an empty ice-skating rink instead of a busy restaurant. (Source)
Since Rocky, Avildsen has a thing for underdogs kicking butt: he also directed three Karate Kid movies. Although Avildsen was big in the '70s and '80s, after two Worst Director Razzie nominations, for Rocky V and The Karate Kid: Part III (1989), Avildsen only directed three more films.
Yup: Rambo can write. After bit parts in '70s films like Bananas and Death Race 2000 (and a porno), Sylvester Stallone made a name for himself in 1976. And that name was Rocky Balboa.
A boxing fan himself, Stallone created the character of Rocky, a hard-hitting amateur boxer with a heart of gold, and his opportunity to have one shot at success.
A lot of '70s films featured dark, violent anti-heroes—think Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver or Popeye Doyle in The French Connection. And that's how Stallone originally envisioned it. But Stallone's wife hated the nastiness, so Stallone slyly rewrote it, and made Rocky into the kind-hearted soul with fists of concrete who we know today. (Source)
Rocky's rags-to-riches story came true for Stallone, who went on to write and star in four more Rocky films, numerous Rambo films, the Expendables franchise, and the classic comedy Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot (1992) with Estelle Getty.
Irvin Winkler (no relation to the Fonz) is a producer/director, who produced every Rocky movie, The Wolf of Wall Street, and directed the movie that got everything about the Internet wrong: The Net with Sandra Bullock (1995). Along with producing partner Robert Chartoff, Winkler purchased Rocky and brought it to United Artists, who greenlit the film with a budget of only $1 million.
Despite the fact that they were enthusiastic about the script, they didn't want Stallone playing the role of Rocky. Ryan O'Neal, Robert Redford, and even Burt Reynolds were all big-name actors considered for the role. Can you imagine Smokey (or was he the Bandit) as Rocky Balboa?
But after some begging by Stallone—and the fact that he was way cheaper—they agreed to cast him in the iconic part. (Source)
Because of the low budget, the film was made at a breakneck pace of only 28 days, and filmed on the run throughout the streets of Philadelphia. Many of the film's iconic scenes, like a stranger tossing an orange to Rocky, were spontaneous… and the film wouldn't be the same without them. (Source)
Stallone literally was a starving actor on the set of Rocky. They couldn't afford craft services. Or much of, well, anything.
Rocky was made like a student film, with actors doing their own driving, and the film being shot on 8mm film at a breakneck pace. Due to their low budget, they often had to improvise. To shoot the interior driving sequences, a cameraman held onto the front of the car for dear life.
By literally hitting the pavement—and a few sides of beef—the filmmakers ground Rocky in gritty reality, and the film's realism makes his success story all the more poignant.
People who haven't seen Rocky still know the Rocky score: that's how famous Bill Conti's tracks are.
The training montage set against "Gonna Fly Now" might be one of the most popular movie tracks of all time. Everyone hums the Rocky theme during their morning workout. (Source: Our own personal morning workout. And by "workout" we mean "donut run." And by "run" we mean "sitting in the drive thru.") The final song, "The Final Bell" was also featured in a 2015 Best Buy commercial… which is how you know you've made it.
Conti's music is invigorating and inspiring, the kind of music Rocky would listen to if he had access to a Spotify playlist on his morning run. But Rocky was made on a shoestring budget, including the music. Conti's tracks brim with the same sort of love that the rest of the movie is filled with—he's not doing it for money, he's doing it to prove that he can.
Rocky's training montages—and there are a ton of 'em—wouldn't be the same without the music moving them along. Conti received an Academy Award nomination for his song "Gonna Fly Now." "Fly" earned him a lot of frequent flier miles, too: Conti scored four other Rocky films.
Rocky has a longer lifespan than any other professional boxer. This is a franchise that has spanned almost forty years—forty freaking years. That's seriously going the distance.
There are five Roman numeral-ed Rocky films from 1976 until 1990, a sixth comeback film, Rocky Balboa (2006), and a sequel/spin-off Creed (2015) telling the story of Apollo Creed's son, who needs Rocky's help to win a fight.
Ever thought Rocky was so sensitive, he might burst into song? You're not the only one. Rocky was adapted into a Broadway musical in 2012. Unlike Rocky himself, who rose to stardom, the musical crashed and burned, closing after only six months. But that was hardly enough to damage the franchise, which will probably outlive Stallone himself.
And we're not even mentioning the tourism industry kept alive by Rocky fans. There are the famous Rocky Steps in Philly, which see tens of thousands of people sprinting, gazing around, and jumping up and down with their selfie sticks. But if running ain't your thing, don't worry: there's a Rocky statue, a Rocky tour of The City of Brotherly Love, and the opportunity to propose to the Adrian or Rocky in your life at the Philly Zoo (where Rocky pops the question at the beginning of Rocky II). (Source)