A few days before Thanksgiving in 1975, Rocky Balboa fights a man in a tiny gym's boxing ring. At first it's not looking good for Balboa, but when his opponent headbutts him, Rocky beats him down to the mat. Here's a tip if you find yourself in the ring with Rocky: don't mess with his face. He's very proud of that nose.
Rocky wins a whopping forty bucks. Boxing doesn't pay the bills (even forty dollars wasn't much in 1975) so Rocky works as a, um, "collection agent" for a local mob boss/loan shark. When he isn't collecting debts or bruising faces, Rocky is trying to charm Adrian, the clerk at the local pet store. She's the sister of Rocky's best friend, Paulie, who works at the local slaughterhouse.
After multiple failed attempts, Rocky finally succeeds on getting a date with Adrian on Thanksgiving night. The two are the only ones at the local skating rink after Rocky bribes the owner with ten bucks. Adrian wants to know why Rocky boxes. He says it's because he's a "bum" and a "moron." But she doesn't care that he's a bum, and he doesn't care that she's shy, so these two are a perfect couple. Seriously: our humble Shmoopinion is that this is the best couple in movie history.
Rocky soon has an opportunity to prove to himself that he isn't a bum, after all. Heavyweight champion of the world, Apollo Creed, needs a new challenger. Creed has flair, and he wants the fight to be a spectacle. So he chooses Rocky Balboa, the Italian Stallion, knowing what good publicity it will be when he gives a local Philly boy a shot at the title.
At first, Rocky doesn't think he's good enough to fight Creed. But he realizes that he doesn't have to win to prove to himself that he isn't a bum. He simply has to "go the distance," which means fifteen rounds with the champ without getting knocked out. No one has ever done that before, and Rocky is determined to be the first.
He trains. He jogs up the steps of Philadelphia's Museum of Art. He punches slabs of meat in the slaughterhouse. Mickey, the owner of a local gym, becomes Rocky's trainer and manager.
On New Year's Day, 1976, it's time for the fight of the century—maybe even the biggest fight in American history since the Revolutionary War. Apollo Creed enters the ring dressed as George Washington. He has the skills to back up the showmanship, and he almost knocks Rocky out immediately.
But Rocky holds on. Mickey advises him to go for Apollo's ribs, and Rocky hits him so hard, he breaks a few. Rocky also gets his precious nose broken, but he keeps his cool and doesn't let that stop him.
He goes the distance with the champ. He doesn't win the fight, but he doesn't care, because he has proven his own self-worth. (Aw, shucks.) And he has Adrian. She rushes from the locker room, through the crowd, and onto the ring to embrace Rocky, swollen face and all. The two soulmates say "I love you" for the first time, and the movie ends with this romantic knockout.
- November 25, 1975: the Rocky theme plays as the camera pans past a mural of Jesus, down to a boxing ring lit by heavenly light.
- Rocky is in the ring fighting Spider Rico.
- The bell ding-dings and Rocky collapses into his corner for a break.
- During the next round, Rocky takes a couple of punches to the face.
- Balboa's against the ropes! The opponent gives him a vicious headbutt.
- But Rocky recovers, and pummels the man onto the mat.
- The crowd goes wild, cheering Rocky's victory.
- Rocky staggers from the ring, bums a smoke from a guy in the audience, and goes to his locker, where he dons a robe embroidered "The Italian Stallion."
- Spider Rico, lounging in the corner, says Rocky got lucky.
- Spider Rico earns about $17 bucks for losing. Rocky gets around forty smackeroos for winning.
- All cleaned up, Rocky walk down a dark street, stopping to check out a puppy in a window.
- He's a bruiser, but he's sensitive.
- Men sing acapella around a burning barrel, and Rocky compliments them on his way home.
- Inside his apartment, Rocky finishes a mostly empty beer bottle.
- Then he talks to his turtles and his goldfish. (Dude has pet turtles named "Cuff" and "Link." Rocky is adorable.)
- After chatting up his menagerie, Rocky walks to his mirror, which has an assortment of photos taped up around it.
- He takes one down of a young boy, and gives it quite the stare. But why?
- He then lies in bed with some ice over a cut, and broods.
- Rocky talks to Adrian, the woman who works at the pet store.
- He's irritated because his turtle food has more moths than flies, and the turtles choke on the moths. Once again: Rocky is a sweetheart.
- He takes a new jar of turtle food, and walks down to the docks, where he drags a man off a forklift.
- Rocky tells him that Gazzo wants his $200, or Rocky will break his thumbs.
- So much for Mr. Sensitive Turtle Whisperer.
- The man only has $130. He offers his coat to make up the difference, but Rocky doesn't want the coat.
- He takes the $130 and walks away, leaving his thumbs intact.
- Rocky meets Gazzo and takes his cut.
- But Gazzo wants to know why Rocky didn't break the man's thumbs.
- Rocky says he might have lost his job if he broke his thumbs, then he wouldn't be able to pay anything. Hey, he has a point.
- That's not good enough for Gazzo. He wants Rocky to do what he tells him to do.
- After Gazzo drives away, Rocky yells "Shoulda broke your thumbs!"
- Cue moody piano music as Rocky walks away.
- Rocky goes to the gym, where dozens of men pound punching bags.
- He tries to open his locker, but the code won't work.
- Rocky pulls a cheat sheet from his hat. Nope. Still the wrong combo.
- So Rocky knocks the lock off with a fire extinguisher.
- His stuff isn't inside. No wonder the combination didn't work.
- Mike, the gym attendant, says it's not his locker anymore. It's Dipper's locker.
- Mickey told Mike to bag up Rocky's stuff.
- Sure enough, there it is, in a dirty laundry bag on a hook.
- Rocky decides to have a little chat with Mickey.
- Mickey says Dipper needs the locker. He's a contender. Rocky's "a tomato."
- "I run a business here, not a goddamn soup kitchen," Mickey says. Too bad. He could use Rocky for soup.
- Rocky says he did real good the night before, but Mickey says he should think about retiring.
- Rocky visits Adrian in the pet store and invites her to a basketball game.
- She's very shy, and doesn't answer.
- He asks if she wants him to walk her home, and she says no.
- He says he'll make up a new joke tonight, and come by and tell it to her tomorrow.
- At the tavern he talks to Paulie, Adrian's sister, wondering why she gives him the cold shoulder.
- Paulie says she's a "loser." She's thirty (an old maid) and she'll be #dyingalone.
- But he invites Rocky over for Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow.
- Rocky sits at the bar and watches TV.
- Heavyweight champion Apollo Creed is talking to the news, telling kids to "stay in school."
- The bartender says Creed is a "clown."
- Rocky is insulted that he would talk about the champion that way.
- On the way home, Rocky drags a bratty girl in pigtails away from her hooligan friends.
- He tells her if she keeps acting this way, she'll end up being a "whore."
- He walks her home, and she thanks him for his advice: "Screw you, creep-o."
- For the fourth or fifth time in twenty minutes, Rocky walks sadly away into the distance.
- Apollo Creed is upset that his opponent has broken his hand.
- The big fight of the century might be canceled.
- Creed demands his promoter find another worthwhile contender be found.
- Creed recommends a newcomer, to show how sentimental he is, giving a local Philadelphia boy a shot at the big time.
- Rocky, with his glasses on and his little notebook, writes down how much Gazzo wants him to collect from two different people.
- Gazzo gives Rocky a $50 bonus so that he and Adrian can have a good time whenever they have a date. Meanwhile, in a plush office, Apollo Creed tries to find out who he should fight.
- He has a little hardbound book, like the Yellow Pages for boxers.
- Letting his fingers do the walking, Creed finds The Italian Stallion. That's who he wants to fight.
- Rocky meets Paulie for Thanksgiving dinner.
- Paulie wants Rocky to get him a job with Gazzo too, but Rocky doesn't think that's a good idea.
- At Paulie's house, Rocky overhears Paulie and Adrian argue.
- She didn't know he was bringing Rocky, and she's upset.
- She locks herself in the bedroom.
- She says she can't go out with Rocky because she has a turkey in the oven.
- Paulie takes care of that. He pulls the turkey from the oven and throws it into the alleyway. Happy Thanksgiving.
- Adrian is still locked in her room, so Paulie sends Rocky down the hall to cheer her up.
- "Yo, Adrian. It's me, Rocky."
- He talks to the door a bit, but the door doesn't answer.
- She opens the door dressed and ready to go. Guess they're going out.
- Paulie tells Rocky that Adrian likes to ice skate.
- He takes her to the skating rink, but the guy on the Zamboni says they're closed.
- Rocky says he'll "smooth this guy out." (But he's on a Zamboni. He's the one doing the smoothing. Hey-o!)
- The guy makes a deal with Rocky—ten minutes for ten bucks.
- She skates while Rocky walks beside her on the ice.
- Rocky explains to Adrian what a southpaw is, and he shows her his trick finger.
- She asks him why he wants to fight.
- "Because I can't sing or dance." Hey-o, again.
- Their ten minutes is up.
- Walking the streets, Rocky tells Adrian that it doesn't bother him that she's shy.
- "I'm dumb. You're shy," he says. They'd make a perfect couple.
- But she still doesn't understand why he wants to be a fighter.
- He says it's because he's a moron and "half a bum." That's quite the OKCupid profile he's building.
- He has a good nose, though. It's never been broken, and he's proud of it.
- He invites her into his apartment to look at his turtles. Not a euphemism.
- Rocky shows Adrian his turtles.
- She's seen them before. She sold them to him.
- Adrian wants to call Paulie, tell him where she is.
- Rocky doesn't have a phone, so he shouts out the window, "Paulie, your sister's with me!" Classy.
- She wants to leave, but Rocky wants her to stay.
- He takes off her glasses and compliments her eyes.
- He takes off her hat and compliments her beauty.
- Then he goes in for the smooch.
- He kisses with his eyes open.
- They fall to the dirty kitchen floor awkwardly, and continue to make out as the scene fades to black.
- Inside the gym, Rocky chats with Mickey, who tells him Apollo Creed is looking for sparring partners.
- The two get into a shouting match in the middle of the gym floor.
- Mickey says Rocky is wasting his life working for a two-bit loan shark, when he could have been a boxing champion. Ouch. That's a body blow.
- Rocky goes to meet George Jergens, who's a fight promoter.
- He tells Rocky he isn't looking for a sparring partner for Creed: he's looking for an opponent.
- Rocky is speechless at first.
- Then he says no. No!
- Rocky says it wouldn't be a good fight.
- Jergens says this is the chance of a lifetime. Will Rocky do it? (Rocky will do it.)
- Rocky and Adrian watch TV, where Apollo Creed is giving a news conference.
- All of a sudden, Rocky's on the TV with him.
- The newsman asks Rocky how he'll fight Apollo Creed, and Rocky says he'll do the best he can.
- He says "Yo" to Adrian before the end of the conference.
- Adrian says she thinks Rocky has a good chance of actually winning.
- Gazzo asks Rocky if he has money for training expenses, and he gives him an envelope with $500.
- Then he takes the cigarette out of his mouth and throws it away. He's in training now.
- Elsewhere, an old guy walks up the stairs… really… really… slowly.
- Oh, it's Mickey. And he's visiting Rocky's apartment.
- Mickey tells Rocky he'll only have one shot at the title, so he needs a manager.
- Who better than the guy who has been bullying him for the whole movie?
- Mickey offers Rocky all his credentials—a bunch of stitches over one eye, more stitches over the other eye, a nose busted by Sailor Mike. (Not Sailor Moon's brother.)
- "I needed your help two years ago," Rocky says. He didn't help then, and Rocky doesn't want his help now.
- Mickey leaves and Rocky yells after him down the stairwell, but then he follows him out into the street and puts his arm around him.
- They shake hands.
- The alarm goes off at 4:00 a.m. It's twenty-eight degrees. (If we were Rocky, we'd hit the snooze button about two or three dozen more times.)
- Time for breakfast: five raw eggs cracked into a plastic tumbler. You've heard of a milk moustache—Rocky has an egg-yolk moustache after guzzling it down. Blegh.
- After donning his sweats and his chucks, Rocky does some stretches and hits the streets for a brisk jog.
- Later, at the meatpacking plant, Paulie wants to know if Rocky really likes Adrian. He doesn't understand the attraction.
- Paulie says some rude things about his sister.
- Rocky gets angry and beats some meat. Not a euphemism. He punches a raw side of beef until his hands are bloody.
- At Adrian's house, Rocky sits in the warm living room.
- She wants to make out, but he tells her there's "no fooling around" during training.
- Tender music plays, and Rocky says, "Yo… I'm sorry."
- They hug it out. Aww.
- Punch. Punch. Punch. Punch. Punch. Punch. Punch.
- We may have missed a few. Rocky pummels a punching bag.
- To improve his balance, Mickey ties Rocky's feet together.
- If he can hit without breaking the string, that means he can balance.
- Mickey tells Rocky not to see Adrian anymore. "Women weaken legs."
- When Rocky gets home, Adrian is waiting.
- She gives him a dog that had been abandoned at the pet shop, to keep him company when he runs.
- Cue montage of Rocky and dog jogging.
- At the meatpacking plant, a news truck waits outside.
- Paulie called the TV station, because they want to watch Rocky train.
- Rocky is mad, because his training is supposed to be private, but he agrees to talk to them for Paulie.
- The journalist interviews Rocky, and he demonstrates how he punches the beef by punching the beef.
- Paulie drunkenly stumbles home, humming a Christmas carol.
- Inside the house, Rocky tells Adrian that Paulie always wants a job, but he doesn't know nothing about fighting.
- Paulie overhears him, and tells him to get out of the house.
- Adrian says it isn't just his house, so Paulie tells them both to get out.
- He takes a baseball bat and breaks a lamp and a table.
- He tells Adrian that she owes him, and she tells him that she cooks, she cleans, and she does his laundry. She doesn't owe him a thing.
- She screams and throws him onto the couch and runs to her bedroom.
- Rocky follows her, and she asks if she can move in with him. "Absolutely."
- While Rocky is training, Paulie talks to him about a way to make money off his name.
- Rocky gives him the okay.
- Time for another training montage to the iconic Rocky music.
- There's a lot of running, a lot of one-handed push-ups, and a lot of meat tenderizing, culminating with a dash up the steps of Philadelphia's Museum of Art. Feeling strong now. Gonna fly now.
- Rocky checks out the arena where he'll fight Apollo Creed. It's a lot different from the dingy basement where he fought Spider.
- There's a giant poster of Rocky, and he tells Mr. Jergens that it's wrong. His shorts are the wrong color. (And his face looks like a microwaved potato, but he doesn't comment on that.)
- Jergens says it doesn't matter. Rocky should go home and get some rest.
- Rocky returns home, where Adrian is in bed.
- He tells her that he can't beat Apollo Creed.
- But he says it doesn't matter if he loses the fight, 'cause all he wants to do is go the distance. Like Hercules. Or Michael Bolton.
- Rocky just wants to stay standing during the whole fight.
- Then he'll know he isn't just another bum.
- As Rocky prepares for the fight, he kneels at the bathroom sink to pray.
- Adrian wishes him good luck as he heads to the ring.
- The announcers say that the odds are against Rocky to stay standing.
- With much fanfare, Apollo Creed, dressed as George Washington crossing the Delaware, and led by two silver babes of Liberty, approaches ringside.
- In the ring, Apollo puts on a big red-and-white striped hat, and talks as if he's Uncle Sam. "I want you!" he says to Rocky.
- The announcer brings real-life boxer, Philadelphia's own Joe Frazier, into the ring to say hello.
- Frazier, in his pistachio-green suit, tells Rocky not to hurt Apollo Creed.
- He teases Creed, then returns to his seat.
- Now for the main event. Here we go.
- Rocky and Creed bump gloves and get ready to fight. Who will be king of the ring?
- Round one.
- Creed dances circles around Rocky, tapping him in the face a few times.
- Creed goes in for a big body blow, Rocky dodges, and with an uppercut, knocks Creed to the mat.
- "What a surprise this is!" the announcer shouts. It's the first time he's ever been knocked down.
- Creed gets up and quickly corners Rocky.
- Rocky breaks free and gets Creed on the ropes. The ring ref breaks them up.
- Creed gets in a few more shots, but Rocky is saved by the bell.
- Rocky's face is bleeding, and his nose has been broken for the first time.
- Mickey advises Rocky to go for the ribs.
- Back into the ring they go.
- Creed quickly corners Rocky. Left. Right. Left. Right. He beats Rocky like a punching bag.
- Creed grabs Rocky and tells him that the people want a show. He should at least pretend to fight.
- Rocky does more than pretend. He corners Creed and beats the stuffing out of him.
- Bell number two dings, but Rocky won't stop. The ref has to break up the fight again.
- Round Three goes to Round Seven goes to Round Thirteen as both men get more bruised and bloody.
- It's Round Fourteen, and Creed knocks Rocky to the mat.
- Mickey tells him to stay down.
- Adrian watches from the back of the audience.
- But on the count of nine, Rocky climbs the ropes. He's standing again.
- He staggers to Creed and tags him with four lefts to the ribs.
- The bell rings and Apollo returns to his corner. His ribs might be broken.
- Rocky can't see out of one eye, but neither man wants to stop the fight.
- It's the 15th and final round.
- With Rocky's (ugly) poster hanging in the background, Rocky lands some fierce blows.
- The crowd chants "Rocky! Rocky!"
- A left to the ribs, a right to the jaw, the bell rings.
- Reporters swarm the ring.
- They tell him he went the distance with Apollo Creed. How does he feel?
- Rocky screams Adrian's name.
- She rushes through the crowd.
- The announcer says there is a split decision among the judges, and Apollo Creed wins.
- But Rocky doesn't care. Adrian reaches the ring and says she loves Rocky.
- Rocky says he loves her too, and they embrace. The end.