Vintage Movie Review: ROCKY (1976)

The Eagle’s Cry strives to bring Bethpage students the best of music, film, and art… no matter what the era. In keeping with this pledge, we will regularly present reviews of the best stuff in the entertainment section. Whether from 1950 or 2016—if it matters, you’ll read about it here.

Today, we’re writing about a 1976 film about Rocky Balboa—a professional boxer looking to find himself through the sport he breathes—considered one of the most iconic movies of all-time. This picture puts forth way more than just the underlying goal: winning a boxing match against the most famous boxing champion in the world. This film has inspired millions, and continues to do so every day.

Rocky was written in three days by a young, hungry Sylvester Stallone, who would make his name as one of the most illustrious stars in history. Stallone had just $100 dollars to his name, a dog, and a dream before making Rocky. That he created an A+ film was almost impossible considering Stallone’s limitations—a paltry one-million-dollar budget, and a no-name writer aching to play the lead. United Artists originally wanted James Caan—famed for his dramatic roles in The Godfather and The Gambler—to portray Balboa, but as Stallone repeatedly opposed, he was officially named Rocky Balboa, star of the film. Stallone, as talented as he is, was the ultimate dopey boxer on screen, but off-screen, he was just as brilliant… he compiled an extremely underrated cast that simply worked.

Rocky is more of a love story than a boxing film. Balboa is a young man with the potential to become great, but without the mental drive to do so. Mickey, his trainer, constantly calls him a “bum,” telling him he’s no good because of missed opportunities to become a great fighter. Rocky works as a collector for a South Philadelphia loan shark, and primarily fights for $50 a match. Stallone’s character maintains a one-room apartment with two pet turtles and a fish. It’s obvious Balboa needs a companion, and when Paulie—Balboa’s friend—mentions him going out with Paulie’s sister, Adrian, Rocky thinks about it, then gives it a try.

When Balboa’s fortunes turn, and heavyweight champion Apollo Creed takes a risk to give a Philadelphia underdog an opportunity to make a name for himself, Rocky isn’t interested—until Creed chooses his opponent. The man who will stand toe-to-toe with Creed will be Rocky Balboa…if he accepts, of course.

Balboa, lacking confidence, debates whether or not he should even take the fight. Defeating Creed is secondary to Balboa; his main concern is capturing the heart of Adrian. According to Rocky, “going the distance with the champ” will give him ultimate self-respect. After the big match, Balboa screams for Adrian, his love, instead of talking to the media about his boxing performance.

Each character in the movie Rocky was an under-the-radar actor, but without him or her, the movie wouldn’t have enjoyed the amazing recognition, lasting impact, and praise that it did. The most colorful character at the time was Burgess Meredith, who portrays Mickey, Rocky’s rough-edged trainer, who treats Balboa “like a bum,” hoping to guilt the fighter into taking on the Creed fight. Meredith set the precedent for all boxing trainers in the future of sports film.

Known at the time as Michael Corleone’s sister in The Godfather, Talia Shire was sensational portraying Rocky’s soulmate, Adrian. Shire’s character was extremely shy, but she and Rocky “filled gaps” in each other’s personalities. The couple needed each other to survive, and the audience feels that.

Carl Weathers, an ex-NFL football player turned actor, became the cocky and business-savvy Apollo Creed. Stallone struck gold when Weathers came to the audition: his athletic body and ability to act easily got him the role.

Burt Young nailed the role of the often-drunk and occasionally abusive Paulie, Adrian’s older brother.

Before its release, Sylvester Stallone had absolutely no clue how his first film would do in theaters…let’s just say the gamble paid off in the end. Stallone’s gem would go on to make $117,235,147 in total grosses and win a series of prestigious awards. Rocky took home to the “fighting city of Philadelphia,” the 1977 Academy Award for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Film Editing and the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture for a drama the same year. Rocky competed with two other famous films—Taxi Driver and Network—for film of the year. Rocky, just like the man himself, was the underdog of the three movies; a low-budget film, a no-name actor competing against Hollywood stars like Robert De Niro and Peter Finch.

Almost forty years after its release, the original Rocky is still an iconic movie, and considered one of the all-time best. But with technology as important as breathing today, why should kids in 2016 care about a movie released when their parents were kids? The film doesn’t just contain breathtaking boxing action, intense training, and a main character who captured hearts across the world—it also contains one of the greatest story lines in the history of film. Watching what Rocky Balboa goes through to “go the distance” is an instant confidence-booster. Whatever you’re going through, whatever mountain you’re climbing in life, Rocky is a must-see film. You can thank me later.