Movie Review: Rocky (1976) #atozchallenge

I’m participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge by watching and reviewing some of my favorite movies of all time that I haven’t watched in a long time. This post contains SPOILERS!

Title: Rocky
Release Date: John G. Avildsen
Director: John G. Avildsen
Production Company: Chartoff-Winkler Productions

Just before Thanksgiving, down-on-his-luck boxer Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) wins a local boxing match in Philadelphia.  Nevertheless, the manager of his boxing gym, Mickey (Burgess Meredith), has all of Rocky’s gear removed from his locker at the gym.  To make ends meet, Rocky works as an enforcer for a local loan shark, although he tends to be too soft on those late on their debts.  Mickey disapproves of Rocky’s life choices and wasted potential and suggests he should retire.

At this time, Rocky pursues a romance with a shy pet store clerk, Adrian (Talia Shire).  Rocky’s frenemy Paulie (Burt Young) is Adrian’s brother and invites Rocky to Thanksgiving dinner although he is shockingly dismissive of his sister.  World Heavyweight Champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) plans to kick off the bicentennial year with a title fight in Philadelphia, but his challenger has to back out with an injury and no other ranked boxers are able to accept the challenge.  Creed decides to make the fight a novelty by selecting a local Philadelphia boxer to get the opportunity to participate in a title fight. Creed selects Rocky because his nickname “The Italian Stallion” ties in with the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus.

Internally reluctant, Rocky decides to take up the challenge. Mickey offers to be Rocky’s manager, and after an argument over their past disagreements, Rocky takes Mickey up on the offer.  The news media are intrigued by Rocky’s unique training methods, which include punching sides of beef at Paulie’s meatpacking business and running up the steps to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Knowing he cannot beat Creed, Rocky hopes to be the first boxer to “go the distance” by fighting all 15 rounds with getting knocked out.  Defying the odds, Rocky does just that in the brutal title bout that concludes the film.  Both Rocky and Apollo immediately state that they don’t want a rematch, so there won’t be any sequels or anything like that.

When Did I First See This Movie?:

A lot like Jaws, I saw the sequels (particularly Rocky III) before I saw the original.  And much like the Jaws sequels, the Rocky sequels tend to miss the point of what made the original great.  Instead of being movies about sharks and boxing, Jaws and Rocky are rich human stories about deeply-flawed people who nevertheless step up to a challenge.

My dad always liked the Rocky movies so they make me think of him and how I drove him nuts when we visited Philadelphia and I ran up every set of steps we came across.  My father died when I was 17 and the night after his funeral I didn’t know what to do so I flipped on the tv just as Rocky was starting.  That seemed like to much of a cosmic coincidence so I left it on and watched it all the way through for the first time in my life.  I was really impressed by how much deeper a story it was than the sequels I’d watched when I was younger.

What Did I Remember?:

The basic plotline was in my head but not the details.

What Did I Forget?:

I’d forgotten that Rocky and Mickey were actually in an antagonistic relationship when the story began and that they argued before Rocky agreed to let Mickey be his manager.  I’d also completely forgotten that Apollo enters the arena dressed as George Washington while throwing coins to the spectators.  In retrospect, it’s kind of ironic that a Black man in the 1970s is depicted as the super patriotic character (consider that the real life World Heavyweight Boxing Champion at the time this movie is set was Muhammad Ali, who was highly critical of the US government and Americanism).

What Makes This Movie Great?:

As noted above, this is a well-written, well-acted human drama (Stallone, Meredith, and Weathers stand out in the cast).  It’s less a sports movie and more a movie about how an ordinary person deals with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  And while the “Training Montage” has become a tired cliche in movies, Rocky did it first and best and you’d have to have a rock-hard heart to not find it a little inspiring.

What Doesn’t Hold Up?:

This movie depicts working class white people in the 1970s who don’t exactly have the most progressive views.  That being said, I don’t think that the movie ever endorses any racist or sexist behavior so much as give a realistic depiction of how people behave.  The one part of the movie I’ve always found creepy and weird is Paulie’s obsession with Adrian’s virginity.

Is It a Classic?:


Rating: ****

Five more all-time favorite movies starting with R:

  1. Raiders of the Lost Ark  (1981)
  2. Real Genius (1985)
  3. The Right Stuff (1983)
  4. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)
  5. Roman Holiday (1953)

What is your favorite movie starting with R? What would you guess is my movie for S (Hint: The final line is “Nobody’s Perfect.”)? Let me know in the comments.


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