There is one real life story that is actually greater and more unlikely than the fictional story of the movie Rocky, which came out 40 years ago this year. That story is how the movie Rocky was even written in the first place by Sylvester Stallone. At the time Stallone was living in Hells Kitchen as a failed actor for many years. He had no money, and at one point even slept in a subway station for 3 weeks. He had to sell his own dog because he could not afford to buy food to feed it. Then one night he saw a journeyman fighter by the name of Chuck Wepner fight Muhammad Ali and Stallone’s life was changed forever. Wepner was what is known as a bleeder, or a fighter who bleeds very easily after being hit in the face. He was at best an average fighter but on the night Wepner fought Ali, he knocked him down after a punch to the midsection. That one punch gave Stallone the idea for the screenplay for Rocky and Stallone was so inspired that he wrote the entire script within 20 straight hours over a weekend. What followed were attempts by Stallone to not only get this great screenplay sold but to star in the movie himself, even though no producer wanted him because he was an unknown. At the time Stallone had 107 dollars to his name, but despite this, he refused to sell the script unless he was made the star of the movie even after bids for the script went as high as 360 thousand dollars. Eventually, Stallone got what he wanted despite odds even longer than the story of Rocky, but he had to agree to only 35 thousand dollars in order to star in the movie himself. Rocky won the best picture Oscar in 1976 and like I have seen so many times, Stallone never reached those heights of great screenwriting again in his career, proving once again how extremely difficult it is to write a great screenplay. Rocky 2 and Rocky 3 were very good movies, but Rocky will stand out as one of the best movies and screenplays ever written. Stallone also deservedly was nominated for an Oscar for best original screenplay for Rocky in 1977. Clearly, he should have won and would have won, were it not for the movie Network also being nominated that year for the same award.
The movie Rocky is about “going to the distance”, doing something that nobody thinks you can do, it is about defying the odds and finally making it despite the long or impossible odds. Why Rocky is one of the most significant movies in the history of cinema is because everyone can relate to this kind of story. We all want to grab the brass ring, to achieve great heights of success. Rocky is also about the loser breaking out of a life of losing and becoming a winner, even though everybody around you tells you that you are a loser.
I remember being very impressed when Rocky 2 came out 3 years later in 1979 because the movie was very good and the perfect compliment to the first movie. Very often sequels are so bad they sometimes even ruin your memory of the first movie. Rocky 2 was not as good as Rocky but it was outstanding enough to be worthy of another Academy Award nomination. The scene where Adrian, played by Talia Shire comes out of her coma after problems in childbirth, where she almost dies and tells Rocky to “win, WIN!”, is one of the most singular and emotional moments in movie history. At that moment, I remember wanting to personally knock down a wall for her. The cast for Rocky was equally outstanding with every one of the characters. Talia Shire as Adrian, Burt Young as her brother Paulie, Carl Weathers as Apollo Creed and Burgess Meredith in without a doubt his greatest performance as an actor as Micky, Rocky’s trainer. Meredith was nominated as best supporting actor Academy Award for his role as Micky.
Everyone will also agree that the music for Rocky, written by composer Bill Conti is equally as spectacular as the story itself and without this music, the emotional impact of this great movie would have been far less than what it was.
Rocky is one of the greatest movies ever produced and should be seen by everyone.
Pingback: Past Movie Review: Rocky « Screenwriting: A Writers Life