40 years on, the world still loves Rocky Balboa

Written in three days, shot over 28 days and costing a mere $1 million, “Rocky” went on to become 1976’s highest-grossing film and carve itself a niche in cult film history

22 November 2016, 4:37pm
The reach of “Rocky” is international, and the film serves as a slice of Americana
The reach of “Rocky” is international, and the film serves as a slice of Americana
It was on 21 November 1976 that people all over the world first met Rocky Balboa, the southpaw boxer from south Philadelphia. Four decades later, Sylvester Stallone’s lovable character resonates with fans drawn to his underdog tale of determination, grit and sleepy-eyed charm.

The reach of “Rocky” is international, and the film serves as a slice of Americana. It is shorthand for Philadelphia as much as the Liberty Bell or Benjamin Franklin.

“Anytime we are speaking to overseas visitors ... the conversation always turns, at some point, to ‘Rocky,’” said Julie Coker Graham, president of the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau. “They ask, ‘Have you met Rocky?” A lot of them think it’s an actual, real-life person.”

On the film’s 40th anniversary, the film’s enduring legacy is apparent.

Written by Stallone in three days, fans fell hard for the ballad of Rocky Balboa. The small-time boxer from the heavily Italian neighbourhood of South Philly stumbles into a bout with the heavyweight champion of the world, Apollo Creed, fighting in the city to celebrate America’s bicentennial.

To get him into fighting shape, Rocky (played by Stallone) is trained by the peppery Mickey Goldmill (Burgess Meredith), whose many one-liners make him a frequent scene stealer. Rocky also finds love in the film with sheepish neighbourhood pet store clerk, Adriana (Talia Shire). Though he ultimately loses the fight, Rocky proves himself and wins Adriana’s heart, making him the winner of much more than a title.

The film itself was a long shot, made on a budget of only $1 million and shot in 28 days, with a largely unknown cast, including Stallone himself. And it was shot in working-class Philadelphia, a city that — despite its roots as the crucible of freedom — had long had a chip on its shoulder as second-tier as compared to more cultured East Coast metropolises like New York and Boston.

What the movie lacked in beauty, it made up for in heart, something that resonated with audiences worldwide. The film was the highest-grossing of the year, earning $117 million at the North American box office and another $107 million overseas.

“Rocky” received 10 Oscar nominations in nine categories at the Academy Awards, winning three: best picture, best director (John G. Avildsen) and best film editing. Stallone, Burgess and Shire were all nominated in acting categories, and Stallone was nominated for his screenplay.

“Rocky” is preserved in the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”