In hindsight, the first chapter of the rigorous franchise has a healthy leg-up on the rest of the films and feels uniquely homegrown in tone. It's almost basic mythology at this point: Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone at the peak of his durability) works for a two-bit loan shark as freelance muscle while he trains to become a boxer and does amateur bouts for 40 bucks a pop. It's his nickname, The Italian Stallion, which catches the eye of heavyweight champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) when the champ is looking for a gimmick. Creed is more of an entrepreneur than an athlete: When someone calls the gimmick "American," he quips back, "No, it's smart."
At the same time, Rocky begins to see Adrian (Talia Shire), the sister of his friend Pauly (Burt Young). Shy to a reclusive degree, Adrian warms to the big-hearted dope even when he is called a "creep" by some locals. (The creep aspect wouldn't be fully explored until the last installment of the franchise, Rocky Balboa.) His newfound popularity makes the neighborhood think twice about Rocky, namely boxing trainer Mickey (the superb Burgess Meredith) who had written off Rocky as a no-good hood. Avildsen proceduralizes Rocky's training all the way down to the breakfast of raw eggs in a glass. It all leads up to the fight with Apollo and the most famous shout-out in movie history.
Of all the parodies and memorized scenes that have become part of the cultural mindset and vernacular, the scene that finds its boldest sentiment comes when Rocky invites Adrian to his apartment for the first time. For an instant, the kids on the corner were right, and Rocky seems like some brutish creep who can't take no for an answer. He says, "I always knew you were pretty." She says, "Don't tease me." Chauvinist? Perhaps but the emotion carries. Shire's performance has an unforced fluidity that makes Adrian's slow embracing of Balboa incalculably honest. If it's anything that holds steady throughout the film, it's the under-the-tracks sincerity of Rocky's romance with Adrian.
In contrast, the popularization of the athlete borders on demonic. Avildsen sharply gets in for the blood and heavy heaves that go into training, but the two fights that are shown seem poisoned from the outset by money and popularity. The fight that opens the film starts on a mural of Jesus and ends with a tabulation of locker room fees while the main bout is dreamt up in a plush office with people in business suits who smoke good cigars; one of their main concerns is how the poster will look. Of course, our compassion for Rocky and empathy towards what he believes in transforms the final fight into a riveting 15 rounds.
As the later films emphatically preach, it's when you start getting the money that you lose sight of the sport. In the same aforementioned plush office, it is discussed to considerable length the reasons why other fighters won't take on Creed: They need time to lose weight, they don't think the money is good enough, the lawyers need time to mull it over. The commerce vs. art debate is a dead horse now, but Balboa is such a character that he isn't aware of it at all and therefore never preaches it; his stupidity allows us to never have to question his sincerity. Stallone, still five years away from First Blood, embedded his character with a lived-in appeal that has carried for six films; a dunce who can fight with a contagious likability. Now that's American.
Run time: 119 mins
In Theaters: Friday 3rd December 1976
Box Office Worldwide: $117.2M
Distributed by: United Artists
Production compaines: United Artists
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 92%
Fresh: 49 Rotten: 4
IMDB: 8.1 / 10
Director: John G. Avildsen
Screenwriter: Sylvester Stallone
Starring: Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa, Talia Shire as Adrianna "Adrian" Pennino, Burt Young as Paulie, Carl Weathers as Apollo Creed, Burgess Meredith as Mickey Goldmill, Thayer David as Jergens, Joe Spinell as Gazzo, Jimmy Gambina as Mike, Bill Baldwin as Fight Announcer, Al Silvani as Cut Man, George Memmoli as Ice Rink Attendant, Jodi Letizia as Marie, Diana Lewis as TV Commentator 1, George O'Hanlon as TV Commentator 2, Larry Carroll as TV Interviewer, Tony Burton as Duke, Lloyd Kaufman as Drunk
Those bright sparks at Pixar have done it again, taking a fiercely original approach to...
Slick direction and meaty performances may be enough for some viewers, but this boxing drama's...
Loose and impressionistic, this beautifully shot film traces the career of a DJ who pioneered...
Without a single moment of originality, this found-footage horror movie really deserves to be the...
An intriguing premise keeps the audience gripped for about 20 minutes before the movie runs...
The increasingly stale Marvel formula gets a blast of fresh air in this rollocking adventure...
An unusually inventive approach brings this story to life, as the filmmakers get into the...
Fans of the surprise 2012 hit Ted will find plenty to love in this sequel,...