So I watched Creed for the first time last week, which led me to revisit each of the Rocky films in turn. Starting with the original (and best) Rocky...
The making of Rocky is as much of an unlikely success story for the underdog as the one which occurs in the narrative. Shot in just 28 days for a budget of just over $1 million, Rocky went on to bag three Oscars - including Best Picture - and become the highest grossing film of 1976. Its legacy has seen a staggering six sequels (not bad for a film which features the climactic line "Ain't gonna be no rematch") its entrance into the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for cultural significance, and remains a contender for the greatest sports move ever made.
Of course the most impressive factoid - especially for any budding writer - is that leading man Stallone wrote the script for Rocky in just three and a half days. His affection for the blue collar narrative of old Hollywood B movies and sporting memoirs bleeds through every page of that script and his dialogue is complete with several sharp jabs that immediately demand our attention and enjoyment.
I'd also forgotten just how funny Rocky is, with much of the best lines going to the scene-stealing Burgess Meredith as Rocky's tetchy old coach and former boxer Mickey ("Women weaken the legs" and "You're gonna eat lightning and crap thunder" are all eminently quotable and worthy of T shirt slogans) and some truly funny, sweet scenes revolving around Rocky's hesitant courtship of Adrian (Talia Shire) culminating on their first date at an out-of-hours ice rink - offset by the proprietor counting down the minutes Rocky has paid him to keep it open. It's also refreshing to see that, though Adrian is gradually and subtly brought out from the shadow of her abusive brother Paulie (Burt Young) and out of her dowdy shell by Rocky's affection, Stallone stayed away from the cliche of the ugly duckling who removes her glasses and shakes loose her hair to become the archetypal leading lady.
As Rocky, Stallone gives ostensibly his greatest ever performance. If Brando could have been a contender in On The Waterfront, Stallone's Balboa, an amiable lug who gets beaten to a pulp most nights and collects debts down at the docks for the local loan shark, gets the chance to prove himself in a wonderfully Capra-esque urban fairytale that sees current World Heavyweight Champ Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) offer a nobody the chance to be a somebody in keeping with the spirit of America. Similarly, Stallone was the underdog with the studio bosses too. They liked his script, but they liked Robert Redford, James Caan, Ryan O'Neal or Burt Reynolds for the leading role. Stallone fought as hard as the Italian Stallion to convince them he was the right man for the job and deliberately kept the budget low to counter any losses at having a less-established name head the picture.
As a film Rocky set the template not just for other big screen sporting dramas but for the subsequent instalments in the series too. Watching it back today I was actually surprised to see just how many beats from this original that the latest film in the series Creed actually riffed on - most notably how our underdog hits the canvas in the final reel, leading to the premature celebrations of the champ.
Knockout rating: 5 punches out of 5.