A film franchise fast approaches forty years and it’s still going strong

Sylvester Stallone as Robert ‘Rocky’ Balboa from ‘Rocky’

In early December of 1976 a boxing movie was released in the U. S.  It opened with the title character fighting “Spider Rico.”  Today Spider Rico is nothing more than the answer to a trivia question, who did “Rocky Balboa” fight in his first big screen bout.  On the other hand, Rocky is a household name in households all over the world.   Now, it’s Thanksgiving weekend, 39 years later and yet another film in the Rocky universe is in theaters.  Critically acclaimed, the pundits are predicting a Thanksgiving opening record for a non-animated feature for Creed

How did this happen?  It began with a then little known actor who had an idea for a script.  A script that he told the New York Times that he’d written in less than four days.  A script that would go on to be nominated for Best Original Screenplay at the 1976 Academy Awards.  A script that led to a film that was nominated for ten Oscars and won three, including Best Picture and Best Director.  The original script for Rocky as penned by Sylvester Stallone.  The story of how producers Irwin Winkler and the late Robert Chartoff met Stallone and wound up buying his script doesn’t need to be retold.

"Rocky Balboa" knocking out "Spider Rico" in his first movie fight, in 'Rocky'
Rocky Balboa knocking out Spider Rico in his first movie fight, in ‘Rocky’

Few film characters have statues created in their honor, even if it was originally just a movie prop, but the statue of Rocky from Rocky III still stands to the right of the “Rocky Steps” in Philadelphia.  It’s a popular tourist spot, often used as a backdrop for photographs.  So what makes Rocky such an iconic character?  TailSlate asked William Chartoff who was involved as a producer on Rocky Balboa and Creed, as well as being the son of the late Robert Chartoff.  He said, “in Rocky people see themselves. Good hearted, talented, special, but under appreciated by the rest of society. If only we underdogs, like Rocky, were given that one in a million shot to prove ourselves… which we all feel we deserve. In Rocky this hope is realized.”

Rocky Balboa has had an amazing character arc through seven films.  Throughout his journey, until Creed, he always had people supporting him.  He had his good friend “Paulie Pennino” through the first six films.  We know he died at some point after that sixth film.  His girlfriend, Paulie’s sister “Adrian” became the love of Rocky’s life and his wife.  She died in the fifth film.  His trainer, Mickey Goldmill, who guided him on the way to the top, to the championship dies during the third film.  Now in Creed, he has no one.  William Chartoff says that at this point, “Rocky is alone and lonely, with nothing more to prove. He is more or less just waiting for the end… to go and to join Adrian. Even Rocky himself seems to believe the story is over. And then along comes Adonis, much to Rocky’s surprise, offering one more journey.”

Paulie Pennino and Rocky in a scene from 'Rocky III'
Paulie Pennino and Rocky in a scene from ‘Rocky III’

One of the things that has also made the franchise work is that Rocky has had an amazing lineup of opponents.  Apollo Creed was the world champion who gave Rocky his title shot.  Fierce fighters who fought epic bouts, they somehow became friends.  More than friends.  It was Apollo who picked up Rocky from the depths of defeat after his loss to Clubber Lang in Rocky III.  It was also Apollo who provided the motivation for Rocky to face the Russian, Ivan Drago in Rocky IV.  Tommy Gunn was a perfect foil in Rocky V and Mason “The Line” Dixon likewise in the sixth film, Rocky Balboa.  Rocky’s opponent in Creed isn’t someone he faces in the ring.  It’s something entirely different and in some ways, a far more formidable foe.

Rocky is here to stay and I hope we see Adonis Creed in the squared circle again, with Rocky Balboa in his corner.

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