Classic Film Review: Rocky (1976)

And the Oscar Goes to:

Rocky, 1976

Directed by: John G. Avildsen

Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers, Burgess Meredith


Apollo Creed’s (Carl Weathers) challenger to his World Heavyweight Championship falls ill, and with the time before the fight only five weeks, none of the other big-name fighters are willing to take his place. So, instead, they decide to give a unknown a shot at the title, because America is the ‘land of opportunities’, and this unknown fighter is Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone). Rocky is the second boxing film on this series (after Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby) and the third sporting film (with Chariots of Fire), however this one focuses more on Rocky’s training than Margaret Fitzgerald’s (Hillary Swank) rise through the ranks in the female boxing world.

Rocky has two fights in this film: at the start and at the end, and the rest is all character building, which I really liked. It means that even I, who isn’t a major follower of boxing, can follow and relate, as it is a story that you can switch boxing for any sport. This could be a minor league football player being called up to take part in the Superbowl final, or the FA Cup final between a lower league team and the Champions, or an unranked tennis player taking down the world’s number one at Wimbledon.

Throughout Rocky’s journey we see him as a poor man who makes very little from the fights he’s taking part in, and he’s slowly getting to the end of this career. He has his friends, and he has a romantic interest in Adrian (Talia Shire), and all of these things play out and really develop Rocky’s character. There are moments, however, where it could have been done better. Rock appears, at times, frightened at the prospect of losing to the champ, but this isn’t really played out very much, Adrian’s shyness and refusal to be intimate with any man soon disappears after Rocky kisses her, and her hatred of physical sports isn’t played out too much. These things could have been really improved to get a truly emotional connection when the end result comes in. The fight itself I feel is too short, too. With Rocky knocking Apollo down in the first round, we soon flash forward to the final round of their fight, it would have been a lot nicer to see more in-between and seeing Apollo, who was treating the fight as a show rather than a fight, slowly get worried and nervous at his challenger. I also really liked how the result was inconsequential in the long run, as the true story of the night as Rocky’s relationship with Adrian, which concluded itself with the fight at the end of the film.

However one thing that cannot be complained about is the acting. Stallone became a well-known name with his portrayal of Rocky, and everyone else in this film fits their role perfectly. From Talia’s shy then emotional performance to her on-screen brother’s (Burt Young as Paulie Pennino) drunken and pestering antics, everyone is fantastic in this film.

While I preferred Million Dollar Baby as I found myself more emotionally invested in Margaret Fitzgerald’s career, but as a sports fan maybe I appreciated the sporting rise and falls, rather than the romantic drama that Rocky was focused on. But with brilliant acting, a well-placed plot and a powerful finale, Rocky is certainly a top, top film.


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Overall Rating: * * * *

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