It’s the fight of the century. The crowd roars as the Italian Stallion, Rocky Balboa, lands an uppercut on the heavyweight champion of the world, Apollo Creed. It was supposed to be a one-sided bout in the champ’s favor, but as it progresses the bruised-up pair of fighters find themselves in their respective corners, waiting for the last round of the fight.
Rocky’s face is badly bruised, his right eye entirely swollen. His concerned coach, Mickey Goldmill (Burgess Meredith), tries to convince him to concede, but the fighter says no.
“You stop this fight, I’ll kill ya!”
Rocky is a classic story of triumph that is considered by many to be one of the greatest films of all time. The film premiered in theaters 40 years ago on November 21, 1976 and has left its mark on cinema.
The powerful story and performance that Sylvester Stallone delivered onto the world spawned several sequels and it remains an inspiration for modern boxing films. One of the most compelling aspects of the film is its focus on a less-privileged individual, an underdog both inside and out of the ring. This thematic element has been replicated multiple times throughout various boxing films, though not always effectively. Some of the most successful iterations include The Fighter, Million Dollar Baby, Cinderella Man and Raging Bull.
However, none have ever been able to pull off the charismatic nature that Stallone brought to the screen as Rocky. At first glance he seems like a brutish man with the personality of a child, but upon further examination I find that it is this simple characterization that makes him incredibly entertaining to watch. Whether he be waiving at puppies behind the window of a local pet store or trying to make small talk with a shy Adrian Pennino (Talia Shire), Rocky is hard to dislike.
To me, the beauty of Rocky lies within the relationships that Rocky has with the people closest to him outside of the ring. During the course of the series, we witness Rocky’s romantic relationship with Adrian, a once timid young woman who develops into a powerful force who lifts Rocky up when he is at his lowest points. We see the incredible bromance Rocky and Apollo (Carl Weathers) form after their second fight in Rocky II when Apollo trains the Italian Stallion. Rocky would later go on to repay the favor by training Apollo’s estranged son, Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan), in Creed.
Amongst all the film’s memorable aspects, the one that left the biggest impact on me is the relationship between Rocky and his mentor/trainer Mickey. He is arguably the most quotable character within the entire series. His talks with Rocky may sound harsh at times, but the underlying messages beneath all of his words hold immense value to Rocky, as well as the audience. The relationship between the two is something that can never be fully replicated. Sure the dynamic in Creed came close, but there is still nothing quite like it. Even with his absence from the series after Rocky III, Mickey’s words are never forgotten by the champ nor the audience.
“Get up you son of a b—-, cause Mickey loves you.”
Rocky’s global praise and impact is something few films can accomplish. Although countless other boxing films have been made in the same vein, the film sets itself apart with compelling characters and emotional storylines. It will no doubt withstand the test of time and continue to be watched by generations to come.