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I have always rank Rocky highly. They’re fun movies to discuss. We were talking about them in school many moons ago and we’re still talking about them today. Favourite film of the series, our favourite quotes, favourite opponents of Rocky. Everything about Rocky is up for discussion.
My introduction to the series began in late 1999, when the films were shown on BBC every Saturday Night over a five-week period.
It’s a celebrated franchise in the same way Star Wars is. Unlike Star Wars, Rocky isn’t treated like an episodic series. Each film is treated like it’s the last. The word retirement even comes up in the first film. It’s definitive until the end.
The Rocky series is and always will be about the character of Rocky Balboa. He’s the main focus. I can’t help but feel that Stallone inserted much of his real life persona into the Rocky character but it’s a fictional character that was brought to life in a very convincing way.
As the series progresses, Rocky ages and it’s addressed. This is different from a character like James Bond where he’s rotated out for a different actor so they can maintain the character’s look. Rocky grows old and goes through many changes in this personal life and career, just like a real person.
Will I be reviewing Creed? No. I’ve already done it. Loved that film. Check out my review if you haven’t already done so.
What I’ll be doing is reviewing all six Rocky movies and then ranking them from best to worst.
Let’s start off with the first film: Rocky.
Written, starring, and directed by Sylvester Stallone, Rocky was an unexpected success when it was released. It had nothing to live up to. What stick out most is how humble in tone the film is. The humbleness can never be recaptured.
Rocky is a poor working class guy who is trying to make ends meet. He participates in boxing matches in small halls, making very slim wages. He also works for a loan shark on the side, he’s paid to break a guy’s thumb but he won’t do it explaining to his boss that it will put the guy out of work and unable to pay the debt. It shows that Rocky is sympathetic beneath his tough guy exterior. There’s also another scene where he prevents a girl from falling into the wrong crowd and tells her to quit smoking and using foul language. It’s clear that Rocky has a kind heart.
He also develops a relationship with the local pet store assistant Adrian, played by Talia Shire. Adrian is shy, has little social skills, and is invisible to society. She’s not respected well by her brother Paulie, played by Bert Young. Rocky looks past all of that and sees the true beauty in her. They end up having a first date at the local ice rink. I want to mention that the film is slow in pacing at first, but picks up once we hit that scene. It’s also that scene where we as an audience start accepting the Rocky character.
Heavyweight Boxing Champion Apollo Creed comes to Philadelphia to put on an exhibition bout. The Apollo Creed character is heavily influenced off the late, great Muhammed Ali. He’s brash, he’s cocky, he’s confident. Carl Weathers is excellent in the role. You can tell that he’s having a lot of fun playing the character. Apollo decides to pick an unknown local for his opponent. Rocky is picked just because of his “Italian Stallion” nickname. At first, Rocky was under the impression that he would be a sparring partner for Apollo. He at first rejects the offer but accepts.
Rocky is then approached by Mickey to become his manager and trainer. Mickey is played by Burgess Meredith, and he does a damn good job in portraying the broken, beaten down mentor. I always remember when my friends and I found out that he also played The Penguin in the 1960’s Batman TV Series. Unbelievable, Jeff. He treats Rocky like shit but at the same time he also treats him like a son. It’s an odd relationship.
By the time we reach the boxing match, you’re rooting for Rocky to cause the big upset. The two famous images of the film are when he’s in the meat factory and jabbing away at slabs of meat, and the montage scene where he’s running up the Art Museum steps to the song “Gonna Fly Now”. It’s a symbol of his status being promoted. Even to this day you will see people running up those stairs and waving their arms around in triumph.
It’s a film that always leaves me with a good feeling. I enjoyed Rocky 1 a lot. Like I said at the beginning, the humbleness is what really makes it for me. It’s what makes it stand out from the rest. As the series progresses that humbleness fades to the side.
All in all, Rocky 1 is an enjoyable movie. It’s one of the ultimate underdog films of all time. Look at the tagline; His whole life was a million-to-one shot. That says it all.
If you haven’t seen it, check it out. It’s well worth your time.
Rating: **** ½ (Champion)