Rocky (film)

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Gonna fly now!

Rocky Balboa: There ain't nothin' over till it's over.
Mason Dixon: Where's that from, the '80s?
Rocky Balboa: That's probably the '70s.

Rocky Balboa

A series of six movies set around boxing's favorite Underdogs Never Lose, "The Itallian Stallion" Rocky Balboa.

The idea for the first film was inspired when Sylvester Stallone, then a down-on-his-luck-actor, went to see a Muhammad Ali bout against Chuck Wepner. Wepner was a tough fighter with a lot of heart but little skill and a bad record, and he was most famous for frequently bleeding profusely during his bouts. The bout was intended to be a breather—an exhibition for Ali after his unbelievable (and hardfought) victory over George Foreman less than six months earlier—but to the astonishment of all, Wepner managed to knock Ali down in the ninth round (video replays showed it was actually more of a trip; Wepner happened to be standing on Ali's foot when the blow landed, which caused Ali to lose his balance when he tried to move). Although an incensed Ali made Wepner pay dearly for that—and eventually knocked Wepner down and out for the only time in his career—the roar of the crowd as an Everyman knocked down the greatest athlete in his sport inspired Stallone, who went home and spent the next few days writing furiously nearly around the clock. The end result? Rocky was born. (Though that's slightly mythologized too. When Stallone was asked how he managed to write the screenplay in three days he replied "I didn't write the screenplay in three days, I wrote a screenplay in three days," the shooting script was heavily workshopped)


The first film opens with Rocky Balboa as a Dumb Is Good hero in Philadelphia, trying to make a living by boxing in seedy clubs and collecting money for a Loan Shark (although he seems rather more gentle about it than most mob enforcers). He has nothing else on his mind other than trying to inspire some kids from the neighborhood to set themselves straight and being a Dogged Nice Guy suitor to a real-life Meganekko girl, Adrian.

Everything changes, however, when reigning heavyweight champion Apollo Creed sees his next opponent back out of a fight, leaving the champ to find an opponent on short notice. For all intents and purposes, Apollo picks Rocky for the fight just because he liked the nickname "Italian Stallion". For the first time in his life, Rocky has a chance to make it to the big time, complete with all the perks—and drawbacks—included therein.

Viewers who have come to associate the Rocky films specifically with the action-packed fights might be surprised to learn upon viewing this film that it focuses mostly on the characters, their relationships and lives, and the sudden possibility to make a new and better life. The film was a box-office smash and an underdog movie that ended up winning Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Film Editing in 1976.

Rocky was added to the National Film Registry in 2006.

Rocky II

After the success of the first film, sequels naturally began to come along. In Rocky II, Apollo Creed isn't happy about leaving the ring with a guy like Rocky going toe-to-toe with him, and he demands a rematch to prove his superiority. Rocky declines, however, as he already felt he accomplished what he set out to do with the first fight. Much of the film deals with both the benefits and drawbacks to the fight—Rocky is unable to manage his newfound fame and loses most of the money he earned from opportunities afterwards, and Apollo's career is in turmoil from backlash against his win against the underdog. Ultimately, both men need the fight for personal and practical reasons, and they eventually schedule a rematch. Another subplot shows Rocky marrying Adrian and the troubled birth of their son. This film also contains the famous scene in which Rocky, repeating his iconic run up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, is followed by a growing crowd of fans and onlookers (a scene that in real life took 800 extras). Unlike the first film, Rocky defeats Apollo this time, either a Crowning Moment of Awesome or a Lost Aesop depending on who you talk to.

Rocky III

At this point, the series had become less about the characters and more of a showcase of an interesting or unique opponent for Rocky to fight. Five years after the fight at the end of the previous film, Rocky has become the heavyweight champion and a major celebrity. Another young up-and-comer, Clubber Lang (played by the inimitable Mr. T) wants a shot at him, though, and the film contrasts Rocky's newfound cockiness with Clubber's intensity (a reversal of Rocky and Apollo's roles in the first film). Rocky loses his fight against the better-trained Lang just as his beloved mentor, Mickey, passes away—which leads to Apollo Creed offering to become Rocky's trainer. Apollo initially makes the offer just to get back at Lang, but over the course of their training, he and Rocky bond and become close friends. Rocky wins against Clubber in a rematch, and the film ends with a final match between Apollo and Rocky, though now only as a friendly spar. This film also spawned the legendary song "Eye of the Tiger".

Rocky IV

Rocky is pitted against Russian super-athlete Ivan Drago in a heavily Cold War themed film, which mostly revolves around the two fights with Drago. In the first, the once-again retired Rocky coaches Apollo for an exhibition match with Drago that leads to Drago killing Apollo in the ring. In the second, Rocky uses good ol' fashioned patriotism to beat down the cold-hearted Russian as an act of revenge. While the film is not as well regarded critically (or by the fanbase) as the previous three, it is the highest grossing film in the series, and numerous fans and critics consider this film's Training Montage to be the best directed one of the series.

Rocky V

In the final numbered film in the series, which picks up directly from the previous film, Rocky is forced to retire when he learns he has brain damage from the fight with Drago; additionally, the manager put in charge of his fortune lost most of the fortune Rocky had accumulated over the years, thus leading to him retiring to his old working-class neighborhood (again) and his wife returning to her job at the pet store (again; notice a pattern?). Working at a local gym, Rocky tries to train a young up and comer named Tommy Gunn, which ruins his relationship with his own son Robert. Tommy quickly turns to The Dark Side, however, when he becomes frustrated at being seen only as Rocky's student and not as a fighter in his own right; Gunn falls in with a Don King ersatz who takes over his management, giving him the title bouts and money he's been craving. The film leads into Rocky having a street fight with Tommy, which Rocky wins despite his age and lack of practice. The film, expected to be the centerpiece of the holiday season of 1990, was knocked out early by sleeper hit Home Alone and was the worst reviewed (and worst performing) film of the series. The franchise appeared to have effectively ended on a low note, and stayed that way for sixteen years, until...

Rocky Balboa

Finally, in a largely successful attempt to salvage the original story and resolve any hanging threads (and because Stallone likes revisiting his old movie franchises), the sixth and final film -- Rocky Balboa—was released, thirty years after the first. Despite the cynics joking about "Rocky Five... Thousand", the film was more of a return to the original film's focus on an engaging character story—and it ended up being a surprise hit.

Despite losing Adrian to cancer some years prior and having a strained relationship (at best) with his son, Rocky has something of a good life - he has become a living landmark in Philadelphia, running his own restaurant and telling boxing stories to his customers. Over in the boxing world, current reigning heavyweight champion Mason "The Line" Dixon is disliked by pundits and fans alike for his easy fights finished in the first round. When a realistic computer simulation pits Dixon against an in-his-prime Balboa—with Dixon losing—publicists see a goldmine of an opportunity in an exhibition match between Rocky and Dixon to improve their client's image. Rocky is unsure of accepting the challenge because of his age and his relationship with his son, but he eventually accepts out of a desire to have one last great fight and rid himself of all of his inner demons. The film was intended to be the true ending to the franchise, serving as a coda to the series—it even ended with a tribute to the longtime fans of the series by showing them running up the famous steps themselves. Rocky Balboa found critical and commercial success, and between it and Rambo, the film briefly revitalized Stallone's lagging career.

A character sheet can now be found here.

The Rocky films contain examples of:
  • Always Someone Better: Rocky is this for Apollo.
  • Artistic License - Physics: Ivan Drago has a measured punching pressure of over 2000 psi. Considering the average size of someone's fist, this would equate to roughly 15000 pounds of force.
  • Ascended Extra: Lil' Marie (the one who told Rocky "Screw you, creepo!") makes a return in the final film and receives a much bigger part.
  • Attack! Attack! Attack!: Rocky's boxing style.
  • Author Avatar: Stallone admittedly wrote Rocky as a sort of analog of himself... Rocky's various struggles in boxing are meant to reflect Stallone's struggles in acting.
  • Awesome McCoolname: Apollo Creed.
  • Beautiful All Along: Played straight with Adrian in the first film.
  • Book Ends: The series begins and ends with Rocky technically losing, but still winning a moral victory.
  • Broad Strokes: Rocky V is the only film not referred to in Rocky Balboa, but some light elements such as concern over Rocky's health and his return to poverty remained.
    • Except for the brief, almost too fast to see flash on "Get up, you son of a bitch, 'cause Mickey loves ya!"
    • And there's the reference to Rocky and his son being "home team", which is the only explicit Call Back to Rocky V.
  • California Doubling: At least in the first movie, what's portrayed as The Spectrum is actually the Los Angeles Sports Arena.
  • The Cameo: There are a truly astounding number of cameos from boxers or people involved in boxing. Just a few examples include Joe Frazier being introduced before the fight in Rocky (and he and Apollo trade insults and threats just as Frazier and Ali did), the legendary Roberto Duran having a brief appearance as a sparring partner in Rocky II (where he seems to thoroughly enjoy pushing around and bullying Stallone), sports announcer Brent Mussberger in Rocky II, artists known for painting boxing pictures have appearances as ring announcers, boxing commentators play well, boxing commentators, and nearly all of Stallone's family have had at least cameos, and sometimes actual roles. Mike Tyson even got a cameo before the climactic fight in Rocky Balboa!
  • Captain Ersatz/No Celebrities Were Harmed: Rocky Balboa = Rocky Marciano with a number of elements of Joe Frazier and Chuck Wepner, while Apollo Creed = Muhammad Ali. The real Ali even appeared on stage with Stallone at the Oscars.
    • As an aside, Ali once said he wished he had thought of Creed's nickname, "The Master of Disaster".
    • Clubber Lang = George Foreman. (Although these days Clubber is often associated with Mike Tyson, the movie preceded Tyson's professional career by several years)
    • Mason Dixon = a combination of Mike Tyson and Middleweight/Light Heavyweight/Heavyweight champion Roy Jones Jr. Stallone tried to convince Jones to play Dixon, but negotiations with Jones fell through. Eventually Stallone enlisted Antonio Tarver, who defeated Jones when Jones moved back down from Heavyweight to Light Heavyweight.
    • George Washington Duke = Don King.
  • Contrived Coincidence
  • Creator Backlash - Stallone was also not happy with what ended up as Rocky V.
  • Darker and Edgier: Rocky V was an attempt to recapture the grittier feel of the first film after the apogee of over-the-top excess that was Rocky IV (still enjoyable, though). Not a bad idea in principle, but it went way too far in the other direction.
  • Death Seeker: An interpretation of Apollo Creed in Rocky IV. He's fed up with retirement and growing old gracefully, and wants to go out fighting like a warrior.
    • Sadly, this seems to be Truth in Television way too much. There are far too many boxers who either make ill-advised comebacks long after they ended their initial career, or fighters who simply refuse to retire and continue fighting far past their best. Apollo's comeback is based in part off of Muhammad Ali's tragic comeback fight after nearly two years out of the ring to face champion Larry Holmes, who was at the peak of his own powers. That fight saw Ali take a beating so savage that by the 10th round, Holmes (himself a former Ali sparring partner) was begging the referee to stop the fight. Although Ali showed some early symptoms of Parkinson's before that bout, many believe that the Holmes fight may have accelerated the progress and added to the severity of his condition.
  • Deceptive Disciple: Tommy Gunn of Rocky V.
  • Defeat Means Friendship: Apollo Creed after the end of Rocky II.
  • Determinator: The essence of Rocky's fighting style.
    • Apollo and Clubber are this in II and III respectively as both are obsessed with beating Rocky.
  • Dogged Nice Guy: Towards Adrian, Rocky is this to a T.
    • Not Mr. T, though.
  • Evil Foreigner: Ivan Drago and his supporters.
    • Many actual fight promotions will bill themselves around this.
  • Fail O'Suckyname: No, honestly, Thunderlips? Face Palm.
  • Fallen-On-Hard-Times Job: in the first movie, Rocky's collecting for a local loan shark. In the fifth movie, he's making ends meet at a gym.
  • Fighting Series
  • Fur and Loathing: Not III, which was made in 1982, but V, where the only furs were worn by the corrupt manager, and a woman who seemed to be a gold digger.
  • Generation Xerox: Angie is basically Little Marie 2.0. Ironically she hangs out at the bar where Little Marie herself works. In Balboa, she tries to get Rocky to buy a round of beer for her friends including a much older louse whom Rocky notices is exploiting her and the other girls. Rocky tries to talk her out of being made to look like a fool. Much like Little Marie in the first movie, the result goes about as well as one would expect. She along with her friends and the man, try to insult Rocky and Marie as they leave, using wannabe gangster slurs to boot. Rocky, being a former enforcer walks back and grabs the man showing him how it's really done and scaring him into apologizing. Later on when Rocky sets out to fight Dixon, the fight can be watched at the same bar. Angie who was watching it, tells the man off when he insults Rocky.

Jerk: I hope he gets his head busted.
Angie: Shut up.

  • The Glasses Come Off: Adrian in the first film.
  • Good Old Fisticuffs: Mentioned in the fifth movie, despite being a trained boxer Rocky was also a former mob-enforcer and knew how to act as a street fighter. Tommy Gunn's new manager even berates him for expecting to use the same skills in a street fight.
  • Gretzky Has the Ball: In both rules (fighting after the bell) and tactics.
    • It's actually the sort of mayhem that's happened many times before because the referee loses control of the fight. See the mid-fight skirmish during the Floyd Mayweather/Zab Judah fight for an example.
  • Heroic Resolve
  • He's Back: Pretty much, all of Rocky III.
  • Hollywood Healing
  • Hot-Blooded: Apollo, Duke, and Clubber.
  • Husky Russkie: Ivan Drago in Rocky IV
  • I Am Not Left-Handed - Played straight and subverted in Rocky II. Rocky is right-handed, but he fights left-handed by preference. The 'secret weapon' he spends a lot of time practicing is learning to fight right-handed until the last round, when he switches back and upsets Apollo's rhythm enough to win the fight.
  • Improvised Training: Tenderizing the beef.
    • Also the entire training sequence in Rocky IV. Rocky has to train for his fight without the benefit of sparring, so instead, he hardens himself up in the Russian winter as best he can instead.
      • The Russians also "improvise" a bit of training. With juice.
  • Inelegant Blubbering: Rocky in Rocky III, just after Mick dies.
  • Informed Judaism: Mickey. There is no hint of this until his funeral.
  • Invincible Hero: Mason Dixon in Balboa. The exhibition fight against Rocky goes down largely because Dixon's winning streak against perceived weak opposition has boxing fans bored.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Apollo Creed. Though cocky and arrogant, he's also an awesome Badass and gradually becomes more likable and protagonistic throughout the series without losing his edge, culminating in a sympathetic tragic death.
    • Mason Dixon shows this, particularly towards the end of Balboa. He's a jerk who only fights weaklings and has a large ego, but during (and especially after) the fight, he shows the utmost respect for Rocky.
      • To be fair to Dixon it's not like he hand-picks easy opponents, he's kind of depressed because he thinks there's no-one out there to fight except weaklings. Until he met Rocky he'd never really been challenged in the ring. Having a large ego is acceptable under the circumstances.
  • Karma Houdini: Ivan Drago's karma for killing Apollo is to...lose a boxing match.
    • But then again, it's not like Drago purposefully killed Apollo; he's just that strong, and Apollo spent more time training his ego rather than his retired skills.
    • Rocky's crooked accountant(unseen in the movie) who squandered all his fortune on bad business deals, disappeared and left him broke in Rocky V.
    • An unfilmed scene written for Rocky Balboa would have show Ivan Drago crippled in a respirator after years of steroids abuse.
      • In in an interview, Stallone gave his preferred fates for several characters, including Drago sinking into alcoholism in his disgrace, and ultimately killing himself.
  • Kingpin in His Gym: Rocky's major opponents got their own Training Montages, which often told viewers something about their character: Clubber Lang's dungeon-like basement emphasized his monstrosity while Ivan Drago's almost clinical routines (and his steroid use) showed his lack of "heart."
  • Loan Shark: Gazzo, who Rocky works for as an enforcer in the first movie and Paulie works for in the second.
  • Lzherusskie: Rocky IV
  • Lonely at the Top: Mason Dixon. He's without a doubt the most talented boxer in his generation, but gets no respect from his fans, the media, or even his publicists and managers. He has no real friends or peers other than his entourage and his former manager, whom he left behind after making it big.
  • Made of Iron
  • Manly Tears: Sure to be found on any list of top "Guy Cry" movies.
  • Meganekko: Adrian, Rocky's love interest. Even after she loses the glasses and starts doing her hair, she retains the sweet shyness inherent in the character type.
  • Nice Hat: Rocky's got one in the first movie.
  • No Antagonist: The first two films. Sure, Apollo is his opponent but the fight in the first film is never a personal one—he dreamed up the "give a title shot to a nobody" fight simply as a gimmick to sell tickets after his original opponent had to back out. In fact, Apollo could be considered likable even this early in the series. The movie is more about Rocky's moral fight, not winning the final `bout.
    • Balboa returns to this formula; Mason Dixon isn't an extraordinarily likable guy, but he holds no ill will towards Balboa and never makes any really villainous moves. The movie is, again, about the characters' moral fights; Rocky to prove he still has one great fight left in him, and Mason's to prove he's not just a one-note joke who is only where he is due to the weakness of the competition.
  • Oh Crap: George Washington Duke pulls this towards the end of Rocky V:

George Washington Duke: Touch me and I'll sue.
Rocky smirks, then punches the lights out of Duke.
Rocky Balboa: Sue me for what?

    • Apollo does a somewhat understated version of this towards the end of his fight with Rocky in the first film, when he gets up for the last time in the 14th round. Apollo's already celebrating, and Rocky drags himself to his feet and is all "Come on!" Apollo looks at Rocky like "You've got to be kidding me."
    • The same thing happens in IV after a Drago knockdown, when Rocky sulks into the corner, gets to his knees, puts his mouthpiece back in and stands up. Drago's face says "What else do I have to do for him to stay down?!"
    • Happens almost the exact same way again, in towards the end of the final film; after Rocky takes a particularly hard fall, he rises with the support of everyone who's backed him (including the memories of both Adrian and Mickey) ...when he gets up bearing a picture perfect "I'm not done yet" face, Dixon backs up a step with an equally perfect "how the hell did you get up" look.
  • Opposing Sports Team: All of Rocky's opponents except Apollo Creed and Mason Dixon fall into this—and even Creed seems to show some of the traits in Rocky II and Rocky IV (towards Drago).
    • Dixon is arguably an example of playing with this trope. In-universe, he is seen as such as his extreme talent has made him an unsympathetic wrecking ball whose fights are never even close - yet put up against Rocky, with a broken hand and completely out of shape, he proves as much a Determinator as the titular underdog and wins the respect of the crowd in doing so.
  • Pint-Sized Powerhouse: Rocky regularly gets pitted against opponents who tower over him.
  • Power of Love: "Adrian!"
  • Pretty in Mink: In III, Adrian gets a couple furs. Even spoofed in a short review of the films.

"Rocky gets his own pinball games. Pet Store Lady starts wearing fur coats."

  • Product Placement: Nike in Rocky III. You see the swoosh [dead link] everywhere in that movie.
  • Punch-Punch-Punch Uh-Oh: In the first round of their fight, Rocky can't seem to even faze Drago, who actually smiles at Rocky after letting Rocky pound away at his midsection to no apparent effect.
    • Rocky himself is on the receiving end in the climax of his rematch with Clubber Lang in part III's CMoA as he no sells the increasingly panicking and frustrated Lang's devastating blows.
  • Rated "M" for Manly
  • Raw Eggs Make You Stronger: The famous "egg drinking scene" is the Trope Maker.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: The simulated match between Rocky and Dixon was based on the "Super Fight" between Rocky Marciano and Muhammad Ali.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: Rocky and his opponents are usually pretty bloodied at the end of a fight. In real-life boxing, a cut that interferes with a boxer's sight and doesn't stop bleeding within a few minutes to a couple of rounds (depending on the severity) results in a technical knockout.
    • Note that this is not always true. A ring doctor will determine whether or not a fighter can see, both based on the cut's severity itself, and what the fighter says. If the fighter insists he can fight, the doctor may allow him to continue. If the fighter says nothing, most likely, the fight gets stopped. Some doctors and referees (who will determine when to call a timeout in order to have the doctor check the cut), will let the fight go on longer than others. As a result some fights look very much like Rocky bouts in terms of the bloodshed in the ring.
    • Well, let's go with the actual boxing, which is less of a boxing match (they might want to try keeping the gloves up, for a change) and more of a take-turns-getting-clean-roundhouses-to-the-face matches (aside from the final film, which does strive for realism). Not a complaint, by the way!
  • Redemption Quest: The premise of both Rocky and Apollo in numerous films. Apollo's own quest ends with his death after his match with Drago
  • Retired Badass: Mickey at first, Rocky in later pictures.
    • Apollo becomes one after losing the title.
  • Robot Buddy: Paulie gets one for a birthday present in Rocky IV "because he doesn't have any friends" (ouch). He later teaches it to sound and act like a devoted Robot Girl (ew). Pretty much a rolling Non Sequitur Scene throughout the whole movie. Roger Ebert has some fun making light of the fact Rocky is somehow in possession of some advanced artificial intelligence.
  • Scary Black Man: Mr. T's character Clubber Lang in the third movie.
  • Second Place Is for Winners: In the first film, Rocky loses the match. His victory comes from lasting as long as he does against a seasoned champ, and more so considering the previous record against Apollo was three rounds. He also loses in a split decision to Mason Dixon, but even Dixon seems to acknowledge that Rocky was the real winner of that match.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: Adrian in the sequels, who goes from Meganekko to a more traditional beauty as the Balboas live the good life.
  • Shout-Out: numerous ones to real boxing, including various boxers (including Roberto Duran) being part of various training sessions or having cameos.
  • Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome: Rocky Jr (Robert). was nine in Rocky IV when Rocky went to Russia to fight Drago. When he and Adrian return home at the beginning of Rocky V, his son is now in early adolescence. How long were they in Russia?!
  • Special Guest: James Brown singing "Living in America" before the bout between Apollo and Drago in Las Vegas.
  • Theme Music Power-Up
  • Theme Tune Cameo: A high school marching band plays "Gonna Fly Now" at Rocky's statue unveiling ceremony in Rocky III. Later on a lounge band performing at Rocky's public training plays the theme. An annoyed Mickey yells "Shut up back there! Change your tune."
  • Time Compression Montage
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Both Rocky and Paulie feel this way about Adrien in Rocky Balboa. A deleted scene even has Paulie breaking down and saying it should should have been him who died.

Paulie: (sobbing) Why didn't I die instead of my sister? I miss my sister, Rocky, I miss her! She never hurt nobody, Rocky!
Rocky: I know.

  • Trade Your Passion for Glory: The Trope Namer.
  • Training from Hell
  • Training Montage: Former Trope Namer when under the name "Gonna Fly Now Montage".
  • Underdogs Never Lose: Averted in the first and last movies where a moral victory is deemed to be more significant (in the first Rocky going the distance with Apollo, in the last Rocky ridding himself of his demons), but aside from that if you're an in-story underdog it's physically impossible for you to lose in the Rocky universe. Even the antagonist benefits from this in Rocky III.
    • No such luck for the challengers Rocky knocks out before meeting Lang; they also avert the trope.
    • Apollo vs. Drago arguably plays it straight subverts it at the same time. Drago had imposing height & reach and was clearly in better shape than the long-retired Apollo, so any objective viewer would back him to win the match. Most Americans though (including Apollo himself) would instead peg the beloved ex-champion for an easy win against the amateur foreigner.
    • Whenever someone tells Rocky in a movie "You can't win!", he's going to win. Sometimes not the first fight(as the case in III) but he will.
  • Whoopi Epiphany Speech
  • World of Cardboard Speech: Rocky Balboa has two, one given by Rocky to the athletic board after they refuse his boxing license despite passing all the medical tests they put him through. The second was given to his son when Rocky Jr. calls him out for supposedly seeking the spotlight, where Rocky explains that we can't and shouldn't blame others for our problems.
  • Worthy Opponent
  • Wrestler In All Of Us: Rocky has shown wrestling moves on a few occasions. For starters when he fights Thunderlips in III, with the gloves off, he throws him out of the ring. Next, after he cut Drago in IV he wrestled Drago to the ground for choking him post-bell. Last among most moves he used against Tommy Gunn in V, he used the Russian leg sweep.