Rocky Film Franchise as a Cultural Phenomena

One of the most successful film boxing series in history, the Rocky's saga began in 1976 with Rocky, which won the Best Picture Oscar, and ends 30 years later with Rocky Balboa. Like Rambo, the other Stallone franchise, over the years, it has become more than just a film; it's mytical cultural phenomenon.


The origins of the Rocky iconography are well documented. Sylvester Stallone was a struggling actor and writer when he watched the Chuck Wepner-Muhammed Ali fight–a match in which club fighter Wepner nearly went the distance against the great Ali. Stallone, unemployed and broke, was so impressed by the miraculous performance that he sat down and wrote Rocky.

Stallone identified so much with the script that he refused to sell it unless he would be cast in the title role. The studios wanted the big stars of the day-Burt Reynolds, Ryan ONeal, James Caan–and could not imagine bankrolling an unknown actor with an unlikely name. Against all advice and prevailing wisdom, Stallone stuck to his guns, and today its virtually impossible to imagine anyone else in the part.

Rocky (1976)

Some call it the best boxing film ever made, but what elevated Rocky in the eyes of critics and audiences alike is that its about real people in everyday desperate situations who long for something better. Even without boxing, the story has almost universal relevance, yet involves us on an elemental, primitive level.

Its about heroism and realizing your potential, about taking your best shot and sticking by your girl. It sounds not only clichd but corny and yet its not, because it really does work on those levels. It involves us emotionally. It makes us commit ourselves: We find, maybe to our surprise after remaining detached during so many movies, that this time we care.

Stallone, like Rocky, dared to dream in the face of overwhelming odds and rose instantly from obscurity to worldwide acclaim. The extraordinary writing, directing and acting in Rocky moved the audience to root for all the characters not just the guy who has to step into the ring. It is that spirit that bonds the first film to this, the last.

Rocky II (1979)

Rocky II, released in 1979, reunited Stallone in the title role with Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers and Burgess Meredith. Rocky and champ Apollo Creed get a ring rematch and both Rocky and his wife Adrian fight for their lives in different arenas. Particularly memorable is the boxing that climaxes the picture directed by Sylvester Stallone, who, simply put, knows Rocky better than anyone in the world.

Rocky III (1982)

Rocky III, released in 1982, again starred Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Burgess Meredith and Carl Weathers, with the addition of Mr. T. A new twist on the winning formula has the Italian Stallion trained by his former foe Apollo Creed after being dethroned by an obnoxious fighter. Made soft by success, Rocky has to dig deep to find motivation to stay on top. Stallone directed this chapter of the story, which featured the popular Academy Award-nominated original song, Eye Of The Tiger.

Rocky IV (1985)

Rocky IV, released in 1985, starred Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren, Carl Weathers, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Brigitte Nielsen, Michael Pataki and James Brown under Stallones direction. This time, Rocky avenges a friends death and fights for American Glory against a superhuman Russian champ, traveling to Siberia to train like his opponent.

Rocky V (1990)

Rocky V, released in 1990, saw the return of Academy Award-winning director John G. Avildsen. It starred Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Sage Stallone, Burgess Meredith, Tommy Morrison and Richard Gant. The Italian Stallion is back in the old Philly neighborhood and trains a promising young fighter who turns out to be in ingrate. Against overpowering odds and despite diminished powers, Rocky lays it all on the line to risk another bout.

Rocky VI: Rocky Balboa (2006)

Rocky Balboa, released in 2006, stars Sylvester Stallone, Burt Young, Geraldine Hughes, Milo Ventimiglia, Antonio Tarver, and is the third Rocky film to be directed by Stallone.
The only principal actor to travel the entire arc with Rocky is Paulie, played by Burt Young, who was honored with an Academy Award nomination for creating the role. Also participating in all six rounds of the record-breaking series is former fighter Tony Burton, who began as Apollo Creeds corner man before moving to Rockys corner. The character Marie, played as a young girl by Jodie Letitizia, reappears in this installment as a grown woman played by Geraldine Hughes.

Movie trivia buffs might be interested to know that Cuff and Link, the two turtles who were probably Rockys best friends at the start of the first picture, have come out of retirement to reprise their roles in the current film.