Oscar: Best Picture–Rocky (1976)

Two decades after Marty, an unemployed actor named Sylvester Stallone took some of that 1955 Oscar winner’s ideas, mixed them with conventions of the sports-prizefighting genre (The Champ, Golden Boy, Champion, and Somebody Up There Likes Me), and came up with the formulaic Rocky.

Rocky proved the impossible by becoming the first, but not last, sports film to win the Best Picture of l976; Chariots of Fire was the second. Along with Bound for Glory, the biopicture of singer-labor organizer Woody Guthrie, Rocky featured as the weakest nominees.

Each of the other l976 nominees was far more interesting. Alan Pakula’s All the President’s Men, produced by Robert Redford, was a good political thriller about the Watergate scandal, based on the best seller by the two Wasginton Post reporters, Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) and Bob Woodward (Robert Redford). Sidney Lumet made an outrageous farce, Network, about the potential power of television, that for some reason many people took as a serious drama. And Martin Scorsese followed up his Mean Street with Taxi Driver, a film about political and social alienation, embodied by Robert De Niro in a grand performance. Of the five, Rocky’s message, the rise to stardom of an obscure “nobody,” which paralleled both the actor’s life offscreen and President Jimmy Carter’s l976 election, was the most upbeat and the least controversial. But it was also the most befitting of the nation’s mood in its Bicentennial celebrations.

The impact of Rocky’s success is still felt by the American public. The film made Stallone the most popular star and the most dominant male image in the l980s, surpassing the powerful persona of Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry films. And it also led to three sequels of the Rocky Balboa saga, which raises two questions: Will Rocky IV be the last part of the series? and, if not, who will Rocky fight next? After defeating the Russian champion and being cheered up by the entire Soveit Union what else is left?

Rocky was not a family drama, but the romance between Rocky and Adrian, a shy, plain salesclerk (Talia Shire), whom he later marries, was conducted along the movie lines of Marty and Clara in Marty. Moreover, it paved the way to the making and acceptance of other conventional, old-fashioned, movies about ordinary families and ordinary folks. The American public seemed to crave for such fare, after being saturated for a whole decade with the action-adventure “disaster” film. Many moviegoers must have noticed that the family has almost disappeared from American films for most of the l970s. And the last major pictures to have dealt with marriage and the family were mostly negative portrayals, like Mike Nichols’s two nominated features, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Graduate.