“Look, if history proves one thing, American history proves that everybody’s got a chance to win. Didn’t you guys ever hear of Valley Forge or Bunker Hill?”
A nobody can become somebody. Given the right chance, a talented nobody can find the power to rise to the top, and that power may have been within him the entire time. Regardless of whether it’s true, that’s the American dream: it’s the land of opportunity where anyone can rise to the top. Stories like that have been told before, but none seem to do it better than Rocky. Directed by John G. Avildsen (The Karate Kid, Rocky V) and starring Sylvester Stallone and Talia Shire, this is a success story that few can deny the power of.
The plot follows Rocky Balboa, a talented boxer stuck in minor matches because he doesn’t take his craft seriously enough. Even though Rocky is essentially a good person, he gets involved in some shady dealings to make ends meet. He meets and falls in love with his friend’s sister, Adrian, which gives him some motivation to start improving his life. Soon, he gets the chance of a lifetime: a shot at the heavyweight world champion title. The fight is offered to him as a publicity stunt, but he still jumps at the chance to finally be somebody.
Beethoven was deaf. Helen Keller was blind. I think Rocky’s got a good chance.
There are a lot of cheesy inspirational 80s movies that owe a great deal of credit to this 1976 movie. The training montage set to triumphant music, the noble nobody taking on the uncaring master of the craft, and the sweet but awkward romance that draws out the best in both characters, while not original to this film, were brought together in an amazing way that other films tried to replicate for years after. Movies like The Karate Kid, Rudy, and to a lesser extent even Flashdance followed this formula, and Rocky itself spawned a slew of sequels in the 80s. It wouldn’t be a huge stretch to say that this formula laid the groundwork for many movies in the 80s.
And yet, even with many imitators over the years, Rocky still holds up very well today. The plot is familiar territory, but there’s this almost childlike innocence about it that’s very endearing. Though this is a mainstream movie, it wasn’t an imitator—it portrays a common man rising to the top not because it’s a proven formula but because they just thought it was a great idea, and that honest sense of wonder sets it apart. It’s a joy to watch.
Rocky is one of the all-time greatest feel-good movies. It’s very accessible, and referenced so often that it’s probably one of those that everyone needs to see. It makes for a great movie night, or just a little pick-me-up after a rough week. If you haven’t seen this, I’d definitely put it on your list.
Director: John G. Avildsen