Rocky Balboa is a cultural hero, an icon representing the underdog beating the odds and succeeding in following his dreams.
His story initially tells of the long shot fight against the “Master of Disaster” boxing star Apollo Creed. Rocky loses by a decision in his first bout but ultimately wins thanks to his unrelenting passion and manages to turn from “nobody” into “somebody”.
The original movie won three Oscars out of nine nominations and made 200 million dollars at the box office.
As amazing as this movie is, the story behind making it is truly inspiring.
Sylvester Stallone did not have it all throughout his life. His unique way of speaking and look to his face were a result of complications at birth that caused him nerve damage.
He did not grow up in a stable family environment, with his parents fighting much of the time. Stallone and his brother Frank were therefore put into foster care.
Before starting high school, the brothers came back to their home in Philadelphia. However, Stallone’s unstable childhood had left a strong mark on his psychological well-being.
He continued to struggle with school work and got expelled from different schools.
During his teenage years, he discovered his passion for art which served to express things he was going through on the inside.
He decided he wanted to try himself out as an actor at 18 years old. He had studied drama but did not follow through with it.
After giving up on his academic pursuits he moved to New York to follow his dream of becoming a professional actor.
Things still did not seem to pan out right for him from the beginning. He had to work multiple jobs to sustain himself and his wife.
At some point due to his ongoing financial struggles, he took on a role in an adult film.
By the end of his 20s, the unknown actor craved something bigger, something significant that would finally help him make his dreams come true.
According to Forbes, Stallone explained: “And then one night, I went out to see Muhammad Ali fight Chuck Wepner. And what I saw was pretty extraordinary. I saw a man called ‘The Bayonne Bleeder’ fight the greatest fighter who ever lived. And for one brief moment, this supposed stumblebum turned out to be magnificent. And he lasted and knocked the champ down. I thought if this isn’t a metaphor for life.”
After witnessing the match Stallone started working on his own script about Rocky, that proved to be a materialization of Stallone’s own path in life. He finished the script of 90 pages in an astonishing three days.
Sometime later, Stallone went to a casting call for a movie for which he was once again not a good fit as people were usually keen to hire already established names.
However, on the way out he pitched his screenplay to the producers that agreed to read it.
They loved his idea but did not want to have him as the lead role, so they instead offered him $360,000 for the script. An enormous sum in those days.
In his situation of utter financial insecurity, this offer was more than appealing. However, Stallone did not yield and decided to not settle on anything less than a lead role, no matter the money.
The producers finally relented but decided to finance the movie only with 1 million dollars, a meager amount even at the time. But it allowed Stallone to act as Rocky.
The movie was shot fast, filming most of the footage in one takes in order to save film rolls. Stallone’s wife worked as a set photographer and extras worked for fried chicken.
Take a closer look with this video:
Gabe Sumner was working as a marketing specialist on the movie. He constructed the whole marketing strategy exactly around the similarities of the life paths of Rocky Balboa and Sylvester Stallone. While doing this he exaggerated many aspects so that people could more readily identify with the real underdog success story.
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However, even when people found out about this nobody really cared. Rocky was already a cultural hero and Sylvester’s struggle to bring him to the silver screen on his own terms is what gave the movie its heart and soul. Rocky is here to stay with us, as evidenced by his boxing shorts now residing in the Smithsonian, and a bronze statue of him near Philadelphia’s iconic Museum of Art, where Rocky threw up his arms in triumph.