Directed by John G. Avildsen
Inducted to the National Film Registry in 2006
I first watched it on May 14th, 2019
What It’s About:
Rocky is a small-time boxer who is always short on cash. He lives alone in a dingy apartment, and he regularly visits the neighborhood pet shop to flirt with Adrian, an extremely shy woman who works there. Over time, their relationship blossoms as they begin to see how their personalities complement each other. Oh, and there’s some boxing too.
My experience with the film:
I somehow managed to go my entire life without seeing Rocky until just last year. There weren’t any memorable or noteworthy circumstances surrounding that first viewing, except that it was to tick another Best Picture winner off of my to-watch list. However, I had technically (kind of) seen a Rocky movie prior to last year. Several years ago (I want to say 2009?, but I could be completely wrong), my good friend Nate invited several friends over to his house for a late-night viewing of Rocky IV. I remember it was after 10pm, and I went directly to his house after working a shift at the movie theater that I worked at at the time (R.I.P. Warren Theaters; we’ll never forgive Bill Warren for selling out to Regal). Anyway, due to the lateness of the hour—and the longness of my shift—I was quite tired, and only lasted about 15 minutes before falling asleep. (I remember being conscious just long enough to wonder why there was a robot before nodding off.) I finally saw Rocky IV in its entirety last year (after watching I-III), and it wasn’t my favorite. Perhaps it’s best that I fell asleep, otherwise it may have affected my perception of the original when I finally watched it.
That said, I went in to my initial viewing with fairly modest expectations. Perhaps because I knew that Rocky was essentially the prototype for the underdog sports movie (and because I’d seen several such underdog movies throughout my life), I went in to my initial viewing of the film expecting to appreciate it for popularizing the tropes that it did, but not expecting anything that I hadn’t already seen before. I was in for a surprise.
Far from being just a typical underdog movie, Rocky is an incredibly heart-felt character-driven drama, with amazing acting, immersive sets and locations, and one of the most stirring film scores of all time (especially when viewed in the context of the film.) I instantly became a huge fan. My love for that initial film continued to increase as I watched each film in the series. While none of them are quite as good as the original (and a couple of them are far from it), they all reinforced how great the core cast of characters is. Likewise, Bill Conti’s theme, already iconic after just one movie, cements its legacy as it is used throughout the series. I couldn’t help but smile every time I heard the fanfare that opens each film.
I rewatched the original Rocky a few days ago, in preparation for its discussion in my Oscar movie club (which I’ve explained here). It held up on this second watch. My feelings are essentially the same—it’s a fantastic character drama. It’s easily one of my favorite Best Picture winners.
Rocky (1976) is available to stream on the services listed here: https://www.justwatch.com/us/movie/rocky
To learn more about the history and significance of this film, I recommend the following resources:
- The Blu-ray edition that I own comes with tons of special features (in addition to all six Rocky movies, and the collectible character cards shown in the image above.)
- The original 1976 review from Roger Ebert: https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/rocky-1976
- The original 1976 review from The Hollywood Reporter: https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/rocky-original-1976-movie-review-843549
- An analysis of why the story and the writing works in Rocky: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7TGwjiBV2w8
- An in-depth essay about Rocky: https://thefilmspectrum.com/?p=7737
- The Wikipedia page for Rocky: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rocky
For the complete list of films in the National Film Registry, including information on how you can view each film, and links to every entry that I have written, please see my NFR Directory.