This weekend sees Sylvester Stallone’s iconic ‘Rocky’ turn 40, with its original US release way back on 3 December, 1976.
‘Rocky’ is often described as one of the definitive boxing movies alongside the likes of ‘Raging Bull’, but in terms of it being the greatest underdog story, it’s certainly got a strong shout for that title. But aside from critical praise and a massive fan base, there’s probably plenty about the multi Oscar-winning movie you don’t know.
Sly Stallone is one of a handful of actors in history to have been Oscar nominated on two separate occasions for playing the same character. He was first nominated in 1977 for Rocky Balboa’s debut and then in 2016 for his supporting role in ‘Creed’. He holds the record for most years separating the nominations, which is a whopping 39.
Winging it through Philadelphia
Those jogging scenes we follow our training hero through the streets of Philadelphia were completely spontaneous. No permits, permission, or extras had been gathered; Sly simply started running as a crew, including director John G, Avildsen, followed him and shot him in action. Meaning market sellers and people on the street had no idea a movie was being made – it resulted in one vendor throwing Rocky an orange, which was totally naturally and authentic.
The year’s greatest
The film was the highest grossing movie of 1976, beating off stiff competition from other stellar movies, such as The Omen’, ‘Carrie’, ‘Taxi Driver’, ‘Network’, and ‘Logan’s Run’.
Worthy of an audition
Burgess Meredith only got the part of hard-faced trainer Mickey because all the other applicants up for the role felt so insulted that Stallone had asked them to read for it that they rejected it. Imagine having to actually audition for a part – the outrage!
The “It stinks!” speech
The scene where Mickey comes round to offer to train Rocky is one of the movie’s memorable moments, but this heartfelt, resentful, frustrated monologue Stallone spews from his heart is all completely improvised. He later explained that the bathroom he was in actually did stink, which made the rant all the more convincing.
Thank you for (not) smoking
Prior to the film Stallone was a smoker but due to the physical and gruelling nature of his on-screen antics, he gave it up completely because he kept finding himself out of breath.
The scene that sees Rocky walk laps on an ice rink as Adrian fumbles around on her skates was meant to have some 300 extras but the budget couldn’t afford them. When Stallone turned up to the set he, to his horror, discovered there was only one. He had to quickly change a few things and what we see in the final film was how it was altered. Funnily, this new scene is one of the film’s finest and most significant moments.
During the scenes where Rocky punches the slabs of beef in the chiller, he ended up hitting them for so long and so hard that he actually flattened his knuckles. Till this day, whenever he clenches his fists, you can see his knuckles are completely level.
During Carl Weathers’ audition he sparred with Stallone, whereby he accidentally punched him in the chin. After Sly told Weathers to calm down, Weathers’ response was that if he were allowed to spar with the real actor and not a stand-in then he’d do better. After Avildsen informed him this was the actor (and writer of the film), Weathers responded, “Well, maybe he’ll get better.” Stallone immediately offered him the role of Apollo Creed.
Man’s best friend
Butkus, the loveable dog that features in the movie was in fact Stallone’s actual dog. No wonder the pair showed a genuine bond if they were already acquainted off of the film set.