1976

Film #285: Rocky (1976)

So far in the 1970s we’ve seen a lot of worthy winners of the Best Picture accolade – The French Connection, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and The Godfather films. However, not all Best Picture winners can meet the lofty heights of these cinematic masterpieces. A case in point is the next film on the list – Rocky, which is often regarded as one of the films that shouldn’t have won the award. I’ve personally viewed Rocky as a sports movie but boxing does play a very small part in the first part of the franchise.

Like with Star Wars, I feel that Rocky is sometimes judged a series of films rather than just one alone. While the sequels had a sort of camp value to them, the first Rocky film has a simple story and a good heart. Though I’m guessing most of you would’ve seen the film, the Rocky of the title is Sylvester Stallone’s debt collector and amateur boxer Rocky Balboa. The majority of the movie is based on the current state of Rocky’s life as he is kicked out of the gym he’s trained at for years and chastised by his boss for being too kind. Indeed, Rocky’s one pleasure life is going to his local pet store mainly because he’s in love with shop assistant Adrian, the timid sister of Rocky’s best friend Paulie. Rocky’ life changes after world champion Apollo Creed selects Rocky to be his opponent in a special match, following the injury of Apollo’s top title contender. While Apollo views the bout as nothing more than a show, Rocky treats it as a fight and trains the hardest he’s ever trained. At the same time, Rocky and Adrian grow closer and I feel that the film is just as much a love story as it is a film about boxing.

It’s fair to say that the most memorable scenes from Rocky are the ones involving the boxing match and Rocky’s training for it. We remember his punching of the meat and his running up down the steps as well as the iconic ‘Gonna Fly Now’, which was nominated for Best Original song. What we don’t recall is that the majority of the film is simply about Rocky going about his daily life and trying to make something of himself. His courtship with Adrian are some of the film’s most compelling scenes as Rocky explains how he came to be a boxer in the first place. Though he probably lost sight of the character in later films, Sylvester Stallone really made Rocky a sympathetic character who you wanted to follow. Stallone’s script was simplistic but at the same time believable and I never felt bored. All in all the film received four acting nominations for Stallone alongside Burgess Meredith as long-in-the-tooth coach Mickey and Burt Young as Paulie. For me though the best performance came from Talia Shire who transformed from meek wallflower into Rocky’s gorgeous girlfriend. While I liked the film, I can’t really say it was a masterpiece and it didn’t really feel like a film that deserved winning Best Picture. Ultimately Rocky is a great character study with some memorable set pieces and fine performances which makes it more than just a sports movie. But you’ll just have to wait and see to find out who I thought should have won Best Picture at the 1977 ceremony.

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