“Do you believe that America is the land of opportunity?”
Boxing promoter in Rocky
At the time that the New York Times interviewed Sylvester Stallone in 1976 he was living in a 1 1/2 bedroom apartment in LA with his wife and 6 month old baby. Rocky was about to be released and as the Times reported, United Artists was optimistic that the movie (which cost $1 million to make) was going to pull in more that $40 million. (They were right, too. Rocky made $117 million domestic.)
If you weren’t even born in 1976, one thing to keep in mind is when Rocky was released Hollywood was under a wave of nihilism, pessimism and grit. The anti-hero had been in vogue for years. (Bonnie & Clyde, Midnight Cowboy, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Deliverance, Taxi Driver, Mean Streets, M*A*S*H, Serpico, The Last Picture Show, Being There, They Don’t Shoot Horses Do They?, Dog Day Afternoon, Chinatown.) Perhaps the movies were just a reflection of the times in the United States. The Vietnam War and Watergate set the tone for the first half of the 70s.
But by 1976 America was ready for a change. There was a huge bicentennial push leading up to celebrating the 200th anniversary of the country on July 4, 1976. I recall a spirit of optimism in the air. Stallone and director John Avildsen tapped into that spirit. And while Rocky may not be a traditional hero, I’ve always seen him as the anti—antihero.
Now Stallone from a spec screenwriting perspective is a hero’s hero. On the mythic hero level with Rocky.
“You know, if nothing else comes out of that film (Rocky) in the way of awards and accolades, it will still show that an unknown quantity, a totally unremarkable person, can produce a diamond in the rough.”
NY Times November 1, 1976
The awards and accolades did come. It was nominated for 10 Oscars and won for Best Picture, Best Director , and Best Editing. And even if many critics at the time thought that Stallone had written a warmed over Frank Capra 1930s film, it did make the AFI list as one of the top 100 American films of all-time. (And many forget that Stallone avoided the total fairy tale ending by having Rocky lose the fight at the end.)
And the money came as well. The Rocky franchise would go on to make more than a billion dollars at the box office. Films that Stallone has starred in have made over $4 billion. Not bad for a “totally unremarkable person.”
It’s fun to imagine Stallone back in 1976 thinking that no matter how well that Rocky did that he’d already proven himself a winner.
P.S. Just to show the contrast between the two spirits doing battle in ’75-’76 check out the trailers below for The Day of the Locust and Rocky.
Related post: Writing “Rocky”