When Sylvester Stallone came onto the scene with a movie that he’d written and starred in called Rocky, it changed the world of cinema forever. We got an immortal story of a scrappy underdog fighting to be recognized, and it won Best Picture at the Academy Awards. While the movies did get sillier and less well-received, Stallone finally bounced back with the dramatic hard-hitters Rocky Balboa and Creed, which restored the public’s respect for the Rocky series. We’ll see how Creed II turns out, but until then, here are 44 facts about the Rocky series that explain how and why they came to be.
The story of how Sly Stallone went from zero to hero (in parallel with his character Rocky Balboa) is the stuff of legends. When he began writing the screenplay for Rocky, Stallone reportedly had just over $100 in his bank account and wrote the first draft with pad and pen. He finished it in 84 hours, though according to him, only a small percentage of that draft made it into the final film.
It turns out that even Stallone hated how Rocky V turned out. In an interview with Jonathan Ross, Stallone was asked to rank all the Rocky movies out of 10. When it came to Rocky V, Stallone gave it a zero.
While Stallone’s script was positively received, his lack of clout as an actor was not. According to Stallone, he was offered $350,000 to walk away from the project and let the studio do what they wanted for casting. Stallone, however, managed to find it in him to turn down the big payoff and hold on to his project.
The biggest inspiration for Rocky was the boxing match between Muhammad Ali and Chuck Wepner in 1975. Nobody expected Wepner to win, but then he surprised everyone by lasting 15 rounds against Ali. Stallone has later gone on to deny Wepner being the inspiration for his movie, but that didn’t stop Wepner from suing Stallone (they settled out of court).
Allegedly, Stallone was also inspired by the life of boxer Joe Frazier, including in the scene where Rocky practices his boxing technique on frozen carcasses in the butcher’s warehouse. Frazier ended up appearing in the film as himself.
In a story as old as Hollywood itself, Talia Shire was almost the very last person who lobbied for the role of Adrian. Before her, Carrie Snodgress was cast, but when she wanted a pay raise, she was let go. The studio also considered Cher or Bette Midler, both of whom turned the role down. Susan Sarandon was almost cast, but the people in charge decided that she was ultimately “too sexy” for the role.
The first Rocky film cost just over $1 million to make. It ended up grossing more than $225 million when it was first released.
By the time of the fourth movie, the Rocky films had become so ridiculous that Stallone decided Rocky V needed to go back to the basics. He not only re-located the movie in Rocky’s old neighborhood, but he also got John G. Avildsen, the original director of Rocky, to come back and direct the fifth one. Several Razzies later, however…
Despite the flaws of Rocky V, the film did try for authenticity with the casting of Tommy Gunn. Gunn was played by professional boxer Tommy Morrison, who bounced back from being in Rocky V by returning to the world of boxing. He went on to hold the WBO Heavyweight title in 1993. Tragically, he lost his life to AIDS in 2013.
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For the famous run that Rocky makes in the training montage of Rocky II, someone actually decided to calculate how far Rocky would have had to run to get from the start of his run to the end of it (the steps outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art). The distance Rocky would have had to run was at least 30.61 miles.
The first Rocky had to cut a lot of corners due to its low budget. One trick they did was to keep the final boxing match in a very dark room. While some would assume that this was to keep the focus on the fighters, another reason was that there weren’t enough extras to fill all the seats.
The 8’6" statue of Rocky Balboa made for the films was donated to the Philadelphia Museum of Art after filming was finished. While it was moved around a few times, including to the Philadelphia Spectrum Sports Arena, the statue currently stands at the base of the museum steps.
Bizarrely, Rocky Balboa was almost called Puncher’s Chance.
Before Creed, the only actors to appear in all six Rocky movies in the same role were Sylvester Stallone (Rocky), Burt Young (Paulie), and Tony Burton (Duke).
Despite the last third of the film taking place in the Soviet Union, Rocky IV was filmed in Canada. Legend has it that some of the Rocky Mountains still echo with the word “DRAGO!!!” even to this day.
In an interview with Roger Ebert in 1979, Stallone stated that Rocky III would be his last Rocky film. We’ll pause to let you have a good laugh about that statement.
To prepare for the lead role in Creed, Michael B. Jordan gained 24 pounds of muscle. He also learned how to box, as he didn’t have a body double during filming.
Rocky III’s villain, Clubber Lang, wasn’t supposed to have the hairstyle that he did. To the surprise of nobody, Mr. T came up with that haircut himself, and nobody was fool enough to tell him otherwise.
Even by the time he made Rocky II, Stallone was being put through the ringer, physically speaking. For the fight scenes in that film, he encouraged Carl Weathers (Apollo Creed) to hit him for real on several occasions. The result was that his body suffered broken bones and enlarged intestines, forcing Stallone to seek medical attention after filming was over.
Brigitte Nielsen co-starred in the film as Ivan Drago’s supportive wife. Ironically, Nielsen and Stallone were in a relationship at the time and would later get married. This doubtlessly put some extra tension into the fight scenes between Lundgren and Stallone!
Stallone has recounted the story of how Michael B. Jordan, playing Adonis Creed, offered to take a real punch to the face to contribute to the film’s gritty realism. Stallone remarked that Jordan was nearly knocked flat by the first punch, and then had to take another one when Coogler revealed that the shot had gone wrong. Stallone referred to it as Jordan’s initiation, while the rest of us would refer to it as Jordan’s insurance policy being raised.
It took Stallone over a year to get into the physical condition he was in for Rocky III. By the time he was done, he had reduced his body fat to 2.8%! It didn’t hurt that he was also working on the Rambo series around this time, though.
Hulk Hogan famously plays a wrestler named Thunderlips who faces off against Rocky in Rocky III. Hogan was first offered the role after his famous fight with Andre the Giant at Shea Stadium. However, Hogan didn’t believe the offer at first, and was convinced that the other wrestlers were pranking him.
In the search for a theme song to Rocky III, producers initially chose a song called “You’re the Best,” performed by Joe Esposito. However, they backed out at the last minute when they discovered “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor. As for “You’re the Best,” it was eventually used for the film The Karate Kid.
Surprisingly, the biggest scene of the first movie nearly didn’t get filmed at all. Stallone and director John Avildsen had to fight the producers to let them shoot scenes in Philadelphia; the producers wanted the whole movie shot in LA to keep costs low.
Surprisingly, in the aftermath of Rocky’s success, Stallone’s career was impacted negatively by all the hype. By his own admission, his ego got out of control, and the public derided the follow-up films as failures despite the financial success they gained.
Rocky III wasn’t just Mr. T’s film debut, it was also the first time Mr. T said his iconic phrase “I pity the fool!”
Two of Sylvester Stallone’s sons have played Rocky’s son. Seargeoh Stallone portrayed the infant Rocky Jr. in Rocky II, while Sage Stallone would play Rocky Jr. in Rocky V.
Reflecting on the surprise Best Picture win of the first Rocky film, Stallone commented that he was approached by an aging John Wayne while he was shyly hiding from the crowd in the corner. Wayne reportedly introduced himself, welcomed Stallone to the film industry, and praised Rocky’s achievements.
In the hit US series This is Us, Sylvester Stallone makes an appearance in one of the episodes of Season 2. How did they manage to get a hold of Stallone? One of the lead actors in the series, Milo Ventimiglia, starred as Rocky’s son in Rocky Balboa. Because of his former work with Stallone, he was actually asked by the producers to ask Stallone to cameo in the film.
When Stallone was making Rocky Balboa, Carl Weathers allegedly wanted to return to the franchise, despite having died in a previous film. Stallone pointed out that inconsistency as the reason for his saying no, which prompted Weathers to refuse Stallone the right to use archive footage of his image.
In Rocky IV, renowned Soviet Union boxer Ivan Drago fights separate boxing matches against both Apollo Creed and Rocky Balboa. However, Soviet boxers were prohibited from boxing in the United States due to the Cold War. In another case of irony, none of the main Russian characters in the film are played by Russian actors.
During the production of Creed, Sylvester Stallone tweeted a picture for his fans, which featured a page of the script on his desk. However, Stallone had accidentally revealed crucial details about the film’s plot on the page that he’d tweeted. It turns out that people can take a picture of upside down writing and turn it right side up again! The horror!
The big fight scene at the end of Rocky was originally filmed without any choreography. However, it became too confused and silly for the actors, so they ended up choreographing the entire fight.
Originally, the end of Rocky V would be that Rocky’s street fight with Tommy Gunn ended with Rocky dying in Adrian’s arms. We can all breathe a sigh of relief that they decided to do something different with the franchise.
While Tony Burton didn’t return for the role of Duke in Creed, Wood Harris plays Duke's son in the film. Interestingly, Harris and star Michael B. Jordan had previously worked together in The Wire.
The fight between Apollo Creed and Ivan Drago was more realistic than you thought. During the filming, Dolph Lundgren allegedly got so aggressive during the fight that he threw Weathers into a corner of the ring. Weathers lost his temper, swearing at Lundgren before storming off the set saying that he was leaving. Work was halted for four days before Stallone managed to get the two to shake hands and keep filming.
It took Ryan Coogler two years to convince Stallone to let him make the film Creed. Stallone was at first adamant that Rocky Balboa had been the perfect send-off to Rocky, and he was reluctant for Rocky to face the issues that he does in the film. After Coogler made Fruitvale Station and enough people urged Stallone to push beyond the boundaries he’d set for himself, Stallone finally gave in, giving the reins to Coogler.
The original ending that Stallone had in mind for the first Rocky film was that Rocky Balboa would be paid to throw the fight with Apollo Creed. He would go on to use the money he made from selling his code of ethics to buy Adrian a pet shop that they could run together. It’s debatable whether that ending has merit, but one thing is for sure; very few people would have wanted to see Rocky 2: Managing a Small Business and a Relationship Founded on an Unethical Decision.
When it came to Rocky IV, many people had nothing but contempt and criticism for the random inclusion of a robot in the film that does nothing to further the plot. However, there is a very personal reason why it’s there. The robot was developed to communicate with autistic children. Sylvester Stallone’s son, Seargeoh, is autistic, and Stallone acquired the robot to help him. The robot made a cameo in the film as Stallone’s own tribute to his son. So there, don’t you all feel bad for mocking that thing?
Unfortunately, this wasn’t Stallone’s last brush with the emergency room. On the set of Rocky IV, Stallone wanted Dolph Lundgren (Ivan Drago) to punch him for real during their fight scenes. After a punch to his chest caused his heart to swell and his blood pressure skyrocket to 200, Stallone was flown to Santa Monica and put into intensive care for over a week. We suddenly wonder if Lundgren was being serious when he told Stallone that he must break him.
Stallone was so broke at the time that he had to sell his beloved dog, Butkus, for $50 because he could no longer afford to pay for dog food. After Rocky was sold, he bought the dog back, though the new owner made him up the price to $1,500. But anything for man's best friend.
As many would do, Mr. T took his mother to the premiere of Rocky III. However, his mother wasn’t a big fan of the scene where her son (playing a character) yelled lewd comments towards Rocky’s wife. In fact, according to Mr. T himself, his mother was so outraged that she stood up while the movie was still playing, admonished her son for speaking so rudely, and left without finishing the movie.
According to Stallone, there are ideas for what Rocky’s former opponents, Clubber Lang and Ivan Drago, ended up doing after the events of their films. Lang became a born-again Christian and worked as a ringside announcer, while Drago was so broken by his defeat that he became addicted to substances until he took his own life.
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