It's easy to forget that this film, the first of the extraordinarily successful Rocky series starring Sylvester Stallone (pictured), punched way above its weight at the 1976 Oscars. Written by Stallone himself, it was up against some tough opposition at the Academy Awards, including All The President's Men, Network and Taxi Driver. Incredibly Rocky won Best Picture, while John G. Avildsen took Best Director and it also won Best Film Editing.
Probably the key to the movie's success is Stallone himself. A bit actor whose career desperately needed a major boost, in March 1975 Stallone watched the Muhammed Ali-Chuck Wepner heavyweight bout. Although Ali was expected to win, Wepner surprised everyone by not only knocking Ali down in the ninth round, but nearly going the distance.
This inspired the basic idea for Rocky, and within three days Stallone had written the film's script. It was picked up by producers Robert Chartoff and Irwin Winkler, who initially intended to cast someone of the calibre of Burt Reynolds or James Caan in the lead role of Philadelphia heavyweight boxing hopeful Rocky Balboa. Stallone held out though, demanding that he be given a chance to star in the film. The studio agreed, as long as the cost of the movie remained under one million dollars. (It nearly did, coming in at just over a million.)
Stallone really delivers here, probably because he knew this film was his own best shot at hitting the big-time. Definitely the finest of the Rocky series - and arguably Stallone's best performance - he imbues Rocky with extraordinary vim. Just another journeyman fighter, the down-on-his-luck boxer finds himself fighting for the heavyweight title of the world when champ Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) decides to give a nobody a shot.
The Rocky series may have been on the ropes fairly quickly after this, but the original remains surprisingly strong.