Busted-knuckle dreams and a low budget script brought a pack of underdog filmmakers to Philadelphia’s gritty, frost bitten streets on Jan. 9, 1976.
A year prior, Sylvester Stallone walked into Ohio’s now-demolished Richfield Coliseum and watched a championship match between Muhammad Ali and Chuck Wepner.
Four days after Wepner’s never-quit TKO loss to Ali, Stallone’s feverishly written Rocky script was complete.
Stallone said he based the character on his Hell’s Kitchen upbringing, formative years on Philly’s streets and boxers like Rocky Marciano and Joe Frazier. The studio wanted Robert Redford or Ryan O’Neal to play the lead, but the Italian American actor offered an ultimatum that either he would play Balboa or no one would.
The film was released in November 1976, and went on to win Best Picture and gross $225 million worldwide.
Stallone also received his belt, which came in the form of a Best Screenplay Oscar.
The rest is history, as Rocky became a cultural phenomenon who blurred the lines between fact and fiction. Not since J. D. Sallinger’s Holden Caulfield did a character seem so raw and real.
Now, after 40 years and seven sequels, Stallone has returned to the project to narrate a new documentary:
Stallone’s protagonist lives on in the hearts and minds of those clawing for success, and serves as a reminder that sometimes the only way to achieve the American Dream is to fight for it.