“All I wanna do is go the distance”

Rocky (1976)-AFI’s Top 100 Movies


Elise Bulaoro, Reporter

A classic sports drama about the arduous and unlucky career of Rocky Balboa, director John G. Avildsen’s Rocky (1976) is an iconic and inspiring film, as well as a recipient of several Academy Awards and notable accolades. At the time of its release, Rocky was the highest grossing film of 1976, and has left a significant imprint on modern sports movies and pop culture, as well as the city of Philadelphia. In later years, the Rocky franchise grew, and generated the spin off movies Creed (2015), and Creed II (2018). Creed III (2023) has just recently come out, and so I figured that now would be a great time to re-watch and write about the original film that started it all. 

Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), a Philadelphia local and a left-handed professional boxer, struggles with his mediocre boxing career, never having reached his peak. When the heavyweight boxing world champion, Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), is looking for an opponent for the bicentennial New Year’s Day fight, at random he comes across the name Rocky Balboa, the Italian Stallion. Intrigued, Creed selects Rocky, who hesitantly accepts this chance of a lifetime. 

The media becomes intrigued with the lowly underdog, and anticipation skyrockets in light of the upcoming match between world champion Apollo Creed, and Philadelphia’s Italian Stallion. Rocky begins his training, participating in unconventional training methods to get himself into shape. With the help of his best friend Paulie, a butcher, he uses hanging hunks of beef as punching bags, while also using his growing publicity to help advertise Paulie’s meat packing company. Rocky also runs through the streets of Philadelphia, and one of the most memorable scenes of the film exhibits him running up the steep steps leading to the Philadelphia Art Museum, and pumping his fists in joy as he grows faster and stronger.

Rocky begins to form a relationship with Paulie’s shy sister, Adrian (Talia Shire), who works part-time at the local pet store. She supports him through his training, as well as when Rocky confesses to her that he doubts he will win the match against Apollo. He seeks to fight the full boxing match without being knocked out, also called “going the distance”, and establish his reputation. He does just so the day of the match as both Apollo and Rocky hold their own for the entire 15 rounds, each suffering significant injuries. The fight ends and they promise each other to never rematch. Swarmed by reporters after the fight, Rocky ignores them all and yells for Adrian, searching for her through the crowd. As they embrace, the announcers declare Apollo victorious. 

Both writing and starring in the film, Sylvester Stallone has brought much to the character of Rocky to leave him renown as a significant movie character in pop culture. Rocky Balboa was listed as #7 on the American Film Institute’s list of AFI’s 100 Years…100 Heroes and Villains. He overcomes his humble beginnings and trains to fight against a world champion, leaving fans to root for this favorite underdog. 

Procuring from this film also comes one of the most famous and iconic scenes: Rocky running up the Philadelphia Art Museum stairs and thrusting his hands up in triumph. After Rocky had come out in 1976, what had become known as “Rocky’s Steps” has become a popular tourist attraction. Before the release of Rocky III, a bronze statue of Rocky Balboa was placed atop the steps (commissioned by Stallone), but was later replaced by a bronze converse sneaker dedication imprint. 

Rocky (1976) also enjoyed commercial success and a handful of accolades. While the film’s production budget was less than $1 million, it was able to gross a global box office of $255 million, making it the highest grossing film of 1976. At the 49th Academy Awards, Rocky won Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Film Editing. 

According to AFI, Rocky is considered to be one of the greatest sports films of all time, second only to Raging Bull(1980). The film presents a classic and inspiring story about the young Philadelphia underdog, and his chance at greatness.