How 'Rocky' Became the Sports Movie That Changed the Genre Forever
The boxing classic starring and written by Sylvester Stallone and directed by John G. Avildsen started the trend of hope in the modern sports film.
Who doesn't like a good sports movie? Even moviegoers who aren't big into the sports scene — or know how a certain sport is played — can find joy in these types of films. The journey and the message is always clear and in most of these films the story represents the same thing to everyone: hope.
Hope is something that we can all relate to, because whether it's the hope that you're going to score the final touchdown in the big game, the hope that you'll get that big promotion at your job, or just the hope that you'll find happiness, it's all the same. This is what makes sports movies universally appealing.
There is one movie that started this trend in the modern sports film: The boxing classic Rocky starring and written by Sylvester Stallone and directed by John G. Avildsen.
Rocky was a huge success that has remained a staple of the sports genre since its release in 1976. Not only did it start the genre on the path of inspirational storytelling, but its legacy is everlasting and is still being used as a template for most — if not all — sports films to date. Even last year's fantastic underdog movie, Creed, is a direct sequel to the Rocky franchise.
Sylvester Stallone's Battle To Make Rocky
The inspiration of Rocky isn't just contained to the film, however. The story of how Stallone got the movie made in the first place is just as impactful. Imagine a young Sylvester Stallone who was so desperate for a break in the film industry, so hard up for cash that he had to sell his own dog just to make a little cash to support his family.
He wrote the script for Rocky in a spiral notebook and tried to pitch it to any movie studio that would give him the time of day. He finally got a chance when United Artists agreed to fund the film with the small budget of just $1 million.
The film was supposed to just be a low budget sports flick with a good bit of violence to keep audiences happy, but it turned into a massive hit. Rocky received critical acclaim and multiple Oscar nominations and wins, including Best Picture. It was only natural that the success of this film would birth even more like it, let alone its own bundle of sequels.
Movies like The Karate Kid, Rudy, Miracle, and dozens of others that range from imitations to ingenious all came in the wake of Rocky's success. No matter the quality of the films that followed, all strived to be underdog stories that inspired the audience and focused on the dramatic — and often tragic — stories outside of the actual sport itself.
Even Rocky Had A Montage
Rocky spawned a new kind of sports movie, one that would stick for the long haul. Outside of 1974's The Longest Yard — more of a comedy than a drama — it was one of the first sports movies that was made from an original story. Sports movies before Rocky centered around biographical features of real sports icons, like Brian Piccolo and Gale Sayers in 1971's Brian's Song.
But it wasn't just Rocky's story that made an impact, but also its filmmaking. It won the Oscar for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Film Editing, not to mention seven other nominations in all facets of production. The way the boxing action was shot and presented was exciting and incredibly realistic by the standards of the time.
Perhaps the best example of Rocky's genius direction and editing was the inclusion of the now standard training montages. In case you didn't notice, the Rocky series has a lot of them. The iconic training montage in Rocky was used to set the tone for the big fight to come and was soon recognized as one of the most beloved scenes in movie history, thanks to the skillful editing of Scott Conrad and Richard Halsey, not to mention Bill Conti's famous theme "Gonna Fly Now."
Not only was the training montage itself revolutionary, but how it was filmed was also a very new technology. Cinematographer James Crabe used a new type of camera stabilization called the Steadicam — invented by Garrett Brown — that could follow Rocky as he ran without shaking the frame. Rocky was only the the third film in history to use the Steadicam, preceded by Bound for Glory and Marathon Man. Since the invention, not only is it common to see in sports films, but in all genres across the board.
Other sports movies have yet to crack the code that Rocky perfected, — including its own sequels — though not for lack of trying. Sports movies will forever be pitched as "Rocky but with [insert sport here]."
As for Sylvester Stallone, it is tremendously inspiring to hear about all the hardships he had to go through just to get this amazing movie made. This is a man that worked for everything he has got in life, and in the end it proves that sometimes all you need to make a good movie is a great story, inventive filmmaking and strong acting.