Rocky, Boxing and the 1970s

He does it & the crowd goes wild! Image: Drunk Monkeys
…and the crowd goes wild! Image: Drunk Monkeys

Look at Sylvester Stallone in the above photo.

Here is an underdog, as if we couldn’t tell: jogging pants too short, sweatshirt tucked inside an oddly high waistband, socks that may or may not match.

Notice the landcape colours, and how Stallone himself nearly dissolves into the greyness of it.

Look where he is on this chilly Philadelphia morning, alone, celebrating a small victory.

Taken out of context, this could be a sad photograph. But if you’ve seen the 1976 film Rocky, you know this is a moment of Meaningful Triumph.

In case you haven’t seen the original Rocky, Stallone stars as a struggling boxer who moonlights as a debt collector for a small-time loan shark. He lives in a grim Philadelphia neighborhood, where streets are packed with litter and young people spend their evenings swapping stories over fires in garbage cans.

But when superstar boxing champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) randomly selects him to fight in an upcoming heavyweight championship, Rocky gets a shot at fame and fortune – the ultimate American dream.

Rocky and Apollo Creed duke it out in the ring. Image: LA Weekly
Apollo Creed (left) and Rocky duke it out in the ring. Image: LA Weekly

An an audience, we applaud Apollo Creed’s decision to fight Rocky. We can’t help but love Rocky’s offbeat charm, even while he’s muscling loan shark customers for overdue loan payments.

“I ain’t emotionally involved, you understand?” he explains to a customer he’s pinned against a fence. Then, in the tone of a disappointed father: “You shoulda planned ahead, you know that?” He calmly takes cash from the man’s pockets and lets him go. He’s not the type that breaks thumbs.

Rocky is an unlikely saint. He’s kind to animals, looks out for troubled kids, and greets everyone the same way. (“How you doin’?”) In one scene, Rocky helps a man who has passed out on the street by carrying him into the safety of a pub.

He also makes a habit of dropping by the local pet store to visit a young woman (Talia Shire), who is extremely shy and dresses in the Most Unattractive Clothes. But Rocky doesn’t care about her wardrobe. He likes her, and that’s all there is to it.

So of course we’re going to cheer for him, even after the movie’s over, because Rocky is a messenger of hope in a difficult time.

Rocky visits Adrian at the pet store. Image: Total Rocky

Rocky visits anti-social Adrian at the pet store. Image: Total Rocky

The 1970s were an unsettling decade for the United States. There was the energy crisis, largely due to a 1973 OPEC oil embargo. The Kent State Shootings of 1970 underscored tensions regarding the Vietnam War. There was also a President who betrayed his country’s trust.

(It’s worth noting things were looking particularly bleak for Rocky’s hometown of Philadelphia in the 1970s. Major businesses closed down, population decreased, and crime rates surged.)

This uncertain terrain caused no small anxiety and disillusionment in the American public, which was reflected in popular film. Top grossing movies of 1976 include The Omen, All the President’s Men, Taxi Driver, Network and Logan’s Run.

Then came Rocky.

Here is a film about an unstylish hero with a low-budget training program – jogging through fatigued winter streets and punching slabs of meat in a warehouse. There are no sponsorship logos on his athletic wear.

He’s doing more than just training for the Big Fight. He’s reminding America of the qualities that made her admirable, such as ingenuity, generosity and integrity. He’s showing Americans they can overcome their depressing environment and change their future.

Rocky was the second-highest-grossing film of 1976. It wasn’t the first or last sports-as-life metaphor, but it is one of Hollywood’s enduring, iconic films. If it’s been some years since you’ve seen it, we recommend giving it a fresh look.

Rocky: starring Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young. Directed by John G. Avildsen. Written by Sylvester Stallone. United Artists, 1976, Colour, 120 mins.

This post is part of the Athletes in Film Blogathon hosted by Once Upon a Screen and Wide Screen World. Click HERE to see the fab entries.




  1. LOVE, LOVE this movie and love your take on it. The description of the otherwise bleak victory dance on top of the famous steps is fantastic plus adding what things were like in comparison to the film and what it meant at the time. Great read as usual, Ruth. THANKS for this entry!


    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for your nice comments and for hosting this blogathon. Sports movies usually have interesting thought-provoking themes, and I’ll be added a few new films to my Must Watch List. 🙂


  2. When I wrote about CREED I made the same point you did about how the original ROCKY was a palliative for troubled times. Film fans may argue that NETWORK or ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN are better movies, but ROCKY captured the feeling the country was experiencing. That’s probably why it won Best Pic.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. This is a great ode to Rocky! You’ve captured the essence of the film perfectly. Bravo! Sounds like a good thing to watch (again) on a rainy Saturday night :). Thanks Ruth!

    Liked by 2 people

      • No worries at all! Yes, I did see Creed and loved it. There is just something about Rocky that makes me feel good, I felt it in Creed much like I felt it in the original. It’s fun to read your thoughts about Rocky, I have to say. 😊

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I agree with wholeheartedly on the virtues of ROCKY (which I just watched again for the umpteenth time). Of the other films in the series, my fave is ROCKY III. I liked how the Apollo dynamic changed and how even Rocky becomes complacent for a brief period. Eye of the tiger, Rock!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. My favorite Rocky was III, the one with Mr. T. But the original comes in as a close second. And if I were recommending a boxing movie, it would be the first on the list. (But I still prefer Rocky III….)

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I remember seeing this in high school and really liking it. Funny, because I’m not immediately drawn to sports movies, but this one felt different. I love stories about underdogs, and I also really liked the fact that he would want to date a shy girl. Thanks for telling about what was actually going on at the time in history because back then I didn’t pay much attention to the news! 🙂 I will have to watch this again and also the latest one you mentioned. I haven’t seen that one. Thanks so much, Ruth!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, I LOVE the fact that Rocky would want to date Adrian and sees her as an attractive person despite her wardrobe.

      I’m not normally drawn to sports movies either (except for baseball movies), but this one is special. I think it’s because it’s not really about boxing. It’s about Rocky himself.


  7. I imagined Rocky wasn’t a film that I would enjoy, but I really liked it – as you say, we root for Rocky the underdog, and he makes us feel everybody is capable of doing something great with a lot of effort.
    And, well, when I saw the top image, Eye of the Tiger started to play in my head!
    Thanks for the kind comment!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I love the way you started this review, analyzing the photograph; and then contradicting the bleakness of the scene, to what in actuality, it is suppose to be!! And then the way you’ve woven the historical significance of the 70’s decade!! This was a beautiful read.
    I haven’t seen ‘Rocky’ yet!! I know, embarrassing!! But I love ‘All the President’s Men’, ‘Taxi Driver’ and ‘Network’, that you’ve mentioned. I haven’t seen ‘Logan’s Run’ either.
    I like the fact that Talia Shire is an unconventional Hollywood heroine. She wasn’t a beautiful star, but what a great actress. Loved her in ‘The Godfather’ movies!!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I agree with you re: Talia Shire. She is truly an amazing actress who, I think, is often under appreciated.

      When you do see Rocky, you’ll be in for a treat. I hope it lives up to the buzz! 🙂

      As for the 70s movies you listed, I haven’t yet seen Taxi Driver, so you’re one ahead of me there.

      Liked by 1 person

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