Sports films are one of the most common genres in the movie industry. They usually have a simple plot leading to a huge sporting event. There are several different ways to write a sports story: sports, biography, comedy, drama, or even family movies. The 1976 film Rocky is an excellent example of a sports drama. “A sports drama incorporates dramatic elements into a sports storyline.”1 Rocky is a classic sports-drama. It influenced the film industry through its success, cinematography, and plot.
Rocky changed the film industry through its success. The movie won a Golden Globe award in 1977 for Best Motion Picture (Drama). This showed the Rocky really was the best movie in its genre at that time. It is also believed by critics to be one of the greatest contributions to its genre of all time in how it was one of the first to succeed as well as it did. Also because many film critics commend Rocky for its nearly flawless execution of the plot style it used.
Rocky’s box office numbers were astounding to anyone who works in the movie business. “The movies budget was estimated at $1 Million but it grossed over $225 Million worldwide”2. This showed aspiring directors and writers that excessive amounts of money and a star cast are not necessary to make a blockbuster film. Rocky turned out to be the “highest grossing film of 1976 with its $225 Million”3. Also the producers couldn’t afford to hire many extras so some of Stallone’s family had to play roles in the movie like his father, brother and first wife who all worked for free.
Rocky’s success was also shown through the awards it was nominated for and through the awards it won. Rocky was nominated for 10 Academy Awards including Best Lead Actor, Best Lead Actress, and Best Writing. Rocky won the Oscar for best picture. Rocky’s Oscar win was somewhat of an underdog story itself. A critic says, “Rocky was the underdog—the low-budget movie that could.”4 This quote sum up how most movie directors and reviewers feel about how well Rocky did against the higher budget movies during the time period including The Omen and King Kong. The winning of the Oscar showed that the success of this movie wasn’t just by chance and that Stallone deserved the praise he got out of this film. Because of the nominations and awards, Rocky is considered a movie really worth the respect it gets
Rocky also changed the film industry through its cinematography. Rocky was filmed in Philadelphia and used local landmarks to create key scenes instead of using sound sets at a movie studio that mimicked the locations. Doing this not only saved the director money but also helped in portraying the roughness of the setting and making them film more believable. “Cinematographer Jimmy Crabe worked with director John G. Alvidsen to re-think the look of the city of Philadelphia.”5 This proves that the cinematography in the movie worked in a way that it helped the director portray the point he was trying to get across. The cinematography helped provided a sense of realism and rawness that is felt throughout the movie. One of the most iconic scenes of the movie is when Rocky runs up the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum. “There’s that exhilarating moment when Stallone, in training, runs up the steps of Philadelphia’s art museum, leaps into the air, shakes his fist at the city, and you know he’s sending a message to the whole movie industry.”6 During this scene the camera was shot towards the back of Rocky and it overlooked downtown Philadelphia. This shot made it seem like he was finally ready to compete and possibly even beat the heavyweight champion of the world even if the odds were against him. The director and the cinematographer decided to film the movie almost entirely in Philadelphia and used real buildings and places to provide a backdrop instead of using re-created scenery.
The cinematographer in the movie had to use a lot of different camera techniques to simulate the feeling that there were elements in the movie that they could not afford or have access to. Many of the scenes in Rocky were filmed without any extras or planning and bystanders who did not know a film was being made were a part of the scenes. This created a sense of realism that filmmakers try to copy to this day. With such a low budget, Alvidsen had to make do with what he had so he was forced to film a small group of people crowded together multiple times to create the feeling of a large crowd. He also had to ask Stallone to re-write some scenes because of their lack of funds for extras and equipment. This acted as a way to show how gritty and raw this story really was.
Due to the low budget of the film; Alvidsen had to make do with the resources they had and then incorporated the situation into the plot of the film. It made the film very realistic and believable. For example, the ice rink scene was supposed to have a crowded rink. But, they couldn’t afford all the extras so they had to change the script, and it became a closed rink in which the camera stayed focused on only Rocky and Adrian the whole time.
Rocky influenced the film industry through its plot. The main plot of Rocky is the main character’s desire to make his or her life better. This theme is one of the most common themes in films. Rocky’s effect on this type of theme was monumental though because it was one of the first of its kind to be made with a small budget, unknown cast, and limited resources. This proves that this film is unique by showing how differently the director and actors had to approach making the film and still being very effective. It was one of the few of these types of movies to really take into account the real aspects of life so it seemed realistic and less staged. Because of these factors Rocky is seen as a great example of this type of movie.
The plot is a basic underdog story that is simple, yet extremely plausible. It helps to make the movie very believable. This plot is used in many movies, regardless of the genre. The audience feels a kinship with the hero, which makes them like the movie. Also Rocky shows one of the greatest training scenes ever in sports film history. This shows viewers that if they work harder, then they can be great. One critic says “Rocky certainly didn’t invent all the sports movie clichés, but it applied them in a way that captivated audiences and didn’t seem over-the-top.”7 This shows that Rocky found different and interesting ways to do things that had already been done before.
The movie contains a few plot twists that keep the viewer engaged and help develop the characters’ personalities. In Rocky these plot twists are unique in how they were not always positive like a lot of movies are. A lot of the twists show Rocky’s life getting worse and worse. The audience is not certain if Rocky will win the fight or if he will win the girl in the end. Surprise endings and major plot twists are a key tool used in film to keep the audience interested and emotionally engaged in the movie. This plays a big role in its success in how it keeps the viewer interested and doesn’t bore them with a monotonous lull. One of the most surprising twists is when Rocky doesn’t care about the result of the fight but only about Adrian. This scene is described in this critics quote “In the end, when Rocky has gone the distance, winning by his own standards, his love for her is all that matters.”8
“The impact of Rocky on sports and sports films is unprecedented.”9 Rocky turned out to be one of the greatest sports films of all time. It has stood the test of time and is still known for having probably the best and most well-known montage scenes in the history of sports movies. Critics say that “Since 1976, nearly every film featuring a big sports comeback and triumph has been inspired by and/or compared to Rocky, regardless of whether it involves boxing or not.”10 That is one of the many reasons why Rocky is considered one of the greatest sports movies ever and has lasted as a classic for over 35 years. Overall, through its success, cinematography, and plot, Rocky has changed the film industry forever.