Step into the ring with our 'Rocky' movie guide
America was introduced to the character of Rocky Balboa in 1976 by then rookie actor and screenwriter Sylvester Stallone. Immediately, the world would fall in love with Balboa’s story, following a small time underground fighter turned Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the World through grit and plain hard work.
Perhaps the reason the “Rocky” movies hit audiences so well lies not just in the inspirational story of Rocky Balboa, but of Stallone himself. After all, “Rocky” is also as much an underdog tale behind the scenes.
With “Creed II” heading to theaters this November, the franchise is moving into its fourth decade. That’s why Moviebill has prepared a recap of everything that Rocky Balboa has been through to date. There’s still plenty of time for you to marathon the series yourself, but here’s everything you need to know before the next round begins on November 21, 2018.
December 3, 1976
Written by Sylvester Stallone, the script for the first “Rocky” was turned down by many studios before the future star met with director John G. Avildsen, also known for directing the first three “Karate Kid” movies. Stallone was determined to make the film on his terms, but was repeatedly told him it wouldn’t be a hit and that he would never make it to the big screen.
He showed them. “Rocky” quickly became one of the biggest sports movies of all time. Stallone’s character, Rocky Balboa, stubbornly determination to keep standing and his tender romance with Adrian (Talia Shire), captured our hearts.
When we first meet Rocky, he is a debt-collector in Philadelphia and an underground fighter who is simply trying to get by. Meanwhile, fellow fighter Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) is the reigning Heavyweight Boxing Champion, and has just lost his next opponent to an injury. Hard pressed to find a replacement, Creed decides to take on a local fighter. Enter Stallone’s “Italian Stallion” and the match is set.
Balboa begins training with Mickey “Mighty Mick” Goldmill (Burgess Meredith). Stallone practically invents the training montage, iconically racing to the top of the stairs outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
The fight in the first “Rocky” begins with Creed’s ostentatious entrance. Dressed as a mix of George Washington and Uncle Sam, he wears his signature American flag boxing shorts. After Balboa gets in a good hit, though, Creed realizes that Balboa is a serious contender. Creed and Balboa fight all 15 rounds until the last bell. Creed wins by points, but Balboa proved he won’t go down easy and he can take whatever his opponent dishes out.
At the end of the match, all bloody and bruised, Balboa calls to Adrian and she runs to him, and they embrace to celebrate his personal victory. After all, Balboa stood up for himself and demonstrated his strength when no one thought he could. Stallone, meanwhile, wound up winning three Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Who knew then that the first “Rocky” would launch a motion picture franchise?
June 15, 1979
With the success of the first, Stallone returned to write, star, and direct the first sequel, “Rocky II.” It begins with Balboa, having just finished his fight with Creed. He is comforted knowing his opponent gave the bout his all, but Balboa walks away with a detached retina and the potential for permanent blindness.
Able to retire from professional boxing with the money from the fight, Rocky proposes to Adrian. She soon becomes pregnant and doesn’t want her husband to fight anymore. Unfortunately, Creed gets bogged down by hate mail saying he couldn’t take a rematch with Balboa and how embarrassing it was for him to go all fifteen rounds with a rookie. Eventually, Balboa is egged into a rematch with Creed, despite caution from his doctor, trainer, and Adrian herself.
Rocky starts training again, but his heart isn’t in it this time. When the date of the match finally approaches, Adrian collapses from stress. She gives birth to a premature, yet healthy, baby boy named Rocky Jr.. Adrian falls into a postpartum coma, however. When she finally comes around, she gives Rocky — who has been sitting by her hospital bedside the entire time — her blessing to fight.
Although Creed brags he will knock out Balboa in two rounds, Rocky has other plans. Both fighters make it to the fifteenth round. Creed has the most points, meaning that if he stays up, he will win. Balboa is stronger, though, so he has a chance. When both men go down at the same time, the ref starts counting to ten.
One, two, three…
If they both stay down, Creed wins and keeps his Heavyweight Championship.
Four, Five, Six…
Sweat dripping, muscles aching.
Seven, Eight, Nine…
Creed collapses in exhaustion, and Balboa makes his way to his feet. The new Heavyweight Champion, Rocky heads home to Adrian and the baby. Looking into the camera, Rocky says, “Yo, Adrian, I did it.”
May 28, 1982
Still Heavyweight Champion, Rocky continues to hold his title until he learns that his coach, Mickey, has been scheduling easy opponents to keep Balboa on top. All that changes with a challenge from James “Clubber” Lang (Mr. T). Out of the ring, Balboa and Lang go head to head. Unfortunately, Mickey gets in between the two and is shoved aside by Lang, causing the coach’s heart to falter and fail.
After mourning the loss of his mentor, Balboa accepts the challenge and tries to train himself without much luck. In a strange turn of events, Balboa’s old rival Apollo Creed steps in and offers his assistance.
At this point in the franchise, Balboa (and the audience) know that his greatest strength as a fighter is his ability to take a significant number of blows and keep standing. In the final match with Clubber Lang, Balboa adopts a new strategy: play on his opponent’s ego and wear him out with taunts. Balboa takes Lang out in the third round, after sustaining several knock-out-worthy punches.
Clubber Lang was a threat to Balboa without a doubt, but the true fight in this movie is one that we never get to see. After the climax, Balboa and Creed agree to a friendly match in the gym to see once and for all who wins, but the credits roll before the fight ends.
November 27, 1985
The fourth and most financially successful film in the “Rocky” franchise to date was also directed by Stallone. Now facing international opponents, Balboa is confronted by a boxing champion from the Soviet Union. Dolph Lundgren‘s Ivan Drago stands at a terrifying six foot five inches and weighs over two hundred and forty pounds. Drago arrives in the United States to prove Soviet athleticism.
Apollo Creed, motivated by a pride in his country and himself, determines he will be the one to get in the ring with Drago. Through a brutal two rounds, Creed punches Drago ineffectively and Drago ultimate lands a blow that proves fatal to Creed.
Overcome by the loss of his friend, Rocky signs up for a match against Drago to avenge his Creed’s death. The match takes place in the Soviet Union where Balboa has no support or fans. Of course, Drago and the audience do not know about Rocky’s extraordinary ability to take a punch. In the course of the fifteen rounds, the audience learns to respect and admire Balboa’s tenacity. Rocky wins the fight with a knock-out to Drago, signifying a larger match between the two nations.
November 16, 1990
John G. Avildsen returns to direct the fifth “Rocky” installment with Stallone once again writing and starring. In “Rocky V,” our hero has gotten older and so has his son, Rocky Jr. (Sly’s real life son, Sage Stallone), but Balboa is still the Heavyweight Champion. At this point in Rocky’s career, he has lost two coaches, but has won every major match through sheer will and stubbornness. When Rocky he meets a young, aspiring boxer, he jumps to take on a mentoring role for Tommy “Machine” Gunn (real life boxing champion Tommy Morrison).
Eventually, Gunn rejects Balboa’s methods and coaching and goes on to win the title of Heavyweight Boxing Champion from an opponent who never faced Balboa. Spectators taunt Gunn that he will never be the true champion unless he finds a way to beat Balboa himself.
A true match never transpires, but a street fight between Gunn and Balboa takes place during which Balboa calls on his years of underground fighting to muster another win, proving once again that he’s deserving of his title.
December 20, 2006
Rocky returns for the final fight of his career and Stallone returns to direct the final installment. In “Rocky Balboa,” Rocky is officially retired from fighting. His son has grown up and is now played by Milo Ventimiglio (“This is Us”). Adrian passed away in 2002 of ovarian cancer, so Balboa opened a successful Italian restaurant named in her honor.
In the middle of living his retired life, a TV show called “Then and Now” airs a simulation of Rocky Balboa fighting the current Heavyweight Champion, Mason “The Line” Dixon (Antonio Tarver). The simulation sets both Balboa and Dixon in their prime, and Rocky wins the virtual fight. The hosts concede, however, that Balboa wouldn’t stand at his current age against a younger fighter.
That’s the kind of sentiment that never fails to inspire Balboa back to the ring, but Rocky Jr. — now going by Robert — requests that his father rethink his plans, reminding Rocky that fame caused the both of them a lot of grief. Rocky responds with the best life advice a boxer could give, “It ain’t about how hard you hit; it’s about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward.”
Originally, Balboa planned only to do small fights that would keep him limber. Dixon, though, also saw the computer simulation and realizes his opportunity to fight the Champion Who Got Away.
Balboa and Dixon meet for a match that will settle the title for all time. They duke it out over fifteen rounds. Dixon proves he can fight every round with Balboa, and Balboa proves he is a fighter now just as he was then. Before they announce the winner, Balboa and his team make their way towards the exit. Dixon won in a split decision.
After the fight, Balboa visits Adrian’s headstone and says, “Yo, Adrian, we did it.”
November 25, 2015
“Black Panther” director Ryan Coogler wrote and helmed the most recent chapter in the “Rocky” franchise, “Creed”. It tells the story of Apollo Creed’s son, Adonis “Donnie” Johnson Creed, played by Michael B. Jordan.
Apollo Creed’s widow, Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad), picks up Donnie from an LA detention center, shortly after finding out Donnie is Apollo’s illegitimate son. Donnie later that he wants to pursue professional boxing and continue in the footsteps of his father, despite his mother’s wishes to the contrary. After all, this is the sport that killed her husband.
Meanwhile, a new romance sparks between Donnie and an aspiring singer/songwriter, Bianca (Tessa Thompson).
Donnie comes to Rocky in the hopes of convincing Balboa to train him. Donnie wins a few local matches and stirs up interest from the light Heavyweight Champion, “Pretty” Ricky Conlan (three time British Heavyweight Champion Tony Bellew). Conlan requests a match with Donnie, but only if Donnie changes his name to Creed. Donnie finally agrees, and the two go meet in the Liverpool ring.
Before the match, Mary Anne sends Donnie a pair of American flag boxing shorts, exactly like the ones his father wore. The fight goes all fifteen rounds, just like Apollo and Rocky, with Conlan winning by points in the end. Donnie has won respect, though, and now knows that he has a right to be a boxer independent of his father.
Sadly, Balboa finds out out that he has non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and chooses to forgo chemotherapy. He lives to appear in “Creed II,” but Rocky’s time could soon be coming to an end.
“Creed II” will be in theaters November 21, 2018. Click here to check out the trailer and keep checking back for updates.
Cheryl Bauder is a contributing intern at Moviebill. She studied English Literature at California State University, Long Beach and previous wrote for 22 West Magazine, specializing in movie reviews.