On November 21, 1976 a film crawled into the theaters. That movie had a budget of $1.1 million…a few weeks later its world-wide box office gross total came in at 225 million dollars. These are some facts from the original “Rocky”.
At the time of writing the script of Rocky, the 30-year old Sylvester Stallone had $106 in his bank account, no car and a dog that he was attempting to sell because it cost too much to feed him. After multiple revisions, two producers named Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff made Mr. Stallone an offer of $350,000 for the rights to the story. Stallone refused to sell unless he could play the lead role. The three reached an agreement in which Stallone would have to continue to work as a writer without a fee and his actor pay would be at scale.
The two producers were taking a big risk on the movie too. Before taking their newly purchased script to “United Artists”, they budgeted for around $2 million but because Stallone was playing the lead role (as opposed to a known actor such as their expected option of Robert Redford or Burt Renolds); United Artist came back with a budget of only $1 million. Anything over that became a personal liability to Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff.
The two would mortgage their own homes to cover the final $100 thousand dollars for the films total cost of $1.1 million.
When Rocky jogs through the streets of Philadelphia, it was completely guerrilla-style. There were no extras. People watching were actually seeing a guy jogging behind a van with a camera. There is a moment in which a store owner tosses him an orange…the owner had no idea that he was being filmed.
Before becoming Rocky’s nemesis “Apollo Creed”, actor Carl Weathers had to audition for the role. While sparring at the audition, he accidentally punched Stallone in the chin. Mr. Weathers told the director John Avildsen that a “real” actor would spar much better. The director chuckled and said that he was auditioning with not only the script’s writer but also the “real” lead character. To which he replied, “Well, maybe he’ll get better”. When they finished, Mr. Stallone told Mr. Weathers that he was going to play the role of Apollo Creed.
Both Charlie Chaplin and Elvis Presley were fans of the movie. Chaplin wrote Stallone a letter saying that the movie reminded him of a character that he used to play. Mr. Chaplin and Elvis invited Stallone to their homes to watch the movie. To this day, Sylvester regrets not taking them up on their offer.
The ice rink scene planned for 300 extras. When Stallone showed up for the shoot, only one unpaid extra was there. Many fans consider the intimate moment between Adrian and Rocky at the quiet rink to be one of the most popular scenes of the film.
All of the actors originally considered for the Role of “Mickey” (Rocky’s trainer/mentor) were insulted that they’d have to audition. Not the late great Burgess Meredith, he read for it…he will always be remembered for this role. “What are we waitin’ for?” (Rocky II)
The scene of Rocky running up the stairs came from a Philadelphia man named Garrett Brown. Mr. Brown invented the Steadicam. Previous to Rocky, he was testing his invention by filming his girlfriend running up the same steps. He needed something more compelling to take to a future meeting in Los Angeles to raise money for this new product. It was Rocky and his climb to the top of the Philidelphia Art Museum that thrust the Steadicam into the world of Entertainment.
Make-up was the most expensive cost of the movie.
To this day Stallone’s knuckles are completely level from the scene in which he punches slabs of beef in the meat-locker.
Filming was so intense that Stallone had to make a tough decision. Because he kept running out of breath, he decided to quit smoking cigarettes.
Rocky had a dog in the movie named “Butkus” which is the same dog that he was trying to sell because he couldn’t afford dog-food.
Through out the filming, Stallone came up with ways to make up for filming errors (b/c they couldn’t afford to re-shoot scenes). For example: on the poster of Rocky that hung above the ring; his shorts were the wrong colors. Instead of hoping that the audience wouldn’t notice, he simply wrote new movie lines to point out the prop department’s mistakes.
The movie was shot in less than a month. Start to finish in 28 days.
With the movie running behind, producers wanted to cut the scene in which Rocky tells Adrian during the night before the fight of his inner fears. However Stallone insisted on shooting the scene. They had one take to get it. Stallone considers it to be the most important scene in the movie.
The original Rocky was nominated for 10 Academy Awards. The following is Stallone’s description of taking a taxi to the Oscars:
“I rented a tuxedo and on the way to the Oscars the tie broke and the driver goes, ‘You want to borrow mine?’ I go ‘nah, I guess it doesn’t matter,’ so I walk into the Oscars looking like Vinny Boom Bots, ‘how you doin?’ and people were like, ‘oh my god, what arrogance, how dare he?'”
That night at the Oscars “Rocky” won for Film Editing, Director and Best Picture.
Only 2 actors hold the distinction of being the sole writer of an original screenplay while acting the leading role and getting nominated for Oscars: Stallone and Charlie Chaplin.
Box Office Performance of Rocky movies in terms of world-wide box office gross $$$:
-Rocky (December 3, 1976) = $225,000,000
-Rocky II (June 15, 1979) = $200,182,160
-Rocky III (May 28, 1982) = $270,000,000
-Rocky IV (November 27, 1985) = $300,373,716
-Rocky V (November 16, 1990) = $119,946,358
-Rocky Balboa (December 20, 2006) = $155,720,088
-Creed (November 25, 2015) = $173,567,581
Total combined Budget = 154.08 million
Total for just the theater tickets sold: $1,444,789,903
For the math-brains, Percentage Gain = 838%
Before writing Rocky, Stallone earned $36 per week as an usher parking cars. (and “yes”, he also had roles in some soft-core porn flicks too)
The script was inspired by a fight that Stallone watched between Chuck Wepner and Muhammad Ali. Ali was predicted to knock Wepner out in the third round.
In the 9th round, Wepner sent Ali to the canvas. Mr. Ali quickly got up and went on to un-load on Wepner. Not until the 15th round with 19-seconds left in the fight did the ref call a TKO…
…Muhammad Ali’s six rounds of pounding would break Wepner’s nose and cut gashes over both of his eyes…and the forgotten fighter inspired the movie “Rocky”.