Eye of the Tiger: A Rocky Retrospective
Just the thumping intro of Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” can stir up visions of Rocky Balboa throwing fists at a punching bag and running up the steps of Philadelphia’s Museum of Art.
Undeniably one of the most culturally impactful movies of the 1970s, Rocky has touched the lives of many. It spawned an eight-film franchise that continues to draw a new generation of fans to the Balboa brand.
With the most recent sequel, Creed II, it’s only natural to want to take a trip down memory lane. As such, let’s review the history of all eight films and their influence within cinematic history.
Kicking the movie phenomena off was the first of the franchise, simply entitled Rocky. Released in 1976 on a one-million-dollar budget, the movie became the highest-grossed movie of that year earning $225 million dollars worldwide.
Rocky focused on the very essence of the American dream. Working-class boxer of Italian descent, Rocky Balboa is a small-time fighter, who gets a shot at the heavyweight champion Apollo Creed. It’s a rags-to-riches tale, with a little bit of a love story between Balboa and Adrianna. Not to mention the beautiful comradery between Rock and his trainer Mickey.
The movie snagged 10 Academy Awards nominations. It took home three statues, including one for Best Picture. Additionally, Rocky received some pretty raved reviews. Plus, it turned the writer and star, actor Sylvester Stallone, into Hollywood royalty.
There’s nothing quite like the original. However, Rocky II still did well in the box office and with critics. In fact, it ended up within the top-three highest-grossing films in 1979 and received Favorite Motion Picture at the People’s Choice Awards.
As for the story, Rocky II has the titular boxer achieving some pretty great success outside the boxing ring. He gains a little wealth, all thanks to sponsorship endorsements. Staying true to the fighter within him, Rocky defeats Apollo Creed in the end to become the heavyweight champion. Many wept as Rocky declared on camera to an Adrian watching at home, “Yo, Adrian, I did it!”
Released in 1982, Rocky III was a huge box office success. It surpassed the original by earning over $270 million dollars worldwide. Plus, the iconic “Eye of the Tiger” served as the movie’s theme song and was nominated for an Academy Award.
Having said that, many movie reviewers felt like it was the “same old, same old”, in terms of story. While Mickey, Creed, Rocky, and Adrian all appeared in this Rocky sequel, filmgoers were introduced to two new characters: Clubber Lang (played by Mr. T) and Thunderlips (played by WWE icon Hulk Hogan).
In this third installment of Rocky, fans see Rocky living the high life as heavyweight champion, thanks to successful title defenses and sponsorships endorsements. Unfortunately, the high doesn’t last as he drops the title to Lang. Amidst the chaos within the match, beloved trainer Mickey dies. Once-rival, Apollo Creed decides to train Rocky for his rematch. Thanks to Apollo’s training Rocky ends up regaining the title from the evil Lang.
Taking from the tensions of the Cold War, Rocky IV had a Soviet Union versus America feel to it.
Soviet boxer, Ivan Drago battles Apollo Creed in Las Vegas. A match that should’ve been a fun and flashy event ends in tragedy. After a series of fatal punches from Drago, Apollo dies during the bout. Losing yet another close boxing friend, Rocky decides to challenge Drago himself. In the typical “Yay America!” films of those times, Rocky defeats Drago in the Soviet Union. The film closes with Rocky relaying a beautifully written speech about love, unity, and change; all to the roaring cheers from the Soviet crowd.
When all was said and done, Rocky IV grossed $300 million worldwide. This made it one of the highest-grossing sports film in history. Despite being a commercial success, it had a very poor critical reception.
Released in 1990, Rocky V was a disappointment on all levels.
In the fifth movie, Rocky loses all his money thanks to a shady accountant. While he could fight to earn his way back into the high life, he is forced to retire due to brain damage. Rocky takes on a protégé in hopes of turning around his misfortune. Unfortunately, said protégé turns on him, causing Rocky and his family to return to their ho-hum life. But, not before Rocky and the young boxer duke it out in the streets of Philly.
Life imitated art when it came to Rocky V as Rocky’s fall from the top trickled down to the film franchise. Critics blasted the film for being a transparent attempt to recapture the original’s tone.
Along with the poor critical reception, Rocky V only made $40 million in the U.S. box office. The silver lining is that it did do well overseas. This bumped its worldwide earnings to just under $120 million.
Many thought Rocky V’s poor reception meant it would be the last of the franchise. Well, it was for a good 16 years.
In 2006, Rocky Balboa was released. It garnered far better reviews from critics and did very well in terms of ticket sales. In fact, the film grossed over $12 million in its opening weekend and would eventually become the ninth-highest grossed boxing movie of all time.
A retired Rocky, who now successfully owns an Italian restaurant, decides to lace up those boots again for a charity exhibition against current boxing sensation Mason “The Line” Dixon. He trains, gets his son Robert on board to help him, and even recruits Apollo Creed’s old trainer, Duke.
Although Rocky loses the match in the end, it’s a close fight. Thus, leaving the audience with that feel-good Rocky message they had been used to over the years.
Nearly a decade after the successful Rocky Balboa, the franchise got a brand-new addition. This time with a different twist and name.
Released in 2015, Creed is a story about Apollo Creed’s son Adonis (played by Michael B. Jordan) following in his legendary father’s shoes. With Rocky as Adonis’ trainer, of course.
Creed received critical acclaim amongst movie reviewers and would gross just over $173 million dollars worldwide. That’s not too shabby considering its budget of $35 million. It was also the first time since the original Rocky that Sly Stallone received an Oscar nod, in the Best Supporting Actor category.
After the overwhelming success of Creed, it’s no big surprise that a sequel was quickly greenlit.
Creed II looks to the past in order to usher in a new era of boxing movies. History repeats itself as Ivan Drago uses his son Viktor to continue the Creed/Drago rivalry.
The reviews for Creed II have been highly positive. Plus, the movie grossed $214 million dollars worldwide.
Who’s betting there will be a Creed III?