His whole life was a million-to-one shot.
In late November, 1975, Rocky Balboa, a sweet, garrulous, slightly over-the-hill boxer, wins his latest match with more fury than talent. Although he is well-known and well-liked in his South Philadelphia neighborhood, back in his dingy apartment, he has only his turtles to whom he can report his triumph. He then visits the local pet store in the hope of winning over the painfully shy clerk, Adrian Pennino, but she barely responds to his efforts. During his day job Rocky works as a collector for local loan shark Tony Gazzo, but when he cannot bring himself to break the thumb of one debtor, Rocky earns Gazzo’s displeasure. Demoralized, Rocky turns to the one place at which he feels at home, the gym, but there discovers that his manager, Mickey Goldmill, has given his locker to a new contender. When Rocky confronts Mickey, the 76-year-old former bantamweight states that although Rocky has heart, he fights “like an ape” and should quit before he loses his one distinction, his unbroken nose.
After once again getting nowhere with Adrian, Rocky visits her brother, meat packer Paulie Pennino, to ask why she disdains him. Paulie declares Adrian a “loser,” a spinster at almost thirty, but invites Rocky to Thanksgiving dinner with them the following night. Meanwhile, reigning heavyweight champion Apollo Creed learns that his next opponent, set to fight him in five weeks’ time, is injured and no worthy contender can be arranged. Creed, a colorful attention-seeker, despairs of losing the media coverage and decides to launch an exhibition fight with a Philadelphia unknown on New Year’s Day, the first day of the country’s bicentennial. Declaring that Americans will love the idea of an underdog ostensibly being given his big chance, he thumbs through a list of local boxers and pinpoints Rocky, whose self-appointed nickname is "The Italian Stallion," as an interesting ethnic counterpoint.
At the same time, Rocky prepares for his first “date” with Adrian, but upon entering Paulie’s house, realizes that Adrian is unaware of the set-up. Embarrassed, she declares herself unready for guests, prompting Paulie to explode in anger and throw her turkey dinner into the alleyway. Although she locks herself in the bedroom in response, Rocky urges her to come out and takes her to a closed ice skating rink, which he convinces the manager to open briefly. As Adrian skates, Rocky trots alongside her, explaining that he never succeeded as a boxer because he is a left-handed hitter. When he confesses that his father told him he had no brains so had better work with his body, Adrian reveals that her mother told her to develop her brains, as she did not have a good body. Walking to his apartment, he asserts that their weaknesses—his dim-wittedness and her timidity—make them perfect partners. At his stoop, she tries to leave but he charms her into staying, then once inside soothes her skittishness and gently initiates a passionate embrace.
The next day, Rocky learns from Mickey that Creed’s promoter, Miles Jergens, wants to meet with him, and both assume Creed is looking for a sparring partner. When Mickey insults him, Rocky demands an explanation, and Mickey spits out his disgust that Rocky failed to live up to his early promise as a fighter and instead became “a leg-breaker.” At Jergens’ office, Rocky is stunned to learn that he is being offered a chance at the heavyweight championship but quietly turns down the opportunity, knowing he has no possibility of winning. However, Jergens convinces him that he cannot pass up the chance of a lifetime, and soon after the bout is announced on television. Watching the broadcast later, Paulie points out to Rocky that the commentators were mocking him, and although Rocky professes not to care, he later admits his distress to Adrian. He plans to train alone, and when Mickey visits to plead to be his manager, Rocky brushes off the old man’s desperate self-marketing, declaring that he needed a manager ten years ago when he still had a future. Mickey, for whom Rocky’s fight represents his last stab at success, shuffles out in defeat, but outside stops to listen as Rocky explodes in anger, shouting that this lucky break has come too late for him and he is sure to be beaten badly.
Minutes later, however, Rocky chases after Mickey and hires him. Rocky immediately begins a self-imposed, grueling training schedule, running through the city at four a.m. On his first day, he ascends the steep, stone stairs of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and is exhausted by the time he reaches the top. He stops by Paulie’s meat-packing plant, where Paulie, as is customary, pesters him for a job with Gazzo. When Paulie then questions angrily whether or not Rocky has slept with Adrian, Rocky pushes him away, punching a frozen carcass until his fists bleed. Later, a reinvigorated Mickey trains Rocky enthusiastically, and despite agreeing to the trainer’s demand that he swear off women during training, Rocky spends more and more time with Adrian. After weeks of Rocky’s training regimen, which now includes daily workouts punching the frozen meat, a drunken Paulie arranges a television interview in the meat locker. Although Creed, busy preparing his media exposure, ignores the broadcast, his trainer is impressed by Rocky’s tenacity.
Afterward, Paulie overhears Rocky complaining to Adrian about him, and threatening them both with a bat, raves that he failed to marry in order to take care of Adrian. With sudden vitriol, she screams that she owes him nothing and no longer wants to feel like a loser, and after Paulie collapses in drunken exhaustion, Adrian and Rocky agree that she will move in with him. Each day, Rocky runs through the neighborhood, receiving the well-wishes of the locals. Finally, after weeks of exertion, he is able to run up the museum steps with ease, and at the top throws up his hands in triumph. His status as the underdog contender has earned him national attention and affection, but on the night before the fight, Rocky visits the empty arena and realizes anew that there is no way he can win. At home, he tells Adrian that it does not matter if he loses, but if he can just last all fifteen rounds, as no one ever has against Creed, he will know for the first time that he is more than “just another bum from the neighborhood.” On the day of the fight, as the arena fills, Rocky prays, then banters with Adrian. As he enters the ring, the announcers report that some have called the bout “the caveman vs. the cavalier,” and that the Las Vegas odds assume that Rocky will be knocked out within three rounds. Next, with supreme fanfare, Creed, throwing money to the crowd, enters the arena, costumed as George Washington on a boat.
The fight begins, with Rocky’s friends watching eagerly on the local tavern television. Creed, overconfident, is far quicker than Rocky and jabs at him tauntingly, but when Rocky lands an unexpected strong hit, felling Creed for the first time ever, the champion returns with renewed vigilance. He begins to pummel Rocky, and when Rocky manages to back Creed up against the ropes, Creed breaks his nose. During the ensuing bout, Rocky takes a tremendous beating but continually rebounds to land a few hard punches. Fourteen rounds later, both are still fighting with equal commitment and have suffered multiple injuries. Exhausted, Rocky keeps struggling to his feet, even as the commentators wonder what could possibly be keeping him up, and Mickey demands that he give up. Finally, Rocky slams Creed in the ribs, causing internal bleeding. In their respective corners, Rocky demands that his cut man slice his eye with a razor to drain it of blood, while Creed orders his trainer to let the fight continue. The fifteen rounds finally draw to a close and the crowd roars its approval. As the reporters swarm him with questions, Rocky bats them away and shouts Adrian’s name. She runs toward him, slowed by the crowd, as the announcer proclaims that the fight has ended in a split decision. When Adrian finally reaches Rocky, she falls into his arms. Flush with his own personal victory and barely even registering that the fight has been called for Creed, Rocky declares his love for her.
- 2HR 1MIN | PG