Rocky Balboa is the iconic character featured in a series of films based on a boxer named Rocky Balboa. The character was a creation of actor Sylvester Stallone, who penned the original script for the movie Rocky in the 1970s. Though producers were initially interested in Stallone’s script, not many were interested in making the film with Stallone in the starring role.
In the first film, Rocky is a poor guy who makes deliveries for a crime boss, but truly loves boxing. He’s a Philadelphia native with a heavily accented voice, and he’s not particularly intelligent. He has a little crush on a pet shop worker, Adrian, played by Talia Shire. She’s clearly shy but smart. Yet she’s a subject of verbal abuse by her brother Paulie, played by Burt Young.
We also get a look into the life of the current Heavyweight Champion, Apollo Creed, affectionately styled on Muhammad Ali. In an attempt to amp up his career, Creed offers the opportunity to Rocky as an unknown to fight him in the ring.
Initially, Rocky struggles with training under whiskey-voiced Mickey Goldmill, acted by Burgess Meredith. Mickey is certain Rocky will lose because he’s too slow, and isn’t really committing to his training. However, as Rocky gains more confidence, he begins to physically pull together as an awesome athlete. This is represented by a montage of scenes of him training, culminating in his run up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, to the very inspiring main song of the movie score by Bill Conti.
The actual fight with Apollo is a surprise. The match between Creed and Rocky is a bloody one that ends in a split decision rather than a clear win. But Rocky has clearly won in many respects, bringing himself up from obscurity and crime, romancing Adrian, and showed he is a superior boxer.
Some movie critics take a deep sigh at this point and exclaim, “If only they’d left it!” However, Rocky was made in a time of sequels, and the film spawned five sequels. Rocky II rematches Rocky and Apollo, and Adrian and Rocky marry.
Rocky III matches Rocky with Clubber Lang, played effectively by Mr. T. However, formula in the films had started to emerge. Rocky faces the personal tragedy of losing his coach Mickey after losing badly to Lang. Creed takes over as his coach. In the second film, Adrian nearly dies while giving birth to Rocky’s first child. These personal tragedies serve as match to flame and Rocky emerges triumphant from his second battle with Creed and with Clubber.
In Rocky IV Creed is killed in a match with a Russian boxer, Ivan Drago. Rocky sets out to avenge Creed by fighting Drago, even though he is now too old to box, and risks his life by doing so. The film, though it grossed the most of all the films in the series at that point, was panned by critics and awarded several Razzies for poor acting.
Rocky V takes up after Rocky’s return from Russia and the fight with Drago. Instead of boxing himself, he finds a young boxer to train, who does win the heavyweight title. However, the young boxer, played by Tommy Morrison, is ungrateful for the veteran's help. The film ends in a victorious street fight with Tommy. It’s an unpalatable film, and one that left many feeling like they’d seen enough of Rocky’s life.
However, Stallone redeems the character in the last film of the series, Rocky Balboa. The film has by far received the most favorable critical reviews since the original. The boxer has lost Adrian to cancer, and struggles to relate to his son, played by Heroes alum, Milo Ventimiglia. He returns to boxing in order to fight a young boxer. In tribute to the first film, the match ends in a split decision. The last scenes show him at his wife's grave, with the much known phrase “Yo, Adrian.”
Though the film ends with a split decision in the match, Rocky has clearly triumphed personally. He’s made peace with his son, begun a new relationship with a woman, and can leave the world of boxing feeling fulfilled. The film has clearly left many fans with a sense of closure regarding the main character, as well.