#6. Rocky (1976)
Directed by: John G. Avildsen
Written by: Sylvester Stallone
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burgess Meredith, Burt Young, Carl Weathers
Everybody reading through this list knows the basic story of Rocky – the ultimate underdog gets a chance to fight one of the most accomplished boxers in the world and takes him to the limit after weeks of hard work and training. The formula used by writer and star Sylvester Stallone in Rocky is an age old one, and yet feels so fresh in the Best Picture winning drama. Rocky tells the story of Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), a hard working Italian-American boxer living in Philadelphia. Rocky is in love with a painfully shy and timid pet store clerk named Adrian (Talia Shire), whose brother Paulie (Burt Young) is Rocky’s best friend. After finding out that his opponent for the big Bicentennial fight is out with an injury, world champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) handpicks “The Italian Stallion” Rocky Balboa to be his opponent in five weeks. Rocky reluctantly accepts the fight, aided by Adrian, Paulie, and his trainer Mickey (Burgess Meredith), who pushes Rocky to the limit so that he might stand a chance against the much more experienced Creed. At this point in my life, I’ve seen Rocky dozens of times, and even after all these years, John G. Avildsen’s film makes me feel so energetic, inspired, and emotional. When the film’s iconic ending comes, I’m in tears no matter who I’m watching with – it’s just the kind of wholly satisfying endings you rarely gets in the movies. Rocky’s underdog story never feels cliche or false, but instead has the audience rooting for him the entire way, whether it’s wanting him to defeat Apollo Creed, or wanting to see Rocky finally win over Adrian. Sylvester Stallone’s performance as Rocky Balboa is pitch perfect – the writer-star clearly knows his strengths as an actor, and plays them up. Stallone’s Rocky is kind-hearted and maybe not the sharpest tool in the shed, but his goofy charm wins over nearly everybody he encounters in his day to day life. Everybody in the film is seemingly a fan of Rocky’s – he’s just one of those inherently likable kind of guys. Talia Shire’s turn as the timid and quiet Adrian is wonderful as well, with the actress only coming out of her proverbial shell when she begins to see Rocky romantically – and even then, she constantly seems like a nervous wreck. Shire and Stallone have great chemistry together – their first dates together feel like genuine first dates, and most of their initial interactions are believably awkward. Supporting performances from both Burt Young as the angry and bitter Paulie, and Burgess Meredith’s grizzled veteran trainer Mickey are both incredible, and saw both actors nominated for Best Supporting Actor. The loud and rowdy pair of Paulie and Mickey serve as great contrasting figures to Rocky’s quiet, often stoic personality. On top of some terrific performances from the entire cast, Bill Conti’s uplifting score sets the tone for the inspirational and personal story to come. Conti’s “Gonna Fly Now” and “Going the Distance” are two of the best movie compositions ever performed, and help give some dramatic weight to the film’s final act. When “Going the Distance” reaches its final moments and Adrian makes her way through the crowd to greet Rocky, you know you’ve just experienced something truly magical. Rocky is, in my opinion, one of the most satisfying movie going experiences you could ever possibly imagine – it has drama, humor, an amazing and relatable love story, a great score, incredible performances, and one of the most iconic underdogs in movie history. Rocky is a Hollywood masterpiece, and is the kind of movie that seems all too rare today.