‘Rocky’ Turns 40, Still Inspires

Story of the American Dream resonates now more than ever

Action superstar Sylvester Stallone was so strapped for cash before “Rocky” that he sold his dog to have enough money for food (he later bought it back after the film hit big).

He was even so insistent he play the role of Rocky Balboa, he nearly ruined his chance at stardom by having the movie scrapped.

“What’s amazing is this character and his story have stayed around without any special effects, any car chases; without blowing anything up.”

“Rocky,” a film immortalized in the Library of Congress and one that inspired a still-current franchise, turns 40 this year. It’s hard to believe four decades have passed since we all heard a beaten and bloody Rocky Balboa scream, “Adrian!” on the silver screen, especially when Stallone revisited the role as recently as last year in “Creed” — for which he earned his second Academy Award nomination as the character.

Rocky Balboa has become the rare film creation to have a big presence beyond the screen. Stallone is in the Boxing Hall of Fame for his portrayal of the character and Balboa has a statue in his honor in Philadelphia (the character’s hometown).

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Upon the initial release of “Rocky,” Stallone was asked whether the underdog story gave false hope to viewers about achieving the American Dream.

“‘What do you mean?” he replied.

“A peanut farmer [Jimmy Carter] has just become president of the United States. That’s the greatest inspiration story of all time. He didn’t come from wealth; he made his wealth. He went to his mother with dirt on his overalls and said, ‘I’m going to be president.’ He’s understated, a common man, and that’s why he won. I always say, ‘If you lead with your heart, lead with your heart, and it will carry you much further than your brains will.'”

It’s that sort of heart that sets Rocky Balboa apart and has always made him a representative for everything American. In the original film, he was a struggling man with a dream. Through perseverance and hard work, he defined what it meant to make it in America, work hard, defy the odds, and succeed at something to which you commit your life.

The film was the embodiment of the American Dream. It’s a movie with a message that still resonates today — and at a time when the American Dream is more in debate than ever, it’s perhaps even more relevant.

In “Rocky IV,” Balboa represented America once again, this time embodying the nation’s strength. At a time when relations between Russia and America were strained, Balboa took on the cold and calculated Ivan Drago. In the final fight, Balboa waves the American flag and has Russians chanting, “Rocky! Rocky!”

“Rocky Balboa,” the sixth film in the franchise, found the retired boxer battling growing bureaucracy to have freedom over his own body and dream to still fight. And in “Creed,” Rocky Balboa passed on his wisdom to another struggling kid with a dream.

“My dad and I were always really close growing up and, since I was really young, he would make me watch ‘Rocky’ movies, ‘Rocky II’ specifically — that was his favorite movie. If I had a big football game, he’d have me watch ‘Rocky II,'” director Ryan Coogler (“Creed”) told the Los Angeles Times about the way Balboa and his story have been passed through the generations.

With the 40th anniversary of the original film here, fans everywhere are sharing their love and their own stories through social media like Twitter, using the hashtag #Rocky40.

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“Rocky is 40 Years old it has to be one of the best series of films EVER #Rocky40,” tweeted fan Mark Turner.

“The Birth of a Classic #Rocky40,” tweeted another fan, @felizpegeate. Others have shared scenes that most inspire them from the iconic franchise.

“What’s amazing is this character and his story have stayed around without any special effects, any car chases; without blowing anything up, which is what I usually do. Seriously, no bullets, no cursing, no sex scenes. Nothing,” Stallone said at a “Creed” press conference.

He continued, “So, that’s what I think is just so phenomenal. A generation that wasn’t around when we did the third, forget the first one — that they would embrace this and take it to a new level.”

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