Movies I Should’ve Seen By Now: Rocky

Me after seeing Black Panther: Dude, this Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan combo is a force to be reckoned with. I still need to check out Creed. 

A friend: Creed’s good, but you should probably watch the original Rocky if you haven’t already.

Me: I cannot deny the logic of this. Also, I still haven’t done a second “Movie I Should’ve Seen By Now” post in months even though I claimed it would be a series, so this actually works out quite nicely.

So here I am, finally getting to one of the classic sports movies of the twentieth century. I know the theme music. I know it involves running up a lot of steps. Prior to watching Rocky, I was under the impression that this film was pretty much just a long training montage and then a boxing match at the end. I didn’t know I had this preconception until I watched the whole movie and came away thinking “Wow, A surprisingly small amount of that movie was a training montage.”

It turns out that Rocky isn’t actually offered the opportunity to fight Apollo Creed until the 56 minute mark, roughly halfway through the movie. The audience learns that this offer is coming around the 30 minute mark. So the plotline that seems to be Rocky’s legacy, “an underdog trains for his chance to fight the heavyweight champion of the world,” is only half the movie. The first half of the movie is invested in establishing that Rocky is an underdog as well as developing his relationship with Adrian.

This is a common tip for screenwriters: “Start by bringing the audience into your protagonist’s world. Only after they understand that protagonist’s normal day-to-day life should you introduce the ‘plot’ of the movie.” Rocky takes its sweet time with this part of the process. And while all in all I liked the movie, I will say there were definitely moments where I felt like the beginning was dragging on and not really holding my attention.

Now I don’t think this is indicative of any real flaw of the movie, but simply how the viewing experience is altered when a movie’s reputation precedes the movie itself. I expected intense training for a super important boxing match. The fact that it takes Rocky an hour to become that movie caught me off guard. Even though the writer in me knows how important that buildup is and how terrible the movie would be without it, there’s still a part of me that was surprised by it.

In a lot of ways, Rocky resembles a sappy chick flick (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Rocky is the story of a career-oriented man who finds love and learns that love is more important than winning a fight. To make things come full circle, we also see how love inspires Rocky to keep fighting even when his boxing squad tells him to stay down. It is interesting to me how this aspect of the movie seems to be somewhat forgotten. Even when I went to Google pictures to include in this post, I got a bunch of pictures of Rocky in the boxing ring. I got some of him thrusting his fists in the air while overlooking the city of Philadelphia. I didn’t see a single picture of him with Adrian, even though that seems to be the central relationship of the entire movie.

I’m reminded of a game I played as a child called telephone or gossip or various other names depending on what crowd you hung out with as a child. Everyone would sit in a circle and one kid would whisper a message to the next kid and so on and so forth. Eventually the last kid in the circle had to say the message and usually it was nothing like the original message. This is what happens when you don’t watch a movie but are exposed to hundreds of references to it throughout pop culture. The story originally told is diluted, and my experience with Rocky is a reminder of that.

So if you haven’t seen Rocky yet, please get to it. Especially if you’re one of those people who “doesn’t like sports movies” but is more than happy to watch a nice romance. It’s a solid, feel-good story about a relatable underdog. It’s about how the journey is is more important than the destination. And who can’t appreciate that?