Yo! Rocky's Back!
When Sylvester Stallone was 15, his classmates voted him "most likely to end up in the electric chair."
That's not quite how it turned out, but he did end up in the boxing ring with Rocky, the 1976 classic that won Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Director, and earned Stallone nominations for Best Actor and for Best Screenplay.
The Rocky franchise kept on going, but great movies turned to good ones, then to mediocre ones, and finally, by the time Rocky V came out in 1990, to lousy ones, leaving a bad taste in fans' mouths.
Apparently it left a bad taste in Stallone's too. Ever since Rocky V flopped at the box office and with critics, he has wanted to make things right. But MGM/United Artists, which owned the rights to the Rocky franchise, said there was no way they'd ever revisit the story again.
Stallone never gave up. He wrote a script for Rocky VI anyway, knowing it may never be made into a movie. But he finally met someone who believed in the script, who pulled some strings, pushed some doors, and put up some big money. And now the Rocky VI opens in theaters nationwide on Dec. 20.
Only it's not called Rocky VI. It's called Rocky Balboa, and Stallone, who also directed the film, says this is definitely the last chapter—not only in the story of the rags-to-riches boxer from Philadelphia, but as the end of a spiritual journey … for Rocky, and for Stallone.
Stallone, 60, says he's been a Christian most of his life, and that he tried to include spiritual imagery in all of the Rocky films—but never more so than in this new one. A Christian marketing company, Motive Entertainment, is even pitching the film to the faith community, complete with resources for the church—sermon ideas, Bible studies, leader's guides, and so forth.
In the new film, Rocky is dealing with the most difficult loss of his life—his wife, Adrian, has died. But when he has a chance to re-enter the ring and fight for the title—yes, at 60 years old—it's a lure too strong to resist in a movie that Stallone calls the culmination of "an incredible spiritual journey."
You created the Rocky character more than 30 years ago. Where'd he come from? Was he just a product of your imagination?
Sylvester Stallone: He was a product of my frustration. Since I had had so many doors shut in my face early in my career, I started to wonder, Am I alone? Or is it just really tough to pursue one's dreams? So I thought, Let me write a story about a man who's going nowhere, a man who has made some very bad decisions in his life, a man that no one has any faith in.
Where were you spiritually when the original Rocky was made?
Stallone: I've always been a Christian. I've always been fascinated with the ongoing battle in one's soul—the constant forces of temptation, and the crusade inside to override it. And the mistakes people make and then trying to elevate yourself to redeem yourself. It's back and forth, back and forth redemption. So when I write a character, that's a story point. You know the man wants to be a boxer; that's the simple part. But inside, the internal storm, that has always fascinated me. But what do we call upon to help us get through these trials and tribulations of everyday life? That's what I try to do with Rocky.
So, who's crazier—Rocky for going back into the ring, or Sylvester Stallone for deciding to put him there?
Stallone: Well, I could have flipped a coin on that one! Rocky Balboa is by far the most realistic boxing of all the movies. We're using a world champion [Antonio Tarver] in the ring, and I would say about 60 percent of the punches are, unfortunately, all too real. We wanted to do this in a way that it would set us apart from any fight film, and that the message at the end will be very profound.