At it’s basest, a movie is meant to entertain, to cause an emotional response, but the really good ones are able to spin a little message on top of it as well. A good writer or director is able to take the experiences of their life and use that to present their unique world view to an audience. The medium through which this becomes accessible is the most important part of a movie: the main character. There are many different opinions on what makes a character good, but for the purposes of this I will be focusing on what makes a character iconic. I think you would find for the most part that the most iconic characters have sequels (Usually more than one). The most important factor though, I believe, in what makes a character iconic is that they should be able to be thrown into any situation and shine. Luke Skywalker is the shit but can only exist a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Ellen Ripley is one bad bitch but is really nothing unless she gets attacked by aliens.
After being versatile enough to exist in any situation, the next important factor is accessibility to the audience. Can they identify and relate to the character? James Bond is a great suggestion but being a womanizing master spy doesn’t appeal to everyone. John McClane probably comes the closest as far as just being a regular guy who constantly finds himself against overwhelming odds but what about non-life threatening situations? Let’s be honest about it, you wouldn’t be friends with John McClane. He’s a miserable prick. Forrest Gump comes close too but violates the Tropic Thunder “You never go full retard” rule. So who is the greatest movie character of all time? This is going to sound stupid but may be smarter than you think.
In the wake of the announcement of a Rocky spin-off about Apollo Creed’s son it seemed the appropriate time to finally give the man his due. So what makes Rocky the greatest, you ask? My roommate is constantly at odds with me over cooking. I offer to cook chicken margherita with a balsamic glaze and he says no. What about duck a l’orange? Nay. How about I whip up some poached salmon covered in wasabi aioli? Nope. Why doesn’t he want it? Too many ingredients. He even came home one night with this.
What does he want instead? Tacos. Meat, sauce, shell, cheese. No lettuce, no tomatoes, no sour cream. Sure, it’s not the most original thinking in the world, but it gets the job done every time. You have to admire it. Like cooking, movies are a combination of several ingredients coming together to form something appetizing. Rocky movies are tacos. They follow the KISS method.
Keep It Simple, Stupid
A wise man once said, “Be a simple kind of man, someone you’ll love and understand”. That is the embodiment of Rocky Balboa. He is the everyman. His brain is mush. His dad jokes are lame. His hair is awful. But he has heart and although his words are simple, he expresses so much through them. Rocky is essentially a grown man viewing the world through the eyes of a child, kinda like Flavor Flav (And he had sex with Brigitte Nielsen… kinda like Flavor Flav).
Rocky is based on the true life story of Chuck Wepner, a former boxer who was unexpectedly selected to fight Muhammad Ali. After knocking him down, Wepner went to his corner and said to his manager, “Al, start the car. We’re going to the bank. We are millionaires.” Wepner’s manager replied, “You better turn around. He’s getting up and he looks pissed off.”
At that point, Ali began what is technically called, “beating the shit out of” Wepner. Chuck absorbed incredible damage but held on to almost become the first man who went the distance against Ali, being knocked out with only 19 seconds left in the last round. It is a true American success story, and like all true American success stories, Stallone ripped it off without paying for it.
Pretty much every Rocky movie is the same. Somebody wants to fight Rocky, someone tells Rocky he shouldn’t fight, and Rocky fights them anyway. All six movies. But somehow it manages to not only stay fresh but teach different lessons as well. In literature, there are four types of conflict…
:Man against man
:Man against society
:Man against nature
:Man against self
Rocky has faced them all… and won (While making over a billion dollars along the way). Let’s take a quick trip down memory lane, shall we?
Man against man- Rocky fights Apollo.
Man against society- Rocky, an uneducated debt collector for a loan shark, climbs out of his illegal life and makes something of himself.
Man against self- Rocky is able to draw Adrian out of her shyness
Man against man- Rocky fights Apollo.
Man against self- Rocky must learn to fight right handed
Man against nature- Rocky must deal with Adrian’s health problems after she goes into a coma and their baby is born prematurely.
Man against man- Rocky fights Clubber Lang
Man against self- Having been champion for five years, Rocky must go against the easy life he now leads in order to train for his rematch with Lang.
Man against self- Rocky must learn a different style of boxing to beat Lang
Man against nature- Rocky must deal with the death of his suddenly Jewish trainer
Man against society- Rocky, an Italian from Philadelphia, trains with black fighters in L.A.
Man against man- Rocky fights Ivan Drago
Man against society- Rocky must overcome the xenophobia between America and Russia
Man against society- Rocky trains the old fashioned way while Drago uses the latest technology and steroids
Man against man- Rocky fights Tommy Gunn
Man against nature- Rocky must overcome the brain damage and other physical defects he has suffered after boxing for so long
Man against self- Rocky must overcome the fact that his son is a huge pussy if he hopes to have a relationship with him
Man against man- Rocky fights Mason Dixon
Man against nature- Rocky must overcome his advanced age
A Rocky movie is the little black dress of cinema. It’s simple yet elegant, goes with everything, and makes life a little better whenever you see one. Not only can Rocky, as a character, be dropped into any situation but also any kind of lesson can be learned through Rocky. Here are some examples of modern day problems that could be covered in Rocky sequels. You will note that no matter how ridiculous they sound, it could still be a plausible Rocky movie.
Rocky has fallen in love for the first time since Adrian’s death with a much younger woman and Rocky must face his stiffest opponent ever… erectile dysfunction. Little Marie from Rocky Balboa is wary of this new woman and tries to warn Rocky about her but he doesn’t listen. Meanwhile, Slammer Lang (Played by Quinton “Rampage” Jackson), a two time NCAA wrestling champion turned Mixed Martial Artist and younger brother of Clubber Lang, has declared himself the greatest fighter of all time and has been braggadociously proselytizing that MMA is the greatest combat sport and that no athlete can take him.
He’s already beaten several martial artists and declared that next he’ll prove that a boxer can’t take him. A reporter points out that his brother was beaten by Balboa and Slammer calls Rocky out but Rocky is retired and doesn’t accept the challenge. Slammer later shows up at a dinner where Rocky is attempting to raise money to renew his neighborhood and challenges him again to fight him. When Rocky declines, Slammer adopts his brother’s tactics and says that Rocky’s girlfriend should come over to his apartment to see what a real man is like. To the shock of everyone, she does (Twat). Rocky is devastated and Marie tries to cheer him up. Slammer then steps up his psychological warfare and publicly insinuates Rocky’s erectile dysfunction after learning of it from that golddigging whore. Rocky, embarrassed and unbelievably pissed off, accepts the challenge. To learn MMA, Rocky enlists the help of retired former Light-Heavyweight and Heavyweight UFC Champion Randy Couture (As himself). The Natural gives Rocky a much needed pep talk and begins to instruct him in the art of wrestling explaining that if he can learn enough to keep it on the feet his superior boxing will beat Slammer.
“He’s going to take you down… but you’ve made a career out of getting back up.”
Rocky wins the fight and his former girlfriend attempts to reconcile with him. Rocky ditches her and leaves with Marie. In the climactic end scene, Rocky humps away on Marie while a montage of Adrian and Mick yelling at him to, “Get up” cuts in. Once again, the champion is hard as a rock. The audience cheers.
After Marie’s son Steps is killed by an overzealous neighborhood watchman, Rocky begins advocating gun control citing the violence in his neighborhood in Philadelphia. He makes it all the way to Congress. “Yo, you know, I tangled with a Tommy Gunn before… and it didn’t work out too well.” He is interrupted by DC “The Lobbyist” Washington, a former boxer and Tea Party Candidate for the Senate. Washington challenges Balboa to a fight and Rocky declines stating that he’s retired, but he will be more than happy to debate him. Rocky struggles to train for the debate with his brain damage and limited reading skills but ends up overcoming the odds and winning. Enraged, Washington rips off the sleeves of his suit proclaiming that he has the right to bear arms… and fists… and welcomes Rocky to the gun show by telling him to stand his ground. Balboa refuses to fight him. Washington suggests that if Rocky hadn’t have taught Steps to be a fighter he wouldn’t have jumped the neighborhood watchman and wouldn’t have been killed. Rocky suggests that he teach Washington a thing or two about fighting. They fight. Rocky wins. The audience cheers.
The property values of Rocky’s neighborhood in Philadelphia have dropped to the point that most businesses are closed and an urban renewal project steps in and begins transforming the neighborhood into a hipster’s paradise. Coffee shops, farmer’s markets, and locally owned book stores begin dominating the block. Rocky’s diner is seen as a blight on the neighborhood by it’s trendy new tenants… and is the only business they don’t now own. On top of this, Rocky’s son Robert comes out of the closet and tells his father that he’s gay. Rocky spends most of the movie trying to come to grips with his son’s new lifestyle while the other business owners in the neighborhood mock him and his restaurant for being unhealthy and selling inorganic non-locally grown food. They point out that neighborhood bare-knuckle boxing champion Venti “The Vegan Butcher” Fedora is all natural, and that Balboa could never have taken him in his prime.
Fucking hipsters, man…
Fedora challenges him to a fight and Balboa declines. Fedora proceeds to taunt that he must not be a real man… just like his son. In a scene reminiscent of Rocky V, Rocky fights Fedora in the middle of the street finally knocking him out, holding up a PBR, and saying, “You don’t get a blue ribbon for second place” and then gives an impassioned speech to all the hipsters about how he does things the old way but that doesn’t mean he can’t change and try new things and that just because the new ways are better that doesn’t mean they have to rebel against the old ways. To prove his point, Rocky grows outlandish facial hair and begins wearing fur coats.
The audience cheers.
After intercepting transmissions of Rocky’s greatest fights that have been beamed into outer space, a race of aliens bent on galactic domination arrive on Earth and challenge Rocky to fight their four armed champion. If Rocky wins, Earth stays free. If he loses, the aliens take over. Rocky refuses to fight at first, and the aliens declare it a forfeit and claim Earth as their own. A small pocket of resistance forms and is quickly put down. Paulie is accidentally killed in the fighting. Distraught, Rocky declares vengeance and announces he’ll fight the alien champion. Crippled by his age, Rocky is barely able to exercise. One of the aliens goes to Rocky and tells him that he is his hero and that he would like to help him train for the fight. Rocky befriends him and learns more about the alien culture. After seeing how Rocky cannot possibly win in his condition, the alien uses advanced technology to restore Rocky back into the prime of his life. Duke then has Rocky spar with two opponents at once to learn how to fight off four arms at a time. Rocky fights the alien and wins, saving Earth and causing the overthrow of the alien leadership. The audience cheers. After the credits, an Easter Egg appears where Rocky’s phone rings and Paulie’s voice is heard saying he needs help. The audience gasps.
Restored to his late twenties, Rocky begins boxing again to raise money for a massive campaign to search for Paulie. After months of searching, Paulie is finally spotted and Rocky goes to him but Paulie has changed. He claims to not know who Rocky is and acts like a real dick. When Paulie tries to walk away, Rocky grabs him and then Paulie violently throws him across an alley. Rocky is stunned at Paulie’s superhuman strength. Rocky falls into a deep depression and seeks answers. One doctor tells Rocky that Paulie is likely suffering from amnesia and that a strong blow to the head could trigger his memories. Rocky begins taunting Paulie to fight him by insulting him over all the things he screwed up over the years. Paulie seems confused but says he doesn’t know what Rocky is talking about and to leave him alone. Rocky goes further, and brings up his abuse of Adrian and how Paulie failed her as a brother. Paulie becomes enraged and shoves Rocky impossibly far again and says that if he wants a fight then he’ll get one. During the match, Paulie dominates early on with his impossible strength. Finally though, Rocky digs deep and begins hitting Paulie in the head repeatedly which seems to be jogging his memory. Finally, after a crushing blow to his face, Paulie’s skin partially peels back and reveals that he’s an android that has been implanted with Paulie’s memories. Paulie admits that he asked the scientists who created him to erase most of his memories because he couldn’t bear the guilt over all the bad things he had done. Rocky forgives him and they hug in the ring. Paulie goes on to marry his true love, the robot from Rocky IV. The audience boos.
After the horrible death of the franchise due to The Search For Paulie, no Rocky movies are made for several years. Then we get the inevitable reboot, Christopher Nolan’s Rocky Begins starring Samuel L. Jackson as Duke, Terry Crewes as Apollo Creed, Clint Eastwood as Mick, Bob Hoskins as Paulie, Sandra Bullock as Adrian, and The Rock as… well, Rocky.
“Rocky! Rocky! Rocky! Rocky!”
It isn’t easy growing up a mixed child in the 70’s with a learning disability, especially after your parents are murdered in front of you in Philadelphia’s notorious Crime Alley. Neither accepted by the black or white gangs, follow Rocky as he joins the mob for protection from them and the police while searching for the father figure he so desperately yearns for. He finds this in Mick, a gruff but lovable boxing trainer, and then finds a whole lot more with Adrian, a local barista who works across the street from Mick’s gym. When an unexpected opportunity arises to fight the world champion, they come together to fight as one.
The audience cheers.
Even in unbelievably shitty movies Rocky shines through. That’s why he’s the best. You can put that character in any situation, any time, and any place and it will be inspiring. Rocky, the greatest movie character of all time.
T-Bagz watches one Rocky movie every week