January 24, 2014

Top 5 Non-Fight Scenes from the Rocky Series

Rocky on the Art Museum steps in Rocky Balboa.

Looking back at the Rocky films, it’s easy to boil them down to a generic formula. Rocky Balboa faces a new challenge and must summon his rare determination and grit to succeed. This is especially true in the third and fourth installments, which are filled with montages and flashy devices to keep us fist pumping and shadow boxing at home. The other installments are a bit different, but all have classic sequences that stick with you. It’s easy to call out the scenes from the boxing matches that fit this bill. Let’s make this a little harder. I’ve seen the six movies so many times, and choosing just five six moments was a real challenge. Even so, watching them again reminded me of the depth within a franchise that’s easy to ridicule. To all the haters out there, my reply is simple: I must break you.

Honorable mention: The Russia training montage, Rocky IV
I could probably fill this list with the training sequences, so I’m just covering them with this entry. It’s a close decision, and the iconic run up the steps in the first film could easily fit here. Still, I’m trying to spread the wealth among the series. Rocky’s training in Russia works because it’s simple and quiet. The shot of him climbing up the giant snow mountain and shouting “DRAGO!” is silly yet also shows the difference this time. The “back to basics” training feels epic and sets up the final fight really well.

Rocky and Adrian in the skating rink in Rocky.

5. Rocky and Adrian at the ice skating rink, Rocky
Each time I go back and revisit Rocky, it’s refreshing to recall just how relaxed it feels. Rocky has the weight of the world on his shoulders, but he’s still just trying to live his life. The awkward first date with Adrian says so much about both characters. A prime example is their conversation after he bargains for some minutes at the ice skating rink. The camera follows them as they circle the rink and finally connect. The added touch of the angry worker counting down the time remaining just adds to the feeling this is a special moment. Their bond really begins here, and it shows Adrian recognizing there’s more to this guy than just another neighborhood “creepo”.

4. Rocky and Apollo Creed in the hospital, Rocky II
This early scene in the sequel might feel like a throwaway, but it’s such a key moment for Rocky. Even though he went 15 rounds with the champ and nearly won the title, doubts remain in his mind about whether the fight was legit. Both guys are in rough shape and at the hospital, and it’s a rare quiet moment after the chaos. This scene also shows why Apollo is so adamant later that he must fight Rocky again and knock him out convincingly. Many think he lost their first fight, and he must squelch those critics and prove his superiority.


3. The final scene between Rocky and Mickey, Rocky III
Rocky and Mickey’s relationship has been a driving force in the series and evolved into a father-son connection. The tragic death right after Rocky’s loss to Clubber Lang is a bit manipulative, but that doesn’t lessen the impact of their final scene. In a sense, this moment splits the entire series into two different stories. Mickey tried to protect Rocky from someone like Clubber, and now he has to stand up and become something different. Despite the silliness in much of Rocky III, Burgess Meredith’s presence grounds the story and reminds us of the characters’ roots.

Rocky's speech to his son in Rocky Balboa.

2. Rocky’s speech to his son, Rocky Balboa
The success of the sixth film astounds me, and it’s a true sequel to the original Rocky in many ways. An interesting subplot is the anger of Rocky’s son, who wants little to do with his father’s fame. Rocky keeps holding his tongue and letting the young man go his own way, but that approach only does so much. Stallone pulls together every challenge in his life and throws it into a speech that is about much more than boxing. It brings chills just to think about how much I love this scene. The only way to do it justice is to place the words here:

Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain't all sunshine and rainbows. It's a very mean and nasty place. And I don't care how tough you are; it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain't about how hard you're hit. It's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That's how winning is done!

Rocky and Mickey in his apartment in Rocky.

1. Rocky’s angry tirade (“it stinks!”) to Mickey, Rocky
It’s remarkable to watch the first movie and see the anger between Mickey and Rocky. The trainer believes the prodigy has wasted his talent, while Rocky feels abandoned by his former mentor. When Rocky gets a shot to fight Apollo, Mickey approaches him with a different attitude. This is also his last shot at the big time. Seeing through this offer, Rocky shuts Mickey down and launches into a painful tirade about his life. While Mickey heads down the stairs, Rocky angrily tells us how he really feels about the fight. It’s an honest, brutal outburst from a guy who’s seemed upbeat for most of the film. It changes their relationship and shows the stakes for both men. Stallone has never been better, and it’s clear that he drew on his own experiences as a frustrated actor for this moment.

What are your favorite non-fight Rocky scenes?

14 comments:

  1. I like the mountain training sequence from Rocky IV, especially how it mixes Rocky's back-to-basics training with Drago's high-tech workout. Although the film does overdo the montages.

    Nice to see a couple of scenes featuring Mickey and Rocky...they're great. Their friendship in the early films is so important to the overall success of those movies.

    And you're right to highlight the qualities of Rocky Balboa. Looking back, I think the only real misstep is Rocky V; the other five films all work really well, either as a series or standalone. And Rocky Balboa feels like the right way to close out the character's story as opposed to Rocky V which felt unneeded.

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    1. Rocky IV is basically all montages, yet I kind of like that part about it. Each time I go back to the original Rocky, it reminds me just how big of a part Mickey has in that film (and II). Their relationship drives the story as much as Rocky and Adrian. Rocky Balboa is so good. Seeing it just makes Rocky V look that much worse.

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    2. ...I'd say the montages in Rocky IV are some of the best (and feature some great music too). Perhaps there's just too much for my liking.

      ...But you're right about Rocky Balboa. I didn't think the film could be that good to be honest. I was gladly surprised by it. Like you say, it makes Rocky V seem worse probably because the film had the least amount of love put into it (everything up until then was all about Stallone's passion for the character; he gave everything to the role) but the fifth film was purely a cash-in.

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    3. I think Rocky V was just a major miscalculation of what the audience wanted to see. Watching Rocky "go back to his roots" is good in theory and can work (see Rocky Balboa), but having him get brain damage and mentor another fighter didn't really apply. Plus, his son fighting a bully was just painful.

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  2. That scene in Rocky Balboa where Rocky gives his son one of the most inspirational speeches ever hits me. I felt that Stallone put everything into that moment. I just love his performance in that moment. Rocky V did suck.

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    1. I was really close to putting that scene as #1. It's basically tied with the scene that I chose as the best one. I watched it again for this list, and it was just as powerful. Rocky V has not aged well; it seems even worse now.

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  3. I really like the scene in II where he's trying to hock the products and just can't do the lines. It could have been played for laughs, but I really felt for the guy.

    Okay, so now I have to watch all of them again. Again.

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    1. I know. Doing this list makes me want to watch them all, except V of course. Rocky II is basically a series of failures for Rocky, up until the end obviously. It works as a solid sequel, but I don't watch it as much, though.

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  4. I've never seen V, so bad was what I heard about it. I agree that Rocky Balboa is really a very good movie and the closest one to the original Rocky.

    The ice skating and hospital scenes came to mind, as did the bit the commenter above mentioned about not being able to sell products. A few others are the bit right at the start of Rocky where we see him get paid squat for the fight he just won, the scene where he has to sell the Trans Am he bought with the money he got for fighting Creed, and even though you overrode it with the IV sequence, the run up the steps in Rocky.

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    1. The run up the steps is definitely a great scene. I could have easily just done scenes from the original Rocky and had plenty to choose from for that list. Rocky V is not good, but I guess it's worth seeing out of morbid curiosity if nothing else.

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  5. One of the best scenes (I forget which sequel) - is when Rocky is running through the streets of Philly...before a fight...and a large crowd of neighborhood kids start running with him and behind him....and up those stairs! Great scene. Shows how inspirational Rocky has become to those kids.

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    1. Definitely! I believe that's the training scene in Rocky 2 right before the big fight. It's one of the more rousing scenes from that movie.

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    2. I agree I love that scene

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    3. It's hard to go wrong. I haven't watched Rocky 2 in a while, but it has some great moments.

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