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Sylvester Stallone

Updated on July 13, 2013

Rocky Balboa


Rocky Runs Up The Stairs - ORIGINAL

Stallone's Star Appeal and Comeback

Sylvester Stallone is a talented, well-known filmmaker. His star image developed mostly from his acting, which in turn also created his star image as a writer and director. As an actor, he is often thought of as a tough guy because of his portrayals of Rocky Balboa and Rambo. Despite having more than 10 actor credits to his name since Rocky V came out in 1990, Stallone has not been in the spotlight until recently when Rocky Balboa hit theaters in 2006. Rocky Balboa was a comeback not only for Stallone as an actor, but also for Rocky Balboa, the character within the film. The film as a whole brought Stallone back into the picture by using his character image of Rocky as a way to do that. Within the film, Rocky comes out of retirement to fight the newest heavyweight champion and uses his boxing fame to make his restaurant successful.

Stallone’s star image as an underdog was created when the first Rocky film gained success when it debuted in 1976. Rocky was his first real big break into the business. His tough guy image came naturally through the storyline about the character—an underdog who never gives up and is full of determination. The film gained Stallone great success in Hollywood as a star and audiences throughout the nation cheered for the underdog character he portrayed, even though the fight was declared a draw because the winner was undecided. Rocky the character gained popularity by proving himself through determination. The film audience fell in love with him because they recognized that if he could do what he did to Apollo Creed in the boxing ring, he had every right to have their respect and admiration.

Every few years after Rocky, Stallone continued the saga with new segments to the story with Rocky II, Rocky III, Rocky IV, and Rocky V. Each time a new addition to the saga was produced, Stallone was increasingly more popular, especially with the introduction of the Rambo films. During the 1980’s Stallone seemed to be constantly criticized for the roles he played, especially in Rambo, and somewhat in Rocky because of the violence and political issues of the time. His career as an actor needed a positive uplifting, which gave him good reason to resurrect the “Italian Stallion.” Through Rocky’s resurrection every few years, Stallone’s star image received a boost and kept the audience’s love and admiration for Rocky alive.

What helped in keeping Rocky alive, was the donation of the Rocky statue to the City of Philadelphia in 1980 where it was displayed for awhile on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art's East Entrance. These steps are known unofficially as the "Rocky Steps," underlying even more Rocky's/Stallone's iconic star status, especially in the Philadelphia community. For more information, go to Philadelphia's tourism website:

Beginning of the End?
In 1990 though, Rocky V seemed to be the end as Stallone pursued other options as an actor. Straying away from his usual tough guy, underdog personas he took on a few different other types of films, which were not nearly as successful as his beloved Rocky. It seemed as though audiences struggled to see him attempt to play in genres such as comedy, a futuristic/comic book style story, drama, and family/kid friendly films such as Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over.

Balboa's Back

After over a decade of pursuing other venues as an actor, Stallone decided to bring back our favorite underdog, Rocky, in 2006 when Rocky Balboa hit theaters. As a film, Rocky Balboa was a comeback for Stallone as an actor, writer, and director. He was able to redeem himself as a well-rounded filmmaker. His star image as the successful underdog was recreated through Rocky.

Rocky Balboa was also a comeback for the character, especially since it had been 30 years since Rocky had been discovered on the streets of Philadelphia. He started out as the underdog—young, determined, naïve, and just trying to make it in the grueling business of boxing. Unbeknownst to him, he was supposed to lose against Apollo Creed but he refused to give in, to give up and so he fought his way through and proved himself worthy of the fame and the attention that would come his way because of his skills. He did this through every film, consistently proving himself worthy of his dream—much like how Stallone proved himself worthy of praise as an actor through the success of each Rocky film.

In Rocky Balboa, Rocky proved himself once more by coming out of retirement and putting up a fight despite the odds. He was disadvantaged again, but this time he wasn’t naïve, nor was it through lack of experience. This time, age was his enemy instead of his friend. He had calcium deposits in most of his joints, so his health was failing him too. Balboa could not move as easily as he once could and so throughout the film, there was the constant debate about who would win—the “Italian Stallion” or Mason “The Line” Dixon. This debate is what finally drew him out of retirement and back into training. Once they fight, neither boxer won by a landslide; it was a close match—much like Rocky’s first fight. He was not the favorite in either his first fight or his last, but he proved himself—he proved that he could hold his own and that the underdog should never be doubted. It took him 30 years, but he finally gained the personal satisfaction he had been looking for all along. But did he really need to prove himself to his fans? At the fight, the noise is deafening because almost every single person in the arena is shouting “Rocky! Rocky!” In the end, it may have just been himself he needed to convince he could do it all along; that even though he’s a champion, or a star, to his fans, he just needed to be happy with himself and his accomplishments in the end.

In Rocky Balboa, he is trying to keep his legacy, and Adrian’s memory, alive through his restaurant that he had named after Adrian. Once the fight was over, it seemed as if he realized he did not need to try all along—his legacy as Rocky already existed.

Balboa is a Reflection of Stallone...
This interpretation of Rocky’s attitude of himself can be applied to Stallone as well. He is sending a message that he has tried other things, other possibilities, and it all comes back to the same thing: he is comfortable with what has brought him success because this is what he enjoys the most despite what people may say about his work.

Both Rocky and Stallone have overcome obstacles in the last 30 years and both have finally reached a point in their lives where they can look back and know they have accomplished something phenomenal. In a sense, Stallone is Rocky because when we see or hear the name Sylvester Stallone we think “Rocky! Rocky! Rocky!” Stallone stuck with a character that he created and developed over the years. He wrote the script, directed the films, and developed the character has he saw fit to the point where many people stop Stallone on the street to have a picture with "Rocky."

Stallone came into his own through the development of Rocky and proved himself as a talented scriptwriter, director, and actor through Rocky. Both underdogs have proven themselves worthy of our respect, our admiration, and our praise for making their dreams come true despite the odds.


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