After producers Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff became interested in the script, they offered writer Sylvester Stallone an unprecedented $350,000 for the rights, but he refused to sell unless they agreed to allow him to star in the film (this despite the fact that he had only $106 in the bank, no car and was trying to sell his dog because he couldn't afford to feed it). They agreed, but only on the condition that Stallone continue to work as a writer without a fee and that he work as an actor for scale. After Winkler and Chartoff purchased the film, they took it to United Artists, who envisioned a budget of $2 million, but that was on the basis of using an established star (they particularly wanted Robert Redford, Ryan O'Neal, Burt Reynolds or James Caan). United Artists didn't want Stallone to star, and when Winkler and Chartoff told them that the only way they could get him to sell the screenplay was to agree to cast him, United Artists cut the budget to $1 million, and had Chartoff and Winkler sign agreements that if the film went over budget, they would be personally liable. The final cost of the film was $1.1 million. The $0.1 million came after Chartoff and Winkler mortgaged their homes so as to complete the project.
Writer Sylvester Stallone was inspired to write the screenplay for the film after seeing the Chuck Wepner-Muhammad Ali fight on March 24, 1975 at the Richfield Coliseum outside of Cleveland in Richfield, Ohio. Thirty-six year old Wepner was considered a moderate talent, but no one thought he had a hope against Ali. Indeed, no one expected Wepner to last more than three rounds. As such, the longer the fight went on past the opening three rounds, the more shocked people became; Wepner even managed to knock Ali down in the ninth round (although Ali has always maintained that Wepner was standing on his foot when he fell). Ali immediately opened a blistering offensive in an attempt to drop Wepner and for the next six rounds, he pummeled Wepner mercilessly, breaking his nose and opening large gashes above both his eyes. No matter how hard Ali hit him however, Wepner kept moving forward and continuing to fight (it was this specific aspect of the fight which inspired Stallone). Eventually, with 19 seconds left in the fifteenth and final round, Ali scored a TKO.
One of the posters for the film featured a shot of Rocky and Adrian holding hands. Although this was one of the most popular images associated with the film, the scene this image was taken from was cut from the film.
Although Sylvester Stallone famously wrote the first draft of the script in 3 days, it went through nine sizable rewrites before it was purchased by Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff. Originally, Stallone's much darker script depicted Mickey (Burgess Meredith) as a bitter old racist, and the film ended with Rocky throwing the fight after realizing he did not want to be part of the professional boxing world.
In the original script, Paulie stated the reason he wanted Rocky to put in a good word for him with Tony Gazzo was because working in the cold, rough climate of the meat plant inflamed and swelled his joints constantly.
In the original script, the conversation between Rocky and Gazzo, when Gazzo gives Rocky the money for training expenses, was extended. Gazzo asks Rocky if he has plans for the money he'll be getting from the Creed fight, and he suggests Rocky consider putting it into the stock market.
The boxing gloves used in the championship fight were called ''Casanovas''. They were illegal in the U.S. but Sylvester Stallone says the producers chose them anyway ''because of their sleek appearance''.
In an interview Sylvester Stallone was asked if he and Elvis Presley ever met. Stallone said that in 1976 after "Rocky" was released, Elvis contacted him and asked him to visit Graceland and a bring a copy of the film with him. Stallone told the interviewer that he was too afraid to meet Elvis, and he didn't go, but he did send a copy of the film. Apparently, Elvis did indeed watch the film with some friends.
Sylvester Stallone insisted that the scene where he admits his fears and doubts to Adrian the night before the fight be filmed, even though production was running far behind and the producers wanted to skip it. Stallone had only one take for the scene, despite the fact that he considered it to be the most important scene in the film.
Originally the filmmakers wanted several former heavyweight champions to appear at the beginning of the fight between Rocky and Apollo. They put out a call for all former champions to show, but on the day of the shoot only Joe Frazier turned up. The filmmakers thought it worked well however, because Frasier is a resident of Philadelphia, which was where the movie was shot and took place.
The scene that involved Rocky and Adrian kissing in Rocky's kitchen was originally not scripted the way it was shot. Talia Shire had contracted the flu and was worried about getting Sylvester Stallone sick, so she was very hesitant to kiss him. Her hesitation and behavior was actually such an improvement over the scripted scene that they decided to keep it. Indeed, this scene has become Stallone's favorite scene in the entire Rocky saga, and both he and Shire see the scene as a 'birth-scene' for Adrian, where she is awakened to a new life.
Parts of the scene where Rocky runs up the stairs in training are played backwards. Originally the shot zooms out but was reversed to zooming in in order to better match the musical score and for dramatic effect. This has been confirmed in interviews with by Bill Conti, who wrote the score.
Two scenes were written that do not appear in the final cut of the film: a scene where Rocky visits his gym with Apollo Creed as a photo op and Rocky beats up Dipper, the fighter who took his locker earlier in the story and a scene the night of the big fight in the locker room between Rocky and Adrian. The locker room scene was at least filmed because production stills from it exist.
The two scenes where Rocky runs up the museum stairs (the first where he can't do it and the second during the "Gonna Fly Now" training sequence where he runs up them triumphantly) were filmed two hours apart. The first before the sun rose, the second afterwards.
When shooting the scenes in the meat-locker where he punches the slabs of beef, actor Sylvester Stallone punched the meat so hard for so long that he flattened out his knuckles. To this day, when he makes a fist, his knuckles are completely level.
Frank Stallone, Sylvester Stallone's father, has a cameo playing the man who rings the opening bell of the Creed vs. Balboa fight. Sylvester's younger brother, Frank Stallone, also has a cameo playing the lead singer of the street band.
During the scene where Gazzo (Joe Spinell) is talking to Rocky about not breaking the dock worker's thumbs, Gazzo pulls out an inhaler mid-sentence and uses it. That wasn't written into the script; Spinell actually had an asthma attack and really had to use his inhaler right on-camera on the spur of the moment. Director John G. Avildsen liked the authenticity it brought to the scene, so he decided to leave it in the film.
For the championship fight, the filmmakers had trouble getting extras to fill the arena because it was a low-budget film that was not yet known to anyone. Stock footage of crowds was used to help this problem, but empty seats are still visible in some shots.
Each of the four rounds which are seen fully in the film (rounds 1, 2, 14 and 15) were shot in their entirety twice - once with Steadicam operator Garrett Brown in the ring, once with him in the audience.
Prior to shooting the fight between Sylvester Stallone and Carl Weathers, director John G. Avildsen decided that the scenes needed to be shot in a unique way so as to make the boxing more realistic than in other boxing movies of the period. He, Weathers and Stallone all went to a ring and began to block out the moves, but it wasn't working, and the fight was coming across as staged and not very energetic. Avildsen then told Stallone to go home and literally write out the fight; 'Rocky throws a left, Creed moves back, Creed goes right, Rocky goes right Creed jabs low etc'. The next day, Stallone returned with 32 pages of specific directions for the fight, which he and Weathers learned off like a ballet over a period of weeks. In total, Stallone and Weathers rehearsed for over 35 hours.
In the film, the poster above the ring before Rocky fights Apollo shows Rocky wearing red shorts with a white stripe when he actually wears white shorts with a red stripe. This was an actual mistake made by the props department that they could not afford to rectify, so Sylvester Stallone came up with the idea for the scene where Rocky points out the mistake himself. The comment about Rocky's robe being too baggy came about the same way - the robe delivered to the set was far too baggy for Stallone, so rather than hope people wouldn't notice, the character himself simply points it out.
The iconic shot of Rocky running up the steps of Philadelphia Art Museum came about because of Steadicam inventor Garrett Brown. Brown, who was from Philadelphia, was getting ready to fly to LA to try to sell his newly invented Steadicam device. He had shot some test footage following people around corridors and from room to room, but he wanted to be able to shoot something that even the most experienced filmmakers would look at and wonder how he did it. He came up with the idea for his girlfriend to run up and down the museum steps, whilst he followed close behind her. Using this footage, Brown sold the camera on his first day in LA, and several months later, John G. Avildsen, who was prepping Rocky, saw the footage and felt that a similar type of shot would be perfect for the film. As such, Avildsen hired Brown and the Steadicam, and as Brown explains, several months after he had run up the steps filming his girlfriend, he was running back up the steps filming Sylvester Stallone.
Most of the scenes of Rocky jogging through Philadelphia were shot guerrilla-style, with no permits, no equipment and no extras. The shot were he runs past the moored boat for example; the crew were simply driving by the docks and director John G. Avildsen saw the boat and thought it would make a good visual, so he had Sylvester Stallone simply get out of the van and run along the quays whilst Avildsen himself filmed from the side door. A similar story concerns the famous shot of Rocky jogging through the food market. As he runs, the stall keepers and the people on the sidewalks can clearly be seen looking at him in bemusement. Whilst this works in the context of the film to suggest they're looking at Rocky, in reality, they had no idea why this man was running up and down the road being filmed from a van. During this scene, the famous shot where the stall-owner throws Rocky an orange was completely improvised by the stall owner-himself, who had no idea that a movie was being filmed and that he would be in it.
When Mickey's trying to convince Rocky to let him be his manager, he talks about the night he knocked Guinea Russo out of the ring. He says it happened on September 14, 1923, and that it was the same night that Luis Firpo knocked Jack Dempsey out of the ring in the main event, thus stealing Mickey's thunder. This is a reference to a real life incident. On September 14, 1923, 82,000 people packed into New York's Polo Grounds to watch world heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey face Argentinean no-hoper Luis Angel Firpo. Dempsey immediately began to pummel Firpo, knocking him down seven times within the first two minutes. Somehow however, in the middle of the first round, Firpo managed to land a right uppercut with such force that it literally knocked Dempsey out of the ring. Dempsey was completely disorientated upon returning to the ring, but he managed to survive the rest of the round and regain his composure. The second round lasted less than a minute, during which time he knocked Firpo down twice; Firpo was unable to get up from the second fall.
The monologue which Rocky delivers after turning down Mickey's (Burgess Meredith) offer to manage him was completely improvised on-set by Sylvester Stallone. He has since explained that he was heavily influenced by the fact that the bathroom of the tiny apartment in which they were shooting really did stink.
Rocky's explanation of the term 'southpaw' to Adrian is inaccurate, but includes an element of truth. According to the New Dickson's Baseball Dictionary, the term was coined in the late 1800's to describe left-handed pitchers, who, facing west in most ballparks, had their left arms hanging on the south side of the ballpark. The term was applied to other sports, including boxing, and eventually came into general use.
The ice rink scene was originally written to feature 300 extras, but the production couldn't afford so many people. When Sylvester Stallone turned up to shoot the scene, to his horror, there was only one extra. So, Stallone hastily threw together the scene as it exists in the completed film. Ironically, this scene has become one of the most popular in the entire Rocky saga.
During his audition, Carl Weathers was sparring with Sylvester Stallone and accidentally punched him on the chin. Stallone told Weathers to calm down, as it was only an audition, and Weathers said that if he was allowed to audition with a 'real' actor, not a stand-in, he would be able to do a lot better. Director John G. Avildsen smiled and told Weathers that Stallone was the real actor (and the writer). Weathers looked at Stallone thoughtfully for a moment, and said, "Well, maybe he'll get better." Stallone immediately offered him the role.
Carrie Snodgress was originally offered the role of Adrian, but dropped out due to a disagreement about money. Susan Sarandon auditioned for the role, but was deemed too obviously attractive for the character.
Prior to shooting, Sylvester Stallone trained for six months with legendary fight-trainer Jimmy Gambina, who was also the film's technical advisor (and who plays the role of Jimmy, the trainer from Mighty Mick's Boxing, in both this film and Rocky V). During this period, Stallone also studied every available piece of footage of boxers Rocky Marciano and Ezzard Charles.
The film was ultimately green-lit by United Artists by a misunderstanding of sorts. Mike Medavoy was the United Artist's top man in LA, and he loved the project, but he needed to convince the head office in New York. Arthur Krim, United Artists CEO at the time, said he'd consider it, but he wanted to know more about the writer Sylvester Stallone, who was also going to star. Stallone had recently appeared in a film called The Lord's of Flatbush, where he had also gotten a writing credit for 'additional dialogue'. Medavoy thought Stallone was excellent in the piece, so he sent a copy of the film to New York and told them to watch it. The film is about a Brooklyn street gang, and alongside Stallone, it featured unknowns Perry King, Henry Winkler and Paul Mace. During the screening, Krim asked the executives viewing the film, "Which one is Stallone?", and someone told him that it was the blond kid (actually Perry King). Krim pointed out that that guy didn't look Italian, and Stallone was an Italian name, to which he was told Stallone must be from Northern Italy, where there are a lot of blue eyed, blond haired Italians. Krim thought about this for a moment and then announced that he liked this guy Stallone (still talking about King), and so he green-lit the movie. Several months later, when he realized his mistake, Krim was far from amused.
As he would with all of the Rocky films, writer Sylvester Stallone incorporated a great deal of biographical material into the screenplay. In particular, Stallone used his own frustration to make it as an actor as a template for the frustration of the Rocky character to make it as a boxer. As Stallone himself explains it, "I took my story and injected it into the body of Rocky Balboa because no one, I felt, would be interested in listening to or watching or reading a story about a down-and-out, struggling actor/writer. It just didn't conjure up waves of empathy, even from me and I was sure it wouldn't do it from an audience either."
One of the pictures tacked to the wall in Rocky's apartment is a reproduction of Caravaggio's "The Calling of St. Matthew". The painting depicts Christ calling Matthew from his life of obscurity literally into miraculous light. As Apollo Creed selects Rocky in much the same way, the picture carries obvious thematic resonance.
According to Burt Young, during filming of the scene where Paulie walks home drunk, an actual drunk wandered onto the location and told Young he wasn't acting drunk convincingly, so Young asked the man to demonstrate it. Young then copied the man's actions for the scene.
Arnold Johnson is credited as a cast member in the opening credits, but is omitted in the more comprehensive end credits. Therefore, the opening credits are listed first in the IMDb cast list and rest of cast list is filled in from the end credits, as required by IMDb rules.
According to Burt Young in the Special Edition DVD documentary, Sylvester Stallone showed him the choreographed script of the fight with Apollo Creed to get his opinion as to whether or not the fight moves seemed real. Early in his life, Burt Young had been a small-time boxer like Rocky. Young looked it over, and made a few small suggestions before Stallone brought the scripted bout to the director.
According to Sylvester Stallone in the DVD commentary, Rocky's trademark outfit of the black snap-brim fedora and the leather coat came from a local hand-me-down store in the neighborhood where they were filming.
The only film in the Rocky series to not feature the end credits alongside a stylized visual, as they just appear as regular white text on a black backdrop. Rocky II featured the yellow and black image of Rocky and Mickey hugging next to the end credits, Rocky III featured the LeRoy Neiman painting of Rocky and Apollo behind the end credits, Rocky IV featured a montage of black and white stills of the film's events behind the end credits, Rocky V featured a montage of blue-tinted black and white stills of the major events from Rocky I through V behind the end credits, and Rocky Balboa featured both a montage of Philadelphia citizens and tourists running up the stairs of the Philadelphia Museum of Art followed by an image of Rocky (or, some feel, Sylvester Stallone himself) standing alone at the edge of the steps.
Rocky's line "they must be friends", when Joe Frazier and Apollo Creed are bantering together in the ring, is a reference to the real-life feud between Frazier and Muhammad Ali, whom the character of Creed is based on. Ali and Frazier had been friends until their first fight, when Ali's continued insulting of Frazier led to the two fighters falling out.