Sylvester Stallone, the renowned actor and filmmaker, recently shared the fascinating story of how the iconic character Rocky Balboa came to be. In the new Netflix documentary Sly, Stallone revealed that the initial screenplay for Rocky had a much harder and thuggish edge, inspired by Martin Scorsese’s crime drama Mean Streets. However, a pivotal moment occurred when a close friend read the script and found Rocky to be excessively cruel. This feedback struck a chord with Stallone, forcing him to reevaluate the character.
Stallone vividly recalls the emotional impact of his friend’s response to the initial script. She expressed her strong dislike for Rocky, stating that he was nothing more than a violent brute who enjoyed hurting others. Stallone’s sensitivity and willingness to listen allowed him to acknowledge the validity of her criticism. He understood that for Rocky to become a beloved character, he needed to be relatable and empathetic.
Taking his friend’s advice to heart, Stallone set out to soften the edges of his protagonist. He proposed the idea of Rocky stopping short of inflicting harm, despite being capable of it. This change would humanize Rocky, making him a character with depth and a sense of morality. Stallone’s decision to introduce a romantic interest for Rocky added further nuances to the character, showcasing his capacity for love and tenderness.
Stallone’s wise decision to refine and reshape Rocky paid off in ways he could have never imagined. The first Rocky film garnered a staggering $117 million at the box office, catapulting Stallone to superstardom. The movie’s success led to the creation of a beloved franchise that captivated audiences for decades. It is a testament to Stallone’s ability to listen, adapt, and create compelling characters that resonate with moviegoers.
While Stallone’s journey with Rocky was undoubtedly rewarding, it was not without its challenges. In Rocky IV, Stallone faced a formidable adversary in Dolph Lundgren, who played the iconic role of Ivan Drago. Stallone’s commitment to realism during the fight scenes led to an alarming incident. Lundgren unintentionally hit Stallone with such force that it caused his heart to swell, resulting in a blood pressure spike. Stallone found himself in the hospital, surrounded by nuns, fearing the worst.
During his nine-day hospital stay, Stallone clung to the hope of recovery and the chance to return to the ring once more. Despite the danger he had unwittingly put himself in, Stallone’s dedication to his craft and his character remained unwavering. He fought to overcome his health complications, praying for the opportunity to continue Rocky’s legacy.
Stallone’s commitment to realism left a lasting impact on him. Medical professionals informed him that the blow he received from Lundgren caused his heart to jolt within his ribcage—a condition often seen in severe car accidents. Jokingly remarking that he “hit a bus,” Stallone reflected on the sacrifices he made to deliver an authentic and unforgettable performance.
Sylvester Stallone’s journey with the Rocky franchise is a story of transformation, perseverance, and the power of self-criticism. By listening to feedback and making crucial revisions to the original screenplay, Stallone turned Rocky Balboa into an enduring, inspiring character. His commitment to authenticity and realism, seen in the physical toll he endured, further elevated the franchise’s impact. Stallone’s ability to learn from his mistakes and adapt is a valuable lesson for all aspiring creatives—success often lies in the willingness to be critical of oneself.