When Rocky was first screened at movie theatres, Sylvester Stallone would have never guessed that it would go on to win Best Picture at the Oscars. The legendary boxing movie, which spanned five sequels and a spin-off, follows small-time fighter and loan shark Rocky Balboa (Stallone) and his surprising shot at the heavyweight boxing championship as he prepares to fight reigning champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers).
Rocky is easily Sylvester Stallone‘s best movie, but in his new Netflix documentary, Stallone admitted that back in 1976, he expected the movie to flop.”The first review we got out of New York by Vincent Canby was scathing, so I didn’t know what to expect,” Stallone said. “We screen ‘Rocky’ five days before release. It was an afternoon matinee.”
In a full-circle moment, Rocky had an early screening at a movie theater where Stallone used to work — but things soon went from bad to worse as a number of viewers walked out.
“Twenty minutes into it, the audience, ¾ were gone,” Stallone recalled. “And I’m getting lower in the seat. I’m going, ‘Oh, shit.’ So when it did open, my confidence was not soaring.”
Sylvester’s brother was with him at the time. “I was sitting there with him, and all of a sudden he’s going, ‘Oh, shit.’ Talk about a crestfallen look,” he reclled. “He said, ‘Oh, god.’ He thought, ‘Man this is going to be a bomb.'”
But as the movie heated up, the viewers that were left were transfixed. “When everyone’s inside, I go to the back, and I’m standing there. It’s almost like it’s a still painting,” Stallone added. “No one is moving, everyone is listening to every word. Like, boom. Riveted.”
For Stallone, the secret to Rocky’s success was how the film “blurred the lines” between real sporting events and sports movies. “When he knocks Apollo down, whole theater went up,” Stallone added. “It’s like, holy shit, the audience is participating like it’s a real sporting event.”
While Rocky’s subsequent success really speaks for itself, it perhaps goes to show that giving a movie a proper chance and not judging it too rashly can lead to a much more rewarding viewing experience. Or, in the case of Rocky, a million-dollar franchise.