Not many believed that Rocky was going to turn out to be as successful as it was, let alone produce five more sequels, two spin-offs, and a Broadway musical. It all started in 1976 with the first Rocky movie, which established one of the most recognizable and profitable brands in the movie industry.
The original Rocky movie was an unexpected hit, with a modest budget of $1 million. The good thing is that you don’t need such a budget to become a millionaire. You can try your luck with as little as $5 dollars at any Canadian Casino Martini. What came after was a box office accumulation of $225 million, which led to the movie being the highest-grossing one in 1976, both in Canada and in the United States. On top of that, Rocky was nominated for 10 Academy Awards. It won three, including the one for Best Picture.
The most rewarding outcome was the audience reception. The movie quickly gained a base of loyal fans, with tons of people recreating the famous scene at the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Forty-four years after the release of the first movie in the franchise, it is safe to say Rocky is a classic.
Shortly after the success of the first film, the sequel was green-lit. Although Rocky was still not a brand, a lot of hope and a much larger budget — around $7 million — were invested in the second movie. Nevertheless, the road to the sequel was bumpier than anticipated.
Bill Conti, an Academy Award composer who worked on five Rocky films, talked about how the making of the second film came to be. As all original actors from the first Rocky film signed up for the sequel, the director John Avildsen refused to come back out of the fear of repeating himself. Conti recalled that he was of the same opinion but reluctantly went into composing music for Rocky II.
Another unexpected turn came from Stallone himself, as he expressed an interest in directing the sequel after Avildsen’s departure. Stallone had previous experience in directing, but his directorial debut, Paradise Alley, was a bust. Since the movie was filmed only a year before Rocky II, the studio executives were on the fence about whether to put him in charge.
However, producers Robert Chartoff and Irwin Winkler backed up the actor, and the executives gave in. With that green light, Stallone was ready to star, write, and direct Rocky II in addition to choreographing a fight scene.
After the cinematic culmination of the first film and Rocky’s epic win over Apollo Creed, Rocky decides to retire from boxing. The viewers see the consequences of the fight as Rocky leads his life with blurred vision in his right eye and a few commercial successes that came to be after his big win. The titular character seems to lead a happy life with his now-wife, Adrian.
After Rocky discovers that being a spokesperson and a blue-collar worker isn’t his calling, he returns to boxing by accepting Creed’s rematch challenge.
In an interview, Stallone described the sequel as a continuation of the original story, with an emphasis on the main character’s soul searching process. Interestingly, Stallone’s personal life was greatly influenced by the movie.
During his training for the movie, Stallone tore a pectoral muscle, leading to surgery on his left arm. As he was not able to use his arm fully, the script needed to be changed. As you can see in the movie, Rocky, a natural southpaw, fights with his right hand, surprising Creed in the process.
That was not the only bump in the road while filming Rocky II. Namely, actress Talia Shire, who played Adrian, had limited availability during the four months of shooting due to previous engagements. That’s why, during the fight scene, viewers don’t see her in the crowd but at home, caring for their newborn son. That was also one of the last scenes shot for the movie.
The movie was shot from October 1978 to January 1979 in both Philadelphia and Los Angeles. The whole production was way bigger compared to its predecessor, which could be seen in both the surroundings and the actors themselves.
Stallone believed there were parallels between his character’s and his own life, as both of them were obvious underdogs who then came out to be overdogs and unexpected achievers. He also noted that changes in both of their lives were double-edged swords.
Stallone also explained what he had wanted to achieve in the second film. Namely, as compared to Rocky, in Rocky II, the protagonist did not want to settle for being an accidental winner or a second-rate champion. He wanted to deserve his title and the championship belt. Stallone concluded that he wanted Rocky to prove he could be the first and take pride in it.
Rocky II was released in the United States on June 15, 1979. The sequel was both a commercial and critical success, receiving generally positive reviews. Variety wrote, “In its boxing and training scenes, Rocky II packs much of the punch the original did, complete with an exciting pugilistic finale that’s even better than its predecessor.” Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the movie three-and-a-half stars out of four, praising it for taking scenes from its relatively young predecessor and making it work.
Rocky II also received rave reviews from Muhammad Ali, a boxing legend, who praised the combination of love, violence, emotion, and excitement.
The sequel established Rocky as a bankable franchise, with all seven Rocky-based movies and a Broadway musical bringing in more than $1.5 billion in revenue.
Conti describes Rocky as a classic story with great plots and storylines that can last forever. He even goes as far as to compare it with The Iliad and reading Homer and Dante.
These movies have it all — love, winning, losing, picking yourself up, and all other melodramatic plots that seem to resonate with the audience, regardless of the time and place.
Ultimately, it was the right time for Rocky II, which grabbed both the audience’s attention and hearts.