This post was originally inspired a few years ago when long-time friend and faithful SportsChump reader, Croshere, sent me a text telling me he was in the middle of a Rocky marathon. He made it halfway through Rocky IV before needing a break.
I asked him how many times he cried during the marathon, setting the over/under and two-and-a-half. He scoffed, telling me it was way more than that.
It was at that point that I realized a) I had set the number way too low and b) I needed to hunker down and embark upon my own Rocky marathon to see just how many cries the films evoked.
After all, Creed II is out and I am absolutely giddy… but more on that later.
Upon settling into my long-awaited Balboa-fest, I reset my new number at nine-and-a-half. Certain moving scenes immediately came to mind: Rocky’s first loss in the original, Adrian in the hospital in Rocky II telling him to “win,” Mickey’s death in Rocky III, Apollo’s death in Rocky IV, Balboa sending his son from Russia with love after beating Drago, the running up the steps, heck, anytime you hear Bill Conti’s perfectly orchestrated theme song, these are all tear-jerking moments. But what’s my actual number? Could I suppress or could I surpass the nine-and-a-half?
So, one lazy Sunday afternoon, I decided to embark upon the 14-hour watching and get to the bottom of this once and for all. Note: getting through all seven movies took more than one sitting.
In case you’re one of the few who haven’t seen the Rocky films, here’s a brief history. According to the internet, Stallone wrote the original script in three days. He had only a hundred dollars to his name. The studio didn’t want Stallone as the star but rather James Caan, Burt Reynolds or Ryan O’Neal. Hard to see the series going eight films with either of those three as the lead.
The original ended up being nominated for nine academy awards in 1976. It won best picture, best director and best film editing. Sylvester Stallone, Burgess Meredith, Burt Young and Talia Shire were all nominated, as was the screenplay which lost to Network.
The first is a sweet film with Rocky an endearing underdog. His love for animals, his refusal to rough up the guys he collects money from for his small-time loan shark, lifting drunks off the sidewalks, saving a girl from hanging with neighborhood hoodlums, Rocky is the ultimate paradox: a nice guy who beats the crap out of people for a living.
He happens upon a girl at his local pet shop. You know her as Adrian. By the time they get to their first date, the skating rink scene (which they filmed when the rink was closed because they couldn’t afford to pay extras), I had logged zero cries but I knew they were coming. It was only a matter of time.
It takes about an hour twenty-eight before I get my first good cry in. Adrian’s brother Paulie (Burt Young) comes home drunk one Christmas Eve and loses his temper. He violently takes a bat to the lamp and dresser and then threatens to break Rocky’s arms. As Rocky and Adrian have become closer, Paulie feels left out of the equation, unloved. Upset that she’s been intimate with Rocky before a traditional marriage, he calls his sister “busted,” implying she was no longer a virgin. Adrian reacts, screaming and shouting “I take care of you!!!” then runs frantically into her bedroom. It’s at this point in their relationship that Rocky and Adrian decide to cohabitate. It’s also at this point that I log my first cry.
Cry two doesn’t come long afterwards thanks to the steady cam shot of Rocky running along the water and onto the steps of Philadelphia’s Museum of Art. It was the first time that sort of technology had been used in a film. Conti’s “Gonna Fly Now” violin strings and crescendo vocals set the tone. I mean, how can one not cry? Conti should have renamed the song “Gonna Cry Now.” That would have been far more appropriate.
Then of course there’s the film’s climax: Rocky’s first fight with Apollo Creed. Conti’s theme builds slowly as the rounds tick away. You’re not tearing up but it’s in the mail, that’s for sure. One of the things that makes the original Rocky so special is that he loses the fight. “Down, down, stay down!” shouts Mickey as his fighter has nothing left in the penultimate round. Oh… but he does. Mick cuts his eye before the fifteenth and the rest is cinematic history.
“Ain’t gonna be no rematch” muscles Creed as they hug, cueing the sequel (of which there will be seven) that are far ahead of their time. The bell rings, with reporters crowding Rocky in the ring as he bellows for his “Adrian.” She rushes through the crowd and into the ring, losing her red beret along the way. They finally meet and embrace. That makes three solid cries in the first film alone. After all, it is a love story.
Rocky II (1979) tricks you. It suckers you right in. There’s a cry in the opening moments only because they replay the end of the first movie. Stallone, you dirty genius. That’s one immediate cry for Rocky II and four cries overall. We are well ahead of pace.
Then of course there’s the scene when Adrian comes out of her coma. Rocky gives up his training for his rematch with Apollo. Mickey sits by his side in the hospital chapel. When Adrian wakes, she asks her husband to do one thing. “Win.” She had previously been opposed to her husband’s true calling but realizes the man she loves was born to fight. This leads into Rocky II’s training sequence, Rocky catching a chicken with his bare hands and one more cry. By my count, that’s five.
Not long afterwards, there’s the running sequence where he runs through the city of Philadelphia, this time followed by children who love their local hero. It’s another guaranteed tear-jerker for six. Here’s the genius of Rocky. Stallone pretty much duplicated all the magical scenes of the first and they worked like a charm. In other words, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, he says in his Rocky voice.
At the end of Rocky II, there’s another lengthy cry, from the end of the 15th round to the final rolling of the credits. With a huge lead in the fight, Creed refuses to stay away from Rocky and go for the knockout. Both exhausted and bloodied, Rocky lands a punch that sends both fighters to the canvas. Watching from her living room, Adrian gasps. The fighters struggle to get up with Balboa getting up at the ten count and Creed slumping in the corner. The referee calls the fight over and Rocky falls into his trainer’s arms. The music plays and Rocky takes to the mic to thank Apollo, Mickey and Adrian. “Aside from my kid being born, this is the luckiest day in the history of my life.” Cry seven… and counting.
When Rocky III came out (1982), I was 13 years old and the movie was all I could think about. I owned the cassette tape and played Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” so much that my father would have gotten sick of it… had he not been such a huge Rocky fan himself. FYI, the song held the number one spot on the Billboard charts for six weeks. I only remember tearing up once during the movie. Let’s see if that holds true so many years later.
I stand corrected, Rocky III begins with the final scene of Rocky II just like Rocky II begins with the closing fight sequence of the original. As Talia cries, telling her husband she loves him, you (and by you, I mean me) are drawn to tears for Cry Eight.
“I love you, kid” are Mickey’s final words as he takes his last breath on the locker room training table. Mickey had been ill, a failing heart. Prior to Rocky’s first fight with Clubber Lang, Lang goes after Balboa in the walkways of the arena. Attempting to shove Rocky, Lang shoves Mickey instead, bringing him to his knees. Mickey can’t go out to coach Rock in the fight, leaving him all alone in the ring and knocked out in the second round. Lang becomes champion as Balboa returns to the locker room where, for some reason, Mickey still lays there without being brought to the hospital. Balboa is left trainer-less and we are left crying again for number nine.
Cry Ten comes at the end of Rocky III. With Clubber Lang taking to the smelling salts in his corner never to be heard from again, Rocky once again celebrates victory. In true Rocky fashion, Adrian bum-rushes the ring to find her true love. She asks if he’s okay. He replies “never better.” They embrace. We cry a tenth time.
We move on to Rocky IV (1985) which is many people’s favorite movie in the series and the inspiration for Creed II where Creed’s son attempts to revenge his father’s death by fighting Drago’s son. We’re already ten cries in. So how many does Rocky IV hold in store?
The delightfully, cheesy Cold War classic Rocky IV is surprisingly not as tear-emoting as the first three films. Perhaps it’s that I’ve seen it THAT many times. Apollo’s death and subsequent is dramatic but not necessarily worthy of bawling. Similarly, Adrian shouting from the top of the stairs “You can’t win,” the obligatory driving/reminiscing montage, Adrian showing up in Russia and the subsequent training montage are all great scenes but they don’t exactly make me reach for the Kleenex like the one that comes at the end of Rocky IV.
No, the tears in this film come, once again, at the very end. Balboa avenges his rival-turned-friend’s death by besting the giant Drago. At the end of the film, in front of the raucous Russian crowd, Rocky once again takes to the mic. “If I’s can change, and you’s can change” may have brought about the end of the Cold War (this can’t be proven but it’s highly likely) but when Rocky wishes his son a Merry Christmas from afar and tells him he loves him, that’s enough for our eleventh cry of the marathon.
Next comes Rocky V (1990), my least favorite of the Rocky films. Rock returns from Russia to find his fortune gone. Paulie had given someone power of attorney of their estate. Rocky has lost his millions and is forced to move back into his old Philadelphia neighborhood. The only asset he owns is the old gym Mickey left him in his will.
In Rocky V, we meet Balboa the parent and he’s struggling to do so. Rocky’s son starts acting up when Rocky spends more time with his latest project, Tommy Gunn played by Tommy Morrison, upon whom Rocky looks to impart some of the wisdom Mickey left him.
Unfortunately, the only cry I can give Rocky V is the fact that it was even made which is probably why it took him fifteen years to make the next film in the series. Through Rocky V, we are stuck at eleven.
The sixth film in the series is called Rocky Balboa (2006) and stars another real-life boxing star, Antonio Tarver aka Mason Dixon. Dixon doesn’t have Balboa’s draw leaving boxing fans to long for long-gone stars like the character the film is named after.
The film’s opening sequence spares us some tears as we find out that Adrian has passed on. The film features some potentially tear-jerking scenes, especially those between Rocky and Paulie as they reminisce about years past and what Adrian meant to them both. Rocky Balboa is a sweet film, considerably better than the one that preceded it.
After a computer simulation predicts Balboa would beat Dixon, Dixon’s promoters propose a fight between the two. Balboa, who still has a yearning inside, accepts. He trains, differently since he’s older. He gets the gang back together to help him and, of course, the training sequence ends with him running up the steps to Conti’s classic. I didn’t bawl but I welled, enough to combine with the Paulie scenes that I’m gonna give it a cry. Since I didn’t cry during Rocky V, it’s only fair I give Balboa at least a reach for the tissue box.
In the “final round of his life,” Rocky and Dixon meet in the center of the ring with Dixon telling Rocky “you’re one crazy old man” and Rocky replying “You’ll get there.” The boxers trade blows, the crowd chants Rocky, the music plays, the fight is over. The tears are not. Chalk me up for another. That officially makes it a baker’s dozen. Rocky has exorcized his demons as he leaves the ring for the final time. As Stallone waves goodbye, you know his sentiment is sincere. You can tell he is truly appreciative of the fans as they wave goodbye to the character he created, the character that they adore.
You want more? Watch the credits to Balboa which features Rocky fans running up the steps, countless clips of Rocky fans, jabbing, jumping, embracing, raising their hands in the air reminding us how epic this series of movies really is. I thought I was out the door at thirteen but I’m adding one more for the closing credits. If you’re a fan (which I am), you cry (which I did) because the film leads you to believe this is the end of the Rocky series (which it is, sort of).
Which brings us to… Creed.
Just when you thought it was safe to get back into the ring.
Creed opens with a young Adonis Creed in a correctional facility, constantly getting into fights. We then see an older Adonis Creed fighting in underground boxing matches just like Balboa did in the first film. We find a character who, like so many others we’ve met in the series, is born to fight. I’ve had a slew of ex-girlfriends like that but I digress.
The movie named Creed doesn’t even show Rocky until the sixteenth minute. Like his “uncle” Rocky, Creed is searching for something, his raison d’etre. He asks Rocky to be his coach.
We soon find out that Paulie has passed on as well, buried right next to his sister. Rocky decides to join his only remaining family and train Apollo’s son. There’s the running through the streets of Philly, the one-handed push-ups, he even breaks out the chickens.
When Creed, who tries to hide his name because he’s the illegitimate son of Apollo and wants to make it on his own, finds that Rocky has cancer and refuses medical attention, “Baby Creed” insists he gets treatment. Rocky felt he had nothing left to live for until Creed convinces him otherwise.
I almost made it through the whole film, Rocky’s announcement that he was cancer-stricken, the back and forth between the two, then it happened when you least expect it. Before the big fight, Creed finds a gift left in his locker room by his mother.
His father’s old boxing shorts, red white and blue with a card that read “Find your own legacy.” I opened a card that said “Fifteen cries.”
“I just gotta prove that I’m not a mistake.” Adonis Creed lived his life in his father’s shadow, a father he never got to know. Heading into the final round, Creed tells Rocky he wants to fight on, with his eye all swollen. Rocky is faced with the dilemma of stopping a fight when he didn’t stop the fight that killed his father. I now have more cries than more rounds in a heavyweight match.
Which brings us to Creed II.
Sorry but you’ll get no spoilers here. All I can tell you is that it lives up to the billing. There are several subtle hints that harken back to the entire series that you’ll catch if you’re paying attention. And if you’re a fan of the series, which you must be since you’ve made it to the final paragraph of this post, go see it with people you love.
And you might want to bring some tissue.