4. Rocky (1976)
Directed by John G. Avildsen
Starring Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, and Carl Weathers
At this point, Rocky is less a film than an American monument. Upon its initial release, six months after America’s 200th birthday, the film became a massive hit. It grossed more than $225 million and won three Academy Awards, including Best Picture. It also established writer and star Sylvester Stallone as a Hollywood’s A-list and it kicked off one of the most successful franchises in film history. Rocky has left such an indelible impression on popular culture that a statue of the film’s indefatigable protagonist stands near one of the film’s key locations.
The film’s status as a piece of cinematic Americana is a reflection on its exceptional quality. The story of a blue-collar schlub who makes the most out of the opportunity of a lifetime is one with broad appeal. A pugilist with almost no resources taking on a heavyweight champion of the world, Rocky’s story is far-fetched but engaging. Anyone who’s ever had their dreams laughed at can relate to it. And the characters essential humbleness – Rocky doesn’t take the fight because he thinks he can win, he just wants to show that he can go the full 15 rounds – makes him a hugely sympathetic character.
Rocky is so successful in making its protagonist someone the audience cares about that the film’s ending is incredibly poignant. Seeing the sequence of Rocky going the distance but losing the fight and then reuniting with the woman he loves is like having a match with Apollo Creed (Weathers). Afterward, the only appropriate thing to do is cry your heart out.