‘Rocky’ Was Made Cheaply By Using Sylvester Stallone’s Wardrobe and a Gritty Filmmaking Style

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Sylvester Stallone struggled to get his 1976 film Rocky made. But with an estimated budget of just $1M, the shoot was hanging in the balance. However, by cutting costs, Rocky was a study in film frugality. Much of Rocky Balboa’s wardrobe was plucked from Stallone’s closet, and the shoot was done in a gritty filmmaking style.

Just how did ‘Rocky’ come under budget?

Keeping Rocky‘s budget from going over was forefront in the minds of the film’s producers. Here are some methods director John G. Avildsen consequently used to keep the Sylvester Stallone-penned film under its $1M budget.

Interiors were shot in LA since an entire 28-day shoot in Philadelphia was too pricey, reported Mental Floss. Subsequently, the Rocky crew quietly shot exteriors using a nonunion crew.

Avildsen would drive around Philadelphia in a van with Stallone and a cameramen inside. However, he would spot an interesting location, and the director would instruct the actor to get out and jog.

The pedestrians seen as Rocky runs through the streets of the Italian Market aren’t extras but everyday folk who just happened to be there at the moment. Subsequently, this gritty filmmaking method would morph into Rocky’s infamous jogging sequence as he trained for his fight with Apollo Creed.

Stallone’s wardrobe was pulled from his closet. The director had to be picky about how many shots to film as the cost of the film was expensive.

The emotional scene where Rocky spoke to Adrian (Talia Shire) about his fears regarding the fight was almost cut due to budget concerns. However, Stallone begged to keep it and did it in one take.

Even the scene where Rocky and Adrian have their date at the ice skating rink wasn’t filmed as originally conceived. A rink full of extras was too costly. Therefore, the scene was rewritten to show the growing intimacy between the two characters.

The fight scene between Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) was shot in front of 4,000 extras paid with a free chicken dinner. Stallone also used his dog, Butkus, as his pet in the film.

‘Rocky’ would go on to gross $117M worldwide

In 1976, no one could have known that Rocky would go on to spawn a lifetime of film sequels and make a superstar out of Sylvester Stallone. Subsequently, this underdog movie would go on to gross over $117M worldwide.

According to Box Office MojoRocky IV, Rocky III, and the original Rocky lead the list of top-grossing boxing movies, earning $127 million, $125 million, and $117 million as a lifetime gross in United States theaters. However, those figures do not include international ticket sales, DVDs, and VHS sales. 

Sylvester Stallone told Deadline that Rocky was not only an underdog film on-screen but behind the scenes as well. Here’s what he had to say.

“Irwin Winkler and Bob Chartoff, they took a lot of heat [about Rocky], and they were being embarrassed by United Artists and were being told, ‘Why would you waste your time on this? We’re not going to put a dime into it.’”

Stallone continued, “Those guys actually mortgaged their homes; I don’t know if people knew that. They put up their own personal savings, and they weren’t incredibly rich at that time. It was a big leap of faith.”

He concluded, “So it was a Rocky story on all different levels. I have to give them credit because I certainly couldn’t have ever done it alone, and maybe I realize this more at age 69, but we really did it as a team. You can’t do these things alone.”

‘Rocky’ became the first sports picture to win an Oscar

At the 1977 Academy Awards, Rocky became the first sports film to win Best Picture, beating out the year’s heavy hitters NetworkAll the President’s Men, and Taxi Driver. Jack Nicholson announced the prestigious category.

Rocky also won in the categories of Best Director and Best Editing. Stallone took the stage with Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff to accept the award.

The producers told Stallone, “I would like to thank you for sharing your dream of Rocky with us. And for giving a performance that has enriched all our lives.”

Stallone dedicated the award to all the underdogs. “To all the Rocky’s in the world, I love you,” he stated before leaving the stage.

Rocky was released on Nov. 21, 1976. The film has spawned nine sequels. The last was Creed III in 2023.

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