Here are 10 lessons Sylvester Stallone's iconic movie character taught us over 40 years
On Jan. 10, we’ll find out if Sylvester Stallone takes home a Golden Globe for his role in the newest Rocky movie. Of course, Stallone’s turn in the newest installment in the franchise is very different from all his previous rounds as the beloved character. It got him nominated for Best Supporting Actor in a Movie, not best Best Actor, and it’s not a Rocky movie, exactly: It’s a Creed movie, and ostensibly the beginning of a new series of boxing epics.
So yes, in the time since the first Rocky came out – 40 years ago this November – Rocky Balboa has had quite the journey, and certainly a longer one than most movie characters get. In celebration of 40 years of Balboa – and, of course, Stallone-as-Balboa – we’re looking back on the life lessons he’s taught us.
1. Winning isn’t everything.
If you’re just a casual fan of the series or if it’s just been a while since you saw the first movie, you may easily forget that it doesn’t end with Rocky Balboa winning the final fight against Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers). No, Creed is declared the winner. However, it doesn’t matter. Especially in the first movie, Rocky’s story isn’t one about clobbering his opponent; it’s about pushing yourself against all odds and going further than you ever could have imagined.
2. Being down doesn’t mean you’re out.
By all accounts, Rocky should have given up before the events of the first movie took place. His boxing career has been unsuccessful, but so has his life in general. However, by trudging along, he encounters two lucky breaks: being chosen to fight Creed, the world heavyweight champion, and meeting a shy pet store clerk named Adrian (Talia Shire). These two events mark the beginning of a turn for the better, and when Creed proves victorious, it doesn’t really matter because he has Adrian in his life.
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3. Find teachers you can learn from and stick with them.
Another major reason that Rocky can rise as high as he does in the first movie is that he finally meets a trainer with whom he works well: Mickey (Burgess Meredith). This lesson, however, isn’t as boxing-specific as you might initially think. In any situation, your potential for success vastly increases if find someone who can teach you in a way you understand – give you the advice you need in a way that sticks with you. We should all be so lucky to find our respective Mickeys in life.
4. Victory delayed is all the sweeter.
Of course, the fact that Rocky didn’t beat Creed in the first movie makes his triumph in Rocky II all the more spectacular. When you wait for it – and work for it – you feel that win all the more.
5. Your enemy is your friend.
Over the course of the first two movies, Rocky and Apollo have a contentious, competitive relationship but not a nasty one. They respect each other and they challenge each other. And it’s that mutual respect that in Rocky III turns Apollo into a major ally, when he steps in for Mickey as Rocky’s trainer. The result? One of the best workout montages in the entire history.
6. Know when to quit.
Rocky IV has Creed squaring off against the Soviet boxer Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren). Rocky, serving as Apollo’s trainer, has the authority to end the fight when it’s clear that Apollo’s life is as stake, but Apollo insists that he continue and Rocky allows it. Apollo then dies in the ring, and Rocky has to realize that he bears some responsibility; had he thrown in the towel, his friend would still be alive. (Of course, without Apollo’s sad end, there’d be no Creed, but still.)
7. "It ain’t about how hard you hit; it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward."
In a scene from 2006’s Rocky Balboa, Rocky has a heart-to-heart with his now-adult son Robert (Milo Ventimiglia) about the core lesson he’s taken away from a life in the ring. “That’s how winning is done,” the elder Balboa concludes.
8. "It’s your right to listen to your gut; it ain’t nobody’s right to say no."
The speech to his son isn’t the only feat of oration in Rocky Balboa. In another scene, Rocky is told he cannot renew his boxing license, and his response is an impassioned defense of his rights. The lesson? Stand up for yourself – and have some good words ready, even if you’re better known for throwing punches.
9. There comes a time when you need to step aside for a new generation.
When you think about how Hollywood usually works, it’s remarkable that Creed was even made. That an iconic film character who was played by a famous actor who had previously starred in six movies would play second banana to a new character? To the point that the new movie doesn’t even have Rocky’s name in it? (It wasn’t called Rocky 7: Creed Begins, after all.) But herein lies a lesson: You can’t be on top forever. There comes a time when you need to usher in a new generation and teach them how to be successful in their own right.
10. Chicken-chasing is an undervalued component of a good workout regimen.
And let this scene from Rocky 2 (and the subsequent callback in Creed) stand as proof. It really works. I mean, have you chased a chicken lately?