Welcome back to MEMORABLE MOVIE QUOTES, that column where we look at memorable quotes from classic movies. Up today it’s ROCKY (1976).
It’s easy to forget because of the trajectory that Sylvester Stallone’s career would ultimately take— lots of testosterone-filled action films, most of them not all that good—just how good the original ROCKY (1976) really is.
There’s a reason it won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1976, beating out such notable movies like ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN, NETWORK, and TAXI DRIVER. It’s that good!
And I know a lot of people don’t think highly of Stallone, but I’m a big fan, and I’ve enjoyed most of his movies, even the bad ones. I’d even argue that most of his films are better than critics have given them credit for. Okay, some, like STOP! OR MY MOM WILL SHOOT! (1992) are not.
But his ROCKY movies are all grand entertainment, and the original ROCKY is a genuine cinematic classic. Stallone not only starred as boxer Rocky Balboa, but he also wrote the screenplay, which was also nominated for an Oscar in 1976 but didn’t win.
ROCKY is chock full of memorable lines and conversations. Let’s get right to them.
Hear that line and you know exactly who’s talking. Not exactly a catchphrase, but those two words are instantly associated with Rocky Balboa.
One of the recurring themes in ROCKY is self-worth, as Rocky is constantly trying to overcome the notion that he’s a bum and that his life isn’t worth anything. In one conversation with his trainer Mickey (Burgess Meredith), Mickey says as much:
MICKEY: You’re a bum, Rock. You’re a bum.
ROCKY: I ain’t no bum, Mick. I ain’t no bum.
And again when Mickey takes issue with Rocky’s decision to work as an enforcer for a small time hood rather than work on his boxing skills:
ROCKY: I been coming here for six years, and for six years ya been sticking it to me, and I wanna know how come!
MICKEY: You don’t wanna know!
ROCKY: I wanna know how come!
MICKEY: You wanna know?
ROCKY: I wanna know how!
MICKEY: Okay, I’m gonna tell you! You had the talent to become a good fighter, but instead of that, you become a legbreaker to some cheap, second-rate loan shark!
ROCKY: It’s a living.
MICKEY: It’s a waste of life!
Rocky has a similar conversation with Adrian (Talia Shire):
ROCKY: I can’t do it.
ROCKY: I can’t beat him.
ROCKY: Yeah. I been out there walking around, thinking. I mean, who am I kidding? I ain’t even in the guy’s league.
ADRIAN: What are we going to do?
ROCKY: I don’t know.
ADRIAN: You worked so hard.
ROCKY: Yeah, that don’t matter. ‘Cause I was nobody before.
ADRIAN: Don’t say that.
ROCKY: Ah come on, Adrian, it’s true. I was nobody. But that don’t matter either, you know? ‘Cause I was thinkin’, it really don’t matter if I lose this fight. It really don’t matter if this guy opens my head, either. ‘Cause all I wanna do is go the distance. Nobody’s ever gone the distance with Creed, and if I can go that distance, you see, and that bell rings and I’m still standin’, I’m gonna know for the first time in my life, see, that I weren’t just another bum from the neighborhood.
This pretty much becomes the driving force behind the movie, Rocky’s need to prove himself, not by winning the fight, but simply by not backing down, and going the distance with Creed, something that so far no one else had done.
ROCKY also has its share of comedic lines, like this one by Rocky’s trainer Mickey, one of my favorite lines in the movie, as he tries to light a fire under Rocky to get him to train harder:
MICKEY: You’re gonna eat lightnin’ and you’re gonna crap thunder!
And this exchange between fighter and trainer:
MICKEY: Your nose is broken.
ROCKY: How does it look?
MICKEY: Ah, it’s an improvement.
And this between Rocky and Adrian:
ADRIAN: It’s Thanksgiving.
ROCKY: Yeah, to you it’s Thanksgiving; to me it’s Thursday.
Even Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) gets in on the fun:
APOLLO: Apollo Creed vs. the Italian Stallion. Sounds like a damn monster movie!
Getting back to the theme of self-worth, it’s not just about Rocky, either. Adrian has her own issues with self-esteem, especially when she has to deal with her brother Paulie (Burt Young). This is on display here in one of the film’s most dramatic moments that hasn’t anything to do with boxing:
PAULIE: I don’t want nothin’ from you. I don’t want nothin’ from you. This ain’t no charity case. Get outta my house.
ADRIAN: It’s not just your house.
PAULIE: (to ROCKY): You ain’t no friend no more. Get outta my house, I just says.
ADRIAN: Don’t talk to him like that.
PAULIE: Both of you get out of my house.
ROCKY: Yo… It’s cold outside, Paulie.
[PAULIE grabs a bat]
PAULIE: I don’t want you messin’ her, and I don’t raise you to go with this scum bum! Yeah? Come on! You wanna hit on me? Come on! I’ll break both your arms so they don’t work for ya!
(PAULIE smashes a lamp and then a dinner tray. Adrian screams)
PAULIE: That’s right! I’m not good enough to meet with Gazzo…
PAULIE: That’s what I think of Gazzo! Now you’re a big-shot fighter on your way up, you don’t even throw a crumb to your friend Paulie! When I go out and get your meat every morning! You forgot that! Then I even give you my sister, too!
ADRIAN: Only a pig would say that!
PAULIE: I’m a pig? A pig gives you the best? (He smashes a coffee set) You’re such a loser! I don’t get married because of you! You can’t live by yourself! I put you two together! And you – don’t you forget it! You owe me! You owe me!
ADRIAN:What do I owe you?
PAULIE:You’re supposed to be good to me!
ADRIAN: What do I owe you, Paulie? What do I owe you? I treat you good! I cook for you! I cleaned for you! I pick up your dirty clothes! I take care of ya, Paulie! I don’t owe you nothin’! And you made me feel like a loser! I’m not a loser!
Strangely, as annoying Paulie can be, he ends up being one of the more endearing characters in the entire series, mostly because through everything, he does stay by Rocky and Adrian’s side. But early on, things are different. He’s like that family member you can’t get away from fast enough. Like in this conversation where he’s talking to Rocky about his sister, Adrian:
PAULIE: You like her?
ROCKY: Sure, I like her.
PAULIE: What’s the attraction?
ROCKY: I dunno… she fills gaps.
PAULIE: What’s ‘gaps’?
ROCKY: I dunno, she’s got gaps, I got gaps, together we fill gaps.
PAULIE: Are you ballin’ her?
(He punches Paulie in the shoulder.)
ROCKY: Hey, you don’t talk dirty about your sister.
PAULIE: Are you screwing my sister?
ROCKY: You see, that’s why I can’t connect you with Gazzo. You know that, Paulie. Because you got a big mouth. You know, you just talk too much.
And that’s also why ROCKY has such a good screenplay, as it has realistic dialogue that remains relevant today all these years later. The dialogue isn’t really all that dated.
While its final lines aren’t literary masterpieces, they are certainly memorable, as Rocky screams into the crowd after his bout with Apollo, calling to Adrian repeatedly.
As endings go, it’s a keeper.
I hope you enjoyed this edition of MEMORABLE MOVIE QUOTES and join me again next time when we look at cool quotes from other memorable movies.
As always, thanks for reading!