The Rocky Paradox

Christmastime. That wonderful time of year when we visit with relatives, claim a spot on the couch and, if we’re lucky, enjoy a movie marathon that some station has thrown together because it’s short of staff and lazy around the holidays. TBS provides us this bit of nostalgia with A Christmas Story all day, while both the Home Alone and Vacation series—particularly Christmas Vacation—are popular picks as well. Other Christmas movies like It’s a Wonderful Life, A Charlie Brown Christmas, Scrooged and Miracle on 34th Street always seem to make the rounds, but you’re really in luck when you find a movie with a bunch of sequels to enjoy for hours on end. Of course you can usually find the Die Hards on somewhere, but for my money, you can’t get more bang for your buck than the Rocky series. So enjoy, because the remainder of this post will basically be a Holiday marathon of Rocky clips.

For starters, the Rocky collection currently includes 6 movies spanning 30 years, most recently 2006’s Rocky Balboa—but let’s take a step back. The original Rocky is in all regards, a cinematic classic of the sports-movie genre. We encounter Rocky Balboa, a simple, hard-working mook with washed-up dreams of becoming a big-time boxing name. Spoiler alert: Rocky doesn’t stay a nobody for long, and gets a once-in-a-lifetime chance to challenge Apollo Creed for the heavyweight title of the world. It’s a split-decision for Creed, but Rocky went the distance, proving that hard work and humility can make any underdog a success. Sound familiar? It should. Because it’s the gosh-darn American dream.

Bam: America. Also, it’s the 70’s.

Hollywood even provides us with the perfect cinematic ending, encapsulating Rocky as an icon in the American sports-movie canon:

Creed: “There ain’t gonna be no re-match. There ain’t gonna be no re-match”.

Balboa: “Don’t want one.”

Enter Rocky II.

Guess what. There’s a re-match. Somehow, Rocky, the everyman underdog who by no means should have been allowed into the ring with a heavyweight champion in the first place, gets a re-match and goes on to defeat Apollo Creed to become champion of the world.

It’s at this point where the Rocky series crosses the threshold from cinematic excellence into the utterly ridiculous. This is the textbook case of Hollywood hitting on a successful movie and just wringing all the money out of it with pointless sequel after sequel that are completely irreconcilable with the initial storyline and character cast. Hollywood took something beautiful and basically ruined it.

But wait…if the pure evil of Hollywood never violated the perfect ending of the original Rocky, America never would have seen Rocky IV, the perfect cinematic embodiment of the 1980’s and metaphor for the Cold War itself. In fact, it’s not that much of a stretch to claim that Sylvester Stallone and Rocky IV literally won the Cold War. Within five years, Gorbachev was tearing down that wall and the U.S.S.R. was back to being just R. (for Russia), for fear of the imminent release of Rocky V.

In fact, Rocky IV contains the single greatest training montage of all time. Which is exactly what the 1980’s were known for, on top of cocaine and awesomeness. This is a 2-parter, so get comfortable:

Feast on this. All 8 minutes of its glory—glory and steroids, apparently (Video 2, @1:30). Maybe Bud Selig should just send Ryan Braun to Russia as punishment, because clearly PED’s are NOT THE AMERICAN WAY.

Yeah, no steroids at all in America. Instead, this is how we get pumped-up in the USA:

But that’s not all. Here’s a crucial scene where Rocky contemplates life after losing his best friend, Apollo Creed (yes, a lot happened after Hollywood violated the original Rocky):

Feel those lyrics. The song, “No Easy Way Out” was written specifically for Sylvester Stallone’s “emotions.” And yes, by the time the Rocky series came to Rocky IV, it was reduced to a clip-show as a movie… A clip-show of awesomeness, that is.

Additionally, consider that without Rocky III neither “The Eye of the Tiger” nor Mr. T would be a thing. I don’t know about you, but that’s not a world I would want to live in, folks.

And there you have the Rocky paradox. Had the original Rocky, basically a perfect sports-movie, never been desecrated by Hollywood, America would never have met Mr. T nor gone on to win the Cold War, and as a result the 1990’s would not have been the same period of prosperity we know them as. Just like Rocky Balboa himself, the Rocky franchise never gave up, never stopped—even when it most definitely should have—and for that, we should all be thankful.

So, as you engage in your holiday festivities, remember the lessons of Rocky. When you’ve had enough food and drink, ask yourself this: would Rocky go on? Even in the face of a perfect cinematic ending, Rocky went on. Rocky is still going on, regardless of the consequences. It’s Christmas, enjoy it folks.