Sylvester Stallone was, and in some measure will forever be, Rocky Balboa. The underdog boxer character he created would define his career, his professional and personal arch. A modern rags-to-riches story, Rocky won the Golden Globe for Best Film – Drama and paved the way for his three Oscars and the global success which would make Stallone a pop-culture icon and hero worldwide.
Stallone wrote the movie – he was a total unknown then – and lobbied hard with producers at United Artists to let him play the title role (they had other ideas, as we'll see). John G. Avildsen directed with admirable thriftiness (the budget was a mere $900,000) and created a blockbuster and legendary franchise (six sequels, the last one being Creed in 2015).
At the 34th Golden Globe Awards, held on January 29, 1977, at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, Stallone saw all his dreams come true. He didn't win the award for Best Actor (Peter Finch, for Network, took that honor), but he celebrated as if he had won the heavyweight title. At the Globes “Sly” Stallone had to fight against champs like Robert De Niro (Taxi Driver) and Dustin Hoffman (Marathon Man).
Out of its six Globe nominations, Rocky won only for Best Film. Both Avildsen and Talia Shire (Best Actress nominee in the role of Rocky's love “Adrian!”) had no chance against Network, whose director, Sidney Lumet and actress Faye Dunaway won the Globes. Speaking of which, here is the list of nominees for Best Film – Drama that amazing year: Network, All the President's Men, Bound for Glory, Voyage of the Damned, - and Rocky, which came out of nowhere to take the lead.
Bill Conti's acclaimed score was nominated too, but Kenny Ascher won the Globe for A Star is Born (the film that dominated the Comedy/Musical side that year). And yet Rocky's main theme song, "Gonna Fly Now" – with Rocky running up the stairs of Philadelphia's City Hall – not only was a top-of-the-charts hit but also became the song of an era and the soundtrack to a winning attitude.
Stallone's script about struggling boxer Rocky Balboa who has the chance of a lifetime – a match against champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers in the film) – was appreciated by United Artists, but it was viewed as a possible vehicle for A-list stars as Robert Redford, Burt Reynolds or James Caan. Stallone appealed to the producers to be given a chance to star in the film. He later said that he would never have forgiven himself if the film became a success with someone else in the lead. His perseverance paid off.