Rocky 2: When Sylvester Stallone Became an Action Movie Director
While Rocky is great, Stallone Really Finds His Own As The Director of Rocky 2 (1979).
In 2018 it’s quite difficult to imagine what a sleeper hit like Sylvester Stallone’s original Rocky (1976) was. A movie made for around a million dollars that made well over $225 million which in today’s currency is somewhere in the region of $967 million dollars. In today’s cinema the expectation is that big budget movies bring in big box office returns.
You might have to go back to The Blair Witch Project (1999) to see a movie land such massive receipts out of nowhere and have such a cultural impact and even then it wouldn’t have the legacy of Rocky. The success of Rocky was rare, it gripped the imagination of the movie going public and reinvigorated mainstream interest in sports drama as a movie genre. The producers of the movie were hungry for more.
Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky 2 Script
Stallone would once again be on screenwriting duties, this was a real boon to Rocky II (1979). One of the real successes of both of these films is Stallone’s scripts. The script for the second movie has all the quality, wit, interesting character dynamics and spectacle of the first but its real magic comes from the fact that it’s a seamless sequel.
The action picks up from the end of the first film. it makes the most of the first film’s brilliance and uses that climax as a jump off point for the action to continue. This allows for development of both plot and character. This sequel script also does something that’s still refreshing and rare in action movies, the point of view of the antagonist is taken into account and weaved into the story.
One of the real highlights of the plot is Apollo Creed’s all encompassing obsession with getting back into the ring with Rocky. Every character arc is just as strong and the magic of the first film was ready to be captured in Stallone’s script but there was a complication.
Stallone Steps into the Director’s Chair
John G. Avildsen, who had done such an incredible job directing the first movie in the franchise, so incredible that he won the best director Oscar for it, was deep in pre-production for Saturday Night Fever (1977) and decided not to take the directors chair for the sequel to Rocky.
United Artists were reluctant to hire Stallone to direct on the grounds that his wrestling drama Paradise Alley (1978) didn’t perform well. Rocky’s producers Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff aided Stallone’s bid for the directors chair, they really campaigned to get Stallone to direct as they knew how much input he had on the first movie. Stallone’s real skill as a director in Rocky II was that he kept the tone and style of the first film. The continuity from the first film to this is virtually flawless, every tiny detail has been considered.
When that’s placed into the context of a movie made in a pre home video market it’s an element that could easily have fallen away from the sequel but the continuity of the Rocky Balboa family saga is part of the franchise’s appeal. In this era of binge worthy movies and television where every single frame is scrutinised Stallone’s attention to detail would be the envy of any continuity based show today.
Rocky 2’s Ultimate Legacy
Directorially what is achieved overall is a development of the visual language of the first movie. Stallone shapes his storytelling around his cast in ways which are not always obvious but always carry an incredible payoff for the audience.
Yes, you could level the criticism that the franchise takes a soap opera approach to its storytelling but that’s really just a homage to the golden age of Hollywood and it actually feels fresh in an action movie franchise. You don’t see it very much and even when you do the more emotion driven approach doesn’t tend to be dealt with very well.
Rocky II, like Rocky was a massive success, nearly making as much at the box office as the original. it effectively cements the franchise and is as completely engaging as the first with the original cast returning, an awesome score and fantastic direction on Stallone’s part. If you’re of the view that sequels are bad, take a ringside seat and let Rocky II prove you wrong.
What are your favorite memories from Stallone’s Rocky II? Let us know in the comments or on our Facebook page!