Rocky Balboa, Hollywood's favorite heavyweight, will be all over AMC today.
The franchise started in 1976 with Rocky (3 p.m., repeats 2:30 a.m.), a little film starring a beefy grade-B actor no one had heard of that became a giant, Oscar-winning hit. Sylvester Stallone, whose previous resume included playing a street tough in The Lords of Flatbush (and a stud in the soft-core porn The Party at Kitty and Stud's), almost through force of will alone got this film made. It seemed destined to fail from the start; who wants to watch an unknown actor in a film about a third-rate boxer getting an unexpected shot at the heavyweight title?
But the movie, with its modest but irrefutable pleasures, proved a big hit. Something about its central conceit, that winning isn't nearly as important as trying and surviving, struck a chord with mid-'70s audiences. Millions of people saw themselves dancing atop the stairs to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, loved the idea of pet turtles named Cuff and Link, and admired Rocky and his never-say-die spirit. When it won the Best Picture Oscar (over at least three superior films, Network, Taxi Driver and All the President's Men), no one flinched.
Too bad for Rocky that Stallone couldn't put the character down; none of the four increasingly narcissistic sequels that followed did the original film any favors. (It wouldn't be until the fifth sequel, 2006's Rocky Balboa, that Stallone recaptured some of the heart of the first film.) But for those who can't get enough of the Italian stallion, today's your day: 1979's Rocky II airs at 5:30 p.m., followed by 1982's Rocky III at 8 p.m., 1985's Rocky IV at 10 p.m. and 1990's Rocky V at midnight.
(For those who really can't get enough of Stallone, there's a Rambo marathon on AMC tomorrow with 1982's First Blood at 6 p.m., followed by 1985's Rambo: First Blood Part II at 8 p.m. and 1988's Rambo III at 10 p.m.)