“… if I can go that distance, ya see, and that bell rings… and I'm still standin', I'm gonna know for the first time in my life … that I weren't just another bum from the neighborhood.”

Rocky Balboa
Rocky (1976)

One of the best motivational videos of all time has got to be, 1976’s “Rocky”. The movie and main character won the hearts and minds of cinemagoers at the time, making it an immediate sensation and one of the best-loved, motivational, feel-good stories in cinema history. So what is it about Rocky that makes it one of the best motivational videos out there?

Unrealized Dreams, Unfulfilled Potential

Well, for starters, Rocky is not just some action-movie about some mumbling, washed-up, small-time club fighter who gets a once in a lifetime shot to go the distance with the heavyweight champion. Sure, the American dream, drama, romance, action… Rocky has it all. But above all it’s a metaphor for life – unfulfilled potential, stepping up and taking a golden shot, it’s about self-respect; it’s about a man and those around him searching for meaning in their shambolic lives and emotional struggles. It’s about perseverance and not quitting. It’s about overcoming the odds and going the distance in the face of adversity. These qualities are embodied in the leading character Rocky and are what makes it such a compelling, “motivational video”.

The Human Spirit & the Man in the Sweat Suit

The story of Rocky not only celebrates the American dream but the human spirit. That part of you that urges you to keep fighting no matter what. The combination of belief, resilience, perseverance, humility, dignity and related qualities are what has us rooting all the way for Rocky. There’s a deeply human element to this rags-to-riches fable. Rocky had that gentle-giant characteristic, out of sync with the times and with few social graces but nonetheless a deeply emotional and caring man who seemed best able to express himself with his fists.

The staccato theme song (“Gonna Fly Now”), that plays out as Rocky, the man in the sweat suit, runs up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (now known worldwide as the “Rocky Steps”) is now such a source of inspiration and a piece of cinema history that busloads of tourists stop at this location all year round and take their chance to run up the Rocky Steps and reaching the top jump up and on down on the spot punching their hands in the air victoriously.

Art Reflecting Life, Life Reflecting Art

As sure as Rocky had to overcome many obstacles in his life, so did Sylvester Stallone in getting the movie onto the silver screen. Stallone himself described writing the movie as a kind of self-therapy. He was just another struggling actor trying to make it who did a bit of screenwriting on the side. The story goes that Stallone, having only $106 dollars in the bank, looking to cheer himself up, spent some of his last few dollars on the Chuck Wepner vs. Mohammed Ali TV Pay-Per-View where incredibly, the outclassed Wepner put up a heroic fight until he was finally beaten in the 15th and final round by Ali. That night, Rocky Balboa was born. Stallone went home and is supposed to have written the first draft of the script in just 3 ½ days.

Stallone himself showed incredible chutzpah and determination, supposedly turning down a succession of offers for the script, until the film producers finally agreed to let Stallone (a complete unknown at the time) star as the main character which he is reported to have done for just minimum wage.

The American Dream

American culture has always been fascinated with this archetype of the underdog hero. It embodies the whole American spirit and the foundations of the country. Of course the reality of the American Dream turns out to be unfulfilled for the vast majority of people. Bruce Springsteen’s anthemic, apparently patriotic, flag-waving, “Born in the USA” was in fact a protest song highlighting this fact, shining a light on a Vietnam Veterans reality where the realization of the American dream couldn’t be further from reality. You could argue that Rocky himself was almost cast-aside into the dustbin of life when divine providence reached down and gave him one last chance to prove himself. Perhaps the difference between Rocky and many of us in “real life” is that he never gave up on his dream so when his chance came he was ready and he grabbed it with both hands!

Not Everybody Can Be Famous, but Everybody Can Be Great

Rocky has become a symbol of all those who attempt to go the distance in life, who attempt to make their dreams a reality, and strive to rise to success through sheer determination. The moral of the story is you don’t need to be the champion, you just need to win your own fight. Everyone’s got there “Rocky Steps” to run up. I’ve certainly got mine. I think it was Martin Luther King who said “Not Everyone Can Be Famous, But Everyone Can Be Great”. Life is about stepping up, taking a one-in-a-million shot and maybe going the distance. So, never give up. And never stop believing. Greatness awaits you.


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