Confession: I’m a Philadelphian and I’ve Never Seen Rocky

Can I even call myself a Philadelphian?

Bronze footprints mark the spot where Rocky Balboa leaped for joy in the classic film Rocky. | Photo by M. Fischetti for Visit Philadelphia

Bronze footprints mark the spot where Rocky Balboa leaped for joy in the classic film Rocky. | Photo by M. Fischetti for Visit Philadelphia

I know a little bit about Rocky, mostly because I grew up around here. I can even imagine scenes: Rocky (real name?) runs through the Italian Market. He chases chickens. He punches gaping slabs of meat in a meat locker. He yells “Adrian!” Adrian wears a beret. At some point, Rocky fights a guy called Drago — although, on second thought, Drago might not appear until a later movie. The chickens, too. In my estimation, there are about 179 Rocky movies … and I’ve seen precisely zero of them. 

There are other seminal films I haven’t seen: Star Wars, Indiana Jones, The Terminator. My lack of late-’70s-and-’80s cinema knowledge makes me a bad 30-something. The fact that I’ve never seen Rocky? This makes me a bad Philadelphian. 

Rocky, both the movie and the character, is Philadelphia’s grand claim to fame, arguably more so than real humans like Grace Kelly or Tina Fey or Joe Frazier (an actual boxer) or Katharine Drexel (an honest-to-God saint). I find this sort of weird. I see tourists taking photos, fists raised, in front of the Rocky statue, and I wonder if they realize he’s not a real person. And then I look at them more closely — this fanny-packed and selfie-sticked bunch delighting in a sculpture of Sylvester

Stallone — and I’m hit with another thought: What am I missing?

I blamed my parents for not forcing me to watch the movie when I was younger, and I called my dad to ask how this parenting misstep occurred. I figured he’s never seen it, either. My dad’s not much of a boxing guy.

“You’ve never seen Rocky?” he said, flabbergasted. “That’s very bad. I never showed it to you because you were never interested. But still? You’ve never seen it still?” 

Apparently Rocky is like the ballet or the opera: Even if you’re not remotely interested in it, you have to see it at least once in your life to prove you’re a real person who knows things.

So I finally sat down to watch it with my husband. (He owns the entire boxed set — who knew?) “No talking,” he said gravely as he loaded the disc into the DVR, handling it as if it were Communion. Throughout the movie, I could feel him looking at me, as if to make sure I was watching hard enough.

A few takeaways: Rocky mumbles. Also, Rocky is funnier, sweeter, than I imagined a movie about people beating the crap out of each other would be. But — but — and here was my fundamental misunderstanding of the movie: Rocky doesn’t win.

“What just happened?” I demanded when the still shot of Adrian embracing a pulpy-faced Rocky signaled that the movie was over and there wouldn’t be a recount.

“It was a split decision! But he made it through all 15 rounds, and Adrian loves him!” my husband said, his eyes actually shining. “It’s a love story at the heart of it.”

Bullshit. Rocky should have won. Sure, it might’ve been trite, a glossy Hollywood ending to a movie that served up the grit and heart and scrappiness of our city in the ’70s. But I guess this is why people love it so much — because you do end up rooting for him, this mumbling, fumbling underdog who somehow managed to snag a statue in front of the Art Museum.

I hear Rocky wins in other movies. Maybe I’ll see them eventually. You know, someday.

Read Also: Rocky: An Oral History »

This article first appeared in the December 2016 issue of Philadelphia magazine.