Sylvester Stallone in 'Rocky'. Photo courtesy of Everett Collection.
5. The story of club fighter Rocky Balboa going toe-to-toe with heavyweight champion Apollo Creed came to Stallone after seeing a similar 15-round bout between Muhammad Ali and unknown club fighter Chuck Wepner. Stallone was so inspired he banged out the first draft of “Rocky” in three and a half days.
At that point, Stallone only had $106 to his name, and he and his wife were so flat broke they had to sell the family dog. Producers Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff offered Stallone $20,000 for the polished script, hoping to cast a big name in the lead role, like Ryan O’Neal, Robert Redford or Burt Reynolds. Because he knew there was only one man to play “The Italian Stallion”, Stallone refused, offering to play the part for free. The producers kept coming back with more money for the script, but Stallone continued to refuse them. Winkler and Chartoff finally relented, offering Stallone $340.00 a week and the legal minimum of $20,000 for the screenplay.
“Rocky” was shot in 28 days on a tight budget of $1 million, with the climactic fight scene shot in one long day. Thanks to the story’s incredible heart, the film was a surprise hit, grossing over $225 million worldwide, earning Stallone his only two Oscar nominations, and making him a pretty darn good rags-to-riches story in his own right.