While Rocky Balboa and Sylvester Stallone have become synonymous in many ways, history could have been a lot different as Rocky could have starred a different actor in the leading role.
45 years after Rocky premiered, the Rocky franchise currently consists of eight movies and has made more than $1.7 billion at the box office,
with a third Creed installment to be released in 2023 and talks for a Drago spinoff. Rocky was a very personal project for Sylvester Stallone, who created Rocky Balboa and wrote Rocky’s first draft, which is why is difficult to imagine a world in which Sylvester Stallone didn’t play Rocky.
After reprising his role as Rocky Balboa in Creed and Creed II, Sylvester Stallone will not return for Creed III. According to both Stallone and director/star
Michael B. Jordan, Creed III will focus on Adonis and his family entirely, and thus there would be no room for Rocky in the film.
While it makes sense for the Creed franchise to move away from Rocky in order to make Adonis’ story better, Rocky’s absence from Creed III comes as Sylvester Stallone makes his dissatisfaction over producer Irwin Winkler’s handling of the Rocky franchise public.
In a now-deleted Instagram post, Stallone, who doesn’t own the movie rights to Rocky, accused Winkler of withholding ownership rights to Rocky, followed by another deleted post in which Stallone labeled the upcoming Ivan Drago spinoff as a cash grab.
While the specifics of the legal battle for the movie rights to Rocky are complex, Stallone’s sense of ownership over Rocky comes from the fact the actor created Rocky Balboa and wrote the very first Rocky draft.
Before Rocky hit theaters, Sylvester Stallone’s only major credit had been an acting role in The Lords Of Flatbush, meaning that he was still trying to make a name for himself in Hollywood by
the time he wrote the Rocky script. After auditioning for a role for which Stallone himself admits he was not suitable, the actor, who had recently moved on to California, pitched Rocky
to the producers and was asked to bring the script he had written. According to Stallone, the Rocky script came to be after he watched Chuck Wepner defeat
the multi-champion Muhammad Ali in 1975, inspiring Stallone to write a story about the underdog who would fight hard to win – both inside the ring and in life.
Stallone’s Rocky script was eventually bought and made into a movie, but Sylvester Stallone almost didn’t get to play Rocky Balboa.
The studio had other names for the role in mind and had history gone that way, the Rocky Balboa character and the Rocky franchise as a whole would have been very different – even if Rocky’s story itself would’ve remained pretty much the same.
Although the producers were very much interested in the Rocky script Sylvester Stallone had written, they were envisioning the movie with a high-profile actor playing Balboa.
That shows how confident the producers and the studio were at the Rocky script Stallone had offered, as they believed it deserved a Hollywood star as the lead actor.
Some of the names considered for Rocky Balboa were Burt Reynolds, James Caan, Robert Redford, and Ryan O’Neal, all of which had much longer and more established careers than Stallone at the time.
However, Sylvester Stallone declined the initial offer of $360,000 for the script, a risky move considering how Stallone was having financial problems and even
had to sell his dog. After some negotiation and Stallone being adamant about playing Rocky Balboa, the Rocky movie was given a budget of $1.1 million and the Rocky Balboa part was given to Sylvester Stallone.
Had the studio gone for a bigger name to play Rocky Balboa instead of Sylvester Stallone, it is likely that the same would have happened to the Adrian part. Initially,
the producers were also considering more established actresses to play Adrian in Rocky, including Cher – who had already starred in productions
like The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour and Cher. Carrie Snodgress, who by then was already an Oscar nominee, was also considered for the Adrian role.
Snodgress was, in fact, Rocky’s director John G. Avildsen’s top choice to play Adrian, but negotiations fell through. Other names considered were Susan Sarandon and Bette Midler, although they were not as established names as Cher and Carrie Snodgress.
In a world where an established actor like James Caan had played Rocky, a more famous actress like Cher or Carrie Snodgress playing the role of
Rocky’s Adrian would’ve made sense. That said, just like it’s fortunate that Stallone got to play Rocky, it’s a good thing Talia Shire eventually got the Adrian role,
as the actress crafted a perfect contrast to Balboa with her Adrian – which made their relationship so interesting.
In a way, Rocky Balboa’s struggles through the streets of Philadelphia represented Sylvester Stallone’s own journey as a young actor with almost no money trying to make it into Hollywood.
For example, Rocky’s dog, Butkus, was Sylvester Stallone’s own dog – the one he had previously sold. There was an earnestness in Stallone’s portrayal of Rocky, not just because their journeys were somewhat similar,
but also because Stallone had created the character and knew him better than no one. Had anyone else played Balboa, that actor would have only the script to inform them who Rocky Balboa was.
Even if Rocky’s story was still there, Rocky Balboa himself would have come off as a very different character.