Sports movies tend to be very formulaic even though the formula still works in sports from football to gymnastics to golf. It is hard to do anything novel or new because it is all ground people have already made movies about. Spots movies tend to fall into one of a handful of categories:
1) The lovable loser wins big against all the odds. This is the Rocky movies, at least the first two and is perhaps the most common.
2) Sports movies about something other than sports: I call this the Field of Dreams movie. Field of Dreams is a great movie and it contains a lot of baseball but it really isn't about baseball.
3) The team version of number 1 or the Bad News Bears movie.
4) The lewd comedy sports movie, for example Slap Stick and Caddyshack.
All sports movies contain a little of 1/3 and a little of 2. The against all odds winner is especially common, from the Karate Kid (which is kind of sketchy when viewed with jaded eyes today) to Rudy which is just a great movie to Miracle detailing the defeat of the evil empire's hockey team (Rocky III with hockey sticks and better acting).
For my money the first Rocky movie is by far the best. As a kid I liked Rocky III and Rocky IV much more than I and II because they were more action packed and had the big theme thing going on. What red-blooded American man didn't want to see Rocky pummel the cartoonish Ivan Drago? Now as I am a lot older and arguably modestly wiser I kind of appreciate what is going on and the humanity on display in spite of the over-the-top violence of boxing in the first two movies. As a side-note, I don't care who you are or how tough you are, the beating Rocky takes in Rocky III and IV would kill someone.
Part of what makes the first Rocky movie great is that Rocky doesn't "win" at the end. Apollo Creed keeps the title in a split decision. It sets up the second movie beautifully and Rocky II is one of the best sequels of all time, not The Empire Strikes Back good (the all time best sequel ever) but still great. It is just a all time great movie. In the second Rocky film the scene at the end when he wins (spoiler alert!) and says "Yo Adrian, I did it!" is still a tear jerker and spine chiller but it is not as good as late in the first fight. Likewise when Rocky is in the meat cooler and punching the hanging side of beef, his trainer Duke (played by Tony Burton and appearing in every Rocky film along with with Stallone and the guy who plays Paulie, Burt Young. I didn't know that before tonight). As Apollo is working out marketing arrangements and is completely disinterested in the fight, Duke is watching the TV and seeing the south paw challenger Rocky cracking ribs on sides of beef. His face gets more and more troubled, another great example of acting without saying a word. You can watch it here. Another great scene. Not my favorite though. This is my favorite.
I will tell you what happens and then you can decide for yourself starting at 5:20 in the clip below. After a long bout where Apollo dominates but can't knock Rocky out, he finally lands what should have been the knockout blow. He goes to his corner with his arms upraised. This was supposed to be an exhibition, nothing serious and Apollo (and everyone else including Rocky) expected it to be over quickly. The champ is wearing a fancy outfit, Rocky is wearing a cheap robe with a sponsor name on the back. Another favorite interplay happens as Rocky and Mick get ready to walk out. Mick asks about the sponsor name on the back of the robe and Rocky tells Mick that his brother-in-law gets paid and Rocky gets to keep the robe. Mick just replies "shrewd" which cracks me up. It is the polished boxer versus the fighter. Anyway here is the clip:
Rocky, down on the mat. His friend and trainer Mickey is urging him to stay down in his raspy voice: "Down, down, stay down!". He proved his point, just stay down and take the loss. There is no shame in losing to the champ. Of course Rocky doesn't stay down and struggles to his feet. Apollo (played masterfully by Carl Weathers, in stark contrast to his work in Predator) turns with his hands still in the air but he slowly drops them as he stares in shocked disbelief that Rocky is getting up yet again. Then to top it off, Rocky urges him on "come on" and as the announcer says he can't believe it, neither can Apollo. Carl Weathers doesn't say a word but that scene is just masterfully done. You can see him go from relieved triumph to resigned disbelief. As the fight ends Rocky is pummeling Apollo but Apollo wins the decision and both men at the end say there will be no rematch which of course means that a rematch is assured. Carl Weathers is great in this movie, even better than Stallone.
I can watch that scene over and over. This isn't a deep or controversial post, just something I was thinking about after watching Rocky last night. What say you, do you have a different favorite scene in a sports movie?