Rocky road

November 16, 1990

THE ''ROCKY'' saga began when a 30-year-old Sylvester Stallone, a few films behind him, wrote a script about a Philadelphia boy named Rocky Balboa, a boxer who wanted a shot at the big time.

The studios were interested, but they didn't want to do the film with Stallone. They wanted a bigger box-office name, someone like Burt Reynolds or James Caan. Stallone told them that he was part of the deal, and if they didn't want to do it, he would.

He did. Somehow. It cost less than $1 million to make the film. That was 1976. The movie went on r,9p,21l to earn $56 million at the box office, won a number of Academy Award nominations and walked away with best picture of the year.

Thus began a series that is now 14 years old and may continue. Stallone says no, but he has said no before.

The saga of ''Rocky,'' film by film:

* ''Rocky'' (1976) Rocky Balboa faces the fight of his life as a third-rate boxer who agreed to meet champion Apollo Creed in the ring. It was supposed to be strictly for show, but Rocky took it seriously and went the entire 15 rounds. It was a draw. ****

* ''Rocky II'' (1979) Rocky faces the fight of his life when Creed, pressured by those who said he lost to Rocky, asked for a rematch. Rocky's win was decisive. ***

* ''Rocky III'' (1982) Rocky faces the fight of his life when Creed, now Rocky's manager, arranged to have Rocky meet Clubber Lang in the ring. Clubber was played by Mr. T. ***

* ''Rocky IV'' (1985) Rocky faces the fight of his life after Creed returned to the ring to meet Drago, a Russian giant played by Dolf Lundgren. Drago put Creed away, so Rocky had to even the score, which he did by going to the Soviet Union. He won, and the film ended with Rocky making a plea for international peace. ***

* ''Rocky V'' (1990) Rocky faces the fight of his life after retiring in financial ruin and returning to his roots. The brain is a bit scrambled, but a greedy promoter wants Rocky to return to the ring to defend his title against a hungry young fighter.

''Rocky'' has also been a champ at the box office, one reason why the series continues on. The first ''Rocky'' earned $56 million, the second, $42 million, the third, $66 million, and the fourth, $76 million.

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