Cinemas Greatest Scenes Film

Cinemas Greatest Scenes: When Rocky runs up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

By the late 1990s with the exception of Cop Land (1997) and later Creed (2015), Sylvester Stallone was resigned to cranking out predictable action fare. Of course it wasn’t always like that. At the height of his fame Sylvester Stallone was one of Hollywood’s leading old school action heroes. He made a name for himself in films like F.I.ST (1978), Escape to Victory (1981), Nighthawks (1981) and especially in First Blood (1982) as troubled Vietnam veteran John Rambo. As Rambo he would go on to spawn a franchise of films. However, Stallone will always be best remembered for playing Rocky Balboa, a small town boxer from the back streets of Philly, who gets a rare shot at the World Heavyweight Title. Interestingly, Stallone wrote the screenplay to this feel-good classic story of an underdog. In many ways Stallone himself was an underdog when he made Rocky (1976). He bet on himself refusing to sell his script unless he could play the lead. No one expected it would propel him to stardom and Rocky would go on to win Best Picture. Eight franchise films later (between 1976 and 2018) and counting, Stallone is still very much associated with the role of Rocky Balboa.

Rocky is not just a sports film. It is a film about overcoming personal adversity. It is also a film about love. If anything Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Balboa can teach us a lot about the human spirit. What makes Balboa an enduring hero is his humility and realisation that dreams don’t come true without sacrifice and hard work. 

When Rocky Balboa accepts an invitation from Apollo Creed to fight him, so begins a punishing five week long training schedule to get in shape. When we first see Rocky jogging in his gray sweats, he attempts to ascend the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. He fails miserably, exhausted from his effort. This scene is in contrast to the Rocky we see later on in the film, triumphantly with his hands raised in the air having effortlessly climbed those same steps. For Rocky this is a personal victory of his commitment to prove to himself that he is a worthy opponent. 

This famous scene from Rocky has been parodied in popular culture as a tribute to Stallone’s classic countless times over. But the scene in question begins a lot early than Balboa simply leaping his way to the top of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The entire sequence begins with a montage, accompanied by the Bill Conti’s rousing song Gonna Fly, in which Rocky goes through a gruelling training and workout schedule through the streets of Philly and in the gym. Besides the climatic steps ascend, highlights of this montage include Rocky running and carrying red bricks swinging his arms beneath an overhead train, running through a market place and being thrown an orange, attempting one-armed pushups and sprinting along the city’s waterfront in a gorgeous shot filmed by camera operator and steadicam inventor Garrett Brown. 

Some say this is one of the most inspirational rags to riches movie ever made. The Rocky steps scene alone has inspired tourist world over to visit Philadelphia and run up those famous steps. For me personally when Rocky raises his arms in triumph and punches the air, I still get goosebumps. Not bad for a film approaching fifty years old. Interestingly, Stallone would repeat those same heroics in Rocky II (1979) by running up the Philly steps. It too still evokes the same emotions in most fans but maybe not quite like the original. 

5 comments on “Cinemas Greatest Scenes: When Rocky runs up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

  1. This really is a great scene and Rocky is perhaps one of the most misunderstood movies out there – I’ve had discussions about it with people that wouldn’t watch it as they ‘don’t like sports films’ only to watch it and understand why it was an Oscar winner after all.
    Also good to see mention of Copland – another film dripping in fantastic performances many of which were overshadowed by Stallone’s.

  2. I’ve not seen a Sly film all the way through. Is this the one, do you think Robert?

    • If you see one Stallone movie this is it. Maybe add Cliffhanger and Nighthawks to the list and Cop Land is definitely worth checking out. Forget the rest!

  3. I’ve always been a sucker for Stallone movies so I’ve seen most of his films including the most recent action flick “Samaritan” on Prime Video, which had its’ moments… few they were, but I find myself liking Stallone as old aging grumpy characters. Probably one of the reasons I liked the last version of Rocky from 2006 “Rocky Balboa,” and probably why I enjoy him in the Creed movies as well. And even though I enjoyed Rocky II and III (it starts going off the rails in IV), the original Rocky will ultimately always be Stallone’s triumph.

    • Stallone was in the right place at the right time when he made Rocky. But by allowing Rocky and Rambo to take up so much of his career, I feel like it was a disservice in the end. Stallone is not a bad actor, after all he has been nominated for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor. Stallone’s problem with fans and critics is that he has a seemingly limited range as an actor. Either that or no one has really ever given him a go, except maybe James Mangold. Interestingly, Mangold didn’t initially want Stallone for Cop Land. He changed his mind when Stallone promised not to interfere with Mangold’s vision. I think Cop Land largely worked. Stallone was playing against type. That was nice to see.

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