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Sylvester Stallone Says Producers Offered Him Money To Give Up The Lead Role In Rocky

In cinema history, few actors have been as inseparably linked to their respective roles as Sylvester Stallone has with Rocky Balboa. But before throwing any punches in the ring as the Italian Stallion, Stallone had to fight to keep himself cast as the underdog hero.

Stallone originated the character of Rocky Balboa on the screen and the page, as the 1976 film was based on an original screenplay written by Stallone, who was inspired after watching a boxing match between Chuck Wepner and heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali. The Manhattan native's project gained the interest of potential producers, but with one catch — they did not want Stallone in the titular role, as the struggling actor was barely known for bit parts up to that point. The producers were more than willing to get green to try and further pry Stallone from the part.

In a 1977 interview with BBC, when asked how much producers were willing to pay, Stallone answers, "It went up to about $265,000 ... to stay away." However, despite being flat broke at the time, Stallone knew that going through with the film as he envisioned was the right thing to do. "I knew that if I sold it ... I would become very bitter about for having sold out because my one love was to at least fail on my own terms." Of course, the little-known actor hardly failed in the end.

Stallone went the distance and then some

Sylvester Stallone may not have been who studios initially wanted to play Rocky Balboa, but in the over four decades since the original film's release, it's practically impossible to imagine anyone else in the role. When released in November 1976, the film's minuscule under $1 million budget turned into a box office champion of well over $200 million, making it the year's highest grosser.

The underdog film struck gold again at the Academy Awards, winning for best editing, best director, and best picture, beating out notable productions such as "Network" and "Taxi Driver." Stallone himself — the one producers initially didn't bank on — also received nominations for both his original screenplay and lead performance.

The original film has spawned a massive franchise with eight sequels, the most recent being 2023's "Creed III." The film is the latest box office smash not only in the "Rocky" franchise but also the spin-off "Creed" series that saw Stallone reprise his iconic role, now as a trainer to the son of Apollo Creed, in the first two installments. The first "Creed" from 2015 even saw Stallone garner a second Oscar nomination for his performance, nearly forty years after his game-changing character punched his way onto movie screens.

Just as Rocky's story from a million-to-one underdog to boxing legend inspired countless moviegoers over the decades, Stallone's similar rags-to-riches journey continues to teach us all that going the distance more than pays off in the finish.