Sylvester Stallone Wrote the ‘Rocky’ Script in Only 3 Days

Sylvester Stallone became a superstar after writing and starring in Rocky, a story about a poor Italian-American boxer who gets a shot at becoming world heavyweight champion. The movie, which was released in 1976, catapulted Stallone to stardom and opened the door for his career as an action movie star. 

Even though Rocky had a small budget and its production studio didn’t believe it would be successful, the film was extremely popular and became one of the most recognizable franchises in all of cinema. A slew of sequels have been released over the years, and today the story lives on through Creed, a film franchise that stars Michael B. Jordan. 

As successful as Rocky was, it didn’t take long for Stallone to write or film the movie. In fact, he wrote the entire screenplay in only three days, an enormous feat for anybody. 

Sylvester Stallone wrote ‘Rocky’ in just 3 days

Stallone got the inspiration for Rocky after watching a boxing match between Muhammad Ali and Chuck Wepner. According to a 2005 interview he did with Howard Stern, Stallone wrote the script quickly but had to make numerous changes to it in order to streamline the story. 

“It sounds pretentious, but it took three days—of which 90 percent was terrible,” Stallone said. “But the idea was there. That was it. And then after that, it took maybe 25 rewrites. You have to keep going, like, one day you’ll say, ‘Can we make the Black guy Jamaican? Can we make this guy—so you have to—[imitates Jamaican patois]—you have to change the dialogue.”

He filmed ‘Rocky’ in only 28 days

Sylvester Stallone punches Dolph Lundgren in a scene from the film 'Rocky IV', 1985.
Sylvester Stallone punches Dolph Lundgren in a scene from the film ‘Rocky IV’, 1985. | United Artists/Getty Images

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Unfortunately, things only became more difficult after Stallone finished the Rocky script. The studio he was working with didn’t believe the movie would be commercially successful without a big star attached, so they gave him minimal resources to complete it. 

They also added stipulations that included the right to fire him at any time within 14 days if he caused problems, reduced the film’s budget to $900,000, and gave him only 28 days to shoot. 

Sylvester Stallone says he produced his best work when he had nothing

Years later, Stallone wonders why he’s unable to work at the pace he once was. 

“Why can’t I do that every time? What happened?” Stallone asked Stern. 

Later in the interview, Stallone noted that as entertainers become more successful, they lose some of the edge that drove them to their initial success. He thinks this might be the resason why he was able to pull of Rocky under such stressful conditions. 

“It’s great when you’re working out there and you change in the back of a pickup truck, there’s a certain kind of energy about it, and you don’t become so caught up in my right angle, my makeup, this and that,” Stallone said. “And things happen that are so visceral … As we become more pampered, more spoiled, more reserved, we take a little longer getting to the set, this and that. And you know what? You lose your edge. There’s no doubt about it. Everyone’s best work, usually, is in the first five years.”