Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) is a small-time boxer who seems to be going nowhere in life, as he works day-in and day-out as a collector for a loan shark and fights in sleazy clubs for low-paid reward, to which Rocky is mocked and told that he's nothing but a 'bum,' especially by gym trainer Mickey Goldmill (Burgess Meredith). At the same time, Rocky successfully courts Adrian Pennino (Talia Shire), a painfully shy woman with an alcoholic brother, Paulie (Burt Young). But when the world heavyweight champion boxer Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) chooses Rocky at random as his opponent in a title fight, Rocky realizes he now has the chance to prove that he's not worthless. With Adrian's support and Mickey becoming his trainer and manager, Rocky fights for his self-respect.
Soon after proving himself, even with a split decision loss to Apollo Creed, Rocky expects the good life to follow. He marries Adrian and begins spending the money he earned from the match. But after he fails at both endorsements and a series of low-wage jobs, Rocky realizes the only way he can survive is to begin boxing again. Creed on the other hand, faces criticism from fans to overcome the fight. As a result, he publicly taunts Rocky into a rematch, for which Rocky trains once again with Mickey. In the fifteenth round, Rocky knocks Creed to the ground, falling to the canvas himself in the process. Both fighters struggle to get to their feet, but only Rocky is successful. For the first time, Rocky is declared the World Heavyweight Champion.
After winning the heavyweight title, Rocky takes advantage of his newfound wealth and fame, appearing in multiple advertisements and television programs, and relishing his new celebrity. After defending the title multiple times, he is prepared to retire, but the number one contender, James "Clubber" Lang (played by Mr. T), challenges Rocky publicly. Rocky, after dealing with Mickey's heart attack before the fight, is overpowered by the stronger, hungrier Lang and is knocked out in the second round. Mickey passes away after the fight, and former rival Apollo Creed steps in, training Rocky to fight more in Creed's old style (and in his old Los Angeles gym) and use more guile and skill. In the rematch, Rocky outboxes Lang, tiring the stronger fighter out and eventually knocking him out in the third round. After the fight, Apollo calls in his "favor" for training Rocky, which is a one-on-one match between the two of them with no cameras, no media, just man vs. man in the gym. The film ends as they each throw their first punch.
After winning back his title from Clubber Lang, Rocky continues to live the good life, now that he and Apollo are good friends. However, a new fighter from the USSR, Ivan Drago (played by Dolph Lundgren), has emerged and challenges Rocky to an exhibition match. Apollo fights instead, and the beating he takes from Drago ends with Apollo dying in Rocky's arms in the ring as Drago coldly watches. To avenge Apollo, Rocky challenges Drago to a match, which is to be held on Christmas Day in Moscow. In a montage replete with symbolism, Rocky is shown training in a remote cabin in Siberia with the help of Creed's old trainer Duke, his brother-in-law Paulie, and eventually Adrian, doing exercises such as chopping wood, lifting rocks, running in the snow and climbing a mountain, while Drago is seen in an advanced training facility running on treadmills, utilizing weightlifting machines and injecting steroids to boost his strength. During the fight, Rocky takes the worst beating of his life but refuses to fall, eventually winning over the foreign crowd with his display of courage and determination and he knocks Drago out with seconds left in the final round.
In the aftermath of his fight with Ivan Drago, Rocky Balboa is diagnosed with brain damage and is forced to retire from the ring. Additionally, the Balboa fortune is all gone due to an unscrupulous accountant. Rocky's family returns to their old neighborhood: Adrian returns to the pet store she used to work at, while (in a subplot) Rocky (Robert) Jr. (played by Sylvester Stallone's real son Sage) deals with bullying at his school and Rocky re-opens Mickey's old gym. While training other boxers, Rocky meets a young, hungry boxer named Tommy Gunn (played by real-life fighter Tommy Morrison) and begins training him which results in a strained relationship with Robert. Unfortunately, as Tommy begins his rise to fame under Rocky's wing, a sleazy fight promoter named George Washington Duke convinces Tommy that Rocky is holding him back and Tommy leaves Rocky for Duke. After Tommy wins the heavyweight title, he makes a short speech thanking Duke, and is met with jeers and the familiar chant of "Rocky" from the crowd. Seething from this insult, as well as being called by publicists as "Rocky's robot" and being told that he's "no Rocky Balboa," Tommy decides to seek out his former mentor for a final showdown. Rocky starts to walk away from the public challenge, but Paulie decides to let Tommy have a piece of his mind about how Tommy has treated Rocky after which Tommy punches Paulie. Rocky then challenges Tommy outside. The two proceed in a violent bare-knuckle street brawl, which Rocky wins. Rocky then proceeds to punch Duke for harassing him. In the end, Rocky and Robert reconcile as they run up the steps as father and son.
In Rocky Balboa, sixteen years have passed since his final fight with his former protégé, Tommy "The Machine" Gunn. Long retired, Rocky Balboa still staggers around an ever-changing world; his son is grown and distant, Paulie is working back at the meat plant, and Rocky's wife Adrian has died. Rocky has opened a restaurant named after his wife, which he stocks with mementos of his prime as he tells his old fight stories to customers. But when a computer simulated fight on ESPN depicting a bout between a young Rocky Balboa and the current champion, Mason Dixon (Antonio Tarver) reignites interest in the faded boxer, Rocky discovers he has not lost his fighting spirit and considers an opportunity to prove himself in the ring again. Rocky almost wins the fight but loses in a split decision just like the first film. Rocky is last seen visiting his wife's grave saying, "Yo Adrian, we did it."
Adonis (Donnie) Johnson, the illegitimate son of the late former heavyweight champion Apollo Creed, tracks down Rocky Balboa at Adrian's and asks Rocky to become his trainer. Rocky is reluctant, but eventually agrees. When word gets out that Donnie is Creed's illegitimate son, the handlers of world light heavyweight champion "Pretty" Ricky Conlan, who is forced into retirement by an impending prison term, offer to make Donnie the latter's final challenger—provided that he change his name to Adonis Creed. Donnie balks at first, wanting to forge his own legacy. However, he eventually agrees. While helping Donnie train, Rocky learns he has non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. He is initially unwilling to undergo chemotherapy because it wasn't enough to save Adrian from ovarian cancer. Donnie persuades Rocky to seek treatment and continues training while Rocky recovers. In a battle reminiscent of Apollo and Rocky's first fight, Donnie fights Conlan in Conlan's hometown of Liverpool and surprises almost everyone by going the distance and pushing Conlan to his limit. Conlan wins by split decision, but Donnie wins the respect of Conlan and the crowd, with Conlan calling Donnie the future of the light heavyweight division. Returning to Philadelphia, Donnie and a recovering Rocky both make their way up the Philadelphia Museum steps and look at the skyline.
In January 2016, Sylvester Stallone and MGM CEO Gary Barber confirmed that a sequel to Creed is in development. In January 2016, it was reported that the release date of the second Creed movie was tentatively set for November 2017. Coogler might not return to direct due to scheduling conflicts, but he has confirmed he will still be involved in some capacity. In July of the same month, Stallone initially hinted at a plot with ties to Rocky IV, and then later signed on as screenwriter for the film. Later that month, Stallone confirmed that the opponent from Rocky IV, Ivan Drago will factor into the film's plot. Dolph Lundgren confirmed his casting in the film, with posts to his Instagram page, including videos of his training for conditioning. By September, Stallone stated the film would be released in 2018.This table shows the characters and the actors who have portrayed them throughout the franchise
Italics indicate the actor is not credited and only appears in flashbacks via archive footage from previous films, or through photographs.
A dark grey cell indicates the character was not in the film
At the 49th Academy Awards, Rocky was nominated for ten Academy Awards. Sylvester Stallone was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor, and Best Original Screenplay, with Talia Shire being nominated for Best Actress, and both Burgess Meredith and Burt Young being nominated for Best Supporting Actor. Gonna Fly Now was nominated for Best Original Song, and Rocky itself was nominated for Best Sound Editing, and won Best Picture, Best Director for John G. Alvidson, and Best Editing.
At the 55th Academy Awards, the song "Eye of the Tiger" from Rocky III was nominated for Best Original Song.
On December 7, 2010, Sylvester Stallone was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame and Museum, for paying tribute to boxers in writing and creating the underdog character of Rocky.
On January 10, 2016, Sylvester Stallone won the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Creed.
At the 88th Academy Awards, Sylvester Stallone was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Creed, the film's only nomination.
In total, the Rocky series has received twelve academy awards nominations, winning three.