Veteran bands sometimes release a self-titled album in the middle of their career. These groups have already established themselves in the popular imagination, but they use the self-titled album to reintroduce themselves or signal a return to the basics. For instance, Mötley Crüe released their only album without their iconic frontman Vince Neil. Blink-182 shifted into a more mature direction with their self-titled album, and Metallica focused on streamlined, hook-heavy radio rock. Regardless of the reason, these bands demand attention and signify that something is going to be different.
From 1976 to 1990, there were five Rocky movies. However, there were no sequels for the next 15 years, despite Sylvester Stallone’s attempts. In a 2022 Instagram post reminiscing about the sixth installment of the franchise, which was released in 2006, Stallone stated, “It was the toughest challenge I ever had. Took over 12 years to make happen. No one wanted to make it. Absolutely no one. It was considered a joke.” However, Stallone broke with tradition and did not call it Rocky VI. Instead, he titled it Rocky Balboa, similar to established bands using self-titled albums to signal a change.
The first Rocky movie was a labor of love for Sylvester Stallone. The 1976 film, which won Best Picture at the Oscars, had a plotline that mirrored Stallone’s inspirational story. The film’s success turned Stallone into a star, and he wrote and directed a series of sequels. However, the ‘90s were not kind to Stallone, and Rocky V was a lackluster finale to the franchise. Stallone was also experiencing personal struggles, which he drew upon for Rocky Balboa.
Rocky Balboa is a character piece and a study of grief. Rocky is older, sadder, and running an Italian restaurant named after his deceased wife, Adrian. Stallone’s vulnerability as Rocky is what gives the movie its emotional core. Rocky Balboa is a man whose best days are behind him. He doesn’t want to be champ again, but he wants to reconnect with the person he once was. Stallone’s performance is undeniably slower and wearier in 2006 than it was in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Rocky Balboa is a return to the character’s and the franchise’s roots.
Rocky Balboa is clumsily plotted and indifferently acted at times. Stallone lays it on thick, but the vulnerability in his performance is what makes the film so moving. Rocky Balboa is the forgotten connective tissue between the original Rocky movies and Creed. It’s a strange little island that occupies a unique space in the franchise. The Creed films helped restore the franchise’s legacy, but Rocky Balboa’s personal take on Rocky’s not-so-golden years makes it a worthy finale in its own right.
At the end of the film, Rocky visits Adrian’s grave and says, “Yo, Adrian, we did it. We did it.” That sentiment is expressed with immense relief, and it seems like Stallone feels the same as his onscreen alter ego. Rocky Balboa is the work of a filmmaker who loved his creation so much he was intent on giving him the proper sendoff. The film’s poignancy comes from the fact that Stallone felt he owed it to Rocky.