The producers wanted to buy the script, sure, but they had a stipulation that Stallone wasn’t going to allow, and that was that someone else had to play the lead character. Think about it: sure, Stallone had been in a few things, but he certainly wasn’t a box-office draw. He was relatively unknown, and a name like Burt Reynolds would have been a much better way to get people into theaters.
Man, that would have been a strange movie. How could he turn down that kind of money? Well, he realized he had figured the whole poverty thing out, and he decided he was going to go the distance with this film. It was his, and he was going to star in it come hell, high water, or once again living on the street. And the studio agreed.
Just Like in the Movie
Okay, Ali won. He’s still probably the most dominant boxer to have ever stepped into the ring, after all. Wepner was the king of dirty fighting, and managed to knock Ali down – though the match’s tape proves that Wepner stepped on Ali’s foot and shoved him instead of downing him with a proper punch. And, yet, the fight was sufficiently stirring for Stallone to be inspired.
An absolute underdog went up against the greatest boxer in the world and held his own for a good amount of time. Stallone raced home and started banging out a script, finishing it in ninety pages and three days. Only about a third of what he originally wrote made it into the film, but it was still a flurry of artistic ability.
Shopping the Script
A little while later, Stallone was at a casting call for a part, but quickly realized that he wasn’t right for the role he was auditioning for. While at the audition, he happened to mention the cool script he had just written, and the producers were a little interested. They told him to bring it by later. He did so, and they loved it.
They wanted to buy the script from him and offered him a price of three hundred and sixty thousand dollars. How much is that now, you might ask. Well, it’s a little over two million dollars. Stallone had no car, about a hundred dollars in the bank, and had just sold his dog. He turned the offer down.
Time to Make a Movie
Stallone had acting experience, but acting and making a movie are two very different things. Even more, the studio gave him a mere million dollars to make the film – even back then that wasn’t a lot for a movie. Amazingly, Stallone was able to keep the project under budget by hiring friends and family for roles, using handheld cameras, and keeping most shots to only a single take. So the movie was there.
The next part was to start showing it to audiences and members of the critical press to find out what they thought of it. And while the test audiences that saw the film had positive things to say about it, the critics didn’t seem to like it as much – at least, that’s what it seemed like to Stallone.
A Critical Darling
The movie’s real test was when it was screened at The Director’s Guild, shown to over nine hundred leading industry types. The theater was packed, and Stallone was expecting the same kinds of things as the general test audiences were saying. But that’s not what he got. The laughs didn’t come when they were supposed to. The fight scenes didn’t seem to have any energy to them. Even the legendary training montage didn’t make anybody leap up and run to the gym.
After the movie ended, people left the theater quietly, and Stallone thought he had blown his last big chance. He was saddened and humiliated, and he walked out alone. When he exited, everyone from the theater was standing and waiting for him, and they broke into wild applause.