The Rocky franchise is nothing short of iconic. Sylvester Stallone’s 1976 breakout role not only established him as the memorable star he’s since become, he also wrote the Rocky screenplay in just under four days while he was struggling actor living in Hollywood-- who had to sell his dog to pay his rent.
He thankfully bought back his beloved pup Butkus when he was given the go-ahead to star in his film, even settling to take the train all the way to Philadelphia just so he could bring the bull mastiff with him to set. After Rocky went on to become the highest-grossing film of the year and win three Oscars, including Best Picture. Sylvester Stallone has since had a pivotal role in seven more Rocky movies, yet was never given full ownership of the series. He tried. Here’s how he tells it:
I mentioned it a few times because after Rocky II came out and made a ton of money and then Rocky III hit and made more than all of them, I said I’d like to have some ownership since I invented it. And that never happened. So I have zero ownership of Rocky.
Over 40 years later, Stallone is speaking out about his lack of ownership of the franchise he created. He has now explained to Variety that he’s still sore about not seeing money from the series that he could have left to his children after his death. Rocky producers, including Irwin Winkler, are reportedly surprised by his comments since he’s made millions on the role over the years.
Sylvester Stallone also claims responsibility on himself for not pushing the issue enough. When he was paid for the first Rocky, he’d come off making $1400 the year before, so he was really just happy to receive his $2.5 million (though Winkler claims he made way more than that). Stallone continued with:
I think there was a certain code of business conduct, maybe not as much now, but back then, that you don’t ruffle the feathers of the golden goose. The studio is the power, the agency relies upon them, and the attorneys are the go-betweens. When I finally confronted them [just before Rocky IV in 1985], I said, ‘Does it bother you guys that I’ve written every word, I’ve choreographed it, I’ve been loyal to you, I’ve promoted it, directed it and I don’t have 1% that I could leave for my children?’ And the quote was, ‘You got paid’ And that was the end of the conversation.
The Rocky icon also claims the studios had a 100 different licenses regarding his character that likely made hundreds of millions that he never saw a penny of. Although the actor was never given creative ownership of the property, he was paid millions for playing the role, reportedly recently receiving $15 million for his supporting role in Creed II and collecting upfront and backend paychecks throughout the franchise.
He does have a point; Sylvester Stallone wrote the films. But the business of Hollywood is by no means cut and dry. Without studio support, he certainly wouldn’t have been able to make Rocky the massive success it still is today. In hindsight he would have likely signed a different contract, but he didn’t know as a 20-something up-and-comer, as he does now.
You can see Sylvester Stallone back as Rambo in Rambo V: Last Blood coming to theaters on September 20.