History has judged several of 1977’s Best Picture candidates to be among the greatest movies ever made – the best political drama (All the President’s Men, pictured), the best media satire (Network), and the best character study of a ticking time bomb (Taxi Driver). There was also one of the best musical biopics, the unjustly forgotten Woody Guthrie bio Bound for Glory. Now, Rocky may be one of the best boxing movies, and one of the best underdog stories, but does it really belong in the same league as the other nominees? Perhaps not, but the Academy loves underdog stories – especially when they involve unknown actors who become stars by writing their own movies, as was the case with Sylvester Stallone and his story of a long-shot pugilist.
Plus, the movie had a patriotic, feel-good vibe that contrasted with the grimness and grit of the other nominees. Network did win three of the acting prizes (including a posthumous Best Actor prize for Peter Finch and a Supporting Actress prize for Beatrice Straight’s very brief performance), while All the President’s Men won the fourth (for Supporting Actor Jason Robards). Those two films also won the screenwriting awards, while Director and Best Picture went to Rocky. At least Rocky remains as iconic, in its own way, as the other nominees, even as the franchise it spawned became more and more cartoonish.