Stallone is the only actor in the history of American cinema to have starred in a box office number one film across six consecutive decades. He is also one of the most renowned physical culture icons in history. Stallone gained worldwide fame with his starring role in the smash hit Rocky (1976), a sports drama about a struggling boxer, Rocky Balboa, taking on heavyweight champion Apollo Creed. On March 24, 1975,
Stallone saw the Muhammad Ali vs. Chuck Wepner fight. That night Stallone went home, and after three days he had completed the first draft of Rocky. Stallone subsequently denied that Wepner provided any inspiration for the script, however Wepner filed a lawsuit which was eventually settled with Stallone for an undisclosed amount. Other possible inspirations for the film may have included Rocky Graziano’s autobiography Somebody Up There Likes Me, and the movie of the same name. Stallone attempted to sell the script to multiple studios, with the intention of playing the lead role himself. Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff became interested and offered Stallone US$350,000 for the rights, but had their own casting ideas for the lead role, including Robert Redford and Burt Reynolds. Stallone refused to sell unless he played the lead character and eventually, after a substantial budget cut to compromise, it was agreed he could be the star. Upon its release critic Roger Ebert stated that Stallone could become the next Marlon Brando.
In 1977, at the 49th Academy Awards, Rocky was nominated for ten Oscars, including Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay nominations for Stallone. The film went on to win the Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Directing, and Best Film Editing.