Hollywood celebrities earn millions of dollars from the movies they make. Depending on their demands, role, and screen time, stars potentially make more through royalties. But did you know that the creator of the Rocky franchise, Sylvester Stallone, was not so fortunate?
Sylvester Stallone, the lead actor, and creator of the Rocky franchise, admitted that he unwittingly signed away his ownership and ultimately lost an equity stake in the Rocky franchise. He never received licensing or merchandising revenue.
The Rocky Franchise
In 1975, struggling actor Sylvester Stallone was offered $360,000 for the script of Rocky. Despite being strapped for cash and selling his dog to make ends meet, Stallone insisted that he direct and play the lead role for the film.
He was granted a small budget of $900,000 and was only given 28 days to shoot the film. Despite the challenging circumstances, Stallone finished the movie and created a name for himself in Hollywood. (Source: Fantastic Facts)
The first installation of Rocky was so successful. It created its franchise with six Rocky films and two spinoffs, Creed and Creed II. All of the movies grossed millions of dollars both in the domestic and worldwide box offices—all films combined, the franchise made about $1.7 billion.
Metro Goldwyn Mayer Studios (MGM) owns the franchise. All films did significantly well, but only the first installation of the franchise received nominations and won the Academy Awards. The first film won Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Film Editing. They were also nominated for several more awards. (Source: IMDb)
While the franchise launched Stallone’s career and status as a household name in Hollywood, it made him millions of dollars. From a struggling actor in the seventies and accepting only $23,000 for the first Rocky film, Stallone is now worth $400 million. His success with Rocky brought about many projects that helped him earn an estimated $300 million in base movie salaries alone between 1970 and 2012.
The franchise created a merchandise empire that markets various products such as clothing and accessories and video games. Profits from products also pay royalties to license agreement owners. (Source: Celebrity Net Worth)
Stallone’s Ownership over Rocky
Unfortunately, Stallone doesn’t receive royalties for anything from the Rocky franchise. In an interview with Variety magazine in 2019, Stallone claims he still harbors resentment over not being given ownership over Rocky even though he created it. (Source: Variety)
Stallone admits his fault in the legalities of ownership of the franchise but acknowledges that he was naive and didn’t understand the business aspect of it at the time. When he accepted the title role of the first Rocky film, Stallone signed away his rights to royalty since he earned a salary. (Source: World Boxing News)
Producers and those affiliated with the franchise were surprised when they learned about Stallone’s claim. They knew that he had healthy profit participation and earned additional income from ancillaries. Stallone earned these on top of his upfront fees while doing the movies. Stallone made money from every angle and continues to do so. (Source: Variety)