April 1, 2014 at 10:45 AM ET
Just say "Rocky" and a few things instantly come to mind: beating the odds, drinking raw eggs, those steep steps in Philadelphia and, of course, Sylvester Stallone. But as it turns out, if some head honchos in Hollywood had had their way back in the day, Stallone would have never played the champ on the big screen.
As the actor revealed on TODAY Tuesday, the bigwigs wanted Burt Reynolds, James Caan or Ryan O'Neal — just not him.
"They wanted every celebrated actor at the time," Stallone explained. "And big name directors, when they found out I wanted to be involved, they scattered, ran for the hills."
But Stallone had an advantage. He wasn't just an actor trying out for the part. He was the writer who owned the rights to the whole story. That gave him the power to keep it from being made without him, but that power came at a cost.
Stallone, who had just $106 in his bank account and a $40 car that had just gone up in flames, turned down $300,000 — the equivalent of $1 million today — for his story.
"It was really insane at the time 'cause I was pretty broke," he said of his decision to hold out.
But in hindsight, it wasn't so insane after all. Eventually, he got what he wanted. In 1976, his movie was made, and it even won the Oscar for best picture. It also spawned a six-film franchise that's earned $1.2 billion.
Not bad for the guy nobody believed in at first. But even after his success with the "Rocky" movies, Stallone found resistance when he later wanted to take the story to Broadway — as a musical.
"That's a great idea for someone who's a fool," he recalled the reactions he got from potential producers.
Once again, Stallone persisted and now "Rocky" is a hit on the Great White Way, and he's one of the producers.