In the heart of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, lies an iconic symbol of determination and triumph—the Rocky Steps. These 72 stone steps leading to the entrance of the Philadelphia Museum of Art have etched their place in history thanks to the 1976 film, Rocky. Visitors from around the world flock to these steps to recreate Rocky Balboa’s famous climb, a powerful metaphor for the resilience of the human spirit.
It all began during the filming of Rocky when a tight budget led the crew to discover this staircase one fateful night. Originally, Sylvester Stallone envisioned Rocky ascending the steps with his loyal dog, Butkus. However, the pup proved too heavy for the scene, and the Bull Mastiff was left behind. Still, the breathtaking view from the top of those steps inspired Stallone to reshoot the scene, sans the canine companion. In the 2006 film Rocky Balboa, Rocky finally ascends the steps with his dog, Punchy, in a heartwarming moment.
The iconic Rocky Steps scene was one of the pioneering uses of the Steadicam, a device that allows for smooth filming even during stair climbs. This innovation added an extra layer of authenticity and intensity to the scene.
The Rocky Steps are not only a testament to cinematic history but also a symbol of perseverance. To further immortalize this symbol, a bronze statue of Rocky, created by A. Thomas Schomberg, was commissioned by Stallone before the release of Rocky III. The statue made its home atop the steps during filming and later found a permanent place at the bottom, where it remains today. Another copy resided in a San Diego museum until Stallone himself acquired it.
Additionally, Schomberg created a third and final edition of the statue, auctioned on eBay to raise funds for the International Institute for Sport and Olympic History. This statue now resides at the Schomberg Studios Gallery in Denver, Colorado.
The journey of the Rocky statue wasn’t without controversy. City officials debated whether the statue was art or merely a movie prop. Eventually, it was relocated to the Philadelphia Spectrum but later returned to the Art Museum for the filming of Rocky V. Sadly, the statue was ultimately replaced by a bronze inlay of Converse sneaker footprints, with the name “Rocky” above them.
On September 8, 2006, the Rocky statue was brought back to the Art Museum, where it stands on a pedestal near the foot of the steps. This historic unveiling ceremony celebrated the enduring legacy of Rocky and the undeniable significance of these iconic steps in Philadelphia’s cultural landscape. Mayor John Street highlighted the steps as a major tourist attraction and hailed Sylvester Stallone as the city’s beloved adopted son.
So, when you visit Philadelphia, don’t miss the chance to conquer the Rocky Steps, where every ascent is a step closer to embodying the spirit of an underdog rising to meet life’s challenges.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art is located at 2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia.
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