Rocky is so damn big of a movie, its title doesn’t even fit in one frame.
For THE film that literally defined Philadelphia on the silver screen, let’s, er, get the first location out of the way quickly. The movie opens, and we find Rocky fighting in a grungy, down-and-out Philly gym…
…that was actually shot in Los Angeles, at the now long-gone Resurrection Gym at 1114 S Lorena Street in Boyle Heights. If anyone has any pics, please share — the gym was built into an old church that no longer had pews, as seen above. It was later renovated in the 1990s to become the Oscar De La Hoya Youth Boxing Center, and more recently, demolished to build a charter school.
But let’s ignore that one West Coast location, because from here on out, it’s pure, authentic Philadelphia.
A quick note: when I began researching movies for my look at Philadelphia filming locations over the years, I originally planned to choose one title from each decade going back to the 1940s. Except, near as I could tell, no notable mainstream Hollywood film had ever shot in Philadelphia prior to Rocky. Hell, even The Philadelphia Story was shot entirely in California.
Literally, Rocky was America’s filmic introduction to the City of Brotherly Love, and it begins with this intersection:
Rocky walks a dark tunnel and passes by a group of singers at the corner of Kensington and Tusculum. Today, the el-train and tunnel remain, but the boarded-up brick building is now a vacant lot.
This, like much of Rocky’s home turf, was filmed in the Kensington neighborhood, historically an Irish American working class neighborhood. Rocky hooks a turn onto Tusculum…
…and heads to his home at 1818 East Tusculum Street, the final building on the left seen later in this daytime shot:
A close-up of Rocky’s house today. Very, very little has changed over the years.
There’s something so perfectly appropriate to the film that, out of literally countless iconic Philadelphia locations they could have led off with, this is what was chosen. Like Rocky as a fighter, it’s the last place anyone would traditionally think to pick.
Making his rounds the next day, Rocky swings into the pet store to chat with Adrian, his friend’s sister. Note Mighty Mick’s boxing gym just across the street.
Here’s the same view of the gym today…
But alas, the actual pet shop, then an actual operating store called J&M Tropical Fish at 2146 N Front Street…
…is no more (note the fire hydrant for geography):
Opened in 1963, J&M (named for owners Morris Marks and son Joe Marks) served the community until finally closing in 2003; the building was torn down around April 2017. Joe Marks owned the two turtles Rocky has in the film, which were both still alive as recently as a few years ago.
Just across the street is the third in this trifecta of iconic locations: Mighty Mick’s Boxing Gym, located at 2147 N Front Street. So little has changed, I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s the same plywood sign.
At the time, the building was owned by the same family who owned the pet store. Interiors were filmed back in Los Angeles at the legendarily grungy Main Street Gym, once located near Skid Row (read a great article about it here).
Rocky’s day job begins, and we catch up with him at a ship yard. I wasn’t able to track down the actual dock, but you can read all about the Sohio Resolute chemical tanker here if you’re curious about random tankers! Looks like it was broken up in 1993.
Rocky has a conversation with one of his criminal associates on East Gurney Street and Sterner. The garages on the left have been repaired, but the rare brick street remains!
They walk to the side to have a private conversation, and we see the railways in the background. Trains no longer pass through this area, and the brick building on the right is gone:
A quick close-up showing the train bridge:
Finally, Rocky heads back up the block:
Rocky goes to a local bar, the Lucky Seven Tavern at 2800 Ormes Street.
Later, Rocky walks home at night with a young girl named Marie. He passes Atomic Hoagies, once located at the corner of South 12th and Cantrell…
Together, they continue down South 12th…
…and turn onto Winton Street.
From Winton, they cut through the parking lot of the Epiphany of Our Lord Parish…
And finally, arrive at Marie’s house at 1124 Jackson Street. I LOVE that this geography is real — that they didn’t cut from the parking lot to a street twenty blocks away, but instead, chose a real route, and a real home that makes sense for the scene.
Rocky goes to Adrian's house for dinner, located at 2822 Rosehill Street.
Another shot as they chat on the front porch...
Here's the house in full:
I want to take a moment to emphasize just how wonderfully unique and inspired all of these locations are. It's easy to find gritty. It's easy to find down-and-out. But it's VERY hard to select multiple locations and make them feel like they're not just a Hollywood cliche of a rough neighborhood.
Rocky earns its authenticity in having chosen almost all of the locations we've examined thus far -- Rocky's house, Adrian's House, Mick's Gym, the pet shop, the Lucky Seven Bar, the dilapidated sidestreet -- within literal walking distance of each other. Check it out:
This almost NEVER happens in modern filmmaking, and when it does, it's usually for sheer practicality ("OK, we have to film the apartment scene the same day at the bakery. Find something nearby."). Rocky is living, breathing Philadelphia, and there is never a moment in the film when you doubt it.
And on that note, a quick detour back to Los Angeles for Adrian and Rocky's first date to the now-demolished Ice Capades Chalet in Santa Monica. 🙂
We return to Philly for the best cheesesteak in town: PAT'S! (I'M KIDDING! OR MAYBE I'M NOT KIDDING! WHATEVER CHEESESTEAK PLACE YOU LOVE, THAT'S MY FAVORITE TOO! DON'T HURT ME!).
Rocky and his crime buddy have a chat. More stainless steel has been added, but lining it up, it looks like they're just past the last pick-up window.
Which makes this sign pretty accurate!
And now, the most famous training montage in film history! And, incidentally, our first shot of Rocky at an iconic historical Philly location, incredible when most movies would have used this as the opening shot.
Rocky heads through an abandoned yard. It's tough to be the first to identify a location in Rocky given the dedication of its fans, but as far as I can tell, I'm the first to peg this one: Noble Street at Columbus Blvd.
Today, the yard is a self-storage operation:
Rocky swings onto Noble and heads for Columbus. So much is gone now, from the tracks to the plant...
And just to show how much the area has changed, a view looking south on Columbus, with nice foliage in the median and a Dave & Busters down the way!
One of the most famous moments from the montage is Rocky's trip through the trash-strewn Italian Market on 9th Street. But where exactly along 9th was it shot? There are a zillion guesses online, but nothing I could find matched up. Finally, I noticed something -- the bay windows on the apartment building in the waaaay far back of the shot. After a lot of searching up and down 9th...
Rocky was running south as we look north on 9th Street between Washington and Ellsworth, much farther north than most pinpoint it at. This is nearly impossible to identify now because ALL of the brick buildings on the left are gone:
Now way the hell on the other side of town, Rocky runs along the Schuylkill River Trail just south of the train bridge...
And finally, Rocky races up the 72 stone steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art:
I mean, come on...
How can any movie shot in Philly ever hope to top this?
Rocky's Converse shoeprints are immortalized at the top...
With a statue down below:
The final location in Rocky, the arena for his bout with Apollo Creed, was filmed in Los Angeles, so let's end it here.
When Rocky was made, no one had ever shot a major mainstream Hollywood movie in Philadelphia. There were so many ways this could have gone wrong, from utilizing only well-known Philadelphia locations, to portraying the grit and grime in a glossier, romanticized way.
Instead, the filmmakers went for authentic, and in doing so, put Philadelphia on the map as one of the most exciting and fresh filming cities in the United States, to be used memorably for decades to come.
And in the process, they created a permanent record of a side of Philadelphia that no longer exists.
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