NASHVILLE, Tenn. Believe it or not, Sylvester Stallone says the infamous movie character Rocky was meant to reflect the nature of Jesus, and the sixth film in the series, "Rocky Balboa," which hit theaters Dec. 22, carries an intentionally Christian theme.
"It's like he was being chosen, Jesus was over him, and he was going to be the fella that would live through the example of Christ," Stallone said of Rocky in a conference call with pastors and religious leaders. "He's very, very forgiving. There's no bitterness in him. He always turns the other cheek. And it's like his whole life was about service."
Stuart Shepard, managing editor of Focus on the Family's CitizenLink, took part in the teleconference and reported in a Nov. 15 commentary that Stallone considers himself reborn.
"I was raised in a Catholic home, a Christian home, and I went to Catholic schools and I was taught the faith and went as far as I could with it," Stallone said. "Until one day, you know, I got out in the so-called real world and I was presented with temptation. I kinda like lost my way and made a lot of bad choices."
Stallone said that somewhere along the way he realized his fame was not the most important part of his life. Now he says God can help a person overcome his past.
"The more I go to church," he said told CitizenLink, "and the more I turn myself over to the process of believing in Jesus and listening to His Word and having Him guide my hand, I feel as though the pressure is off me now."
The pressure may have subsided, but the scrutiny likely has not, as evangelicals weigh the spiritual transformation of Stallone and his boxing persona, Rocky. Dr. Ted Baehr, founder of Movieguide, an online Christian resource that rates and honors films for their pro-family content, said viewers will be pleasantly surprised by the tone of Rocky Balboa.
"It's a very overt and redemptive movie," he said. "It's a heart-rending movie.
"In the first Rocky there was prayer in the bathroom," he said. "They lost that in the middle movies. In this one it's much more clear, much more distinct."
The message in Rocky, which includes Scripture, is reflecting a growing trend of Christian-friendly films, Baehr said. This Christmas, for instance, studios released numerous faith-based films, including "Pursuit of Happyness," "Déjà vu," and "The Nativity Story," which chronicles the birth of Jesus.
"There are some interesting things going on," Baehr said. "Rocky is one of the most outspoken and they are marketing it to the Christian community."
The gym of the soul
In promoting his latest film endeavor, Stallone, in the conference call, compared the need for the church to the need for a physical trainer.
"You need to have the expertise and the guidance of someone else," he said. "You cannot train yourself. I feel the same way about Christianity and about what the church is: The church is the gym of the soul."
To help church leaders with their training, Stallone, in conjunction with Motive Entertainment, has developed a leader's resource kit that includes talking points about the film's themes of faith. The free items include a free 10-page, downloadable leader's guide that tackles such issues as courage, integrity, faith, victory and purpose. Different ideas target pastors, youth pastors, small group leaders and parents.
At the same time, though, Baehr warned that Christians need to be discerning about movie content, which he said can be manipulated to reflect a pro-family view.
"We always have to be wary of being marketed to," he said, adding that the same studio that released "The Nativity Story," also produced the "Harry Potter" series.
"All of this erodes the Christian base," he said.
In this case, however, he said Rocky Balboa deserves the church-related resources.
With that, the culmination of the Rocky film series is another story about redemption. And Stallone said he couldn't have written it without the personal journey he has endured.
"I needed to actually go through my trials and tribulations," he said, "before I could be man enough to know how to write that kind of story that 'Rocky Balboa' is."
For more information on the faith-based materials, visit rockyresources.com. For more information on specific movies, visit movieguide.org.
BP News Service writer Erin Roach contributed to this report.Staff and wire reports