Avildsen went on to make short films and commercials, then found work as an assistant director on Hurry Sundown directed by Otto Preminger. He honed his editing skills on Mickey One for director Arthur Penn.
Avildsen first gained attention as a director on Joe, starring Peter Boyle. He later directed Jack Lemmon’s Oscar-winning performance in Save the Tiger before taking on a script by an unknown actor, Sylvester Stallone. With Rocky, Avildsen developed the style that would influence many of his later films.
After the success of Rocky, which won him an Oscar and a DGA Award for Best Director he worked with Marlon Brando and George C. Scott in The Formula, Morgan Freeman in Lean on Me and The Power of One, as well as Neighbors with John Belushi and the successful Karate Kid franchise. His documentary short Traveling Hopefully received an Oscar nomination in 1983.
John Avildsen served on the DGA National Board as Assistant Treasurer from 1977-1979 and as Third Vice President from 1979-1981. He also served as a member of the DGA’s Western Council from 1983-1985.