Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Sylvester Stallone|
|Written by||Sylvester Stallone|
|Music by||Vince DiCola|
|Distributed by||MGM/UA Entertainment Company|
|Box office||$300.4 million|
Rocky IV is a 1985 American sports drama film written, directed by, and starring Sylvester Stallone. The film co-stars Dolph Lundgren, Burt Young, Talia Shire, Carl Weathers, Tony Burton, Brigitte Nielsen and Michael Pataki. Rocky IV was the highest-grossing sports movie for 24 years, before it was overtaken by The Blind Side. It is the sequel to the 1982 film Rocky III and it is the fourth and most financially successful installment in the Rocky film series.
In the film, the Soviet Union and its top boxer make an entrance into professional boxing with their best athlete Ivan Drago, who initially wants to take on world champion Rocky Balboa. Rocky's best friend Apollo Creed decides to fight him instead but is fatally beaten in the ring. Enraged, Rocky decides to fight Drago in the Soviet Union to avenge the death of his friend and defend the honor of his country.
Critical reception was mixed, but the film was a huge success at the box office, earning $300 million. While the film marked Carl Weathers' final appearance in the series, his character would still be referenced in each subsequent film. Its success led to a Rocky V released on November 16, 1990. The events of this film serve as the backstory to the plot of Creed II, where Apollo Creed's son, Donnie, is challenged to fight Drago's son, Viktor.
In 1985, Ivan Drago, a Soviet boxer, arrives in the United States with his wife, Ludmilla, a Soviet swimmer and a team of trainers from the Soviet Union and Cuba. His manager, Nicolai Koloff, takes every opportunity to promote Drago's athleticism as a hallmark of Soviet superiority. Motivated by patriotism and an innate desire to prove himself, Apollo Creed challenges Drago to an exhibition bout. Rocky has reservations, but agrees to train Apollo, despite his misgivings about the match.
During a press conference regarding the match, hostility sparks between Apollo's and Drago's respective camps. The boxing exhibition takes place at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas. Apollo enters the ring in an over-the-top patriotic entrance with James Brown performing "Living in America" complete with showgirls. The bout starts tamely with Apollo landing several punches that are ineffective against Drago, but Drago suddenly retaliates with devastating effects. By the end of the first round, Rocky and Apollo's trainer, Duke, plead with him to stop the match, but Apollo refuses to do so and tells Rocky to not stop the match "no matter what." Drago continues to pummel him in the second round and Duke begs Rocky to throw in the towel. Rocky honors Apollo's wishes, which allows Drago to land one final punch on Apollo, killing him. In the aftermath, Drago displays no sense of contrition, commenting to the assembled media: "Tonight I have beaten a great champion. If he dies, he dies."
Frustrated by the Soviets' cold indifference, Rocky decides to challenge Drago himself, but has to surrender his championship to do so. Drago's camp agrees to an unsanctioned 15-round fight in the Soviet Union on Christmas Day, an arrangement meant to protect Drago from the threats of violence he has been receiving in the United States. Rocky travels to the Soviet Union without his wife Adrian due to her disapproval of the match, setting up his training base in a remote cabin in Krasnogourbinsk with only Duke and Paulie to accompany him. Duke opens up to Rocky, stating that he actually raised Apollo and that his death felt like a father losing his son, and expresses his faith in Rocky that he will emerge victorious. To prepare for the match, Drago uses high-tech equipment, a team of trainers and doctors monitoring his every movement, and regular doses of anabolic steroids. Rocky, on the other hand, does roadwork in deep snow over mountainous terrain and workouts utilizing antiquated farm equipment. Adrian arrives unexpectedly to give Rocky her support, which gives Rocky a new vigor.
Before the match, Drago is introduced with an elaborate patriotic ceremony, with the Soviet general secretary and the Politburo in attendance. The home crowd is squarely on Drago's side and hostile to Rocky. In contrast to his match with Apollo, Drago immediately goes on the offensive. Rocky takes a fierce pounding in the first round, but goes on the offensive toward the end of the second round after landing a brutal right hook that cuts Drago's left eye, stunning both Drago and the crowd. Duke encourages Rocky by reminding him that he just proved Drago is a man and not a machine as he's been made out to be. In contrast, Drago comments to his trainers that Rocky "is not human, he is like a piece of iron," after his trainers reprimand him for his performance against the "weak" American.
The two boxers spend the next dozen rounds trading blows, with Rocky managing to continually hold his ground despite Drago's best efforts. His resilience and determination rallies the previously hostile Soviet crowd to his side. After being berated by Koloff, Drago rebels, throwing him from the ring and directly addressing Gorbachev, stating he fights only for himself. In the final round, with both fighters exhausted, Rocky initially takes more punishment, then seizes an opening and unleashes a series of vicious blows to defeat Drago by knockout.
Rocky gives a victory speech, acknowledging that the local crowd's disdain of him had turned to mutual respect during the fight. Rocky finally declares, "If I can change and you can change, everybody can change!" The Soviet premier stands up and reluctantly applauds Rocky, and his aides follow suit. Rocky ends his speech by wishing his son watching the match on TV a Merry Christmas, and raises his arms into the air in victory as the crowd applauds.
- Sylvester Stallone as Robert "Rocky" Balboa, "The Italian Stallion": Beloved Heavyweight Champion of the World
- Talia Shire as Adrian Balboa: Rocky's wife and support through his boxing career.
- Burt Young as Paulie Pennino: Rocky's friend and brother-in-law.
- Carl Weathers as Apollo Creed: Former Heavyweight Champion of the World, and close friend to Rocky.
- Brigitte Nielsen as Ludmilla Vobet Drago: Wife and supporter of Ivan Drago, and Olympic swimming champion. In real-life Nielsen was engaged to Stallone during the production, and married shortly after the release. They were divorced in 1987.
- Dolph Lundgren as Captain Ivan Drago: the Soviets' prize Champion boxer "The Siberian Express" and a Soviet Army infantry captain
- Tony Burton as Tony "Duke" Evers: Apollo's father-figure, friend, trainer and manager, who becomes Rocky's trainer for his match against Drago.
- Michael Pataki as Nicolai Koloff: Trainer, promoter, and manager of Ivan Drago.
- Rocky Krakoff as Rocky Jr.
- David Lloyd Austin as Mikhail Gorbachev (uncredited)
- George Rogan as Sergei Rimsky: Another Drago trainer
- Sylvia Meals as Mary Anne Creed: Wife of Apollo
LeRoy Neiman plays the ring announcer in the Creed-Drago match. Burgess Meredith appears as Mickey Goldmill in archive footage. Appearing as themselves are singer James Brown and commentators Stu Nahan, Warner Wolf, R. J. Adams, Barry Tompkins and Al Bandiero.
Development and writing
Wyoming doubled for the frozen expanse of the Soviet Union. The small farm where Rocky lived and trained was in Jackson Hole, and Grand Teton National Park was used for filming many of the outdoor sequences in the Soviet Union. The PNE Agrodome at Hastings Park in Vancouver, British Columbia served as the location of Rocky's Soviet bout.
Sylvester Stallone has stated that the original punching scenes filmed between him and Dolph Lundgren in the first portion of the fight are completely authentic. Stallone wanted to capture a realistic scene and Lundgren agreed that they would engage in legitimate sparring. One particularly forceful Lundgren punch to Stallone's chest slammed his heart against his breastbone, causing the heart to swell. Stallone, suffering from labored breathing and a blood pressure over 200, was flown from the set in Canada to Saint John's Regional Medical Center in Santa Monica, and was forced into intensive care for eight days. Stallone later commented that he believed Lundgren had the athletic ability and talent to fight in the professional heavyweight division of boxing.
Additionally, Stallone has stated that Lundgren nearly forced Carl Weathers to quit during the filming of the Apollo-vs.-Drago "exhibition" fight. At one point in the filming of the scene, Lundgren tossed Weathers into the corner of the boxing ring. Weathers shouted profanities at Lundgren while leaving the ring, and announcing that he was calling his agent and quitting the movie. Only after Stallone forced the two actors to reconcile did filming continue. The event caused a four-day work stoppage, while Weathers was talked back into the part and Lundgren agreed to tone down his aggressiveness.
Rocky IV is one of the few sport movies that applies genuine sound effects from actual punches, bona fide training methods created by boxing consultants, and a bevy of other new special effects. The film is recognized as being ahead of its time in its demonstration of groundbreaking high-tech sporting equipment, some of which was experimental and 20 years from public use. In 2012, Olympians Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte noted that the training sequences in Rocky IV inspired them to use a cabin similar to what the resourceful Balboa utilized in the film.
Sportscaster Stu Nahan makes his fourth appearance in the series as commentator for the Creed–Drago fight. Warner Wolf replaces Bill Baldwin, who died following filming for Rocky III, as co-commentator. For the fight between Rocky and Drago, commentators Barry Tompkins and Al Bandiero portray themselves as USA Network broadcasters.
Apollo Creed's wife Mary Anne (Sylvia Meals) made her second appearance in the series, the first being Rocky II, although the character was mainly featured in Rocky II. Stallone's future wife, Brigitte Nielsen, appeared as Drago's wife, Ludmilla.
Paulie's robot, a character that through the years has enjoyed a cult following of its own, was created by International Robotics Inc. in New York City. The robot's initial voice was that of the company's CEO, Robert Doornick. The robot is identified by its engineers as "SICO" and is/was a member of the Screen Actors Guild. It toured with James Brown in the 1980s. The robot was written into the movie after it had been used to help treat Stallone's autistic son, Seargeoh.
The Soviet premier in the sky box during the Rocky–Drago match, played by David Lloyd Austin, strongly resembles contemporary Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Austin later played Gorbachev in The Naked Gun, and Russian characters in other films.
The script development was the subject of a famous copyright lawsuit, Anderson v. Stallone. Timothy Anderson developed a treatment for Rocky IV on spec; after the studio decided not to buy his treatment, he sued when the resulting movie script was similar to his treatment. The court held that Anderson had prepared an unauthorized derivative work of the characters Stallone had developed in Rocky I through III, and thus he could not enforce his unauthorized story extension against the owner of the character's copyrights.
The musical score for Rocky IV was composed by Vince DiCola, who would later compose the music for The Transformers: The Movie. Rocky IV is the only film in the series not to feature original music by Bill Conti, who was replaced by DiCola; however, it does feature arrangements of themes composed by Conti from previous films in the series, such as "The Final Bell". Conti, who was too busy with the first two Karate Kid films at the time, would return for Rocky V and Rocky Balboa. Conti's famous piece of music from the Rocky series, "Gonna Fly Now", does not appear at all in Rocky IV (the first time in the series this happened), though a few bars of it are incorporated into DiCola's training montage instrumental.
Songs from the movie included "Living in America", by James Brown, and also music by John Cafferty ("Heart's on Fire", featuring Vince DiCola), Survivor, Kenny Loggins, and Robert Tepper. Four of these songs became U.S. chart hits, three of which reached the Top Five. Go West wrote "One Way Street" for the movie by request of Sylvester Stallone. Europe's hit "The Final Countdown", written earlier in the decade by lead singer Joey Tempest, is often incorrectly stated as being featured in the film due to its similarity to DiCola's "Training Montage." However, Europe's track was not released as a single until late 1986, after Rocky IV's release.
According to singer Peter Cetera, he originally wrote his best-selling solo single "Glory of Love" as the end title for this film, but was passed over by United Artists, and instead used the theme for The Karate Kid Part II.
In August 2020, Stallone announced that a director's cut edition was set for release on November 27 to celebrate the film's 35th anniversary. The director's cut will feature new footage of the Apollo vs. Drago match. The most notable change to the film is the omission of Paulie's robot. "The robot is going to the junkyard forever, no more robot," Stallone commented. Robert Doornick, founder of International Robotics and the voice of the robot, commented that Stallone cut all of the robot scenes in the director's cut to save money on royalty fees that were given to Doornick in the original cut.
The film opened Wednesday, November 27 on 1,325 screens and over the 5-day Thanksgiving weekend, it grossed a non-summer record $31,770,105. In its fourth week of release it expanded to a record 2,232 screens. It grossed a total of $127.8 million in United States and Canada, and $300 million worldwide, the most of any Rocky film. It was the highest-grossing sports film of all time, until The Blind Side (2009), which grossed $309 million (without accounting for inflation). It was also the highest-grossing fourth installment of a film in the United States and Canada, surpassing the record of Sudden Impact (1983).
Stallone has been quoted as saying the enormous financial success and fan-following of Rocky IV once had him envisioning another Rocky movie, devoted to Drago and his post-boxing life, with Balboa's storyline running parallel to Drago's. However, he noted the damage both boxers sustained in the fight made them "incapable of reason", and thus instead planned Rocky V as a showcase of the dangers of boxing.
The film has a 40% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, from 48 critics, indicating mixed reviews; the critical consensus states, "Rocky IV inflates the action to absurd heights, but it ultimately rings hollow thanks to a story that hits the same basic beats as the first three entries in the franchise." On Metacritic, the film has a score of 40 out of 100, based on 11 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews."
Roger Ebert gave the film two out of four stars, stating that with this film the Rocky series began "finally losing its legs. It's been a long run, one hit movie after another, but Rocky IV is a last gasp, a film so predictable that viewing it is like watching one of those old sitcoms where the characters never change and the same situations turn up again and again." Ian Nathan of Empire gave the film two out of five stars, calling the script a "laughable turd" and describing Rocky IV as "the [film] where the Rocky series threw in the towel on the credibility."
In 2020, Maxim magazine ranked the film 8th in the list of “12 most delusional films about Russia”, noting that “cinema takes its grudge against the most unpleasant, pre-Gorbachev Soviet realities. <…> Soviet sports and party apparatchiks are portrayed in the film with incredible poison and malice".
The film won five Golden Raspberry Awards, including Worst Actor (Sylvester Stallone, along with Rambo: First Blood Part II), Worst Director (Stallone), Worst Supporting Actress (Brigitte Nielsen), Worst New Star (Nielsen, and also for Red Sonja) and Worst Musical Score. It also received nominations for Worst Picture, Worst Supporting Actress (Talia Shire), Worst Supporting Actor (Burt Young) and Worst Screenplay.
Scholars note that the film's strong yet formulaic structure emphasizes the power of the individual, embodied by Rocky, the prototypically American hero who is inventive, determined, and idealistic. They contrast that with Ivan Drago's hyperbolic characterization as a representation of Soviet power in the context of the latter part of the Cold War. Writer/director Stallone highlights the nationalistic overtones of the Balboa–Drago fight throughout the film, such as when Drago's wife calls the United States an "antagonistic and violent government," that is filled with "threats of violence" to her husband. Drago's trainer comments that American society has become "pathetic and weak." Drago represents the totalitarian regime, demonstrating his power when he topples an arrogant opponent (Creed). Later on, the radio announcer says, "Ivan Drago is a man with an entire country in his corner." Scholars note that Drago's ultimate defeat — and the Soviet crowd's embrace of Rocky — represents a crumbling of the Soviet Union.
Rocky IV has also been interpreted as a commentary on the power struggle between technology and humans, illustrated by both Paulie's robot and the technology utilized by Drago's trainers.
A sequel titled Rocky V, was released in November 1990.
In 1987, Rocky was released, based on the first four Rocky films. In 2002 was released Rocky, based on the first five Rocky films. In 2004 was released Rocky Legends, based on the first four Rocky films.
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