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 fourth and most financially successful entry 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.This film marked Carl Weathers’ final appearance in the series. Its success led to a fifth entry 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, Adonis, is challenged to fight Drago’s son, Viktor.
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 give up, but a battered 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: “If he dies, he dies.”
Enraged by guilt and the Soviets’ cold indifference, Rocky decides to challenge Drago himself. 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 U.S. Rocky travels to the Soviet Union without Adrian, setting up his training base in a remote cabin in Krasnogourbinsk with only Duke and brother-in-law 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 do what needs to be done and prevail. To prepare for the match, Drago uses high-tech equipment, steroid enhancement, and a team of trainers and doctors monitoring his every movement. Rocky, on the other hand, lifts and throws heavy logs, chops down trees, pulls an overloaded snow sleigh with Paulie atop, jogs through heavy snow under treacherous icy conditions, and climbs the largest icy mountain. Adrian arrives unexpectedly to give Rocky her support after initially refusing to travel to the Soviet Union, because of her worry that Rocky would be killed like Apollo.
Before the match, Drago is introduced with an elaborate patriotic ceremony, inspired by Apollo Creed’s intro. The home crowd is squarely on Drago’s side and hostile to Rocky. In stark contrast to his match with Apollo, Drago immediately goes on the offensive. Rocky takes a fierce pounding, and is thrown and shoved across the ring in the first round, but comes back toward the end of the second round and lands a brutal right hook, cutting Drago’s left eye and stunning both him and the crowd. This prompts Rocky to continue punching even after the bell rings. Duke encourages Rocky by reminding him that he just showed that Drago is a man and not a machine as he’s been made out to be. Drago ironically 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 continue their battle over 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, which unsettles Drago to the point that he picks Koloff up by the throat and throws him off the ring for berating his performance, declaring that he fights for only himself. In the final round, Rocky defeats Drago by driving him across the ring with vicious hooks to the midsection, then a series of blows to the head, with one final, tremendous punch dropping Drago to the canvas for a knockout, to the shock of the Soviet Politburo members watching the match.
Rocky gives a victory speech, acknowledging that the local crowd’s disdain of him had turned to respect during the fight. He compares it to the animosity between the U.S. and the Soviets, and says that seeing him and Drago fight was “better than 20 million”, alluding to a possible war between the U.S. and the Soviets. Rocky finally declares, “If I can change, and you can change, then everybody can change!” The Soviet general secretary 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, Sr., “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
- Dolph Lundgren as Captain Ivan Drago: the Soviets’ prize Champion boxer and a Soviet Army infantry captain
- Brigitte Nielsen as Ludmilla Vobet Drago: Wife and supporter of Ivan Drago, and olympic female swimming champion.
- 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.
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.
Wyoming doubled for the frozen expanse of the Soviet Union. The small farm where Rocky lived and trained was in Jackson Hole, and the 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 premiere 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 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. 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.
Rocky IV opened Wednesday, November 27 and over the 5-day Thanksgiving weekend, it grossed a record $31,770,105. 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).
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 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.