We Must Break You With These Facts You Never Knew About Rocky IV
Nine years after Sylvester Stallone enjoyed his breakthrough as the writer and star of 1976 smash hit Rocky, the Italian Stallion reprised the role for a third time in 1985 sequel Rocky IV. Also written and directed by Stallone, the fourth instalment in the boxing drama series sees Rocky Balboa go up against the ruthlessly efficient Soviet fighting machine Ivan Drago – a star-making role for new action man Dolph Lundgren.
It’s a firm favourite of 80s film fans, but did you know the following facts about Rocky IV?
20. Stallone got engaged to co-star Brigitte Nielsen during production
Rocky IV was the second film of Danish model-turned-actress Brigitte Nielsen. Aged 22 at the time, Nielsen had made her film debut earlier in 1985 with the title role in fantasy adventure Red Sonja. That film cast Nielsen alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone’s arch rival of the time (although the two men have long since made peace and become good friends).
Writer, director and leading man Stallone cast Nielsen in Rocky IV as Ludmilla Drago, the wife of Dolph Lundgren’s Ivan Drago. Stallone and Nielsen fell in love during the shoot, and enjoyed a whirlwind romance. They wed in December 1985, shortly after Rocky IV’s release, and went on to make 1986 action thriller Cobra together. However, their tempestuous union didn’t last, and they divorced in 1987.
19. Stallone was hospitalised after Lundgren hit him for real
6’5″ in height and already athletic in build, Swedish ex-karate champion Dolph Lundgren piled on 8kg of muscle to convincingly portray Rocky Balboa’s most formidable opponent yet. As such, it probably wasn’t Stallone’s smartest move when he decided that for some of the shots in their final fight scene, the actors shouldn’t pull their punches.
After Lundgren struck Stallone for real, the film’s star and director wound up spending eight days in hospital. Stallone explained in 2006, Lundgren “struck me so hard in the chest that my heart slammed against my breastbone and began to swell… without medical attention the heart would’ve continued to swell until it stopped.”
18. The Russia sequences were actually shot in Wyoming
The final act of Rocky IV sees Balboa venture into Soviet Russia, where he trains to take on Drago himself. Of course, as the Cold War was still raging in the mid-80s, it wasn’t possible for the filmmakers to venture behind the Iron Curtain for real, so suitable locations were found considerably closer to home – in Wyoming, and Canada.
The scenes of Rocky training against the snowy backdrop of Russia’s Ural Mountains were filmed in Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park. The final fight between Balboa and Drago, meanwhile, took place at the the PNE Agrodome in Vancouver. The first Hollywood movie to shoot in Soviet Russia would be the 1988 action film Red Heat – starring none other than Stallone’s nemesis, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
17. Lundgren would often arrive to set exhausted from late-night sex parties with Grace Jones
During the shooting of Rocky IV, Dolph Lundgren was dating famous model, singer and actress Grace Jones. After he was hired as Jones’ bodyguard, a romance ensued, and this helped Lundgren land his very first acting role: a brief appearance as a henchman in the James Bond movie A View to a Kill, in which Jones played one of the villains.
By Lundgren’s own admission, he and Jones enjoyed a very intense sex life, in which dalliances with multiple partners were commonplace. The couple were still carrying on in this manner whilst Rocky IV was in production. In 2018, the actor admitted of his busy lovemaking: “It’s great in theory but when you have to get up and fight Sylvester Stallone in the morning it’s not such a good thing.”
16. The film gave James Brown his last hit single in Living in America
Boxing champions are renowned for making big showman-like entrances to their fights, and Carl Weathers’ Apollo Creed takes this to another level in his entrance at the fight against Dolph Lundgren’s Ivan Drago. Heavily underlining the west-vs-east aspect of the event, Creed shows up in full Uncle Sam regalia whilst James Brown performs the song Living in America.
This cameo gave a significant career boost to pioneering funk musician Brown. By Rocky IV, the legendary singer hadn’t had a top 40 hit in a decade; Living in America broke this losing streak when it was released as a single in December 1985, reaching number four on the Billboard Charts and ultimately winning Brown the Grammy Award for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance. It proved to be Brown’s last hit single.
15. It became Stallone’s biggest box office hit ever
On release in November 1985, Rocky IV was met with a somewhat mixed reception from the critics. While most had hailed the 1976 original as an instant classic, after nine years and three sequels many felt the formula was getting stale. Roger Ebert called Rocky IV “predictable” and considered it “a last gasp” for the boxing franchise.
Even so, audiences were pretty much unanimous in giving the film their seal of approval. By the end of its theatrical run, Rocky IV had earned $300,473,716 at the global box office. Adjusted for inflation, it remains the highest-earning film of Stallone’s career (not counting 2017’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, in which the actor has a supporting role).
14. Creed II was a direct sequel
After Rocky V flopped in 1990, the Rocky franchise was dormant until 2006’s far more successful Rocky Balboa. Then in 2015, the franchise was revived again with Creed. Co-written and directed by Ryan Coogler, the film cast Michael B Jordan as the son of Carl Weathers’ Apollo, who trains under Rocky. Stallone earned a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his performance.
The unexpected critical and commercial success of Creed saw the film start a franchise of its own. 2018’s Creed II continued the story – but also served as a direct sequel to Rocky IV. The film sees Jordan’s Adonis Creed go up against Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu), the son of the man who killed his father, Ivan Drago. Stallone, Lundgren and Brigitte Nielsen all reprise their roles.
13. A new director’s cut of the film has been released (and Paulie’s robot is nowhere to be seen)
To mark Rocky IV’s 30th anniversary, Stallone decided to re-issue the movie in a new director’s cut. Originally intended to open in November 2020, the release of the re-edited Rocky IV: Rocky vs. Drago was delayed due to Covid-19, but it finally hit screens in November 2021 to generally favourable reviews, and earned $42,737 from its one-night-only release.
The writer-director’s plan was to produce a more grounded take closer in spirit to the original 1976 Rocky, with less cartoonish overtones. To this end, Stallone re-inserted several scenes of dialogue between Rocky and Apollo, and – perhaps most crucially of all – deleted all the scenes featuring the robot that Rocky gives to his brother-in-law Paulie.
12. The robot was included in the film for Stallone’s autistic child
As its omission from the Rocky vs. Drago cut might reflect, the introduction of Paulie’s robot is often considered the moment when the Rocky movies jumped the shark and became too silly for their own good. However, as laughable as the inclusion of a robot in the Rocky movies might seem, Stallone actually originally included it for a touching reason.
The robot featured in Rocky IV was real, and not an invention of Stallone’s. The ‘bot, named Sico, was created by a company called International Robotics, who developed it to help autistic children. Stallone’s son Seargeoh is autistic, so the actor and filmmaker decided to feature Sico in the film for his son’s benefit, and to help promote its use with those who have the neurodevelopmental condition.
11. Ivan Drago was originally intended to be a ‘hairy beast’
Stallone’s original vision for the character of Ivan Drago was pretty far removed from what we ended up with. The writer-director says that early on in the film’s casting process, he was “looking for really a monster… [a] hairy beast of a guy.” However, after a reported 8,000 actors were considered, Stallone and company hadn’t found anyone that quite fit that vision.
When Lundgren came in, Stallone thought “he was the complete antithesis, the opposite of what I was looking for. Then I thought, ‘All right why don’t we move it into more of the sci-fi and that he’s the man of the future.'” With this in mind, he advised Lundgren (who was slimmer at the time) to start putting weight on, and after a long audition process the young Swedish unknown landed the role.
10. It was indirectly responsible for Schwarzenegger’s Predator
While the box office receipts of Rocky IV couldn’t be laughed off, the film itself inspired a popular joke in the Hollywood community. After emerging victorious from so many fights in a row, it was remarked that there was no one left for Rocky to battle, and that the only way a fifth film could be made was if he stepped into the ring with an alien.
Screenwriting siblings Jim and John Thomas were struck by this idea, and it formed the basis for Predator, the 1987 hit which spawned a franchise. Of course, this film would not cast Stallone as the soldier who faces off against an alien, but instead starred Arnold Schwarzenegger. Still, the film did boast one Rocky franchise actor in Carl Weathers.
9. An unknown screenwriter took Stallone to court for copyright infringement
Following the release of Rocky IV, a screenwriter named Timothy Anderson took out a lawsuit against Sylvester Stallone and studio MGM-UA, claiming the film plagiarised his work. Anderson stated that he had written a treatment for a fourth film in the series in 1982 after seeing Rocky III. This advanced far enough that Anderson met with Stallone himself in 1983 to discuss the matter.
Anderson claimed that Stallone had stolen his idea of having Rocky fight a Russian, although there were records of Stallone first discussing ideas to this effect in interviews whilst promoting Rocky III. The matter was ultimately decided in court in April 1989; the judge ruled in Stallone’s favour, and Anderson’s treatment was dismissed as unauthorised and derivative.
8. Carl Weathers threatened to quit due to the punishment he took from Lundgren in the ring
It wasn’t only Stallone who suffered at the hands of Lundgren. Famously, Rocky IV sees Rocky’s former rival-turned-best friend Apollo Creed killed in the ring by Lundgren’s Ivan Drago – and Apollo actor Carl Weathers genuinely struggled filming the scene in which he fights the hulking Swede. By all accounts, Weathers and Lundgren did not get along, and at one point this put the whole film in jeopardy.
Stallone recalls that whilst he was directing the Creed-Drago fight, “I saw Dolph Lundgren pick up Carl and heave him three feet into the corner… rather than retaliate, Carl got out of the ring and said something ferocious like, ‘I’m calling my agent… I quit!'” The resulting furore saw production halted for four days before Weathers agreed to return, on the condition that Lundgren tone down his hands-on physicality.
7. The soundtrack almost featured another 80s hit song, but it ended up in The Karate Kid Part II instead
Rocky IV is notable for having a very different soundtrack to the other films in the series. As usual series composer Bill Conti had a full schedule, Stallone hired his Staying Alive composer Vince DiCola, who gave the movie a far more 80s-rock-based feel. The soundtrack also boasts a number of very 80s rock tracks, including Tepper’s No Easy Way Out and Survivor’s Burning Heart.
Rocky IV could have featured another hit song, however. Singer-songwriter Peter Cetera wrote Glory of Love specifically for the film, but Stallone and company turned it down. The song would instead appear on the soundtrack for The Karate Kid Part II (a film by John G Avildsen, director of the original Rocky), and was a number one hit in August 1986.
6. Stallone wouldn’t direct another film until Rocky Balboa 21 years later
It’s easy to forget that, concurrent with his rise to superstardom as a Hollywood leading man, Sylvester Stallone also enjoyed a successful career as a director. After making his directorial debut with 1978’s Paradise Alley, Stallone called the shots on Rocky II, Rocky III and Rocky IV, as well as writing the scripts and playing the lead. He also directed 1983’s Saturday Night Fever sequel Staying Alive.
After Rocky IV, Stallone continued to co-write some of his films, but stepped away from the director’s chair. He would not take on that role again until 2006’s belated sequel Rocky Balboa, widely acclaimed as a return to form and one of the best entries in the series. Not long after that, Stallone directed another belated sequel, 2008’s Rambo, then took the helm on 2010’s The Expendables, since which he has again put directing to one side.
5. It was the only Rocky movie not to use theme song Gonna Fly Now
On top of featuring way more rock music than we’d ever heard in a Rocky movie before, Rocky IV is also the only entry in the series not to feature use of the signature theme song Gonna Fly Now. The song’s absence may in part be explained by the fact that Bill Conti, the song’s composer who had also provided the score for the first three Rocky movies, sat this one out.
Instead, the key musical link in Rocky IV to the earlier films is the reprise of Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger, the theme song to Rocky III which quickly became as closely identified with the series as Gonna Fly Now. Still, Conti’s song would briefly be heard in Rocky V, and would later play in its entirety (as in earlier films) in sixth instalment Rocky Balboa.
4. Stallone has expressed regret over killing Apollo Creed
The key plot point in Rocky IV is Rocky’s need for redemption against Ivan Drago when the Russian boxer remorselessly beats Apollo Creed to death in the ring. It’s very difficult to imagine how the events of Rocky IV would have played out without this crucial detail – but even so, Stallone has in recent times stated he regrets killing Apollo off.
In a video clip Stallone posted on Instagram in the run-up to the November 2021 release of his Rocky IV director’s cut Rocky Vs. Drago, the actor and filmmaker says that in retrospect he wishes that Apollo had instead been left paralysed, so he could have remained in Rocky’s corner in a wheelchair. Of course, Stallone realises this would have radically changed the course of the series, and would almost certainly have meant the Creed films wouldn’t have happened.
3. Dolph Lundgren says fewer than 50 words in the entire film
Dolph Lundgren’s Ivan Drago stands apart from Rocky Balboa’s previous opponents in some very significant ways. Most obviously, he’s a white man with a significant height advantage on the Italian Stallion; but perhaps even more notably, where Apollo Creed and Rocky III’s Clubber Lang (Mr. T) could barely keep their mouths shut, Drago hardly opens his at all. Lundgren speaks a total of 46 words in the whole film.
This was an entirely conscious move. For one thing, Lundgren’s English wasn’t great at the time, but Lundgren also felt that being quieter would make him more threatening, and create a greater contrast between Drago and Rocky’s earlier opponents. It also means that, the few times Drago does speak, the audience really listens: “I must break you” and “If he dies, he dies” are among the Rocky franchise’s most memorable lines of dialogue.
2. It ‘won’ four Golden Raspberry Awards
1985 was a great year for Sylvester Stallone professionally, with big hits at the box office. Clearly not everyone was impressed, though. That year, Stallone’s work was publicly denounced as some of the worst filmmaking of the year at the 6th annual Golden Raspberry Awards, the satirical anti-Oscars dedicated to naming and shaming the worst in mainstream cinema.
Rocky IV was the big ‘winner’ of the night, landing the awards for Worst Director for Stallone and Worst Musical Score for Vince DiCola. Stallone was also named Worst Actor for both Rocky IV and Rambo: First Blood Part II, whilst Brigitte Nielsen was named Worst Supporting Actress and Worst New Star for Rocky IV and Red Sonja. Stallone also ‘won’ Worst Picture and Worst Screenplay for Rambo: First Blood Part II. It’s almost as if they had a vendetta against him.
1. It was Stallone’s second blockbuster of 1985, after Rambo: First Blood Part II
The early 80s had been a mixed bag for Sylvester Stallone. He’d enjoyed big hits with 1982’s Rocky III and First Blood, but his subsequent 1983 directorial effort Staying Alive and 1984 musical comedy Rhinestone weren’t so well received. Happily for Sly, 1985 was one of the best years of his career, with two of the actor’s biggest and best-loved hits released within six months of one another.
Before Rocky IV opened in November 1985 and became his biggest hit ever, Stallone enjoyed similarly enormous success with the May 1985 release of Rambo: First Blood Part II. This was the second time Rocky and Rambo movies had opened back-to-back, and it really cemented them as Stallone’s signature roles. Curiously, Rambo: First Blood Part II’s global haul of $300.4 million was just a few hundred grand shy of the amount Rocky IV earned at the box office.