By Geno McGahee
I don’t think that there is a better series of movies than the Rocky Saga, and the sixth entry did not disappoint the fans or at the box office. Due to the profit of Rocky Balboa (Rocky VI), there is now talk of a seventh entry in the series, and realistically, they could make one hundred of these Rocky films, and I would always be eager to see it. There is something special about Rocky and anybody that has grown up watching these films remember them and still be excited when that theme music plays. The Rocky Franchise means something to many people. I remember seeing Rocky III, when I was eight years old and even though I did not become a boxing fan until I was twelve or so, it quickly became my favorite movie, replacing “Clash of the Titans.”
Now, I’m much older and I’m as excited as I was when I went to go see Rocky IV at the age of eleven, and that movie didn’t fail to impress me either. I, unlike a lot of people, do not think that there is a bad Rocky movie. I think that the first two are in a class of their own and the other three are tied for a close second. Rocky Balboa seemed to have brought back the drama that the first two films produced, and marked the 30th anniversary of the series. That is a remarkable achievement and there aren’t that many series that can claim that staying power. There is certainly not a sports-related film franchise that can claim the success or staying power of the Rocky movies.
The inspiration for the initial movie was a bout that had taken place on March 24th, 1975, between Muhammad Ali, and the rough and tumble underdog, Chuck Wepner, with the WBA and WBC Heavyweight Titles hanging in the balance. Wepner was a bouncer and a liquor salesman and with nine losses on his record, he did not belong in the ring with World Champion. Don King promoted it as it was. This guy was an underdog with a dream to win the Title, but the promotion was a failure. The public just didn’t see a competitive fight and they were correct, but Wepner was credited with a knockdown, which proved that you couldn’t take anyone for granted and that anything can happen in the ring.
As the fight went on, it became clear that all Wepner wanted to do was to go the distance with the champion, and gave a spirited effort, and as Sylvester Stallone sat in a closed circuit theater, Rocky Balboa began to develop in his mind, and a bout that wasn’t incredibly notable became historic because it gave birth to a series of movie that has touched nearly everyone that has seen them.
I have watched all six Rocky Films and look forward to a seventh should they elect to create it.
In 1976, Rocky was unleashed on the public, and was a hit in many ways. It won three Oscars for Best Director, Best Film Editing, and Best Picture. The film was also a success personally, for Stallone, who had demanded that he fill the lead role as Rocky Balboa, or there would be no movie. The studio wanted James Caan, Ryan O’Neal, or Burt Reynolds to fill that slot, but in order to get the movie, Sly Stallone would have to be the lead, and when you look at the three mentioned choices of the studio, it’s hard to imagine any of them playing the “Italian Stallion.”
The story of Rocky is a great one and one that has inspired many. Rocky Balboa is a journeyman boxer that isn’t living up to his potential and doing unsavory things to get by. He is going nowhere fast and there is nothing in sight that can remove him from this situation, until the World Heavyweight Champion, Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), is in need of an opponent and selects “The Italian Stallion” in a novelty bout and a showcase for him and the fans. At this time, Apollo was undefeated and seen by many as unbeatable, and the bout with the lightly regarded Balboa was a foregone conclusion that he would be victorious. Even Rocky himself, did not see himself as a threat to the champion, but things begin to come together when Mickey (Burgess Meredith) trains him and convinces him that he can be competitive.
The love story between the clumsy and raw, Balboa, and the shy and meek, Adrian (Talia Shire), brings a certain charm to the film that has carried over into the other entries. The character “Paulie,” played by Burt Young is one of my favorites by far in the series. Paulie is a jealous, needy, and selfish slob, and also happens to be the best friend of Rocky and the brother of Adrian. His off color comments throughout the movie and just the little things that make his character so amusing, such as, how he treats Rocky as a friend so much better than his sister. The character development in this film is remarkable and a testament to the writing skill and creativity of Sly Stallone.
The victory for Rocky Balboa in this movie isn’t to beat Creed. He wants to go the distance, which no other boxer has ever done with the champion. In the first round of the bout, he actually knocks Apollo down, which is still one of the most exciting moments in movie history. The choreography of the fight scenes is a thing of beauty too, and even though it is unrealistic at times, it is not totally absurd and you can suspend your disbelief for the duration of the bout. This movie delivers in so many ways that you cannot help but love it. I don’t think that a person exists that can say that they dislike this movie.
In the end, Rocky goes the distance and Apollo retains the World Heavyweight Title with a decision win, but the real winner was the “Italian Stallion,” who had gone the distance and accomplished what he wanted to. This movie stood alone, but when you have such a successful film, a sequel cannot be that far behind.
In 1979, Rocky II is released and it picks up right where the first one has left off with both champion and challenger recovering in the hospital. With nothing left to prove and an injured eye that makes it difficult for him to see, Rocky Balboa hangs up the gloves. With the performance in the ring, Rocky is able to purchase a house and a car and a horrible leather jacket with a tiger imprinted on the back. That purchase may have been the first evidence that Rocky had taken too many shots in the ring.
The other half of that historic bout was not having it nearly as well. He escaped with his World Championship, but the respect of the fans was dwindling. The hate mail that he was receiving came by the busload and one writer even instructed Apollo to “kill himself.” I have a theory that the author was Ivan Drago, but I have never had the opportunity to ask Stallone, who wrote it. Whatever the case, Creed did not take these letters lightly and was very angry. He wanted a rematch to erase all doubt and to cease these nasty letters.
This movie once again focused on the relationship between Rocky and Adrian. They get married and a baby Stallion is on the way. Even though Rocky is seen as the tougher of the two physically, it becomes more and more apparent that Adrian is mentally tougher and protects her man. When Balboa agreed to do some commercials, but really couldn’t read all that well, the director had said some horrible remarks about the fighter, prompting Adrian to lash out.
With the creditors knocking, other employment not working out, and a baby on the way, the constant demands of Apollo Creed for a rematch are finally answered, but not without a little difficulty from the wife. Adrian refuses to support this rematch, which really makes training hard. Rocky can’t even chase chickens right, and when Paulie went to talk some sense into his very pregnant sister, she passes out and goes into a coma, which really screws up the chances of a new champion being crowned.
Finally, she comes around and she may have even purchased that tee shirt for her man that read: “Win Rocky Win!” With a shirt like that, anything is possible. This would be the rematch that would end the long winning streak of Creed and crown a new champion. Paulie, at home, went absolutely berserk when Creed didn’t answer the count. Now that’s good acting people. Burt Young, in my opinion, is a very underrated actor. He was fantastic in “Excessive Force,” which I also recommend.
Rocky II captured the feel of the first movie and proved that sequels aren’t always horrible. This movie may not be as good as the first one, but it is an excellent entry and set up a third movie and a new direction for the series.
In 1982, the Rocky series went into a different direction, which was a trend of sorts. Death Wish, with the legendary Charles Bronson, followed the same path, where movie series that begin as dramas become action flicks. Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” kicks off this movie, as Rocky defends his title against mediocre competition. He’s living it up as the Heavyweight Champion, and even makes an appearance on The Muppet Show. As you know, back then, you never really made it until you were on The Muppet Show…
In the meantime, there is a mean heavyweight on the rise that is hitting his opponents when they’re down, and sports a Mohawk and an attitude to boot. He even screams at poor Mickey, who was merely in the audience of one of his bouts to enjoy the show. Clubber Lang (Mr. T) is the #1 contender for the Title, but Mickey is keeping his man far away from him, and keeps on searching for the Peter McNeeley’s of the Rocky world. Eventually, the two would meet on a day that Balboa announced his retirement.
Just in case you couldn’t figure out that Clubber was the villain in this film, he sexually harasses Adrian, which seals the deal for the fight. Rocky accepts the challenge despite Mickey’s pleas, and begins to train, but he’s not taking it seriously with him opening his training sessions to the world and posing for pictures, and even taking some time out to enjoy the horrible singing of his brother, Frank. Clubber Lang, however, is training very hard, and after shadow boxing in the mirror for what was probably hours, he just stares at himself, with an angry glare on his face. See, it takes work to get that angry glare…hours upon hours of staring into a mirror.
Now, if you were still saying that Clubber Lang isn’t really a bad guy, and claiming that sexually harassing another man’s wife, hitting his opponent when they’re down, yelling at elderly people, and also smashing the video cameras of the press, Stallone decides that Lang must have a murder attached to his character, but one that will not prevent him from fighting for the title. So, he shoves Mickey against a staircase and that was enough to TKO the old bird for life. Now, everyone knows that he’s a villain, and the coroner chalked up the death to his old age, more or less. It seemed to me that the doctor desperately wanted to say: “Hey, when you push a 90 year old man into a staircase, what do you expect?”
Knowing that Mickey is on death’s door, Rocky is not focused on the bout and gets stopped in just two rounds, making Clubber Lang the new Heavyweight Champion. Apollo Creed, watching from ringside is furious and now has plans to bring the Title back to Rocky. The two former rivals would meet at Mickey’s gym and eventually Rocky would agree to train in a different way and turn a clumsy brawler into a fantastic boxer. Apollo could have probably done wonders with John Ruiz.
It is obvious from the start that Rocky isn’t giving it his all and when finally confronted by his wife, he admits that he is afraid, but her words inspire him to refocus and use “heart and fire,” or whatever to train his best and lose without excuses. Adrian, having challenged him on this matter, never asked him why he’s always wearing half shirts. I know that it was the 1980’s but that was even strange for that time. I know that Apollo’s trainer, Duke (Tony Burton), probably told his man in confidence that Rocky should probably be wearing that tiger jacket over those half shirts if they ever go out together in public.
Rocky, rejuvenated, lighter in weight, possessing new skills and speed, and wearing American Flag trunks, was now ready for the rematch. In this second bout, Rocky exposed Clubber Lang as a one-dimensional fighter and avenged his loss, although there were some rocky moments. You know that Rocky isn’t doing well if Duke starts screaming “No,” and they play it in slow motion to get the most out of it. Well, he did scream “no” a few dozen times, and then Paulie began rubbing Duke’s head because that seems to be fate of most bald people. When Rocky is on his way to victory, Apollo plants a huge kiss on Paulie’s cheek, prompting me to wonder which direction the fourth entry was going to go.
Now, with the help of Apollo, the support of his wife, and a focused effort, “The Italian Stallion” was once again the champion and with the success of the movie, a fourth one was surely on the way.
In 1985, Rocky IV would come out and this may be the most talked about entry of the Rocky series. Apollo and Rocky are now good friends and the nasty letters to Creed have apparently stopped. Paulie would celebrate a birthday and Rocky actually buys him a gigantic robot, which were very popular in the eighties. I had one that was about two feet tall and it was radio controlled. The one the Paulie got was stupendous! It was very interactive and he programmed it to have a female voice, which was sort of disturbing. The villain in this movie was the Soviet amateur star, Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), who was shipped over to the U.S.A., in hopes of getting a bout with Rocky Balboa. This, for some reason, infuriated Apollo Creed.
Creed decides to take on this monster himself, but he’s been retired for six years and without a tune up bout, this was not a good idea, even if it was only an exhibition bout. Rocky and Adrian try to talk him out of it, but he will not hear it, and takes on Drago. On top of being retired, Apollo seems to take this contest very lightly as he parties with James Brown outside of the ring, dances up a storm on his way to the ring, and demands that the ring announcer call him by his forty or so nicknames before the fight begins. Drago, on the other hand, just wants to fight, and when the bell rings, he beats the heck out of “The King of Sting,” and nearly stops him in the first round.
Had this bout taken place in 1978ish, Creed would have won by UD, I believe, but you can’t beat father time and the bout would be stopped in round 2. There is even a point when the referee tries to jump in, but Drago pushes him away and continues to beat Apollo to a pulp. In the tradition of the third entry, a character dies at the hands of the man that Rocky will eventually have to punish. Balboa vs. Drago is now on.
Rocky agreed to fight in the Soviet Union and elected not to incorporate sparring into his training regimen. He is just hitting the heavy bag, speed bag, and climbing up mountains and screaming Ivan Drago’s name for some reason. I always wondered if Drago could hear him. Whatever the case, Drago was getting pumped full of steroids and training like a madman to defeat the recognized World Heavyweight Champion. He did knock out a guy in Creed that had defeated Rocky once and was well ahead on the cards before getting stopped in the last round of their second encounter. It was safe to say that Rocky was once again the underdog.
For all of you fans of Duke screaming “No” in slow motion, you were not disappointed with this entry, as he seems to do it on average about four times a round. This is a bout where Rocky took a vicious beating, using none of the boxing tactics that Apollo had taught him. He was going for a knockout and the Russian crowd that was initially against him, AMAZINGLY, began to cheer for the American. As always, Rocky is the most dangerous in the last round of a fight and landed enough shots to drop Drago and come from the brink of defeat again to win and make some very deep statements about world love.
Now, I have to say that this is the weakest of the series, although I like it very much. Out of all of the movies, this film presents the most filler. How many music videos can you fit into one movie? Also, I have a question. Apollo died in those red, white, and blue trunks, right? Isn’t it in bad taste to give them to Tommy Gunn (Tommy Morrison) in the fifth entry? So I like Rocky IV, but it was probably the weakest screenplay out of the bunch, although many would disagree as I discuss Rocky V.
This film always gets the bad wrap, and I will argue with anyone that says that it isn’t any good. In 1990, Rocky V comes out and the reviews are not good, and even die hard Rocky fans aren’t impressed, but I thought that it was fantastic. Rocky comes back from Russia and elects to retire again. He just fought the fight of his life, took a boatload of punches, and was done with the game. The punches sustained took their toll and the physicians that examined him noted a brain injury that would prevent him from getting a license. So, alls well that ends well, but there is a new and fantastic character introduced: George Washington Duke.
George Washington Duke (Richard Gant), is a dirty promoter that wants his man Union Cane (Mike Williams) to challenge Rocky for the Heavyweight Title in a promotion that he calls: “Letting it Go in Tokyo.” By the way, that is a brilliant title for a bout. Of course, Rocky has to decline because he can’t fight due to medical reasons, but Duke is persistent.
Now, to make matters worse, Rocky loses his money to a crooked accountant, leaving the family broke and forcing them to move back to the old neighborhood. The worst part of this isn’t the fact that Rocky and Adrian have to share a house with Paulie, but they have to live with their annoying son, which I contend is why nobody seems to like this movie. Kudos to Stallone for bringing in his son, Sage, but he was not good for the movie at all. I found him quite annoying, and not to mention, did you notice that Rocky’s son aged five years from the time that he left for Russia to face Ivan Drago to the time that he came back?
In the old neighborhood, heavyweight hopeful, Tommy “The Machine” Gunn appears and wants Rocky to train him, which he eventually does. This movie really focuses on the relationship between Rocky and his son, but Sage being such a poor actor and being basically 50% of the movie has turned a lot of people off. I personally love every other character. I’m just upset that George Washington Duke isn’t returning for the sixth entry.
So, Tommy Gunn moves up the ranks and is wooed away Duke, who is definitely the Don King of the Rocky series and in case you didn’t figure it out, he says “Only in America” at least ten times. Now, onto the press conference. After Duke gets Tommy Gunn a Heavyweight Title Shot, and he wins, a press conference the likes that I have never seen occurs, where the press shout insults at the new champion and then insult his girlfriend to boot! I have been to many a press conference, and I have never insulted the girlfriend of a fighter, especially not the girlfriend of the heavyweight champion. I can only imagine what Nikolay Valuev would have done should I do that. He’s beaten up people for far less.
Now, with Gunn disgruntled at the system, and Duke working his plan, the inevitable was about to happen: Rocky Balboa vs. Tommy Gunn. The fight does happen, but it happens in the street and within seconds, Gunn is down. The fight continues however, and it is a back and forth affair. It is such a tough fight that it prompts Mickey to come back from the dead to advise his star pupil on how to go about his fight. “I didn’t hear no bell,” Mickey screams.
Now, the fight scene is top notch, and the movie is outstanding, but the worst line of the flick that I wish could be eliminated was when Sage Stallone screamed: “He took my room!” If my father was getting beaten up and if I liked him, my room would be the last of my worries, but the good outweighs the bad and I still rank this movie up there with the third and fourth entry, thanks in large part to Richard Gant.
ROCKY BALBOA (ROCKY VI)
In 2006, Rocky Balboa, the sixth entry was released. Like most Rocky films, there is a death. Adrian, his loving wife was now gone, and his son, Robert (Milo Ventimiglia) wants nothing to do with him. We are back to square one with Rocky and his buddy, Paulie. Every year, Rocky makes the tour to the old spots where he and his wife would go, ending up at the ice rink, the location of their first date. From the beginning of this movie, you can see the transition back to a drama, and the essence of the first two entries has returned.
Mason “The Line” Dixon (Antonio Tarver) is the heavyweight champion of the world, and does not get any respect. He is undefeated and has not faced any sort of challenge that the public has considered worthy. With not a real challenger out there, the idea of a match between former champion, Rocky, and Dixon becomes a hot topic, and plays out in a simulated video game much like the Rocky Marciano-Muhammad Ali computer simulated game. Balboa wins via TKO, upsetting the champion who is trying very hard to get respect, and inspiring the promoters to come up with an actual bout between the older ex-champion and the current champion.
Rocky really has no interest in this bout, but the fire in his belly is still there and we have the first movie all over again: the hopeless underdog against the undefeated champion. An old Stallone can still bring the excitement in his training montages and bring the emotion as he argues with his son, eventually winning him back into his corner. This sixth movie brings it back to its roots and is a great way to end the series. It ended where it all began, but there are some problems that I saw.
Why was Rocky allowed to fight? Didn’t he have physical issues preventing him from fighting? Then again, if George Washington Duke could get the medical board to back down, Dixon’s promoters could probably do the same thing. Also, where were the other characters? I wanted to see Ivan Drago again. Dolph Lundgren isn’t doing anything special…just those horrible straight to DVD action films. Bring him back! Clubber Lang too. They were not there, which is why we need a seventh entry.
I don’t have any scoop on what the plot is going to be if and when this movie is created, so I’m going to have some fun here and throw my ideas out there with the hope that Stallone is reading and will consider one of them. They are all great ideas and are guaranteed to be hits no matter which one he uses.
Due to the closeness of the exhibition bout with Dixon, an immediate rematch for the Heavyweight Title is ordered, where Rocky wins by fourth round TKO. As he celebrates in the ring, George Washington Duke, the corrupt promoter steps in with a proposition to rematch Ivan Drago. Drago was well ahead on the cards in the first fight and was stopped in the 15th. Bouts are now 12 rounds, and in my story, Drago has not lost since, compiling a record of 40-1, 38 KO’s. For Rocky to take this bout, there has to be some tragedy where he gets so angry that he accepts the fight. I think that it’s time to kill off Paulie. Drago can just pick him up and choke him out or run him over with a car…we have to tie him in somehow. Also, Drago has dumped his wife too…she got fat and has a drinking problem…so he’s got a hot one now. Balboa-Drago II. Wouldn’t you pay to see that? I would. I guess that Rocky would have to win, but it would still be a great movie.
Rocky Balboa vs. Mike Tyson. They have already introduced Tyson in the last film as a contender, and this would bring fact and fiction together, bringing in the masses to see this movie. Same deal here people. Rocky beats Dixon in the rematch, and is forced to fight the #1 contender Mike Tyson. This idea needs some ironing out, but we can work it like this. Tyson, after the McBride defeat, refocused, got back with Kevin Rooney (he’d be in, surely), and beats 10 guys by quick KO like the Mike of old. He crushes a returning Clubber Lang in 20 seconds, making the threat of “Dead Meat” laughable during the prefight stare down. So, we have to legendary fighters head to head, and who wouldn’t want to see Mike Tyson and Rocky Balboa square off?
Those are my two good ideas…my other ideas right now aren’t so hot. I had this idea of a heavyweight breaking into Rocky’s house and stealing that leather jacket with the tiger print on it and wearing it around town to irk him, but it just didn’t seem realistic…but if you like that idea, please let me know! I will forward it to Stallone immediately.
It’s amazing that Sylvester Stallone can make such great movies like the Rocky series and then hit us with the stinkers that he has been known to put out, but he has never screwed up a Rocky film, in my opinion. I am willing to forget about: Stop or My Mom Will Shoot, Judge Dredd, Over the Top, Demolition Man, Tango & Cash, Get Carter, Cobra, Driven, and Spy Kids 3-D, because he delivers with Rocky. So maybe we will see a Rocky VII in the future. Who thought that there’d be a Rocky VI?