The emotional center of Rocky IV is the death of Rocky’s friend and mentor Apollo Creed, played by Carl Weathers, As you may recall, a new Russian boxer named Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) emerges on the scene, looking for a match with Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky. Apollo, now retired but missing the spotlight, demands he take the fight instead. The bout is supposed to be an exhibition, but Drago is so overwhelmingly powerful — and Apollo is too stubborn to let Rocky throw in the towel — that Apollo dies in Rocky’s arms in the middle of the ring. Naturally, Rocky must then avenge his late pal by fighting Drago himself.
Apollo’s death is the crux of the entire film, but in a new documentary on the making of the Rocky IV director’s cut, Stallone says he wishes it had never happened. If he had it to do over again, he now says, he “never would have killed Apollo.” Instead, he thinks it would have been more effective for Drago to severely injure Apollo but leave him alive to continue to counsel and motivate Rocky. An injured Apollo “would assume the role of Mickey” in the franchise, Stallone added.
Here’s how Stallone explained his thinking then, and why he now believes it was a mistake:
It was foolish. I thought I needed that kind of springboard to project the drama on this really great powerful velocity forward … [If Apollo had survived] we would have seen a different side of Apollo. He could have opened up to all these other things that we didn’t even know about, because he’s now in a wheelchair. And he would have kind of been a father figure, mentor, brother. It would have been really great.
When the documentary’s director, John Herzfeld, pointed out that leaving Apollo alive would have not only radically shifted the story of Rocky IV, it would have potentially altered the following sequels, Stallone admitted it “would have changed the entire trajectory of all the Rockys. Rocky V would have never happened, and Rocky [Balboa] maybe never would have happened.”
Of course, if Apollo had lived, we also might never have gotten to see Creed — where the illegitimate son of Apollo (played by Michael B. Jordan) reckons with his father’s legacy and decides to become a boxer himself, with Rocky as his trainer. The first Creed in particular is one of the very best movies in the entire saga.
Selfishly, I don’t think I would trade the Creeds for a different Rocky V or Rocky Balboa with Carl Weathers in them. Of course, that’s just my opinion. Stallone disagrees. Carl Weathers might too; when asked how he thinks Weathers will react to the revelation that he could have survived for two more sequels (and thus two more paychecks), Stallone quipped “he’s gonna be pissed off. Very pissed off.”
The director’s cut of Rocky IV is playing theaters in a Fathom Event this Thursday. The entire Rocky vs. Drago documentary is below.
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