35 years ago, during the Cold War, the most politicised and highest grossing Rocky movie hit the screen: let’s relive it together in words and tattoos.
300 million dollars (worldwide) at the box office. That figure alone (the second most watched sports movie of all time after The Blind Side with Sandra Bullock) explains the outrageous success of Rocky IV, which came out in the US on 27th November 1985 and paved the way for the future career of Sylvester Stallone (already a star at the time) as well as the virtually unknown Swedish actor Dolph Lundgren who played the role of his Soviet opponent Ivan Drago.
That would suffice, but it would not fully explain a film which many movie lovers have described as politicized, simplistic and essentially a product of the Reagan Era (Ronald Reagan then being President of the United States) in the way in which it portrayed the Cold War raging at the time between the USA and USSR, but it was also historic, gripping and much loved by the public.
In order to celebrate this anniversary – the first 35 years of Rocky IV – we would like to leave you with a series of revelations (four, just like the number of the movie in question) which might get you to look at the film in a different light, as well as a series of tattoos dedicated to Rocky Balboa, the “Italian Stallion”, one of the most enduring characters (apart from Rambo) ever played by Sly Stallone.
The choice of “Drago”
It appears that before casting the then 27 year-old Dolph Lundgren for the role of Ivan Drago eight thousand actors were auditioned, including – or so it is said – Tom Selleck and David Hasselhoff. Stallone himself was unconvinced on first meeting him, considering Dolph to be too tall and thin. He subsequently advised him to put on at least ten kilos of muscle.
At their second meeting – after the screenplay had been written and when shooting got under way – the actor/director discovered to his chagrin that Lundgren had taken him at his word, so much so that during some legitimate sparring in the ring, Dolph accidentally hit Stallone so hard he had to spend six days in hospital. The medical records mention crushing of the ribcage with swelling of the heart, laboured breathing and emergency admission to intensive care.
Not one single Soviet set
Not having, for obvious reasons, received official permits to film in Russia (things were not at the time exactly rosy between the two superpowers), the film crew on Rocky IV had to come up with a reconstruction of Siberia – the ground-breaking scenes of the gruelling training sessions of the boxer from Philadelphia – in snowy Wyoming and the Grand Teton National Park and the valley of Jackson Hole (for the scenes of the farm where Rocky lives). The decisive encounter between Balboa and Drago (in the film set in Moscow on Christmas Eve) were shot at the PNE Agrodome in Hastings Park in Vancouver. The sports venue is famous for the hundreds of rock concerts it has hosted since the 1970s as well as a number of events organised by the WWE and numerous ice hockey seasons.
Sports reality or cinematic fiction?
The biggest clanger (or cinematic liberty, if you prefer) in Rocky IV, thinking back, is the iconic figure of Ivan Drago, a “professional” boxer who fights first in America (against Apollo Creed in
a match that ends in a bloodbath) and subsequently in his homeland against Balboa. During the Soviet regime in the USSR no boxer was actually allowed to fight western opponents since they could not win purses or cash prizes. And nonetheless, Drago/Lundgren does it to beat the band and is even sponsored by a well-known German sports apparel brand. The one with the three stripes…
Quotes for lovers of boxing
The famous phrase “Hit the one in the middle” that Paulie Pennino (actor Burt Young), Rocky’s brother-in-law) says to the Italian Stallion when – battered by Drago’s forceful punches – he says he can’t see one opponent in the ring but three, is actually a historic quote for any boxing fan worth their salt. The boxer who said it was Jack Dempsey, a boxing legend and at the time trainer in the corner of Max Baer, during his challenge against heavyweight Max Schmeling which took place on June 8th 1933 in the Yankee Stadium in New York. Baer followed Dempsey’s valuable advice, hit “the one in the middle” and won the world title with a knockout in the tenth round. Repeated, over fifty years later, by his disciple Rocky.