On This Day In 1985: Rocky IV, Balboa's Greatest Adventure, Arrives At Cinemas

The best film in Stallone's epic saga was released on this day in 1985
16:17, 20 Nov 2023

Can you believe it’s been 38 years since Sylvester Stallone’s magnum opus, Rocky IV, premiered for the very first time? On 27 November 1985, the quintessential boxing blockbuster was shown on 1,325 screens across a five-day Thanksgiving weekend where it went on to gross approximately $300m worldwide, making it the highest-grossing sports film of all time until The Blind Side surpassed it nearly a quarter of a century later.

The fourth instalment of the Rocky franchise remains one of the most beloved sports films ever and for good reason; the soundtrack is not only the best of the all six mainline entries in the series, it’s one of the best soundtracks in cinema history, the film’s antagonist Ivan Drago [Dolph Lundgren] was the most iconic European villain to emerge from the neon-laden 80s this side of The Terminator (also 1985) and, well, it had a talking robot… pretty much all the key ingredients of a stone-cold classic.

But how much do you know about the Italian Stallion’s fourth outing? From genuine on-set beefs among its stars to near-death experiences, the story behind-the-scenes of Rocky IV is a wild one. Here are 10 things you might not know about it…

Dolph Lundgren Nearly Killed Stallone During Filming

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“If he dies, he dies,” Lundgren’s Ivan Drago famously said of Apollo Creed before actually killing him. Fortunately, Stallone was a little luckier than ‘The Count of Monte Fisto’. When they were filming Rocky Balboa’s epic encounter with Drago, Lundgren apparently hit Stallone so hard in the chest that his heart hit his chest bone and it began to swell. He spent eight days in intensive care and had he not made a swift dash to the ER, his heart would have continued to expand and he would have died.

Carl Weathers’ Real-Life Beef With Dolph Lundgren Caused A 4-Day Work Delay

Ivan Drago’s dislike of the cocky Apollo Creed is pretty obvious from the moment he looks on in bewilderment at his opponent’s ring-walk near the beginning of the film. What might not be obvious is that actors Carl Weathers and Dolph Lundgren weren’t exactly keen on each other off camera either, with Weathers even threatening to quit the film.

Apparently, after Lundgren got a little rough with Weathers in the ring, the Predator and Happy Gilmore actor stormed off the set yelling profanities at the Swedish actor. Fortunately, Stallone forced the two actors to reconcile and, despite a four-day work stoppage while Weathers was talked back into the part and Lundgren agreed to tone down his aggression, the film continued as planned.

The Lost In Translation Drago Quote That Entered The Italian Zeitgeist

Ivan Drago doesn’t have much to say in Rocky IV thanks to his ice-cold demeanour but the words he does utter across the 91-minute running time have become immortalised among some of the best movie quotes ever. None more so than in Italy, where they didn’t even get the line right. 

“I must break you,” is arguably the most famous line in the film but over in Italy the line was mistranslated to “I will break you in two” ("Io ti spiezzo in due"). The change is so slight you’d be forgiven for not noticing, but over in Italy, perhaps thanks to the delightful fake Russian accent accompanying it, the phrase became hugely popular amongst cinemagoers and it even entered popular lexicon in the country.

There’s A Reason Drago Doesn’t Say Much


Speaking of the almost-mute Russian, there’s a reason he doesn’t say much in Rocky IV and that’s thanks to the boxers who came before him. After the super-animated personalities of Apollo Creed (Rocky I & II) and Clubber Lang (Rocky III), it made little sense to go down the same well-trodden route of the previous three films by revisiting the same copy and paste, loud-mouth antagonists again.

Dolph Lundgren came up with the idea of making his Drago a much more stoic individual whose sole aim was to just "be there with an intimidating presence". Sylvester Stallone obliged by not giving the character too much dialogue and focusing on big close ups, especially those steely eyes. It’s safe to say it all paid off. 

The Mid-Fight Rocky IV Quote Inspired By A Real Heavyweight Title Fight

After taking a heavy beating from Drago in their heavyweight showdown, Rocky Balboa, in a between-rounds exchange with his brother-in-law Paulie [Burt Young] says, “I see three of him out there,” to which Paulie responds with, “Hit the one in the middle!”

Paulie’s quick yet ultimately wise call was actually taken from a real heavyweight title fight in 1933 between Max Baer and Max Schmelling. A big right from Germany’s Schmelling had left Baer groggy in the first round and he uttered to his cornerman, former champion Jack Dempsey, those same words Balboa would to Paulie more than half a century later. Dempsey’s response? Hit the one in the middle. Baer eventually won by KO in the 10th round. 

Over 8,000 People Auditioned For The Role Of Ivan Drago

It’s utterly impossible to imagine anyone other than the Super-Swede Dolph Lundgren in the shoes of Ivan Drago but the actor really had to fight hard to land the part. More than 8,000 people wound up auditioning for the role and Lundgren was even turned down by the casting directors at first for being too tall 

Luckily, he got the chance to send photos to and meet Stallone who told him he had a good chance to get the part, but advised him to gain 20 pounds of muscle. It took Lundgren several months to win the part but it was so worth it. 

It Was A Landmark Moment For The Godfather Of Soul

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From John Cafferty’s Hearts on Fire to Survivor’s Burning Heart, the Rocky IV soundtrack is a bona fide banger from start to finish. One of the best songs on the soundtrack was James Brown’s Living In America, which is played prior to Creed’s ill-fated exhibition with Drago. The song was eventually released as a single from the film’s official soundtrack and landed Brown his first Top 40 single in 11 years and the last of his career.

It’s The Shortest Rocky Film But It Was Almost The Longest

At 91 minutes, Rocky IV is the shortest film in the saga but the original cut was said to have been a whole hour longer than what we can see today. What happened in that hour? Did Creed come back to life? Do we ever find out what the deal is with Paulie and that robot? Or was it just another hour of montages showing Balboa running up a snowy Siberian mountain to Hearts On Fire? Sadly, we’ll never know.

No It Wasn’t Filmed In Russia

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Speaking of snowy Siberian mountains, the film was, perhaps unsurprisingly in 1985 given the whole Cold War thing, not filmed in Russia. Instead, it was mostly filmed in Wyoming. The farmhouse where Balboa does the bulk of his training is located in Jackson Hole, whilst most of the exterior shots were filmed in the Grand Teton National Park. The fight itself was shot at the PNE Agrodome in Vancouver, British Columbia.

It’s The First Rocky Where The Iconic “Gonna Fly Now” Is Not Sung

Bill Conti’s “Gonna Fly Now” is a staple of the Rocky films (and your gym playlist no doubt) but did you know that Rocky IV is the first Rocky film in which the iconic track isn’t sung?

Vince DiCola, who did the score for Rocky IV, incorporated a few bars of the song in the film, but it’s more of a subtle nod to the song than the real thing. It wouldn't be until Rocky Balboa in 2006 that the song, lyrics and all, would reappear. It’s pretty incredible to think that the most beloved Rocky soundtrack didn’t even really include the franchise’s most famous song.

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