Sylvester Stallone’s Original Concept for ‘Rocky III’ Was Crazy And Amazing
The best Rocky sequel is Rocky III. Rocky wrestles Hulk Hogan! He fights Mr. T! Mickey dies (uh, spoiler)! Apollo goes from Rocky’s sworn enemy to his best friend and trainer! Rocky runs on the beach in hilariously high knee socks! “Eye of the Tiger!” It’s pure pleasure from beginning to end.
Although you have probably seen Rocky III a million times on cable, you may not know Sylvester Stallone’s original concept for the film was totally different than what wound up onscreen. You can read that original idea online; in 1979, he described the whole thing, beat for beat, in an interview with Roger Ebert. And it is bananas.
At the time, Stallone claimed he planned for Rocky III to be the final film in the series. (Hey, he was only off by five movies and counting!) This version did maintain the plotline where Apollo retires and then becomes Rocky’s trainer. But the similarities pretty much end there. Instead of dying, Mickey would have had a stroke — and, oh yeah, Rocky’s “half blind” in this one.
Apollo’s role as Rocky’s mentor would have gone past teaching him how to run faster and fighter harder, too. Stallone envisioned Apollo showing him “how to handle his money.” Yes that’s right: In its original concept, Rocky III would have gotten way down with the hot accounting action.
The ending would have been something really special too. Per Stallone:
‘[Rocky’s] last bout will be in the Roman Coliseum, carried worldwide by satellite,’ Stallone said, and his voice picked up enthusiasm. ‘Can you see it? Rocky in the Coliseum? The last gladiator? And, for training, running up the Spanish Steps? And, Rocky’s deeply religious; can you imagine him inside St. Peter’s? I'm seriously gonna try to work in an audience with the Pope into the film. I dunno. Maybe with this Pope, he’ll go for it. If he don’t, we get another Pope.’
Sylvester Stallone thought he could get the Pope to make a cameo in a Rocky sequel. And then, in the event that the Pope says no, he suggests they simply get another Pope. And now you know: Sylvester Stallone invented galaxy brain thinking in an interview with Roger Ebert in 1979.
A year later, Stallone did another interview with Ebert, and told him more of his ideas for the film. After chilling with the Pope, what else is there for Rocky to do? Die, of course. Here are Stallone’s words:
If I have the nerve, if I have real nerve, Rocky should die at the end of the third film. I was originally thinking in more grandiose terms — the Coliseum and everything — but Rocky III should end with more than a fight. It should end with Rocky’s life coming full cycle, The way I imagine it, after the fight, he’s riding home in a cab, with the roar of the people chanting ‘Rocky!’ still in his ears. And he just drops over dead.
Later in the interview, Stallone did say he was unsure about killing Rocky — but he was positive that one way or another Rocky III should be the end for the character. “I don't think people want to see Rocky when he's 80,” he explained.
Of course, Rocky III wound up being a huge hit; it made more money than the original Rocky. So he made Rocky IV — and that was an even bigger hit. And here we are in 2018. Sylvester Stallone is 72 in Creed II. An 80-year-old Rocky? It doesn’t sound that absurd anymore.