Film / Rocky III

"So many times it happens too fast
You trade your passion for glory
Don’t lose your grip on the dreams of the past
You must fight just to keep them alive!"

The one where Rocky fights Hulk Hogan and Mr. T.

Rocky III is a 1982 American film written and directed by, and starring Sylvester Stallone as the title character; the third installment in the Rocky film series.

Five years after the fight at the end of the previous film, Rocky has become the heavyweight champion and a major celebrity. Another young up-and-comer, Clubber Lang (played by the inimitable Mr. T) wants a shot at him, though, and the film contrasts Rocky's newfound cockiness with Clubber's intensity (a reversal of Rocky and Apollo's roles in the first film). Rocky loses his fight against the better-trained Lang just as his beloved mentor, Mickey, passes away — which leads to Apollo Creed offering to become Rocky's trainer. Apollo initially makes the offer just to get back at Lang, but over the course of their training, he and Rocky bond and become close friends. Rocky wins against Clubber in a rematch, and the film ends with a final match between Apollo and Rocky, though now only as a friendly spar.

Rocky III was the film debut of Mr. T as Lang; and of professional wrestler Hulk Hogan as the supporting character "Thunderlips". The film's main theme "Eye of the Tiger", was written by the group Survivor and became a smash hit single, topping the U.S. Billboard charts and received an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song.

The fourth installment in the series, Rocky IV, was released on 1985.

This film has the examples of:

  • Actor Allusion: Rocky's appearance on The Muppet Show is taken from Sylvester Stallone's actual guest appearance on the show. They just dubbed Rocky over his name.
  • All There in the Manual: The novelisation gives Clubber Lang a backstory. As an orphan at an early age, he spent most of his childhood on the streets of Chicago's Southside, as well as time in orphanages and juvenile facilities. Later as an adult, Clubber was sent to prison for five years, for one possible count of a felony and/or assault charge. During his time being served he discovered boxing as a way to let out his frustrations and talent.
  • Artistic License – Martial Arts: The Boxer vs. Wrestler match is treated as a real life vale tudo-esque match in the vein of Muhammad Ali vs. Antonio Inoki. The announcers even lampshade that kind of match by claiming that usually, when the wrestler grabs the boxer, the fight is over. However, the match itself, while certainly a real brawl in-universe, is choreographed like a professional wrestling bout, with the wrestler hitting all sort of "worked" moves and even receiving a chair shot from a cornerman.
  • Badass Boast: Two very different examples.
    • Thunderlips the wrestler shouts one mid-match before nailing Rocky with a kneeling backbreaker.
    Thunderlips: I cannot break your soul, but I can break your head, and I'm gonna start breaking your back!
    • When asked his prediction for his second match with Rocky, Clubber responds thusly:
    Clubber: Pain.
  • Big Guy Rodeo: Thunderlips walks around, with Rocky clutching his neck from behind, while trying to get off the hold.
  • Boxing Lessons for Superman: An interesting version of this trope as the protagonist is already a boxer. Throughout Rocky I and Rocky II, despite Micky's coaching, Rocky had a very simple fighting style. While he had lots of talent, endurance, and physical ability he wasn't a refined pugilist and basically an Unskilled, but Strong Mighty Glacier or Gradual Grinder. After his loss to Clubber, Apollo who is stated to be extremely skilled and up until he fought Rocky never had a fight last after 3 rounds. Apollo took Rocky and drilled him in all of the aspects of boxing Micky left out such as footwork, feights, timing punches, effective jabs, etc. After his training rocky went from an Unskilled, but Strong Mighty Glacier to a Lightning Bruiser Master of All.
  • Bring It: When Rocky and Clubber touch gloves at the beginning of the rematch.
    Clubber: I'm gonna bust you up.
    Rocky: Go for it.
  • Chairman of the Brawl: Thunderlips gets a wooden folding chair broken on his back courtesy of Paulie.
  • Color Motif: The film puts a twist on Rocky's signature colors. In the previous movie, he wore black trunks with gold stripes. After he becomes champion, finds success, and loses his edge, he switches to flashy gold trunks with black stripes, as well as gold gloves and yellow shoes.
  • Defeat Means Friendship: One of the more famous examples of this trope, starting when Apollo decides to become Rocky's trainer.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: For Mr T. While his persona and well known "Pity the fool" catchphrase were first popularized in Rocky III, the movie has Mr. T hitting on Rocky's wife to antagonize. Far removed from the Mr. T who would become well known for telling kids to stay in school and to not do drugs.
  • Exact Words: When a dying Mickey asks Rocky how the first match with Clubber Lang went, Rocky, to spare Mickey's feelings, says that the fight ended in a knockout in the second round. He declines to mention that he was the one who got knocked out.
  • Foreshadowing: Lang is first seen in the opening montage, watching some of Rocky's title defenses and then leaving disgusted, as the first hint that the matches were against unworthy opponents...and Lang knew it.
  • Funny Background Event: During the pre-fight interview, Paulie is peeking out over Rocky's shoulder and waving at the camera.
  • Genius Bruiser: During the rematch against Clubber at the end, Rocky goads him into throwing punch after punch, which Lang does full force. While the blows do hit Rocky, he's not just standing there, taking the shots; he uses his gloves to guard against the head shots and moves his body to lessen the impact of the body shots, at the same time, letting Lang wear himself out.
  • Good Old Fisticuffs: Rocky had Paulie cut his gloves off during the Boxer vs. Wrestler match so he can use his unpadded fists against the clearly more powerful Thunderlips.
  • Heel: Thunderlips antagonizes the crowd before his charity match with Rocky, and acts like a dangerously violent lunatic in the ring.
  • Heroic B.S.O.D.: When Rocky finds out his ten title defenses were "hand-picked" by Mickey to be relatively easy wins, Rocky goes bonkers for the entire second act of the film. He thought he was fighting the best, but the realization that he was fighting only people Mickey knew Rocky could beat made him question his skill and achievements. This leads to him legitimately fearing the rematch.
  • He's Back: Pretty much the entire third act of the movie.
  • Hypocritical Humor: When they go to Apollo's old gym in L.A., full of African-American boxers:
    Paulie: [referring to African-Americans] I don't like these people.
    Rocky: You don't like 'em? Well maybe they don't like you either, Paulie.
    Paulie: [taken aback] What'd I do to them?
  • Impending Clash Shot: The film ends with Rocky and Apollo about to punch each other in an unofficial match either to see who'd win or just for the sport.
  • Inelegant Blubbering: Rocky, just after Mick dies.
  • I Shall Taunt You: When Rocky sees Clubber's wearing out, he starts mocking his punches ("My mother hits harder than that!"), daring Clubber to hit him, and even playfully smacking Clubber on top of the head with his glove.
  • Kayfabe: Once the match is called, Thunderlips breaks character and thanks Rocky for the bout. Rocky, who is unfamiliar with kayfabe, asks Thunderlips why he acted the way he did, which Thunderlips responds that is the name of the game.
  • Let's Get Dangerous!: After getting unceremoniously tossed out of the ring by the hulking Thunderlips, Rocky immediately bolts to his corner and has his boxing gloves cut off in order to even the odds against his much larger opponent. Once Thunderlips makes his way back to the ring, a bare-knuckled Rocky fares much better against him.
  • Lightning Bruiser: Thunderlips is a full head taller than Rocky and able to pick him up and throw him around with ease, yet as Rocky himself notes, very fast for his size.
    • This is Clubber Lang's entire fighting style - he throws brutal, hard punches and relies on power and speed over endurance.
  • Mean Character, Nice Actor: In-Universe example with Thunderlips, who is revealed to be quite of a nice guy. He spends the entire match playing the Heel to the hilt. Afterwards he breaks Kayfabe to shake Rocky's hand, congratulate him on a good match and take some promotion photos, and goes to great length to ensure that there are no hard feelings. Oh, and there's also the fact that the match was a charity bout that raised nearly 75000 dollars.
  • Meaningful Name: It's not easy to catch, but when the announcer chants Thunderlips's name, the wrestler does a kissing pose with his lips. Combined with his own description of himself as a ladies man, you can see what his ring name is supposed to mean. It doesn't make the name any less awkward, however.
  • My God, You Are Serious: Rocky tries to friendly talk some theatrical spots with Thunderlips in midst of the match, but he then gets clubbed down and he realizes that it is a competitive fight and not some sort of exhibition.
  • No-Sell: Paulie smashes a wooden chair on Thunderlips's back and only gets himself headlock-punched down for all his effort. The attack, however, is enough to distract the wrestler and allow Rocky to hop on his back and lock an unlikely sleeper hold.
  • Our Founder: Philadelphia unveiled a Rocky statue on the museum steps. Paulie later comments on the statue being taken down, which also happened in real life (it was moved to the base of the steps).
  • Oh, Crap!: Rocky gets a pair of them, one comedic and the other both tragic and plot relevant...
    • During the charity Boxer vs. Wrestler match, Rocky has to get clubbed on the back of his head before he realizes that his larger and stronger opponent is taking the bout seriously.
    • During his first match against Clubber Lang, Rocky is honestly shocked at how aggressive he is and how woefully unprepared he was to face him after the first round. Coupled with Mickey collapsing at ringside, his game is thrown off enough for Clubber to decisively end the fight in the second round.
  • Pretty in Mink: Adrian gets a couple furs. Even spoofed in a short review of the films.
    "Rocky gets his own pinball games. Pet Store Lady starts wearing fur coats."
  • Product Placement: Nike. You see the swoosh everywhere in the movie.
  • Pro Wrestling Is Real: The film treats Thunderlips and professional wrestling altogether (or at least the Boxer vs. Wrestler match) as real stuff, because the match is not shown to have any kind of rehearsal and it features quite brutal action and a panicked Rocky of all people. The only thing which is revealed to be an act is Thunderlips's berserk façade.
  • Punch! Punch! Punch! Uh Oh...: Rocky does this to Clubber in the climax of their rematch, where he no sells the increasingly panicking and frustrated Lang's devastating blows. Unlike many other examples of this trope, though, it's not a result of Rocky being tough enough to No-Sell Lang's punches, which are clearly shown to be devastating; Rocky is using defense and movement to take the effect out of Lang's blows until Lang simply became too tired to swing with full force.
  • Ripped from the Headlines:
    • Real life: Joe Frazier, a tough boxer from Philadelphia who was famous for his left hook, did his roadwork in the city (including the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art) and used meat carcasses as makeshift punching bags, reached the pinnacle of his career with a victory over the quick, brash and charismatic Muhammad Ali. After a few defenses against less than stellar opposition that was clearly outclassed by him, Frazier then faced the hard-hitting (but relatively unheralded) George Foreman, and was knocked out in two rounds. A year later Foreman faced Ali, and in that bout Ali made a tactical decision mid-fight to stop using the Hit-and-Run Tactics he was famous for, and instead adopted the rope-a-dope strategy of lying on the ropes, blocking, parrying, and in some cases absorbing all the punishment Foreman could dish out and more, taunting Foreman all the while for Foreman's inability to knock Ali out. Foreman exhausts himself trying to KO Ali, and Ali then knocks him out. (Link)
    • Rocky III: Rocky Balboa, a tough boxer from Philadelphia famous for his left hook who does his roadwork in the city (including the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art) and uses meat carcasses as makeshift punching bags, reaches the pinnacle of his career with victory over the quick, brash and charismatic Apollo Creed. After a number of defenses which his manager eventually admits were handpicked and posed no threat to Rocky, he then decides to defend his title against hard hitting slugger Clubber Lang, and is knocked out in two rounds. Afterward, Apollo Creed, (who is the analogue for Muhammad Ali) trains Rocky to fight in a different way, mirroring Apollo's own style. Rocky begins his rematch with Clubber doing very well by boxing and using Hit-and-Run Tactics, but when Lang finds a way to start getting to him, Rocky makes a mid-fight switch, starts using Stone Wall defense to defend against the worst of Lang's punches while taunting Lang for his inability to knock Rocky out. Lang exhausts himself trying to KO Rocky, and Rocky knocks him out. (Link)
    • Chuck Wepner, the inspiration behind the original Rocky, capitalized on his fame the following year with a heavily publicized match against a professional wrestler (André the Giant). This mirrors Rocky's charity match with Thunderlips. Both matches involved someone being thrown out of the ring, although in the movie Rocky also throws Thunderlips, while in real life it was only Andre giving Wepner the heave ho.
  • Rule of Pool: Balboa pulls a full clothed Paulie into the pool during the training montage, mostly For the Funnyz.
  • Scary Black Man: Mr. T's character Clubber Lang in the third movie.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: When production on was being planned in late 1980 and early 1981, a brash, arrogant, hated muscleman and rising WWF star Hulk Hogan began bragging on the WWF's television programs that he had (supposed) connections with Sylvester Stallone and was going to get a key part in the then-under development film. Hogan bragged that the movie would make him a huge international star and it would mean bigger and better things. Surprising thing is … Hogan was right! (Of course, it helped that, by the time Rocky III opened in the late spring of 1982, he was a face and the most popular wrestler in the American Wrestling Association.)
  • Theme Tune Cameo: A high school marching band plays "Gonna Fly Now" at Rocky's statue unveiling ceremony. Later on a lounge band performing at Rocky's public training plays the theme. An annoyed Mickey yells "Shut up back there! Change your tune."
  • Took a Level in Badass: After Rocky's defeat by Clubber Lang, Apollo decides to help Rocky and train him in the more refined and complex aspects of boxing. Suddenly Rocky goes from Unskilled, but Strong to a Master of All with speed and power, capable of reading his opponents and reacting properly and quickly raining down devastating punches.
  • Throw It In!: An in-universe example. When Rocky is training to fight Clubber Lang, he gets a kiss on the cheek by one of his fans while Mickey is trying to motivate him. After Mickey shoves said fan away he improvises his speech a little without skipping a beat.
    Mickey: Get outta here! Will ya? This is like fighting in a zoo. This is a zoo, you know? Is that the way you train for Clubber? He ain't gonna kiss ya! He gonna kill ya! Ya know that?
  • Training Montage: Part of the opening sequence features Clubber Lang training hard by himself and crushing his opponents while Rocky becomes complacent. Rocky gets a few training scenes while he's preparing for the first bout with Clubber, but mostly it shows how distracted and unfocused he is. Later he gets a proper one when being trained by Apollo.
  • Unfortunate Names: No, honestly, Thunderlips? Face Palm.
  • Villain Has a Point: Clubber Lang is outraged that Rocky won't allow him a shot at the heavyweight championship title and publicly accuses him of only ever taking easy matches. He's actually right: it turns out Mickey has quietly been refusing all challenges to the title except those he knows Rocky can beat.
  • Villainy-Free Villain: Clubber may be a Jerkass but he trains hard and fights clean, and all he wants is a legitimate shot at the title.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Rocky is pissed when he finds out that the ten title defenses he had were against opponents Mickey handpicked.
    Rocky: Setups?
    Mickey: Naw, they weren't setups. They was good fighters, but they wasn't killers like this guy.
  • You Are Better Than You Think You Are: Adrian's speech to Rocky.

"Rising up straight to the top
Had the guts, got the glory
Went the distance, now I'm not gonna stop
Just a man and his will to survive!"