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Film / Rocky IV

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"I must break you."
Ivan Drago

The one where Rocky wins the Cold War.

Rocky IV is a 1985 American sports film written and directed by Sylvester Stallone, who also starred in the film. The film co-stars Dolph Lundgren and it's the fourth entry in the Rocky film series.

Rocky is pitted against Russian super-athlete Ivan Drago in a heavily Cold War themed film, which mostly revolves around the two fights with Drago. In the first, the once-again retired Rocky coaches Apollo for an exhibition match with Drago that leads to Drago killing Apollo in the ring. In the second, Rocky uses good ol' fashioned patriotism to beat down the cold-hearted Russian as an act of revenge.

Preceded by Rocky III. The film's success led to a fifth entry, Rocky V, released in 1990. Stallone later made a Director's Cut of the film, titled Rocky IV: Rocky vs. Drago, was released in theaters on November 11, 2021 and on digital platforms the next day.


This film has the examples of:

  • Acceptable Breaks from Reality: Subverted. Ivan Drago blatantly pushed the referee away during the fight in which Apollo loses his life. He obviously should have been arrested and charged with manslaughter, at the least. However, being from the Soviet Union, the United States chose to let him walk free, rather than risk World War III and/or a Class 2 Apocalypse How over a boxer.note  Which explains why the Russians insisted that the match with Rocky take place in Russia.
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  • Actor Allusion: In the TBS Japanese dub, Ivan Drago is voiced by Norio Wakamoto, who previously voiced another dreaded military-based boxer, Kim Yong-bi, in Tomorrow's Joe.
  • An Ass-Kicking Christmas: Rocky and Drago fight on December 25th.
  • Appeal to Nature: Rocky's training is portrayed as more righteous because it’s outdoors in the brutal Russian winter, while Drago's training is indoors, more technological, and includes steroid use—all of which emphasize Drago's villain status.
  • Artistic License – Cars: The KGB officials assigned Rocky while he trains in Siberia are driving a US import variant of the Mercedes Benz, which would not have been sold in the Soviet Union.
  • Artistic License – Physics: Ivan Drago has a measured punching pressure of over 2000 psi. Considering the average size of someone's fist, this would equate to roughly 15,000 pounds of force. To put this in perspective, a T-Rex's bite power was estimated at 7700 pounds of force. No amount of electro-stimulation and steroids could give you that kind of strength.
  • Artistic License – Sports:
    • In reality, Ivan and Apollo's fight would have been stopped very quickly. It doesn't matter if the towel was thrown in or not: the referee is obligated to end the match immediately if he fears for a boxer's well-being, something made even clearer when Drago starts punching Apollo and Apollo is clearly unable to respond or react, which in real life would lead the ref to stop the fight on a TKO. Even by the conclusion of the first round, it was blindingly obvious Apollo was in danger of significant injury. At least one analysis explores how the film would've worked if the match had been ended either by the referee / Rocky throwing in the towel before Drago could land the fatal hook to Apollo's face.
    • In classic Rocky fashion, any and all rules of regulation boxing take a vacation at the end so that Rocky and Drago can pummel each other with life-or-death stakes on the line. Like the fight against Apollo, the referee doesn't stop over cuts above the eye, despite the fact that Rocky and Drago's brows are openly bleeding and likely impairing their eyesight; in general, the fight would never be allowed to continue to the point that they'd be that hurt (with even their midriffs raw and bloody from body blows). Rocky's knockouts alone would lead to a stop and TKO, with Drago hurling him to the canvas no less than 8 times, sometimes twice or thrice in a row within what seem to be a handful of seconds (and with Rocky not even trying to block or dodge). It's implied that the Russian officials, wanting to see Drago beat Rocky utterly, won't accept anything less than a KO by loss of consciousness, but even the most hardened Soviet ref — with his career and even well-being on the line — would likely call for Ivan just so their star asset didn't get brain damage or an internal hemorrhage fighting the crazy American.
  • Badass Boast:
    • Drago's "You will lose."
    • Koloff, Drago's handler and promoter, drops this gem after Drago displays his Megaton Punch:
      "Whatever he hits- he destroys!"
    • And the most famous of them all, towards Rocky: "I must break you."
  • Blood Knight: Ivan is revealed to be one when he knocks his Soviet handler on his ass. As this is the first time Drago has shown something resembling respect for an opponent, this is something of a Pet the Dog moment.
    "I fight to win for me! For ME!!"
  • Bullying the Dragon: When Drago starts losing to Rocky, his livid handler lays into him, even shoving him in the face. He gets about two seconds to realise what a big mistake this was before getting thrown across the stadium by the neck.
  • Casualty in the Ring: Rocky returns to the fold to avenge Apollo Creed, after Ivan Drago kills Apollo in the ring.
  • Contrasting Sequel Antagonist: Contrasting to Rocky's previous opponent, Clubber Lang, who uses trash-talk like punctuation, Drago is threateningly stoic and rarely speaks or emotes. He has approximately 5 lines of dialogue in the film.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Drago absolutely pounds Apollo in the first two rounds, actually killing him. He initially has the better of Rocky during the first round of their match, but Rocky manages to turn the tables in the second round.
  • David Versus Goliath: How everyone—including Adrian—views the matchup between Rocky and Drago.
    Adrian: Have you read the papers? Do you know what everybody says? It’s suicide! You’ve seen him, you’ve seen how strong he is. You can’t win!
  • Deadly Sparring: What starts as a simple exhibition match between Apollo Creed and Soviet boxer Ivan Drago gets serious when Drago starts really laying into him. Despite this, Creed refuses to throw in the towel, leading to his death.
  • Death Glare: Rocky gives one to Drago after Drago kills Apollo.
  • Determinator: No matter how many times Drago knocks Rocky down, Rocky will not stay down, much to Drago’s frustration. Rocky’s determination even wins over the Russian crowd.
  • Denser and Wackier: The previous Rocky movies were generally realistic, down-to-Earth sports films. This one has an inexplicable Robot Buddy, a genetically-engineered Soviet Super Soldier, James Brown flamboyantly opening for Apollo Creed in place of the National Anthem, and Rocky solving the Cold War with a dramatic speech that makes the Soviet Union instant buddies with the USA.
  • Dirty Communist: Of course, Soviet boxer Drago uses performance-enhancing drugs.
  • Double Standard: In-Universe. During the interview, Apollo and his friends make several jokes at Drago's expense. However, when Ludmilla simply says that her husband is going to win, Apollo immediately becomes hostile and he retorts aggressively. Apparently, he's okay with joking at the expense of someone as long as it's not him. However, it seems that Apollo's behavior during the pre-fight press conference was likely just theatre; immediately after, Apollo asks for Rocky's assessment of his performance:
    Apollo: How did I do?
    Rocky: A little loud for my taste.
    Apollo: But good?
    Rocky: Yeah, very good.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: While it was a clear lie and Ivan did take steroids, Ludmilla does encourage healthy eating to become strong, even making a joke about Popeye with it.
  • Evil Counterpart: While "evil" is a stretch, Drago's very reminiscent of Rocky when you think about it. We meet him as an up-and-coming fighter and something of an underdog pitted against the established Apollo Creed in an exhibition match, with the opposition really not taking him seriously. Apollo even enters the fight with an over-the-top patriotic performance, much like he did with Rocky when they first fought. However, Drago surprises everyone by giving Creed a serious fight, and while Rocky lost the fight but gained the respect of everyone, Drago wins the fight (in the worst way possible) and finds himself reviled by the American public. The film plays this up even more in the training montage by contrasting Drago's and Rocky's methods, both pushing themselves to the very limit despite the differences in their training. There's also a sharp contrast with their personalities; while Rocky is a very warm, kind individual, Drago is mostly silent, cold as ice, and doesn't seem to have much empathy for his opponents (at least, until Rocky earns his respect in their fight). Drago even has his own Adrian in the form of Ludmilla, his loving and supportive wife who's always at his side... at least until Creed II subverts this...
  • Evil Is Petty: The KGB "assigns" two men to "guard" Rocky. Pretty much just for subtle intimidation... but Rocky pretty much ignores them.
  • Flanderization: In Rocky, Apollo Creed's patriotism is for show. He denies that his "underdog" idea is patriotic and insists that it is intelligent. In Rocky IV, he puts on a similar song-and-dance routine, but this time, it is a genuine expression of extreme patriotism, a quality not before seen in Apollo. It's possible that the increased Cold War tension of the 1980s (and/or fighting a Soviet as opposed to other Americans) brought it out in him, but it's also worth noting that this was around the time he cheated on his wife and unknowingly conceived his son Adonis.
  • Funny Background Event: At the end of the first round of the fight between Rocky and Drago, you can see Duke fighting Drago's trainer.
  • Genre Shift: Rather than being an underdog sports movie where Rocky has to prove himself, Rocky IV is essentially a martial arts action movie where Rocky must defeat an evil Super Soldier to avenge his murdered rival/friend/master. Adding to this is the fact that the bout between Rocky and Drago isn't actually a sanctioned match, and eventually degenerates into something that barely resembles boxing.
  • Good Smoking, Evil Smoking: Ludmilla takes a drag of Koloff’s cigarette as Drago is pummelling Apollo, showing her indifference to Apollo’s imminent death. Later, as Apollo drops to the canvas, Ludmilla has a small smile on her face.
  • Graceful Loser: After Rocky's victory and final speech, the Russian crowd cheer for him and the Russian leaders applaud him.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Downplayed, when Drago starts fighting Rocky, he becomes arrogant and dominant in the rounds, but when Rocky manages to fight back, he is impressed by his skill and determination. ("He's not human, he's like a piece of iron.") While he did still fight Rocky, he turns against his trainers (and to an extent, his own country) with the following words.
    Drago: I fight to win, FOR ME!!! FOR ME!!!!
  • Honor Before Reason: Rocky agrees to Apollo's plea not to throw in the towel to end the match even as Drago is massacring him in the ring, which leads to Apollo's death.
  • Huge Guy, Tiny Girl: Drago with his wife. Until you remember that Brigitte Nielsen is about 6 feet tall, to give you an idea about how huge he really is.
  • Husky Russkie: Ivan Drago is gigantic compared to Rocky and is the Soviet villain to Rocky's all-American hero.
  • Improvised Training: The entire training sequence. Rocky has to train for his fight without the benefit of sparring, so instead, he hardens himself up in the Russian winter as best he can.
  • International Showdown by Proxy: American and Soviet boxers serve as a Cold War showdown. note 
  • Irony: Apollo tells Rocky he feels "born again".. minutes before he's killed in the ring by Drago.
  • Japan Takes Over the World: Hinted at, there's some Japanese reporters at the final fight in Moscow.
  • Jerkass: Koloff, a loathsome Smug Snake who alternates between boasting about Drago's invincibility and mocking the Americans. Even Drago gets sick of him.
  • Just Toying with Them: In the bout with Apollo, Drago pointedly doesn't throw a single punch or guard at all for several moments. Until his corner coach yells "let 'er rip" (in Russian). Cue the horrific slaughter.
  • Karma Houdini:
    • Ivan Drago's karma for killing Apollo is to... lose a boxing match. Creed II later reveals that Ivan did suffer actual repercussions for the loss; his marriage with Ludmilla and his standing with the Politburo both crumbled, leaving him a broken, bitter man obsessed with regaining the glory of his former life.
    • Rocky's crooked accountant (unseen in the movie) who squandered all his fortune on bad business deals, disappeared, and left him broke in Rocky V.
  • Kick the Dog: Drago shows no remorse for killing Apollo, what prevented him from crossing the Moral Event Horizon is that he's doing it all for his country and that he shows respect to Rocky in the end of the fight.
  • Knight of Cerebus: Among the franchise's antagonists, Drago leaves the darkest impact — namely, Apollo's death and Rocky's Career-Ending Injury.
  • Lady Macbeth: Ludmilla is a downplayed version. During Drago’s Training Montage, it seems like even she is taken aback by how monstrous he has become.
  • Made of Iron: Drago uses these exact words to describe Rocky.
  • Montage: It’s a Rocky movie, so there are several:
    • Loved Ones Montage: Rocky imagines one while driving, after he and Adrian fought over Rocky’s decision to fight Drago in Moscow.
    • Training Montage: Rocky and Drago have parallel training montages as Rocky works out in the brutal Russian winter and Drago works out inside a state-of-the-art gymnasium while receiving steroids. Nevertheless, Rocky’s success in climbing a mountain while Drago quits on a heavily inclined treadmill shows that Rocky ultimately has greater heart.
    • Time-Compression Montage: Much of the boxing match between Rocky and Drago, except the first two rounds and the final round.
  • Megaton Punch: Drago wields a punch force of over 2000 psi.
  • Mother Russia Makes You Strong: Literal example with a variation where most of Rocky's training is done against the harsh Russian rural winter while Ivan Drago uses a modern, comfortable gymnasium.
  • National Stereotypes: The portrayal of the Soviet Union is comically stereotypical and cartoonish. It's a grey, dour land of perpetual winter, where the population has no sense of humor, cheats shamelessly, moves in robotic unison and wears military uniforms at all times.
  • Neck Lift: Drago does this to his handler when he comes up to him during the match with Rocky and begins berating Drago for how poorly the match is going.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero:
    • Apollo's showboating and attempted intimidation of Drago by exposing him to a ridiculously overblown introduction — complete with James Brown — arguably results in the Russians intimidating Rocky during the match in Russia, with the incredibly dramatic Soviet anthem and portrait of Drago being unveiled.
    • The atmosphere is positive in the beginning. Apollo and Drago will just have a demonstration match, trying to improve the relation between the US and the USSR. Ludmilla even compliments Apollo and makes an outreach to his wife. However, Apollo is constantly mocking the abilities of Drago, while he has limited knowledge about Drago at that point. This annoys and ultimately enrages Drago and his party, resulting in a hostile atmosphere. Subsequently, Drago does not hold anything back in their fight.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: The nameless Soviet leader who is shown watching Rocky's fight with Drago bears a conspicuous resemblance to Mikhail Gorbachev — who had just taken over as leader of the Soviet Union when filming began — sans Gorbachev's distinctive birthmark. On a similar note, Drago's manager Koloff noticeably resembles Gorbachev's predecessor, Konstantin Chernenko in dress sense and hairstyle.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: The demonstration match between Apollo and Drago.
    Phillip Wismer (historian): Creed is clearly exhausted by the dance number he did with James Brown five minutes earlier, and before the second round is over...[shrugs] that’s it.
  • Novelisation: Written by Stallone himself. The biggest addition is Paulie going to Las Vegas, losing at gambling and lamenting to a prostitute.
  • Oddball in the Series: A couple things:
    • The only Rocky movie to not have the iconic "running up the steps" scene.
    • The only Rocky movie composed by Vince DiCola. As such, the song "Gonna Fly Now" isn't heard.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • A subtle one right before Apollo fights Drago, where he tries to intimidate him by slamming down on his fists from above and Drago's hands don't move a millimetre.
      • Apollo's reaction shows that he is suddenly aware that he's in some trouble.
    • The same thing happens after a Drago knockdown, when Rocky sulks into the corner, gets to his knees, puts his mouthpiece back in, and stands up. Drago's face says, "What else do I have to do for him to stay down?!"
    • When Drago's promoter tears into him mid-match, Drago towers over him lividly, giving him just enough time to realise he's made a big mistake before getting grappled by the throat.
  • Patrick Stewart Speech: Rocky’s speech after defeating Drago, in which he expresses his belief, after seeing the crowds' change towards him and his own change of heart, that “Everyone can change!”
    Phillip Wismer, political historian: "And who could have predicted that this relatively inarticulate rambling at the end of a boxing match would go down as one of the most important speeches of the 20th century?"
  • Propaganda Piece: The film is a particularly well-known example of anti-Soviet Cold War propaganda.
  • Product Placement: Everyone (including the Soviets!) wears Adidas sportswear.
  • Punch! Punch! Punch! Uh Oh...: In the first round of their fight, Rocky can't seem to even faze Drago, who actually smiles at Rocky after letting Rocky pound away at his midsection to no apparent effect.
  • The Quiet One: Drago's handler and wife do the talking. He does the punching. It's established that while he does speak and understand English, he's just a man of few (if any) words — though Creed II does show him to be a lot more talkative both in his native tongue and in English, suggesting that his grasp of the latter language may have been more limited during this movie's events.
  • Re-Cut: Sylvester Stallone's original cut of the movie was about one hour longer. Ironically, it wound up being the shortest in the series. One can only imagine what was cut from the film.
  • Retirony: Apollo inverts this by getting killed in his very first match after coming out of retirement.
  • Revenge: The whole point of Rocky fighting Drago.
  • Robot Buddy: Paulie gets one for a birthday present "because he doesn't have any friends" (ouch). He later teaches it to sound and act like a devoted Robot Girl (ew). Pretty much a rolling Big-Lipped Alligator Moment throughout the whole movie. Roger Ebert has some fun making light of the fact Rocky is somehow in possession of some advanced artificial intelligence.
  • Rousing Speech: Duke!
    Duke (before third round): Now he’s worried. You cut him! You hurt him! You see—you see?! He’s not a machine! He’s a man! You want it more than he does! No pain! No pain!”
    Duke (before final round): There’s no stopping us now, this is our round. You start, you don’t stop! All your strength! All your power! All your love! Everything you’ve got! To win you’ve gotta knock him out. You gotta punch and punch until you can’t punch no more! This is your whole life here! You do it now, now!
  • Sequel Goes Foreign: This movie has Rocky go from America to Russia.
  • Silent Antagonist: Drago is a man of very, very few words.
  • Silent Snarker: During the prefight trash talk with Creed, Drago's the only one to catch on that the argument between his handler and Creed is simple Trash Talk to psych each other out and simply pushes Creed as his own way of snarking back.
  • Soviet Superscience: Whatever they're injecting Drago with is a lot more potent than the sketchy grey market 'roids you can buy off that Tattooed Crook loitering in the nearest gym locker room. That stuff never gave anyone the power to punch with the force of one ton per square inch.
  • Special Guest: James Brown singing "Living in America" before the bout between Apollo and Drago in Las Vegas.
  • Strawman Political: One of the most cartoonishly negative depictions of the USSR in American media, which is saying something. The Russian characters are a near-silent, hulking muscleman with little empathy towards his opponents, his wife who smiles gleefully when Apollo dies, and their Jerkass promoter, a Communist functionary who spends the whole film baiting Apollo, Rocky and insulting America.
  • Theme Music Abandonment: Rocky's classic theme, "Gonna Fly Now", is absent from this movie, although a few notes are used near the end of the instrumental at the end of "Hearts on Fire."
  • Trailers Always Spoil: Apollo’s death is given away in the trailer.
  • Training from Hell: Both Ivan and Drago go through one for the final bout, pushing themselves to their absolute limits. Ivan at one point is nearly in tears due to the stress and collapses at the end.
  • Unskilled, but Strong: Major subversion. Apollo thinks Drago is this, due to the limited number of bouts that Apollo can view footage from. Apparently, Drago's skill and form had improved by leaps and bounds since his last bout that Apollo saw.
  • Villain Has a Point:
    • As the Soviets themselves mention, Apollo isn't in proper condition to beat someone of Drago's physique and single-minded determination, and that he could learn a painful lesson attempting to fight Drago, between a lengthy absence from the ring and the fact that (as retroactively revealed in Creed) he's been going through a mid-life crisis, which has resulted in him conceiving Adonis through an extramarital affair. Apollo's stubborn refusal to give up or let Rocky throw in the towel gets him killed in the ring.
      • During the same interview, Apollo and his friends make several jokes at Drago's expense. When Drago's wife says that Drago didn't come here to lose, the lighthearted atmosphere immediately becomes more tense and Ludmilla accuses Apollo of being hostile and aggressive. The problem is that she's right. The moment she says that Drago will win, Apollo immediately becomes more hostile, which in turn causes the Russian party to become more hostile.
    • Regarding the Apollo-Drago bout, Ludmilla shames the Americans for trying to turn the match into a personal/political matter, which is accurate. When Drago, the neutral (if self-assured) party, is raised into the ring, he gets mercilessly booed as if he's a Foreign Wrestling Heel, whereas Apollo enters on a giant bull sculpture to deafening cheers and James Brown himself singing "Living in America". After Apollo's death, she hints that they've been receiving hate mail and death threats, undoubtedly stoked by the way the American media covered the story and Apollo and company hyped it.
  • Voice for the Voiceless: Not that Ivan never speaks, but Ludmilla speaks for him when she needs to, mostly when in front of the press.
  • Wet Blanket Wife: Adrian strongly opposes Rocky’s decision to fight Drago, though she later changes her mind and comes to Russia to support him.
  • Worthy Opponent: Drago quickly comes to respect Rocky's toughness and determination during their bout ("He's not human. He is like a piece of iron") and shows that respect near the end of their bout.
    • Earlier, Drago is seen pushing himself to his limits to prepare for his fight with Rocky despite how easily he beat Apollo previously.


Video Example(s):


Drago Neck Lift

Despite going eleven rounds with Rocky, Drago can still neck lift an idiot stupid enough to piss him off.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (5 votes)

Example of:

Main / NeckLift

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