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  • Audience-Alienating Premise: A major cause of the movie's negative response is just how depressing it is compared to the previous four movies. While a return to the series' roots was not a bad idea itself, it's widely agreed that the circumstances in which it happens are just too much of a downer for such an uplifting franchise, and unlike the other films that never really improves over the course of it.
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  • Awesome Music: The fight from Rocky IV scored to a new version of Bill Conti's "Conquest" theme during the opening credits.
  • Designated Hero: Shockingly, Rocky Balboa. See Unintentionally Unsympathetic for more details.
  • Designated Villain: Tommy Gunn. Sure, it was a dick move for Tommy to ditch Rocky in favor of the real villain of the movie, Duke, but let's look at the circumstances that led to his heel turn: the media never took Tommy Gunn seriously or even acknowledged him, as they only referred to him as Rocky's Pupil, or even Rocky's Puppet; meanwhile, Rocky was pretty much reliving his boxing career through Tommy, which even Adrian called him out on. Tommy was just a guy that was trying to make it in boxing and be his own man while being used by two people, Duke and Rocky, each of whom had their own agenda. That said, assaulting a retired middle aged man with the intention to seriously wound him is easily a Moral Event Horizon moment for him.
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  • Esoteric Happy Ending: Nothing really changes at the end. Rocky's still broke and can't fight professionally anymore and Tommy's still the champion, despite losing the street fight. While George Washington Duke got his comeuppance, he's still managing Tommy. Rocky Balboa fixed this.
  • Harsher in Hindsight:
    • This is the last movie you'd see Rocky and Adrian together. Let that sink in.
    • Rocky begins neglecting Rocky Jr, who is mocked by his peers for having a famous father and in turn begins acting out towards his parents. Rocky Jr was played in this film by Stallone's real son Sage Stallone, who allegedly also struggled with his acting career due to the legacy left by his father note . The final shot where the two embrace on top of the museum steps can be quite hard to watch after Sage's death in 2012.
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    • Rocky's initial reluctance to train Adonis in Creed most likely stemmed partially from what happened between him and Tommy in this film.
  • He Really Can Act: Tommy Morrison, a boxer with no previous acting experience, was praised by the critics as having one of the best performances in the movie as Tommy Gunn. It helps that both of them share a lot of background details, making it easier for Morrison to portray his character.
  • Hilarious in Hindsight: Tommy being nicknamed "Rocky's Robot" is this for anyone who remembers that Rocky had an actual robot in Rocky IV.
  • Love to Hate: George Washington Duke is a slimy and arrogant manipulative bastard who's also charismatic and bombastic.
  • Moral Event Horizon: A minor one for Tommy Gunn. If clearly betraying Rocky wasn't bad enough, he goes out of his way to be a total jerkass to him at a bar, and even punches Paulie out just because he told him to leave. That was enough for Rocky to want to beat his butt.
  • Retroactive Recognition: Kevin Connolly in his first acting role as neighborhood bully Chickie.
  • Sequelitis: While the previous two Rocky films are seen at the worst as So Bad, It's Good installments of the franchise regardless of their quality, this film is seen as the nadir of the series, to the point where many fans will say it doesn't exist.
  • Signature Scene: Even though the film remains the most forgotten and hated installment, most viewers agree that the climactic street fight between Rocky and Tommy is one of the most memorable fight scenes in the series due to its unique nature and choreography.
  • They Wasted a Perfectly Good Character: On paper at least, Tommy has a far more interesting backstory and character arc than Clubber Lang or Ivan Drago did, as they were written purely as one-dimensional jerkasses (albeit Drago would later be given much more depth when he returned in Creed II). Unfortunately, because he ends up starting as a more layered character and turns essentially into a cartoon villain by the end under Duke's influence, any such potential is completely wasted. Additionally, there were scenes shot (which can be viewed online) where Tommy does at least have a Heel Realization for what's happened after the street fight, which would have at least added a little more depth back to him at the end, but they were deleted from the finished film.
  • They Wasted a Perfectly Good Plot: Some critics believe that, because of the last-minute decision to not kill Rocky in the climactic street fight, much of the foreshadowing and buildup to it was completely meaningless.
  • Unintentionally Unsympathetic: Rocky. Having committed the monumental foolhardiness of leaving Paulie in charge of finances, he loses his mansion, but still has Mickey's gym and Adrian's pet store job to keep his family from destitution. However, other than a brief attempt to do a commercial (which fails), Rocky doesn't try any other way to trade on his fame to make money. It sounds like Rocky doesn't want to do any job that doesn't involve punching people in the face. There is also Rocky neglecting his son in favor of some stranger he found on the street, which loses him some father of the year points, and Rocky ignoring his wife's fears that he'll be permanently brain damaged if he fights again, which makes him look arrogant.

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