‘Rocky’ producer Irwin Winkler on the movie’s original ending, and why Sly Stallone’s beloved boxer will never die

I, Adrian, did. Forty-five years ago, Philadelphia boxer Rocky Balboa, also known as the Italian Stallion, went the distance with heavyweight champion Apollo Creed in a 15-round battle for all ages. Rocky was ultimately not victorious in that fight, but he, and we, won something more valuable: a film franchise that has endured for nearly half a century and counting. Over the next four decades and eight movies, he has watched a number of bigger and badder opponents both in the ring (Clubber Lang and Ivan Drago) and outside of it (financial ruin and cancer).

Rocky has also narrowly avoided death at the hands of two screenwriters, including his own alter ego, Sylvester Stallone (more on that later). But Balboa still stands and, according to a long time ago Rocky producer Irwin Winkler, you will never die … on screen anyway. Speaking to Yahoo Entertainment in 2018, Winkler promised that audiences will never see Stallone’s death scene in a Rocky or Creed film. “Not while I’m alive,” he swears. (See our video interview above).

Balboa’s career might have ended before it began if audiences had seen the original, depressing ending of the film when it it was released in theaters on November 21, 1976. As in the theatrical cut, Rocky loses his fight with Apollo in a split decision. But the final scene that Stallone wrote and director John G. Avildsen filmed found the boxer and his beloved Adrian (Talia Shire) holding hands as they emerged from the now-empty arena, returning to darkness after their brief brush with fame. . It is an image that is preserved on the movie poster, although it was never shown to the general public.

Rocky's poster retains the film's original sad ending (Photo: United Artists / courtesy Everett Collection)

The poster of Rocky preserves the original sad ending of the film (Photo: United Artists / courtesy Everett Collection)

It’s a melancholic ending that has a spirit closer to the films that defined the late 60s and early 70s. The graduate or The conversation. And according to Winkler, that’s exactly why it was the wrong ending for Rocky. “What happened was when we had screenings for friends and some of the press, and during the fight scene, everyone was standing up, cheering and screaming and all that,” says the producer, who celebrated his 90th birthday this year.

“When he loses the fight, he and Adrian meet and walk out of the arena … a realistic ’70s ending,” Winkler explains. “All of that excitement that we were getting from the audience suddenly dwindled to a really low level. It was kind of depressing, which, by the way, the mid-70s in America was pretty depressing!”

Realizing they didn’t want to upset audiences anymore, Winkler and his producing partner, Robert Chartoff, asked Stallone to write a new ending, the one that fans now know by heart. Instead of meeting after the fight, Adrian steps into the ring and she and Rocky embrace as Bill Conti’s heartwarming score rises for the last time. It’s such a triumphant moment that you almost forget that Balboa lost to Creed. “He [didn’t win] the fight, but he earned respect for himself and won the woman he loves, “Winkler says of Stallone’s review.” That’s a great, great ending. “

Sylvester Stallone and Carl Weathers square off in the climactic brawl of the original Rocky (Photo: United Artists / Courtesy: Everett Collection)

Stallone and Carl Weathers face off in the climactic fight of the original. Rocky (Photo: United Artists / Courtesy: Everett Collection)

United Artists, the studio that funded the film, agreed. But they I did not do it agree to pay for it. “They said, ‘If you want a new ending, you pay for it yourself.’ So Bob Chartoff and I didn’t have a lot of money, but we put in $ 25,000 to do it. “That $ 25K bought them about 25 extras and a lot of creative staging to make that little group look like a big crowd.” The way Stallone wrote the script was that Adrian was standing at the back of the arena and walking towards the ring, “says Winkler.”[We told] all the extras came in with coats and hats … and we just changed where they were standing and how they were positioned to take her into the ring. ”

That new ending delivered the coup de grace that the creative team had hoped for. Rocky grossed more than $ 100 million in his early stage career and beat out movie heavyweights like Network, All the president’s men and Taxi driver for the trophy for Best Picture at the Oscars that year. Meanwhile, the final discarded scene disappeared into the UA vaults, surviving only on the poster and set photos. To this day, Winkler has no idea where he ended up. “Frankly, I don’t even know where it is. I’m going to check it out, maybe when we repack it or something, we can put it on the DVD … I’d be curious to see it myself.”

Stallone and Talia Shire in the few surviving photos of Rocky's original ending (Photo: Courtesy Everett Collection)

Stallone and Talia Shire in the few surviving photos of Rocky’s original ending (Photo: Courtesy Everett Collection)

Although it wasn’t his original vision for the film, Stallone happily reaped the rewards that came with the revised ending. And starting with Rocky ii, took almost total creative control of the franchise, directing each of the sequels as well as writing and starring in them. Balboa reached its commercial peak with 1985 Rocky iv, which remains the highest-grossing entry in the franchise and also helped pave the way for its return in the Creed movies three decades later. (Stallone recently released a director’s cut from the fourth film that is added in 40 minutes of invisible footage.)

Once again, however, Balboa’s second act was nearly derailed by a depressing ending. Five years later Rocky iv, Stallone planned to end the franchise permanently with the 1990s Rocky v, which originally ended with a brain-damaged Rocky dying in Adrian’s arms after battling his protégé turned nemesis, Tommy “The Machine” Gunn (played by real-life boxer, Tommy Morrison). In the final scene, Adrian delivered a tearful eulogy on the famous steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. “As long as there are people willing to face life’s challenges and not give up until their dreams come true, the world will always have its Rockys,” he was supposed to say just before the credits came out.

Stallone and Tommy Morrison in Rocky V, which originally ended with Rocky's death (Photo: United Artists / courtesy Everett Collection)

Stallone and Tommy Morrison in Rocky v, which originally ended with Rocky’s death (Photo: United Artists / courtesy Everett Collection)

Neither Winkler, nor the returning director, Alvidsen, liked that ending, and the producer said it was never filmed. “I was a little out of Rocky v because the moment I started directing … so it was mainly Bob who took care of that, “Winkler explains, adding that Stallone finally saw the wisdom of giving Rocky a stay of execution (Chartoff died in 2015 and Alvidsen passed away). Two years later). Rocky v it would be the end of the road. ”

Instead, Rocky kept hitting in 2006 Rocky Balboa, followed by 2015 Creed, which was written and directed by Ryan Coogler, fresh off his feature film debut, Fruitvale Station. And the young filmmaker had a daring ending in mind for Italian Stallion, who plays Burgess Meredith’s Mickey for Michael B. Jordan’s Adonis Creed. “Ryan’s [original] “The script had the Rocky character dying,” says Winkler. “Has ALS and dies [at the end.] None of us wanted that. “

The same as Rocky and Rocky v, the Creed The script was rewritten to give Balboa a more upbeat ending. In the remake, Rocky is diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in the middle of the movie, but battles the disease at the same time as Adonis trains for his own “go the distance” moment. That dramatic arc earned Stallone a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor and an Oscar nomination in the same category.

Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa and Michael B. Jordan as Adonis Creed in 2018's 'Creed II'. It was recently revealed that Stallone will not return for & # 39;  Creed III & # 39;  that Jordan is directing.  (Photo: Metro Goldwyn Mayer Images / Warner Bros. Images)

Stallone and Michael B. Jordan in Creed ii (Photo: Metro Goldwyn Mayer Images / Warner Bros. Images)

Rocky may have escaped death multiple times, but he can’t put retirement behind him. In 2018, Stallone described Creed ii as his “last rodeo,” and Jordan recently confirmed to Yahoo Entertainment that Balboa will not be by Adonis’ side at the next Creed iii. “There will be so many Rocky-isms that will stay with Adonis forever as he goes along,” says the actor, who is also directing the new film. “As for the page space, or whether Rocky comes back or not, this is the Creed franchise moving forward “.

Winkler, for his part, thinks we haven’t seen the last of Rocky Balboa. “I think Sly really intends to retire and I intend to convince him to stay,” he laughs. As it happens, Stallone has announced other plans for his signature character, including a possible new movie and a prequel TV series. It’s just one more confirmation that Rocky will never die. “He’s such an iconic American character,” says Winkler. “Not just in America, but around the world. Rocky and Sly are so swapped, a lot of the former Rocky [films] it also really represented the change in Sylvester Stallone’s career. ”

Rocky is currently broadcasting on HBO Max

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