‘Rocky’ producer says the original ending was far too depressing

Sylvester Stallone with arms raised at the top of stairs with large fountain in background after a run outside.'Rocky'
Image via MGM

Even though it’s been 45 years since the movie turned Sylvester Stallone from an unknown into an Academy Award-nominated actor and writer in the Best Picture winner, the Rocky franchise is just as popular today as it’s ever been.

Sly might be sitting out Michael B. Jordan’s directorial debut Creed III, which is going to be strange when the film arrives to deliver a Rocky spinoff without the Italian Stallion, but the 75 year-old action icon has been keeping himself plenty busy with his Director’s Cut of the fourth installment.

The ending always saw the underdog losing his big title fight after pushing reigning champion Apollo Creed to the limit, but in an interview with Yahoo! Entertainment, producer Irwin Winkler revealed that the final moments between Rocky and Adrian were changed so that the story would finish on at something at least resembling a high note.

“Well, what happened was when we had the screenings for friends and some press, during the fight scene everybody was standing on their feet cheering and yelling and all that. And when he loses the fight he and Adrian meet up, and they walk– the camera’s in back of them, and they walk out of the arena and it’s all dirt and dust on the floor. Very kind of, ’70s, realistic ending. And that whole high that we were getting from the audience suddenly dipped down to a real low. And it was kind of depressing. Which by the way, the mid-seventies in America was pretty depressing. You had the Vietnam War and Watergate. I mean, you had all those things going on. We had that same bad feeling at the end.

So we talked to Sly and he rewrote the ending, so that Adrian comes into the ring and they embrace. But we had a problem. The studio wouldn’t spend the money 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 said, OK, we’d put up $25,000 to do it. Well how do you do that? Because the way Stallone wrote the script was Adrian, who was standing in the back of the arena, comes walking towards the ring. And they embrace, the music goes, he says, oh Adrian. And he won– not the fight, but he won his self-respect. And he won the woman he loves. So that’s a great, great ending.”

Of course, the sequel saw Rocky finally accomplish his dream and become the champ, but it would have been a bit of a bum note for the opener to end in such understated fashion. Obviously, the first entry is a grounded sports drama and not the excessive and entertainingly cheesy blockbusters that the series morphed into later on down the line, but a feelgood ending is almost always the best option on the table.