Sylvester Stallone may have settled into a groove as a musclebound action hero during the apex of his career in the 1980s, but he initially broke out by drawing comparisons to Marlon Brando for his expressive and naturalistic acting style in Rocky, which saw him land an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay, with the movie winning for Best Picture and Best Director.
The longer the initial five-film series wore on before its first hiatus, the more it strayed further and further away from the original, which was rooted firmly in reality. Both Rocky the franchise and the character succumbed to the excesses of the decade for better or worse, and by the time the third installment rolled around, he was basically an indestructible superhero, who everyone knew would recover from his mauling at the hands of Clubber Lang to reclaim his heavyweight championship.
Rocky IV was when the brand leaned perhaps a little too far into jingoistic cheese, in what’s admittedly the most purely entertaining film in the back catalogue, but an interview Stallone gave around the release of the first sequel in 1979 that’s recently resurfaced indicates that he was already planning on taking the Italian Stallion on some wild detours across the globe.
“His last bout will be in the Roman Coliseum, carried worldwide by satellite. Can you see it? Rocky in the Coliseum? The last gladiator? And, for training, running up the Spanish Steps? And, Rocky’s deeply religious; can you imagine him inside St. Peter’s? I’m seriously gonna try to work in an audience with the Pope into the film. I dunno. Maybe with this Pope, he’ll go for it. If he don’t, we get another Pope.”
As much as fans would have loved to have seen a version of Rocky III where the title hero fights inside the Coliseum after getting an audience with the Pontiff, that would have surely jumped the shark to a fairly significant degree. Of course, the Creed spinoffs eventually circled back around to realism again, but it definitely would have been fascinating to see Stallone go through with his original ideas.