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Sylvester Stallone reintroduces Rocky IV with never-before-seen footage and a new ethos

Stallone added 40 minutes of new material to remake the 1985 film. His hope was to add a more personal touch, proclaiming that "little moments make the big moments."

Rocky film stars Sylvester Stallone, (left) and Burt Young (right) attended the film's Thursday night showing in Philadelphia.
Rocky film stars Sylvester Stallone, (left) and Burt Young (right) attended the film's Thursday night showing in Philadelphia.Read moreSTEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer

Rocky IV is one of the most popular iterations of the legendary boxing film series, but it never sat right with Sylvester Stallone. He thought the film was missing something, so he re-edited it 36 years after the original release despite its place in movie history.

Stallone used the COVID-19 pandemic to create his own director’s cut, a version that sliced through some old scenes and added 40 minutes of never-before-seen footage. He thought the remake would take three weeks, but it turned into a nine-month project. The original run time of the film was 91 minutes, while the remake is 94 minutes.

The public’s first look at Rocky IV: Rocky Vs. Drago: The Ultimate Director’s Cut came Thursday night at the Philadelphia Film Center, where Stallone and Burt Young — who played Paulie Pennino — were in attendance. Starting Friday, the director’s cut is available on demand and digitally everywhere.

“I thought that would be the easiest film to get past MGM, but more importantly, I knew that film was flawed,” Stallone said. “I was very taken by the times. Star filters, smoke, backlit. It was a very 80′s film, very MTV-ish, a lot of montage, whereas the other Rocky’s sort of more [how] things played out.”

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One early noticeable difference is the shift in the importance of a few characters. Apollo Creed’s sparring scene with Rocky Balboa is replaced with more personal moments between the duo. Balboa’s wife, Adrian, also has a larger role. And what fans will enjoy most is the added thrill to the fights.

There was also an effort to remove some of the sillier scenes, Stallone said. The soundtrack list is shorter, with No Easy Way Out being the lone holdover. Paulie’s robot scene was also removed, which Young said made him sad.

Overall, the goal was to add more humility. The best example in the director’s cut might be a scene added to Creed’s funeral. In addition to Rocky’s speech, Creed’s trainer, Duke Evers, says a few words and shares more detail about his life.

“I thought looking at this, these characters have really not been fleshed out the way they should,” Stallone said. “I opted at that time for speed. I didn’t want the audience to get bored, so I was always thinking one step ahead, but that’s what it is all about. These little moments make the big moments.”

The 1985 film brought a nostalgic feel to the film center, and cinephiles traveled to Philly to catch it in the theater. Among those in attendance were Hall of Fame boxing promoter J Russell Peltz and rising South Philly heavyweight prospect Sonny Conto, whose story is the most similar to Balboa’s as a Philly fighter.

Not many film characters have that kind of fanfare to the real life warriors. Balboa wasn’t real, and he still inspired boxers.

“I love the fact that a lot of athletes and boxers have used this for motivation,” Stallone said. “Cinema is a lot easier than reality, so I give a tremendous amount of credit to any of these guys that actually have the guts to walk up those three steps into the ring.”

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The other star of the night, Young, blended in with the crowd, sitting alongside movie watchers and taking pictures with anyone who asked as he walked in and out of the theater. He considers Philly a second home and wants to visit more.

Stallone told Young about the remake a couple of weeks ago. Young said the original Rocky will always be his favorite, but he’s not surprised at the love for Rocky IV and the overall series.

“I knew it was great on writing,” Young said. “I had done enough work to know the value of a script and it was right on the nose. Every aspect of it was with a very talented group of people. They took me along.”