‘Rocky IV: Rocky vs. Drago — The Ultimate Director’s Cut’ Movie Review: The Stallone Cut

Sylvester Stallone made news last year when he announced his plans for a Rocky IV director’s cut on Instagram. Stallone went back into the footage from the 1985 sequel to insert new material, and controversially took out many fans’ favorite scenes. Spoilers for the theatrical cut of Rocky IV are fair game. You’ve had plenty of time to see it, but we won’t spoil any of the new stuff in Rocky vs. Drago — The Ultimate Director’s Cut.

Rocky IV: Rocky vs. Drago -- The Ultimate Directors Cut still drapes Sylvester Stallone in the American flag
Sylvester Stallone | AccuSoft, Inc.

How to watch ‘Rocky IV’ director’s cut 

After a one night only theatrical event from Fathom on Nov. 11, Rocky IV: Rocky vs. Drago is available on VOD. Trailers for the director’s cut promised 40 minutes of new footage. The new cut runs 94 minutes, which is only a few longer than the 1985 release. However, with scenes removed and replace that could still add up to 40 new minutes. 

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The story of Rocky IV remains the same. Russian boxer Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) comes to the U.S. Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) accepts the first exhibition bout, but Drago kills him in the ring. Rocky agrees to fight Drago for Apollo’s honor. In 1985 it was the ultimate anti-Communist blockbuster but times have changed in 2021.

‘Rocky IV: Rocky vs. Drago’ is more Apollo’s story 

The first four Rocky sequels all begin with the climactic fight from the previous movie. One of the most interesting alterations is choosing a different flashback to Rocky III. It opens Rocky IV on a more somber note, and emphasizes the importance of Apollo, who as you know will become a major motivation for Rocky. It also eats up a lot more running time than the Rocky/Clubber Lang (Mr. T) bout.

The actual Rocky IV portion begins on Apollo, not Rocky. The first act is way more Apollo centric. It deepens Apollo’s motivation to fight Drago more than just his restlessness in retirement, although that’s still there. 

Rocky IV: Carl Weathers and Dolph Lundgren touch gloves
L-R: Carl Weathers and Dolph Lundgren | AccuSoft, Inc.

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The new cut also more heavily implies that Drago wanted to fight Rocky all along. So he may have just used Apollo as a way to get to him. Rocky’s noncommittal attitude is, “Why do it until I have to?” As fans know he will soon feel he has to. 

What’s missing in Sylvester Stallone’s new cut

Well, as he promised, Stallone managed to excise any scene involving Paulie (Burt Young)’s robot from Rocky IV. A lot of scenes with the Balboa family disappear along with it. In fact, without the robot, Paulie mostly disappears until he goes to Russia with Rocky to train. 

All the music from Rocky IV is still there. Apollo still dances with James Brown before his fight. There’s still the Robert Tepper montage and all the training montages in Russia. Stallone chose a different song to go into the closing credits, and it will be a significant song choice to Rocky fans. The robot may have been the most extreme example of ‘80s extravagance, but there’s still plenty of ‘80s bombast. 

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Even with a few new scenes and others missing, Rocky IV: Rocky vs. Drago is still essentially the same movie. The segments Stallone changed are mostly noticeable because the edits are notably jarring. It’s much more of a rough cut than a polished director’s cut. For a filmmaker so skilled at montage, the new edits don’t entirely blend in with the original cuts. 

This is not a Snyder cut situation. There’s no drastically different version of Rocky IV. There are some meaningful deleted scenes that were worth resurrecting. Truly, a master cut of Rocky vs. Drago with the robot scenes reinstated would be the ultimate cut.