Sylvester Stallone Originally Wanted ‘Rocky III’ to Have a Much Darker Ending

Although they have their darker movements, Sylvester Stallone‘s Rocky movies are generally fun sports films. However, the third film in the franchise almost had a much darker ending. Here’s a look at what Stallone originally planned for the film.

Rocky and Adrian in the ring
Rocky and Adrian | John Bryson/The LIFE Images Collection via Getty Images/Getty Images

Sylvester Stallone wanted Rocky to be ‘the last gladiator’

Stallone has a greater connection to the Rocky franchise than many other action stars have to their franchises. Stallone didn’t just star in the films, he wrote several films in the series — one of which was Rocky III. According to Slashfilm, he wanted the film to portray Rocky as a gladiator of sorts.

“His last bout will be in the Roman Coliseum, carried worldwide by satellite,” Stallone said. “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.”

The other idea Sylvester Stallone had for the end of ‘Rocky III’

In a separate interview from Roger Ebert’s website, Stallone discussed the film. He was unsure if he should direct it because it’s difficult to direct oneself in boxing scenes. Ultimately, he did direct the film. Stallone also wanted the movie to have a quicker pace than the previous two films in the franchise. In addition, he revealed his idea for the movie’s ending.

“If I have the nerve, if I have real nerve, Rocky should die at the end of the third film,” Stallone revealed. “I was originally thinking in more grandiose terms – the Coliseum and everything – but Rocky III should end with more than a fight. It should end with Rocky’s life coming full cycle. The way I imagine it, after the fight, he’s riding home in a cab, with the roar of the people chanting ‘Rocky!’ still in his ears. And he just drops over dead.”

A scene from Rocky III

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How the public reacted to the final version of the film

Ultimately, Rocky did not die at the end of Rocky III. The film concludes with him fighting his former adversary Apollo Creed — but, this time, their fight is friendly and it doesn’t matter who wins. The film doesn’t even reveal who wins. Did this ending work for audiences?

According to Box Office Mojo, Rocky III earned $124,146,897. It earned more money than either of the previous films of the series or the Creed films. That’s pretty remarkable for the third film in the franchise but it proves Stallone is a screenwriter who knows how to satisfy audiences. The film was enough of a success to lead to several sequels, and these sequels may not have been possible if not for the revised ending. This ending allowed Stallone to appear in several more sequels spanning decades.