Hollywood History: The Fight Over ROCKY IV

Back from the ashes, from the atomic wasteland that is a corrupted mySQL database, Hollywood History returns once more to Last Movie Outpost and this time we use our finest footwork to stay behind the jab from Rocky IV. Despite being a Rocky movie that took a critical mauling, it’s still a champion in the eyes of fans. We love this cheesy pile of magnificence!

On The Rocks

The black-and-white, good vs. evil, cookie-cutter tale of revenge set against the backdrop of the Cold War, with its simplistic view of the world, drew negative reviews. The screenplay was called predictable and the Cold War themes, which some critics deemed as propaganda, were accused of facilitating negative portrayals of Russians.

You know what? Screw them! Rocky IV is a slice of pure 80s nostalgia. A movie that crams so much into it’s cheetah-lean run time of 91 minutes that it makes use of not one, not two, but three montages!

Ivan Drago is an excellent villain, the death of Apollo hits hard on every watch and Vince DiCola’s double whammy of Hearts On Fire and Training Montage is on the gym playlist of every guy over a certain age. Sure, it is simplistic and propagandist, but so were the 80s! For a start, there were only two genders back then.

The world agrees with us, not the critics. Rocky IV spent a total of six weeks as the number one film at the US box office, staying on top through the Christmas and New Year period, and grossed a total of $127.8 million in the United States and Canada, and $300 million worldwide, the most of any Rocky film.


Crucially, it was also the single highest-grossing sports film of all time until The Blind Side in 2009. It was also the highest-grossing fourth instalment of a film franchise, surpassing the record of the Clint Eastwood / Dirty Harry outing Sudden Impact.

Not only that, previously Thanksgiving was a wasteland. Nobody opened movies on that weekend, as that was family time. Rocky IV changed all that, much like Jaws changed the summer from a cinema no-go zone into prime blockbuster season. After Rocky IV, other studios started opening major films over the Thanksgiving holiday.

So “Ya Boo Sucks!” to the critics. Snobs! You don’t always want haute cuisine. Sometimes you just need a burger.

A Rocky Road

Many people know all the stories around the making of Rocky IV. We know about Wyoming doubling for Russia. We know about Rocky’s training farm actually being in Jackson Hole, and the PNE Agrodome in Vancouver being the location of the Soviet sporting arena from the climax.

Most movie fans can regale others with stories of the Lundgren punch to Stallone’s chest that caused his heart to swell, although producer Irwin Winkler disputes this.

We know about the fight between Lundgren and Carl Weathers being too physical for Weathers. How Lundgren tossing Weathers into the corner of the boxing ring was unscripted and outraged Weathers, who shouted profanities at Lundgren while leaving the ring, and announcing that he was calling his agent and quitting the movie. It fell to Stallone to talk him back to work four days later.


What most people don’t know, or don’t remember, is that the whole movie was wrapped up in a pretty big Hollywood court case.

In the United States District Court for the Central District of California, the case of Timothy Burton Anderson v. Sylvester Stallone, Freddie Fields, Dean Stolber, Frank Yablans, and MGM/UA. Or, as it became known in Hollywood, Anderson vs. Stallone.

Anderson vs. Stallone

According to the case filed by Anderson, he viewed Rocky III in June 1982. Following this he took it upon himself to write a treatment for Rocky IV. In his filing, he said he met with Art Linkletter, a member of MGM’s Board of Directors, at his Bel Air home. He also said he met with Freddy Fields, then-president of MGM/UA at his Culver City office.

The filing also claimed meetings with then-Board Chairman Frank Yablans and MGM/UA Vice President Peter Bart. These meetings took place from October 1982 through the summer 1983. During the meetings, they discussed using Anderson’s script for Rocky IV.

The filing by Anderson also claimed that MGM told him that if they used his script, he would be paid a large sum of money.

As part of these meetings, Anderson also met with Stallone in May 1983, in a meeting apparently arranged by then-Deputy White House Chief of Staff Michael Deaver.

Some parties alleged that Stallone already planned to use a Russian opponent and Cold War themes in the movie. Anderson alleges his story involved an East German fighter, and a subplot involving the KGB and the CIA. He claimed this inspired Stallone’s story approach.

Whether Anderson got there first with his treatment, or these elements were subsequently created by Anderson following the meeting with Stallone, remains historically murky.


Interestingly, the case didn’t hinge on arguing this point. It was, by all accounts, a dirty fight in which MGM/UA played their trump card.

They claimed that there was never any official agreement to use Anderson’s script. Furthermore, and this is evil genius, they argued that Anderson’s script was unsolicited and borrowed characters from the Rocky franchise, using them without permission. So in fact it was Anderson infringing on their copyright, rather than the other way around.

They cited a legal standard borrowed from Judge Learned Hand in Nichols v. Universal Pictures Corp. The key to the standard is that copyright protection is afforded when a character is developed with enough specificity to constitute protectable expression. So the Rocky characters were afforded copyright protection.

Anderson’s work, because it infringed upon that copywrite protection, was derivative and not entitled to any protections.

District Judge William D. Keller of the Central District of California and his court agreed. Stallone’s side were awarded a summary judgment in their favor.

So, there’s a lesson here for any budding scriptwriters out there who may one day get an opportunity to pitch their amazing sequel ideas to a studio. Get everything in writing, and checked by lawyers!

My Jaws 5 scriptment therefore will remain resolutely locked away, even if I do happen to bump into Steven Spielberg at a restaurant one evening.

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