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How Sylvester Stallone's Rocky III Could Have Involved The Pope

Upon the opening of the first "Rocky" film, the titular Rocky Balboa, portrayed by Sylvester Stallone, is a far cry from the near-mythic figure fans of the franchise know him to be today. At the outset of the franchise, Rocky is putting his muscle to work to collect on debt for a Philadelphia loan shark. Rocky's lot in life begins to change when the opponent in a title match against championship boxer Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) has to drop out of their fight, and Creed selects Rocky as his opponent instead. From Creed's point of view, the choice is something of a publicity stunt, but for Rocky it's a chance to make something of himself.

What follows are a series of what would become conventions of a typical "Rocky" story, like dedicating his upcoming fight to his significant other, Adrian (Talia Shire), and undergoing a strenuous training regimen represented in an appropriately bombastic montage sequence. "Rocky" remains one of the best films of Stallone's career, so it's no surprise the film ultimately spawned a bona fide franchise in which Stallone would periodically return to the character again and again.

In recent years, the "Rocky" franchise has essentially merged with its notable spin-off, "Creed" starring Michael B. Jordan, which is set to leave Stallone behind to let Jordan fully take over leading man duties. Back in 1979, however, before "Creed" and leading up to the release "Rocky II," Stallone revealed some ambitious plans for the "Rocky" franchise in an interview with Roger Ebert, including his intent to cast the actual Pope in the third "Rocky" film.

Running up the steps of the Vatican

In his 1979 interview with Roger Ebert, Stallone described the filming of "Rocky II" as something of an ordeal, culminating in Rocky's rematch with Apollo Creed. According to Stallone, he sustained real-life injuries during the filming of their boxing match, which was longer than their fight in the first film, and during which neither performer held back their punches in order to lend a sense of realism to the moment.

Ebert then asked Stallone about his plans for "Rocky III," and how it might build on "Rocky II" in light of the occasionally grueling filming conditions of the second "Rocky" film. Stallone went on to outline certain plot elements that would ultimately make it into "Rocky III" upon its release three years later, like Creed acting as a mentor and trainer to Rocky. One plot point mentioned by Stallone was very much not present in the final product: an appearance by the Pope.

Originally, Stallone wanted Rocky to box in the Roman Colosseum in the film's climax. Leading up to that moment, Rocky would meet with the Pope, an office held by John Paul II at the time. "Maybe with this Pope, he'll go for it. If he don't," Stallone said, "we get another Pope." Unfortunately for Stallone, an appearance by John Paul II appears to have never made it past the film's planning stages. The next Pope, Benedict XVI, wouldn't take office until 2005, more than 20 years after the release of "Rocky II." 

That said, short of official confirmation that Michael B. Jordan will not run up the steps of the Vatican to the tune of "Eye of the Tiger" in "Creed 3," such a scene technically remains a possibility. Somebody get Pope Francis' agent on the line.