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The Dark Rocky V Ending We Never Got To See

When "Rocky" premiered in 1976, it didn't just provide a breakthrough role for the film's lead star and scriptwriter, Sylvester Stallone — it also gave us one of the most relatable pop-culture heroes of all time. Rocky Balboa's hard-fought battles in the ring mirror the obstacles in life he has to overcome to even step foot in the squared circle. Rocky gets beat up and knocked down quite a bit in his bouts. Yet as the franchise reminds us, it's all about how hard you can get hit while still moving forward.

Perhaps it's also fair to say that the entire "Rocky" library captures this theme due to its longevity as a movie series, despite a couple of knockdowns. Sure, the series is thriving now thanks to the current "Creed" saga, but before that, some fans were ready to throw in the towel following the 1990 entry, "Rocky V." On paper, the film should have been another success as it reunited "Rocky" director John G. Avildsen with Stallone. Instead, "Rocky" V is the film in the series that made the least amount of money and received the most polarizing critical reception. Still, "Rocky V" has some standout moments, notably the climactic brawl between Rocky and his former protégé, Tommy Gunn (Tommy Morrison). In the end, Rocky emerges the victor, but if the film had stuck to its original finale, we could have seen a much darker fate for the franchise's titular hero.

Rocky dies after his street fight with Tommy

"Rocky V' couldn't have produced a happier ending. Rocky beats Tommy in an alley fight and reconciles with his son, Robert (Sage Stallone). The fighter even lightens the mood further when he punches clear Don King caricature George Washington Duke (Richard Gant) onto the hood of his car. In all, it's not a bad way for Rocky to go out (if "Rocky Balboa" hadn't eventually happened, anyway). It's also a complete turnaround from how Stallone originally ended his script for the film. In the original screenplay, Stallone wrote that Rocky dies after the street fight with Tommy.

Speaking with 94WIP's "Angelo Cataldi and the Morning Team" (via CBS Philly), director John G. Avildsen went into more detail about the planned ending, saying that Rocky would've been so beaten from his fight with Tommy that he would've placed his head on Adrian's lap while on the way to the hospital and died. Adrian would then announce to the press that Rocky had passed away. However, she'd then say that his spirit would still live on if people believed in themselves. 

If that ending causes you to shed some tears, just keep in mind that Stallone apparently wept when he wrote that scene. The darker finish is a tragic finale to Rocky, but it's also beautiful in a way and probably more realistic. It's hard to say if the original ending would have elevated "Rocky V" in the hearts and minds of fans and critics. But it certainly would have drastically changed the fates for movies in the franchise that followed.

Studio heads nixed the ending

Despite how John G. Avildsen was pleased with the intended ending for "Rocky V," he was forced to change it due to studio demands. Rocky was considered too much of an iconic character to die. "So we started shooting the movie, and a couple of weeks into the shooting, I get a call from the head of the studio, and they said, 'Oh, by the way, Rocky's not going to die," the director said. "Batman doesn't die, Superman, James Bond, these people don't die.'" However, Avildsen didn't like the change to the ending, as he went on to say that keeping Rocky alive defeated the whole point of "Rocky V."

Considering that Avildsen was forced to make the change in "Rocky V" early in the production, this likely means that he didn't shoot an alternate ending of the film with the original script's idea. "Rocky V" has also never received an official director's cut release. However, at one point, Avildsen did an online release of a workprint version of what he considers his director's cut of the movie. Released in 2002, it includes some additional scenes and some changes to Rocky's fight with Tommy. For instance, the music in that final fight replaces that early '90s hip-hop mix with a return to composer Bill Conti's familiar score. But the ending is still the same one that fans saw in theaters. With an official director's cut version of "Rocky IV" released in 2021, maybe the time is right for an official release of Avildsen's cut for "Rocky V."