Why The Original Ending To Rocky Had To Be Completely Reshot

John G. Avildsen was an expert in the art of the feel-good finale. He knew how to end a movie on a high, and send the audience floating on air out of the theater. He did it with "Rocky" in 1976, and again in 1984 with "The Karate Kid." Once the big fight is over in both these films, Avildsen lets Bil Conti's music crescendo, cuts to a close-up, freezes the frame and, boom, credits. How effective is this? Both movies were also blockbusters that launched franchises that remain active and hugely-popular to this day, with even more spinoffs and sequels on the way.

It's hard to imagine "Rocky," in particular, ending any other way, but Avildsen and Sylvester Stallone (who wrote the movie's screenplay in addition to starring as the Italian Stallion) had a decidedly different idea for the original conclusion — one that might've sabotaged the sweet-natured film and cost it the Oscar for Best Picture.

Rocky and Adrian versus the world

The final boxing match between Rocky and Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) in "Rocky" is a marvel of cutting (earning Richard Halsey and Scott Conrad well-deserved Oscars for Best Film Editing). The bulk of the bout is depicted via montage. We only see three complete rounds: the first, second and fifteenth. But due to the ferociousness of the fight, and the operatic quality of Bill Conti's score, we feel as though we've experienced every single second of it. It's grueling stuff, and it set the template for every "Rocky" movie going forward (and numerous copycats).

When Creed is saved by the bell at the end of the fifteenth round, Rocky's hero's journey is complete: He only wanted to go the distance against the champ, to prove to everyone in the neighborhood who wrote him off that he's not a bum, and he's done it. All he needs now is to be with Adrian (Talia Shaire), the woman he loves. When she joins him in the ring, they profess their love for each other and embrace. Avildsen freezes on Stallone's battered visage, and the audience's heart is full.

It's a perfect ending, but according to Adam K. Raymond's 40th anniversary appreciation for Yahoo! Movies (which draws from the supplemental material on the 2014 "Heavyweight Edition" of the "Rocky" Blu-ray), John G. Avildsen and Sylvester Stallone initially had something quieter in mind. Per Raymond:

"The original conclusion had the crowd carrying Apollo out of the ring and chanting his name as Rocky and Adrian (Talia Shire) walked hand in hand to the parking lot — an image immortalized on the film's poster. Long after the arena was emptied out, the decision was made to reshoot the ending with Rocky and Adrian embracing in the ring as Conti's emotive score reaches its crescendo."

Love conquers all, except on the judges' cards

Though I can't say for certain, sight unseen, how this ending would've worked in the flow of the movie, the idea rings awfully false. Rocky was the hometown hero, and Philadelphians are, to put it mildly, fiercely loyal sports fans. If anything, they would've chanted Balboa's name while showering the ring with beer cans at the announcement of the split decision.

There's also a resentful, us-against-the-world feeling to that shot of Rocky and Adrian walking out of an empty arena. The reshot ending sets the correct tone: All they want, and all they need, is each other. The adulation is irrelevant. As a competitor, Rocky will soon succumb to what Pat Riley calls "the disease of more," but in this moment he has, for the first time in his life, accomplished precisely what he set out to do. And he has found his soulmate. The older you get, the more you realize how seemingly impossible this is. And that's why viewers still well up with tears when they watch this stand-up-and-cheer masterpiece.