The Dangerous Lengths Sylvester Stallone Went To Make Rocky IV Feel Authentic

Uber-patriotic "Rocky IV" might not be the most beloved entry in Sylvester Stallone's boxing franchise, but it's certainly one of the most memorable. It's known as the highest-grossing Rocky film ever, and for decades, it was also the highest-grossing sports film, period. You might also remember "Rocky IV" as the last bow for Rocky's buddy, Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), whose death was the impetus for the recent "Creed" sequels. And yes, it was also the one with Paulie's (Burt Young) beer-serving robot companion.

Perhaps more than anything, "Rocky IV" will always be remembered as the film where Rocky knocks the Cold War out of the ring by going head-to-head with the murderous, borderline super-powered Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren). In a moment of high-octane triumph, Rocky beats Drago after 12 rounds on Soviet Union turf and gets the local crowd cheering for him. Apparently, that victorious ending almost never happened, thanks to a fight that got a little too real.

A Punch From Lundgren Put Stallone in the Hospital

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Sylvester Stallone explained that he encouraged Lundgren to throw a few real punches during shooting. "Just go out there and clock me," he said, explaining that he wanted the first minute of the fight to be a true "free-for-all." As both director and star, Stallone was able to establish on-set expectations, and he apparently decided to mirror the intensity of the scene in real life. However, this decision appears to have backfired.

"Dolph Lundgren put me in the hospital for nine days," Stallone revealed. He told interviewers that he initially felt fine after filming, but as the evening wore on, he realized he had been seriously injured. For Lundgren's part, the Swedish actor says he didn't know about the injury until he spoke to a producer, who delivered it as a good-news, bad-news situation. "You've got two weeks off," he remembers the producer saying. "Sly's in the hospital."

On-Set Injuries Are A Serious Concern

Hollywood has a long and troubling track record of on-set injuries, but the blow that put Stallone in a hospital bed appears to have been a typical uppercut. Stallone was able to pinpoint the exact punch when reviewing footage later on. He says the blow "caught the ribs and hit the heart against the ribcage." Doctors described it as the kind of injury associated with a head-on collision.

Recent on-set tragedies such as the fatal shooting on the set of the Alec Baldwin-led film "Rust" cast anecdotes like this one in a more serious light. Hollywood is long overdue for a conversation about set safety, and Stallone's on-set injury highlights the often-fraught relationship between on-screen authenticity and real-life danger.

In fact, in his interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Sylvester Stallone actually implied that he was close to death during the "Rocky IV" incident, saying, "I knew I was in trouble when I showed up and nuns met you at the ICU." Lucky for everyone, last rites weren't needed, and Stallone has gone on to appear as scrappy underdog Rocky Balboa in four more films to date.

The 35th anniversary director's cut of "Rocky IV" is available now.