It’s hard to overstate how important 1976’s Rocky was for both its star, a then-unknown Sylvester Stallone, and the world of cinema. In an era where the antiheroes of Taxi Driver and The Godfather ruled, Stallone’s punchy club boxer was something different—earnest, self-deprecating, and generally well-meaning when he wasn't throwing punches in a ring.
Like most successful films, Rocky led to a sequel. And another. And then another. All told, Stallone has appeared as Rocky Balboa in six films and two spin-offs, 2015’s Creed and 2018’s Creed II, which starred Michael B. Jordan as the son of Rocky's old nemesis Apollo Creed. Clearly, Stallone has trouble leaving the character behind. (A Rocky prequel television series has even been batted around, according to the actor.) Take a look at 11 times Stallone believed he was really and truly done with the role.
1. Rocky and the Pope
“[Rocky’s] last bout will be in the Roman Coliseum, carried worldwide by satellite. Can you see it? Rocky in the Coliseum? The last gladiator? And, for training, running up the Spanish Steps? And, Rocky's deeply religious; can you imagine him inside St. Peter's? I'm seriously gonna try to work in an audience with the Pope into the film. I dunno. Maybe with this Pope, he'll go for it. If he don't, we get another Pope. [Then] I want to turn my attention to movies about love relationships ... But there'll never be a Rocky IV. You gotta call a halt.”
—Stallone speaking to Roger Ebert during the release of Rocky II, June 1979
2. Rocky’s Fateful Taxi Ride
“If I have the nerve, if I have real nerve, Rocky should die at the end of the third film. I was originally thinking in more grandiose terms—the Coliseum and everything—but Rocky III should end with more than a fight. It should end with Rocky's life coming full cycle. The way I imagine it, after the fight, he's riding home in a cab, with the roar of the people chanting 'Rocky!' still in his ears. And he just drops over dead. In other words, he has achieved everything possible and he dies when he's on top. I don't think people want to see Rocky when he's 80. I don't know if I'll go with that ending, and him dying. But I know I'll have to film it. I'll have to shoot it for myself, whether or not I use it.”
—Stallone speaking to Roger Ebert following the release of Rocky II, July 1980
3. Rocky’s Road
"It is time to go it alone, without Rocky to fall back on … I’ll tell you how I wanted Rocky III to end. I wanted him to die. I wanted him to fight his heart out so much that on his way home in the cab, he put his head on Adrian’s shoulder and whispers: ‘I’m so tired. Can I use your shoulder a second?’ And he dies. He fought until his heart was shattered. Of course, you’d have a movie that would totally go in the toilet, but that’s what I wanted."
—Stallone speaking to Harriet Choice during the release of Rocky III, The Chicago Tribune, May 1982
4. Rocky’s Trilogy
"This will be the last Rocky film unless it does phenomenally, in which case I’d be hard put not to do another. I always planned to do three films: about a man’s awakening to self-awareness, his getting to the top, and then losing his simplicity and trying to find it again. I figured I’d be real lucky to make [just] one.”
—Stallone speaking to David Elliot following the release of Rocky III, The Chicago Sun-Times, June 1982
5. Rocky and Russia
"Oh, this is it for Rocky. Because I don’t know where you go after you battle Russia. You know what I mean? You have that clash of ideologies and you take on supposedly the greatest fighting machine ever built—a biochemically produced Soviet fighter. Where do you go after that? Everything subsequent is anticlimactic. And I don’t think I can do any better. If I can go out with four good Rocky films, I’ve been extremely lucky.”
—Stallone speaking to Pat Hackett prior to the release of Rocky IV, Interview magazine, September 1985
6. Rocky vs. Aliens
"Oh, they’d love it if I’d do another Rocky. But, and I’ve said this before, what am I gonna do for an encore—fight E.T.?"
—Stallone speaking to Pat H. Broeske following the release of Rocky IV, Los Angeles Times, September 1986
7. Rocky’s Cinderella Story
"My last Rocky’s coming up, which is the end of the Cinderella story. He loses all his money, has to go back to the streets. It’s kind of a morality play in how one deals with the issues and can you go home again after seeing the world? I think it’s an interesting premise.”
—Stallone speaking to Bob Thomas prior to the release of Rocky V, Associated Press, December 1989
8. Rocky’s Last Round
"There’s no Rocky VI. He’s done ... It’s like seeing someone in the hospital and you know it’s the last time. He’s full circle. It’s over."
—Stallone speaking to Glenn Paskin during the release of Rocky V, The Chicago Tribune, November 1990
9. Rocky is Done
“I couldn’t top this. I would have to wait another 10 years to build up a head of steam, and by that point, come on.”
—Stallone speaking to Oliver Jones during the release of Rocky Balboa, People magazine, December 2006
10. Rocky Did It
"No! Definitely not! When he says, ‘Yo, Adrian, we did it!’ He means, we’re done. We lived the life. I’m a big believer that, in life, we can’t succeed in everything. Most times, we lose. But the few times we do win, we have to make sure they were the important battles. Lose the little ones along the way, sure, but make sure you win the ones that relate to love and relationships and major personal passions. I just want Rocky to be remembered—for the legacy he leaves behind. For running up the steps and the music. People really do run up those steps, y’know. For inspiration.”
—Stallone speaking to Total Film following the release of Rocky Balboa, 2006
11. Rocky’s Last Rodeo
"This is probably my last rodeo, because what I thought happened—and has happened—I never expected. I thought Rocky was over in 2006, and I was very happy with that. And then all of a sudden this young man [Michael B. Jordan] presented himself and the whole story changed. It went on to a new generation, new problems, new adventures. And I couldn’t be happier, because as I step back, because my story has been told, there’s a whole new world that is going to be opening up for the audience, for this generation. Thank you very much, [Creed II director] Steven [Caple Jr.], and definitely you, Michael, for making that possible. Now you have to carry the mantle."
—Stallone via Instagram during the release of Creed II, November 2018
This story will be updated when Stallone-related events warrant.