During preproduction, as the filmmakers tried to find a good location to shoot the fight, they met with constant obstacles - every suitable arena was booked out. Sylvester Stallone knew that HBO had an upcoming PPV event with Bernard Hopkins taking on Jermaine Taylor in the main event, at the Mandalay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. Stallone suggested that the film could piggyback the real event, using the real HBO format, the real crowd, even the real press conference setup. As such, the press conference scene was shot only moments after the real press conference with Hopkins and Taylor, whilst the scene when Rocky walks through the curtain and down to the ring was shot using the real Hopkins/Taylor crowd. Stallone was hoping that the crowd wouldn't boo or cause any problems, but as he made his way to the ring (as Rocky), the whole building gave him a standing ovation and began to chant 'ROCKY, ROCKY'. The crowd was never told to stand up or to chant - they had done it completely on their own, and according to the filmmakers, by far the biggest cheer of the night was for Rocky, not for any of the real fighters.
The bout between Rocky and Dixon was filmed with actors Sylvester Stallone and Antonio Tarver really hitting one another. According to Stallone, not a single punch in the fight was pulled, and every hit on film was a hit for real. Furthermore, Stallone has revealed that the scene where Rocky is knocked down for a 9 count, and is trying to get to his feet by taking hold of the rope, but is having difficulty focusing on it, is completely genuine; Tarver really did knock him down, and he really couldn't get up.
According to Stallone, Carl Weathers does not appear in the film because Weathers wanted a role in the film, even though his character Apollo Creed had died in Rocky IV (1985); Stallone refused, so Weathers refused to grant Stallone permission to use archive footage of him. The brief clip of the fight between Rocky and Apollo was recreated using a body double.
The film was partially inspired by the George Foreman-Michael Moorer fight in 1994. Foreman had formerly retired from boxing in 1977, but in 1987, the 38 year old had decided to make a comeback. This comeback culminated in 1994 when the, by then, 45 year old Foreman, challenged the 26 year old world heavyweight champion Michael Moorer. The fight took place on November 5 in Las Vegas. For nine rounds, Moorer toyed with Foreman, easily out-boxing him. Entering the tenth round, Foreman was trailing on all scorecards. However, in the tenth round, completely out of nowhere, Foreman landed a vicious shot to Moorer's chin, knocking the younger man out and scoring a TKO victory, becoming the oldest world heavyweight champion in history.
The film was shot in 38 days. The very first thing to be shot was the fight between Dixon and Rocky. This was done because Sylvester Stallone's training (which had been going on for six months) had to stop once the film went into production and he began to concentrate on directing. If the fight had been left until the end of the schedule, Stallone would not have been in as good shape as he was at the start.
Sylvester Stallone said that he decided to make this movie, because he was so unhappy with the ending of Rocky V (1990). He actually wanted to make this film back in 1999, but it would not get green-lit until six years later.
According to Sylvester Stallone in his DVD Commentary, he did consider having his real-life son Sage Stallone reprise the role of Robert "Rocky" Jr. which he had played in Rocky V (1990), but he decided against it because he feared people would read too much into the personal conflict between Rocky and Robert regarding Robert's belief that he is "living in his father's shadow".
In the scene in the meat factory between Paulie and Rocky, Paulie asks if Rocky is angry because they took down his statue, a possible reference to the real life controversy which surrounded the statue. During the making of Rocky III (1982), a 9ft tall, 1500-pound bronze statue designed by A. Thomas Schomberg was placed at the top of the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Arts. After filming wrapped, Sylvester Stallone tried to donate the statue to the museum but they said they didn't want it, sparking a huge debate between the Museum and the City's Art Commission about what constituted 'art'. The museum claimed the statue was nothing more than a "movie prop", and didn't want it. Local people were outraged, and the statue was ultimately placed in front of the Wachovia Spectrum in South Philadelphia. It was later returned to the Art Museum for the filming of Rocky V (1990), after which it was again moved to the front of the Spectrum.
In his DVD commentary, Sylvester Stallone explains that some of Rocky's dialogue with Marie (Geraldine Hughes) was improvised on-set. For example, for the scene where he installs the light bulb, Stallone had no idea the bulb would be so bright, and his reaction to the glare is completely genuine. The line to Marie about meetings Steps' father on a cruise ship was another improvised line, as was his observation that he's a better dancer then the average bear. Stallone was so surprised with himself for coming up with this comparison, that his next line, "Where that came from, I don't know", was also improvised.
The computer simulation fight was based on The Super Fight (1970) which pitted Muhammad Ali against Rocky Marciano. Every possible scenario was considered and filmed and the computer decided that Marciano would win in the 13th round. When told of the result, Ali retorted "that computer was made in Alabama".
In the DVD commentary for his film First Blood (1982) Sylvester Stallone recalls an incident during filming where a girl in the town bar pretended to be a fan of his in order to try and wheedle a free round of drinks out of him. He later includes just such a scene in 'Rocky Balboa'.
In earlier drafts of the screenplay, Rocky's former opponents Clubber Lang and Ivan Drago had cameo appearances. Clubber would have been a ringside commentator for the bout with Dixon and made disparaging remarks about Rocky. The scene with Drago had Rocky visiting him in a hospital where he is dying of AIDS from steroid abuse. Supposedly Rocky would have told a nurse, "If he dies, he dies" - the same line Drago said about Apollo Creed in the fourth movie. Both of these scenes were eventually removed from the script.
According to Sylvester Stallone, Antonio Tarver held up filming of the fight scene and demanded a higher salary. He refused to start filming until he was guaranteed more money. Stallone gave up a large part of his own salary and paid it to Tarver.
According to an interview with Mark S. Driscoll of Look! Effects, one of the fight scenes uses backgrounds from an earlier fight which Sylvester Stallone actually attended prior to filming. He said it should be possible to see Stallone (as himself) in the audience while Stallone (as Rocky) is in the ring.
As he had done with the previous five films, writer Sylvester Stallone incorporated a great deal of biographical material into this film. As Stallone himself explains on the DVD commentary, to a certain extent, Mason Dixon is based on himself; a man who has made some bad decisions after taking advice from people who didn't really have his best interests at heart.
After the release of the film, critics hailed the fighting scenes as the most realistic in the entire Rocky saga. On the DVD, Sylvester Stallone hypothesizes that a major factor in this realism was that he used realistic sound-effects for punches. When a punch lands in the film, the sound used was a real punch, whereas in previous films, sounds used for punches had included shotgun blasts, broken bottles, chains and baseball bats hitting wet leather.
According to Sylvester Stallone, they put both endings (one with Dixon winning by decision, and one with Rocky winning by decision) on the DVD so that fans could choose how they want the character's saga to end.
Andy (Don Sherman), the bartender from Rocky (1976), Rocky III (1982) and Rocky V (1990) can briefly be seen in this film sitting in a wheelchair in the background of his bar cheering on Rocky during the fight. Andy originally had a more sizable role, but the scene was cut from the finished film.
Although it is not included as a deleted scene on the DVD, Sylvester Stallone has said that a scene was filmed in which Rocky sees a woman that looks like Adrian in the building where Robert, Jr. works. He follows her for a while before he realizes it is not Adrian. Stallone decided to cut the scene because he felt that Rocky's loneliness had already been established enough, and that this scene was overkill.
Adrian Balboa was alive in the first few drafts of the script, while Robert Balboa was in the U.S. Air Force, then titled Rocky VI: Puncher's Chance. At this point, the story revolved around Rocky running a local gym for youths. However, Sylvester Stallone felt that the film lacked the necessary emotional impact it needed. So, he and Talia Shire came to an agreement that her character would be best left out of the film, as this would create an emotional chasm for Rocky from the very first moment of the film. To ensure that fans did not think she had been written out of the film because of a dispute with Stallone or because she refused to be in it, Shire made a public statement supporting Stallone's decision to kill off the character.
In the fight between Dixon and Balboa, one of the commentators says, "Balboa was hit so hard his ancestors must have felt it" This is possibly a reference to the real fight between Muhammad Ali (then Cassius Clay) and Henry Cooper in 1963. In an interview with Ali after the fight, in which he was knocked down, Ali explained, "He (Cooper) hit me so hard, my ancestors in Africa felt it."
According to Jodi Letizia's lawyer, Sylvester Stallone had promised her that she would reprise her role as Marie in this film. When Letizia learned that that Geraldine Hughes had been cast in the role instead, she filed a lawsuit against Stallone, claiming that she had cleared her entire schedule to prepare for the filming. The lawsuit was eventually settled.
The championship belts used in the movie were actually those of Antonio Tarver, who played Mason 'The Line' Dixon. If you look closely in the scene where Steps is looking over Rocky's memorabilia, you'll see on the WBC Championship Belt photos of 'Joe Louis', Muhammad Ali, and two of its owner - Antonio Tarver.
In one shot where Rocky walks out of the restaurant to talk to his son you can clearly see him (Rocky) wearing a Dempsy t-shirt/sweater, apparently as a tribute to former world heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey.
The only Rocky movie where the famous red, white, and blue boxing trunks aren't being worn, even though the trunks are briefly shown through the use of archive footage. In Rocky II (1979), they are only seen in the opening scene, which was the fight from the previous film.
In 2005, Sylvester Stallone published a men's fitness magazine called Sly. Although the magazine only lasted four issues, Stallone included portions of his script for this movie, including illustrations of some scenes. The drawing of Mason Dixon does not resemble Antonio Tarver, as the part had not yet been cast.
No traditional soundtrack was released for the film. Instead, a CD called "Rocky Balboa - The Best of Rocky" was released, featuring a collection of the best songs from the entire franchise. The release date of that compilation album (December 26, 2006) also coincided with the 30th anniversary re-release of the original soundtrack to Rocky (1976).
The fight scene happened right after an actual boxing event, so people who were there for a pay-per-view match got to see the ending scene. This was Sylvester Stallone's choice so he can make the fight as realistic as possible by actually taking and giving hits.
The HBO broadcast team for the fight is Jim Lampley, Max Kellerman, and Larry Merchant. Normally, HBO does not use both Kellerman and Merchant on the same broadcast. It would not be until five years later that this trio actually worked a real boxing broadcast together.
While the dramatic portions of the movie are shot in an obviously cinematic style, the bout between Balboa and Dixon is shot in several different ways. The lead-in to the bout, as well as the first two rounds, are shot in a style similar to a major pay-per-view broadcast. Clips from fights in previous Rocky movies are used during the introductory teaser to introduce Balboa, while stock footage from actual Tarver fights, as well as footage from Dixon's previous fight (shown at the beginning of the film) are used as clips for Dixon's part of the teaser. The fight itself was shot in high definition to further enhance the television-style look of the fight.
According to the behind-the-scenes documentary on the DVD, there were slight continuity problems during the filming of the fight. This was said to have been due to the fact that real punches were thrown by both Sylvester Stallone and Antonio Tarver, resulting in some swelling and nosebleeds earlier than scripted. The DVD release features an alternate ending in which Rocky wins the fight (also by a split decision).
In one scene, Rocky mistakenly identifies "Little" Marie's son and comments that he has her "big Irish hair". Even though Rocky is wrong about which boy the son is, actress Geraldine Hughes is, coincidentally, from Ireland.
When Duke is talking to Rocky before the training montage, he says that Rocky will have to hit Mason so hard that it will rattle his ancestors. Later, during the final fight scene, Rocky is hit by Mason, and a commentator remarks that Rocky's ancestors must have felt that punch.
A new song, "Still Here" by Natasha Bedingfield (written by Diane Warren) was to be featured prominently in the film but was dropped. The song is still listed in the closing credits. The song appears on the UK version of the album "Rocky Balboa: The Best of Rocky".
In 1984, "Weird Al" Yankovic made a song called "Theme from Rocky XIII" parodying Survivor's "The Eye of the Tiger" that told of Rocky no longer boxing but now owning a deli and catering service. Parts of the story-line of this movie mirror this song.
Around 9 minutes into the film, when Rocky first walks into his restaurant "Adrian's", he's talking to his pregnant hostess and asks "how's your stomach?" Rocky asks this very same question to his wife, Adrian, in Rocky II (1979).
In an article of Sports Illustrated, Tommy Morrison, who played the character, Tommy Gunn in Rocky V (1990), tried contacting Sylvester Stallone about reprising his character for this film, but nothing became of it.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
The very last scene to be shot was Rocky's sprint up the steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Sylvester Stallone purposely left this shot until the end because he knew it would be such an emotional experience due to the iconic nature of the scene, and he felt it was a good way for him to say goodbye to the character. As he puts it himself, "that run is the distillation of the entire Rocky experience."
Stallone's original cut of the film ran near 2 1/2 hours. This cut of the film played to sneak preview audiences on May 15th, 2006. This was before MGM demanded Stallone cut the film down to an hour and forty-five minutes (the release print eventually ran an hour and forty-two minutes). Scenes cut out that are not included on the DVD release include: -After talking with his son, Rocky follows a woman up an escalator, thinking she's Adrian. When he gets to her, he discovers she, of course, isn't. -There were many more visits to Adrian's grave in the original cut. -Rocky's brain damage being shown to have not been brain damage at all was trimmed from the license scene. -Two training sequences: one of Rocky doing weight training as well as Mason Dixon doing his training to the tune of Survivor's "Fire Makes Steel" and afterward was a Rocky-only training sequence scored with "Gonna Fly Now". These two sequences were squished together for the final print. -Before the fight, Marie and Rocky share a hug. -Rocky says hi to Mike Tyson before the fight. -The film was also shot with four endings so as not to spoil the end to the watching crowd. They are: 1 - Rocky loses the fight by decision; 2 - Rocky loses the fight by K.O.; 3 - Rocky wins the fight by decision; 4 - Rocky wins the fight by K.O.
The only characters to appear in the first six Rocky films, in footage unique to each film, are Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), Paulie (Burt Young), and Tony "Duke" Evers (Tony Burton). While Adrian (Talia Shire) appears in the five earlier films, she only appears here in flashbacks, the character having died prior to the film's events. Stu Nahan appears/is heard in all of the films as well, but he is a real life sports personality, not a fictional character invented for the films.