A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Rocky III is the 1982 sequel in which Rocky takes on a vicious boxer (played by Mr. T) determined to take his World Championship belt. There's a lot of boxing violence; like the other movies in the Rocky franchise, Rocky and the boxers he fights are shown beaten to a pulp and bloodied. While previous films in the Rocky series talked up the long-term physical damage associated with fighting, this one shows the two-fisted violence with no consequences. In another scene, Rocky fights in a charity match against a pro wrestler (played by Hulk Hogan); the two fight in and out of the ring, with Hogan throwing around Rocky, the refs, and anyone who stands in his way. While extremely drunk, Paulie leaves a bar, stumbles into a video game arcade, and vandalizes a "Rocky" pinball machine by throwing a whiskey bottle into it and shattering the glass. While Rocky trains with Apollo Creed in a predominantly African American boxing gym, Paulie mutters assorted racist comments: He complains about the "jungle" music, laments that Rocky is being taught how to box like a "colored fighter," and says, "I don't like these people." While Paulie later compliments Creed on how well he trained Rocky, there isn't a sense that he's no longer someone who would make comments like those. Cigar smoking is shown, as are homeless men drinking wine in the alleys and sidewalks of Skid Row. Rocky is shown gracing the advertisements of products like American Express, Maserati, Nikon, and Gatorade.
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What's the story?
Conveniently forgetting the health problems that threatened him in Rocky II, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone, who also wrote and directed) reigns in ROCKY III as superstar World Heavyweight Champion prizefighter. He's on the verge of retiring undefeated when he's taunted by a contender, a ferocious Chicago brawler called Clubber Lang (Mr. T). Lang demands a showdown with Rocky. Rocky is shocked to find that his longtime trainer Mickey (Burgess Meredith) has been lining up easy opponents all along. Mickey thinks that the wealthy, comfortable Rocky has gone soft (never mind that Stallone never looked so muscular), that the good life has taken away the "eye of the tiger" needed to defeat a raw scrapper like Clubber. Rocky goes through with the fight, but Mickey suffers a seizure backstage. Rocky is knocked out, losing his title to the gloating Lang. Then a new mentor appears -- none other than Rocky's old foe, former champ Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), who takes Rocky to a seedy slum gym to try to restore the "eye of the tiger."
Is it any good?
Rocky III allocates no human qualities of athletic competition to the Clubber Lang character; he's a one-dimensional bully with no backstory or redeeming features. Which is too bad, because Mr. T -- with no major alteration to his persona or look or catchphrase "I pity the fool!" -- went on to be a kids' action hero on TV's The A-Team and even his own Saturday morning TV cartoon. The original 1976 Rocky was more than just a sports action flick; it had a solid character-building message in its tale of the lowly Philadelphia boxer's underdog shot at the championship: It doesn't matter if you win or lose, as long as you try your best, or "go the distance" in Rocky-speak. By the time ROCKY III came around, that message was knocked right out of the ring.
The racial aspect of the movie is worth discussing with older kids. This was right before the rap and hip-hop explosion that combined urban black anger with pride and empowerment in music and movie characterizations. Mr. T, in his African-warrior hairstyle and gold chains, could well be a gangsta rapper hero -- except he's just a few years too early. Would Rocky III have been a popular hit if Clubber Lang were better drawn, not just white America's worst nightmare of a hostile inner-city thug? In addition to Mr. T, Rocky III was a breakthrough for another star, the WWE idol Terry "Hulk" Hogan, playing a menacing but -- unlike Clubber -- secretly friendly wrestler with whom Rocky grapples in a silly charity match. This helped bring pro wrestling into the mainstream, which should indicate right there the overall level of the material.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how the lesson in the original Rocky -- that it doesn't matter if you win or lose, as long as you "go the distance" -- compares with the more success-oriented mania in this sequel. You could also talk about the transformation of Apollo Creed from Rocky's nemesis to his friend and ally, and how that plays out in the final scene.
How does Rocky III settle into a story formula clearly established by Rocky II?
How does this movie continue the recurring themes of the Rocky movies: the value of working hard and of grit and determination, and how perseverance can lead to overcoming the obstacles in one's path?
- In theaters: May 28, 1982
- On DVD or streaming: February 10, 2005
- Cast: Mr. T, Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire
- Director: Sylvester Stallone
- Studio: MGM/UA
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Sports and Martial Arts, Misfits and Underdogs
- Run time: 99 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: sports violence, trash talk
- Last updated: September 21, 2019
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