The movie features returning co-stars Carl Weathers, Burgess Meredith, Talia Shire, Burt Young and Tony Burton. Rocky III also marks the film debuts of Mr. T as James "Clubber" Lang, and of professional wrestler Hulk Hogan as the supporting character "Thunderlips".
The film's main theme, "Eye of the Tiger", was written by the group Survivor and became a smash hit single, topping the U.S. Billboard charts and received an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song.
Three years after winning the heavyweight championship from Apollo Creed, Rocky Balboa has had a string of ten successful title defenses and has seen his fame, wealth, endorsements and celebrity increase. He even has time to participate in an exhibition charity event against the world wrestling champion, Thunderlips. Meanwhile, Rocky's manager Mickey worriedly eyes a young and hungry contender rapidly rising through the ranks named James "Clubber" Lang. While unveiling a statue of himself at the steps by the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Rocky is publicly challenged by Lang, now the number-one contender. Lang accuses Rocky of intentionally accepting challenges from lesser opponents, and after he makes a sexual remark toward Rocky's wife Adrian, his challenge is accepted.
Mickey initially wants no part of it. Pressed by Rocky, Mickey confesses that he handpicked the opponents for Rocky's title defenses in order to spare him from the beating Creed gave him in their rematch. He explains that Lang is young and hungry, and that Rocky won't last three rounds because he has lost his edge and become "civilized".
Rocky, not wanting to retire knowing that he never really defended his title against the best opponents, convinces Mickey to work with him for one more fight and pledges to "live in the gym" and be more focused than ever. Despite his promise to Mickey, Rocky trains in a Las Vegas-style training camp that is filled with distractions and is clearly not taking his training seriously. In contrast, Lang trains with ruthless determination and vigor.
Lang and Rocky meet at Philadelphia's Spectrum. A brawl breaks out backstage, and Mickey is violently shoved out of the way by Lang, causing him to suffer a heart attack. A now distraught Rocky wants to call the fight off, but Mickey angrily urges him on while he stays in the dressing room. By the time of the match, Rocky is both enraged and severely distracted by his mentor's condition. The match begins with Rocky pounding Lang with several huge blows, going for an early knockout, but the stronger and better prepared Lang is unfazed and quickly takes charge, dominating Rocky and knocking him out with a haymaker left hook in the second round, winning the heavyweight championship belt from Rocky. After the match, Rocky returns to the dressing room and sees Mickey who had refused to go to the hospital until he learned how the fight went and is now dying. Kneeling at his side, Rocky speaks to Mickey, telling him that the match ended in the second round by a knockout, which Mickey misinterprets as a win for Rocky, shortly before succumbing to his heart attack. Rocky mourns over Mickey's death afterwards.
Stopping by Mickey's closed gym, Rocky is confronted by his former nemesis, Apollo Creed, who witnessed the match as a guest analyst, and offers to help train him for a rematch with Lang in exchange for "a big favor." At first, Rocky is too demoralized to put forth his best efforts, which leaves Apollo concerned, but regains after Adrian helps him come to terms with Mickey's death. Apollo then trains Rocky at the gym where he once trained, Tough Gym in Los Angeles, and infuses Rocky's brawling style with more of the skill and speed that is Apollo's trademark.
The rematch takes place at Madison Square Garden. Apollo lends Rocky his American flag trunks that he wore during their first match. As the match is under way, Rocky sprints from his corner, fighting with a level of skill and spirit that no one, including Lang, expected. As a result, Rocky completely dominates the first round, demonstrating his new-found speed. After the bell rings, Lang is in a fit of rage and has to be restrained by his trainers.
In the second round, Lang gains the upper hand and Rocky adopts an entirely different strategy that bewilders Apollo by intentionally taking a beating from Lang, even getting knocked down twice but getting up both times before he is counted out while taunting Lang that he cannot knock him out.
By the third round, Lang, who is used to winning matches swiftly with knockouts in the early rounds, becomes increasingly furious over Rocky's taunts and quickly exhausts his energy trying to finish Rocky off with repeated knockout blows, which Rocky quickly begins to block or dodge entirely. With Lang winded and vulnerable, Rocky seizes the opportunity and throws his energy into increasingly damaging combinations on a winded and outboxed Lang, capping off with four huge straight left haymakers and a right hook to the head. As a result, Lang goes down for the count and Rocky re-claims the heavyweight championship.
Afterwards, Rocky fulfills Apollo's vague "big favor": a private rematch with him at Mickey's gym. However, this time they are fighting in the spirit of friendly competition rather than as fierce rivals. The film concludes with both of the fighters throwing their first punch simultaneously, and the winner of this final 'rematch' behind closed doors is left unknown, but is later revealed in Creed.Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa, "The Italian Stallion": the heavyweight champion of the world who continues to defend his title against other fighters. When Lang challenges Rocky and wins, after the surprising death of Mickey, the public cries for a rematch. As Rocky is reluctant, former rival Apollo Creed befriends and trains The Italian Stallion in his preparation to take on Clubber Lang.
Talia Shire as Adrian Balboa: Rocky's wife, and supporter through his boxing career.
Burt Young as Paulie Pennino: Rocky's friend, and brother-in-law.
Carl Weathers as Apollo Creed: former heavyweight champion, and rival to Rocky, who agrees to train him after the death of Mickey; in the process the two become very close friends.
Burgess Meredith as Mickey Goldmill: Rocky's friend, manager and trainer, who unexpectedly dies; a former bantamweight fighter from the 1920s and the owner of the local boxing gym.
Tony Burton as Tony "Duke" Evers: Apollo Creed's father-figure, friend, trainer and manager, who helps in training Rocky with Apollo.
Mr. T as Clubber Lang: The underdog challenger who beats Rocky in a fight, after the unexpected death of Mickey. The public's general dislike for him, and lack of respect for him as heavyweight champion of the World, leads to a rematch with Rocky. As an orphan at an early age, he spent most of his childhood on the streets of Chicago's Southside, as well as time in orphanages and juvenile facilities. Later as an adult, Clubber was sent to prison for five years, for one possible count of a felony and/or assault charge. During his time being served he discovered boxing as a way to let out his frustrations and talent, which leads to the events of Rocky III.
Ian Fried as Robert "Rocky" Balboa, Jr.: Rocky and Adrian's only child.
Hulk Hogan as "Thunderlips": The current Wrestling Champion, who fights Rocky in a charity fighting event.
In addition to the main cast several others had cameo appearances. Bill Baldwin and Stu Nahan returned as the fight commentators for the two Rocky-Lang fights. Veteran ring announcer Jimmy Lennon was the ring announcer for the first Lang fight, while boxing judge Marty Denkin was the referee. Lou Filippo returned for his third appearance as a referee during the second Lang fight. Dennis James and Jim Healy appeared as the commentators for the Rocky–Thunderlips match, while LeRoy Neiman was the guest ring announcer. Jim Hill was a TV announcer. A then unknown Morgan Freeman auditioned unsuccessfully for the role of Lang's trainer. Footage of Stallone's guest appearance on The Muppet Show was incorporated in the opening sequence, with Jim Henson dubbing Kermit the Frog's announcement that the episode's guest was Rocky Balboa, rather than Stallone.
In preparation for film, Stallone claims to have got his body fat percentage down to his all-time low of 2.8% and weighed 155 lbs. He stated that he ate only ten egg whites and a piece of toast a day, having a fruit every third day. His training consisted of a two-mile jog in the morning followed by a two-hour weight training, a nap during the afternoon followed by 18 rounds of sparring, another weight training and finishing the day with a swim.
A bronze statue of Rocky, called "ROCKY", was commissioned by Sylvester Stallone and created by A. Thomas Schomberg in 1981. Three statues were created, and one was placed on the top of the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art for the filming of Rocky III. After filming was complete, a furious debate erupted in Philadelphia between the Art Museum and the City's Art Commission over the meaning of "art". Claiming the statue was not "art" but rather a "movie prop" the city considered various alternative locations and settled upon the front of the Spectrum in South Philadelphia. It was later returned to the Art Museum where it was used in the filming of Rocky V, as well as Mannequin and Philadelphia. Afterward, it was again moved to the front of the Spectrum. The statue was returned to the museum's steps on 8 September 2006.
The third of the three statues was listed on eBay in early 2005, with a starting bid of $5 million. It was being auctioned to raise funds for the International Institute for Sport and Olympic History. It failed to sell and was listed again for $3 million; after receiving only one bid, which turned out to be fraudulent, it has been re-listed several times for $1 million. The statues weigh 800 pounds (360 kg) each and stand about 8.5 feet (2.6 m) tall.
Rocky III was an enormous box office success and surpassed the gross of its predecessor. The film grossed $16,015,408 in its opening weekend and earned $125,049,125 during its North American theatrical run, becoming the fourth highest-grossing film of 1982; its worldwide box-office earnings stand at around $270 million.
Rocky III received a generally positive reception from critics. The film holds a 63% rating on the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes, with an average of 5.5/10. The film's consensus reads, "It's noticeably subject to the law of diminishing returns, but Rocky III still has enough brawny spectacle to stand in the ring with the franchise's better entries". Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel attributed the film's success to the positive reaction from critics and audiences towards Rocky II and the production team's "quality control" of that film. Siskel stated "if you want a hugely successful series, then make sure that the second one is a winner".
Rocky III was nominated for both the Award of the Japanese Academy for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Motion Picture at the Image Awards. The film's theme song Eye of the Tiger was nominated for Best Original Song at the Academy Awards, the BAFTA Film Awards and the Golden Globes. However, Mr. T was nominated for a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst New Star.
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:2004: AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs:
"Eye of the Tiger" – Nominated
A novelization by Robert E. Hoban was published by Ballantine Books in 1982.
Frank Stallone – vocals (2, 3, 6)
Ray Pizzi – sax (3)
Jerry Hey – trumpet (3)
Vincent DeRosa – French horn (5)
Mike Lang – piano (5)
DeEtta Little, Nelson Pigford – vocals (8)
- "Eye of the Tiger" (by Survivor) – 3:53
- "Take You Back (Tough Gym)" – 1:48
- "Pushin'" – 3:10
- "Decision" – 3:20
- "Mickey" – 4:42
- "Take You Back" – 3:37
- "Reflections" – 2:05
- "Gonna Fly Now" – 2:52
- "Adrian" – 1:42
- "Conquest" – 4:40
The version of "Eye of the Tiger" that appears in the film is actually a demo—the "finished" version is what appears on the soundtrack. Also missing from the soundtrack is the instrumental version of the song played when Rocky is training in Apollo's old gym.