Reception to the film was generally negative and it was (at the time) considered a disappointing conclusion when this was presumed to be the last movie in the series. Stallone himself has since admitted that he too was disappointed with how the film turned out. The box office gross was $180 million below that of Rocky IV. Rocky V marked the final appearances of Talia Shire and Burgess Meredith in the Rocky series. Due to the low box office result, Rocky V was the last Rocky film with which United Artists had any involvement. Though this was presumed to be the ending of the series, a sixth film, Rocky Balboa, was released in 2006 and garnered much more favorable reviews. Stallone starred in both this film and Creed, the seventh entry in the series.
Shortly after Rocky Balboa's victory over Ivan Drago in Moscow, he, his wife Adrian, his brother-in-law Paulie, and his trainer Tony "Duke" Evers, return to the United States, where they are greeted by Rocky's son, Robert. At a press conference, boxing promoter George Washington Duke attempts to goad Rocky into fighting his boxer, Union Cane, who is now the top rated American challenger. They want the bout for the World Heavyweight Championship called "Lettin' It Go In Tokyo," but Rocky declines the offer. Duke refuses to give up on the huge payday fight with Balboa and surmises he needs to come up with an angle to convince him to fight.
Shortly after returning home, it is discovered that Paulie unknowingly had Rocky sign a "power of attorney" over to Rocky's accountant, who had squandered all of his money on real estate deals gone sour; in addition, the accountant had failed to pay Rocky's taxes over the previous six years, and his mansion had been mortgaged by $400,000. His lawyer confirms this, but he tells Rocky the situation is easily fixable with a few more fights. Rocky, not wanting to go bankrupt, decides to accept the mega fight with Cane for the money. However, after seeing a doctor, an examination reveals permanent and irreversible brain damage from the fight with Drago and at Adrian's insistence, Rocky decides to retire from boxing. He files for bankruptcy, resulting in his mansion and belongings being auctioned off, and moves his family back into Paulie's old house in South Philadelphia. Adrian returns to working part-time at the J&M Tropical Fish pet shop while Paulie returns to the Shamrock Meat Packing facility. Rocky arranges plans to refurbish and reopen Mighty Mick's Boxing Gym, willed to his son Robert by his late trainer Mickey Goldmill. He walks through the abandoned gym and reminisces about a training session between the two just before Rocky fought the rematch against Apollo Creed years before.
One day, Rocky and Paulie meet a young fighter from Oklahoma named Tommy Gunn, and Rocky takes him under his wing. Training the young fighter gives Rocky a sense of purpose, and Gunn fights his way up the ladder to become a top contender. Rocky eventually becomes so distracted with Gunn's training, that he winds up neglecting Robert. He falls in with the wrong crowd at school and as a result, he begins acting out at home.
Union Cane wins the vacant world heavyweight title while Gunn continues his rapid and impressive rise through the ranks. Still wanting to do business with Rocky, Duke sees Gunn's knockout streak and relationship with Rocky as a way of gaining control of him. Duke showers Gunn with luxuries and promises him that he is the only path to a shot against Union Cane for the title. Duke hopes to take control of Gunn as his manager and keep Rocky on as head trainer.
On Christmas Eve, Duke visits the Balboa house with Gunn to explain the new scenario which would financially benefit all of them. However, Rocky insists dealing with Duke will end badly and is dirty business. Gunn drives off in a huff, leaving Rocky for good. Adrian attempts to comfort Rocky, but his frustrations finally boil over. He confesses his life had meaning again when he was able to live vicariously through Gunn's success. She reasons with him, telling him Tommy never had his heart and spirit—something he could never learn. When this realization hits him, Rocky embraces his wife and they begin to pick up the pieces. After finding Robert hanging out on a street corner, Rocky apologizes to his son and they mend their broken relationship.
Gunn fights Cane for the heavyweight title as Rocky watches from his basement, still rooting for his protégé. After taking a good punch, Gunn goes on to completely dominate and dismantle a passive Cane scoring a first-round knockout. Gunn is booed by spectators for leaving Rocky and hounded by reporters after the fight. They insist Cane was nothing but a "paper champion", because Cane did not win the title from Balboa, and also suggest he wasn't necessarily trying his best to win and accuses Duke of rigging the ratings. Gunn is upset when they say he will never be the real champion unless he fights a worthy opponent, like Rocky; they drive the point home when one reporter announces, "...he's no Rocky Balboa!" With Gunn incensed by the press's reaction, Duke convinces him that he needs to secure a title fight with Rocky to put to bed the notion that he's not the real champion. Duke and Gunn show up at the local bar to goad Rocky into accepting a title challenge. Rocky declines the prospect of a title fight and tries to reason with him, but Gunn rebukes it and calls him weak, prompting Paulie to stand up for Rocky. However, Gunn punches Paulie and he falls to the ground. Enraged, Rocky accepts the challenge, but tells Gunn "my ring is outside."
Despite Duke's warnings to keep the fight in the ring, Gunn accepts. During the fight, Rocky is eventually beaten down, and is seemingly out for the count. He then hears the voice of Mickey urging him to get up and continue the fight, to go just "one more round". Rocky gets up and, with Robert, Paulie, and the entire neighborhood cheering him on, the fight is also televised around the world with utilizes his vast street fighting knowledge to knock out his former protégé. While Gunn is escorted away by the police, Duke threatens to sue Rocky if he touches him, but after a brief hesitation and with nothing else to lose anyway, Rocky knocks him onto the hood of a car and quips, "Sue me for what?"
The next morning, Rocky and Robert take a jog to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and Rocky gives his son Rocky Marciano's cufflink, given to him years ago as a gift from Mickey. The film ends with a shot of Rocky's statue looking out over the Philadelphia skyline.Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa, "The Italian Stallion": Heavyweight Champion of the World, who suffers from brain damage caused by the head-trauma he received at the hands of Ivan Drago in the previous film. Because of his injuries, Rocky is forced to officially retire from boxing. After moving back to Philadelphia, Rocky agrees to train and manage underdog boxer Tommy Gunn and helps him to rise to fame.
Talia Shire as Adrian Balboa: Rocky's wife and support throughout his life and his boxing career.
Burt Young as Paulie Pennino: Rocky's friend, and brother-in-law.
Sage Stallone as Robert "Rocky" Balboa, Jr.: Rocky and Adrian's only son, who gets involved with the wrong crowds during the absence of his father's presence, throughout the training and mentoring of Tommy Gunn.
Richard Gant as George Washington Duke: Loud and obnoxious boxing promoter, who repeatedly tries to convince Rocky to re-enter the ring. He becomes Tommy Gunn's manager during his shot at the Heavyweight Champion title.
Tommy Morrison as Tommy "The Machine" Gunn: Underdog boxer, who rises to fame under the training of beloved Heavyweight Champion of the World, Rocky Balboa. Throughout his career and rise to fame he is called Rocky's "shadow", and angrily seeks out another manager. After his achievements as Heavyweight Champion, and the public's continued dis-appreciation for him, he attempts to fight Rocky in an unofficial street fight, only to lose; proving he was something to be forgotten as the public had repeatedly stated throughout his career.
Burgess Meredith as Mickey Goldmill: Rocky's deceased friend, manager and trainer; a former bantamweight fighter from the 1920s and the owner of the local boxing gym. Burgess appears in new footage, filmed as a flashback to before Rocky's second fight with Apollo.
Tony Burton as Tony "Duke" Evers: Rocky's friend, and former trainer and manager of Apollo Creed.
Paul J. Micale as Father Carmine
Michael Williams as Union Cane: Reigning Heavyweight Champion of the World who wants to fight legendary Rocky, and eventually fights Tommy Gunn, only to lose.
The film has cameos by sportswriters and boxing analysts, including Al Bernstein, Stan Hochman and Al Meltzer, and sportscaster Stu Nahan, who was the ringside announcer in the original Rocky film and was the ring announcer in each Rocky movie, save the sixth and seventh movies. Both Dolph Lundgren and Carl Weathers appear as Ivan Drago and Apollo Creed in archive footage, uncredited.
The character "Tommy Gunn" was played by Tommy Morrison. Morrison's nickname prior to his retirement from boxing was "The Duke" similar to George Washington Duke, who becomes his manager in the movie. Morrison claimed to be the grandnephew of John "The Duke" Wayne.
Michael Williams, who plays Union Cane, was also a real-life boxer. He and Morrison were to have an actual match about a month after Rocky V was released, but had to be canceled when Williams was hurt. The match was being hyped as "The Real Cane vs. Gunn Match."
Jodi Letizia, who played street kid Marie in the original Rocky (1976), was supposed to reprise her role. Her character was shown to have ended up as Rocky predicted she would: a prostitute, but the scene ended up on the cutting room floor. Although she can briefly be seen during the street fight at the end, the character would eventually reappear in Rocky Balboa (2006), as a bartender and confidante to the aging Rocky. Actress Geraldine Hughes took over the role.
Kevin Connolly, who gained success as Eric Murphy on HBO's Entourage, was in his first acting role as neighborhood bully Chickie.
Some of the fight sequences were filmed at The Blue Horizon in Philadelphia, a venue which was a mecca for boxing in the city during the 1970s.
Scenes with Mickey, played by Burgess Meredith, were trimmed in the final film when Rocky fights Tommy. Mickey appeared in ghost form on top of the railway bridge, giving words of encouragement. In the final film, this was made into flashbacks. The speech Mickey gives to Rocky in the flashback sequence is based on an interview with Cus D'Amato given in 1985, shortly after Mike Tyson's first professional bout.
The image of Gunn's first professional fight, the pullback from the mural of Jesus over the boxing ring, mirrors the opening shot of the first Rocky movie. Adrian goes back to working at the pet shop she first worked at in the original Rocky.
The golden glove necklace featured so prominently in this film was first seen in Rocky II (worn by Apollo Creed), then again throughout Rocky III and IV. As a promotional gimmick, replicas of the necklace were distributed to moviegoers at the Hollywood premiere of Rocky V at Grauman's Chinese Theatre.
The famous red, white and blue boxing trunks first worn by Apollo Creed in his fight with Rocky in the first film make their fifth and final appearance in this film. Rocky's leather coat introduced in Rocky makes its third and final appearance in the franchise at the start of the movie.
The Ring magazine belt in Rocky's basement and the identical belt Morrison wins in the ring have changed slightly from the previous movies; they are missing the four side panels showing famous champions (from left to right) Floyd Patterson, James J. Corbett, George Foreman, and James J. Braddock.
According to Stallone, pro wrestling legend Terry Funk helped choreograph much of the street fight between Rocky and Tommy Gunn.
In the original script, Rocky is killed during the final fight with Tommy, dying in Adrian's arms in the street. Through most of the filming and production, this was to be the outcome; it wasn't until the film was nearing completion that Stallone decided against Rocky's death and went with the current ending. According to him, the director and the studio had second thoughts. Eventually, Stallone rewrote the ending, saying that he decided to change it because Rocky was supposed to be about perseverance and redemption, and having him die in a street brawl would be against the roots of the series.
In the ensuing years following the film's release, Stallone acknowledged that the injury Rocky suffers subsequently forcing him to retire, referenced in the film as a potentially lethal form of 'brain damage', was inaccurate. Stallone stated that having discussed the story with many boxing medical professionals, the injury Rocky suffered was a milder form of brain damage, similar to that of a long term concussion that many boxers suffer from and by modern-day standards are still able to gain licenses to box and would not have prevented Rocky from gaining a license to box nor killed him.
Tony Burton briefly reprises his role as Duke at the beginning of the film. However, during his scenes, Rocky refers to him as "Tony". In the credits, Burton is credited as playing "Tony", as opposed to "Duke" (possibly to avoid confusion with the George Washington Duke character). Rocky V is the second time in the series to do so, with the first being Rocky II as Apollo asked "What are you afraid of, Tony?" Rocky Balboa names Burton's character, "Duke Evers". Most fans take this to imply that his name is Tony "Duke" Evers.
Sage Stallone, Sylvester's real life son, portrays his character's son in the film. However, in Rocky IV, he was portrayed as a nine-year-old child whereas Sage was 14 at the time of filming, making him a teenager in this film despite Rocky V taking place just days after the events of Rocky IV.
The soundtrack album is not the original motion picture score, but rather has music from and inspired by the film. This soundtrack features Joey B. Ellis, MC Hammer, 7A3, MC Tab, Rob Base, and Bill Conti. Most of the soundtrack album contains rap music, rather than the Bill Conti score. Also, two of the scores from Rocky IV were featured in this film's trailer, but were not present in the actual film or soundtrack. "Measure of a Man" was written by Alan Menken and performed by Elton John.
Like Rocky IV, a full version of "Gonna Fly Now" with lyrics is not heard in the film. However an instrumental horn version is played during the early scene where Rocky gets off the airplane, and at the end of the movie after Rocky defeats Tommy, another instrumental version is heard.
Anticipated to be one of the big hits of the 1990 holiday season, Rocky V finished second in its opening weekend to Home Alone and never recovered. The film earned US$14 million on its opening weekend and $40 million in total US box-office sales, about one-third of its predecessor's take. Rocky V however made almost twice as much overseas and thereby a total of $119.9 million worldwide.
In addition to its disappointing numbers at the box office, Rocky V has a 28% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with the site's consensus states, "Rocky V's attempts to recapture the original's working-class grit are as transparently phony as each of the thuddingly obvious plot developments in a misguided installment that sent the franchise flailing into longterm limbo." It also has a score of 55 out of 100 on Metacritic, based on 16 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews". The film departed from the standard Rocky formula on display in the previous four films, which made it extremely unpopular with the audiences that had been drawn to the previous sequels. Furthermore, when TV and cable networks played a film marathon of the Rocky series, they frequently left this installment off.
Criticism was also drawn from the film's ending, claiming following Stallone's last minute decision not to kill Rocky, the film's build-up and narrative was lost.
It was also nominated for seven Golden Raspberry Awards in 1990 including Worst Picture, Worst Actor and Worst Screenplay for Stallone, Worst Actress for Shire, Worst Supporting Actor for Young, Worst Director for Avildsen and Worst Original Song for "The Measure of a Man".
On July 8, 2010, in an interview with The Sun, Stallone was interviewed about the Rocky films. When he came to Rocky V, Stallone replied he made it out of greed.
Nonetheless, Stallone was still praised for his performance and the film received some positive feedback from some fans, with the Los Angeles Times regarding it as the best of the Rocky sequels.
As a result of, and in response to, Rocky V's poor box office performance (and the general dissatisfaction with the end of the franchise), sixteen years later, Stallone wrote, directed and starred in the film Rocky Balboa, the sixth chapter to the saga. The sixth film was an attempt to redeem the character for a final chance to come back as a hero again, and do the story justice by bringing it full circle; as for Rocky's ability to fight again, Stallone suggested that advances in medical science during the period between the films had shown that the injuries mentioned in Rocky V were less debilitating than once thought, and that he would receive a "clean bill of health" today. It succeeded by grossing over $70 million at the US box office as well, and $85 million abroad, and getting largely positive reviews from both fans and critics.