This summer marks the 30th anniversary of what is considered the greatest blockbuster season of all-time: summer, 1982. That year, the cinemas were loaded with genre-defining classics that are still shaping the worlds of science-fiction, fantasy, horror, and action to this day. In this retrospective series, 1982: The Greatest Year, Jeff and other members of the Geek League of America will take a fond, and sometimes funny, look back at this monumental time in nerd culture history.
In the summer of 1982, I was five. Like many of my fellow nerds, the actual idea of the “Greatest Year of All Time” was never realized in an actual theater, but through years and years of VHS rentals and TV viewings. The wastelands of more recent years with one or two movies to be excited about certainly leaves one nostalgic for a year like 1982.
Of all the films from that year, Rocky III was my pick to write about. I discovered the Rocky Saga (yes, six films make a saga), a few years later in the 80’s, retroactively watching parts 1-3 after the amazingness of part IV. Being Italian, a huge boxing fan, and, even in my formative years, a huge fan of cheese, I was hooked. Though parts I and II are more dramas than fun-filled afternoons at the movies, it’s part III where the series truly finds itself.
In part III, Rocky isn’t the lovable loser from the first two films. He’s the champion of the world. He’s beloved by the public, and he’s rich. It’s a much different angle than the first two films.The challenger to Rocky’s title (which is actually The Ring Magazine belt) is Clubber Lang, portrayed by Mr. T, making his film debut. Mr. T is awesome in the role, coming across as a true badass. As a viewer, you really were unsure if Rocky could beat him.
Rocky also fights a wrestler named Thunderlips, played by Hulk Hogan, in a charity match. This was amazing as a kid to see, but, strangely, seemed to suggest that the sport of Professional Wrestling wasn’t on the up and up. Considering the movie was released during a time where it was very, very, VERY important to keep up the illusion of wrestling being real (just ask John Stossel about how fake it is), the whole scene seems surreal.
Of course, before losing to Mr. T, Rocky’s trainer Mickey dies. Burgess Meredith makes his exit from the series after Lang pushes him — causing a heart attack. Rocky decides to fight anyway and no one bothers to take Mickey to a hospital, because, hey! There’s a fight going on! Thankfully, Carl Weathers is back as Apollo Creed to help Rocky regain the eye of the tiger (that’s a good name for a song), and defeat Mr. T, sending him to a career driving around a gymnastics team for wacky adventures. He does this by training him, as Paulie puts it, “like a colored person.” After you get over the shock twist of Paulie being a racist, you’re treated to one of the best training montages in the series, featuring a lot of footwork training and running on the beach. Only after losing everything does he come back to regain what’s his. His journey forces him to overcome the death of his trainer, racism, fear, running in really short shorts, and Hulk Hogan.
Rocky III is the one and only time in the entire series that the whole final fight is shown without the use of montages. It’s a fierce and tense battle that *cough* borrows *cough* from Muhammad Ali’s famous rope-a-dope of George Forman in Zaire, much like the original and it’s unofficial *ahem* borrowing *ahem* of Chuck Wepner’s fight against the same Ali.
I would be remiss to discuss Rocky III without mentioning the soundtrack. Think back to the last movie you saw that instantly had a recognizable theme. Seriously, can you even hum one line of The Avengers theme? Well, Rocky III had two. Despite the presence of the always horrible coat tail rider Frank Stallone on the scene in three songs, one of the best movie songs of all time “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor makes its first appearance as the movie’s theme song. Bill Conti returns to provide the orchestral score, including the classic “Gonna Fly Now” theme, the best non John Williams music ever committed to film.
It’s not until you rewatch the film with an eye toward its legacy that you see how great it is. Mr. T turns in a star making performance as Clubber Lang. His later roles as B.A. in the A Team and as Mr. T in the Mr. T Cartoon are a direct result of his fantastic performance. Hulk Hogan would use his notoriety from appearing in the film to start his rocket to wrestling superstardom and eventually star in his own movie, the absolutely classic bad movie No Holds Barred. “Eye of the Tiger” is used to signify training hard in countless movies and TV shows. Sylvester Stallone went on to make three more Rocky films, and out of six movies, only one (the god awful part V) legitimately sucks. Adrian, well, she wasn’t in part six….and no one really noticed.
Rocky III is possibly one of the best sports films of all time. It is clearly the best film of the entire Rocky Saga, being the perfect blend between the Oscar-winning drama of the first film and the amazing cheesiness of part IV. This tale of loss and victory, running in slow motion, and large menacing men with mohawks will live forever as part of The Greatest Year of Movies, 1982!