Thunderlips and Dead Meat

With Rocky III, the franchise turned fully toward its pop culture potential, bringing in new music, stars known for their pop value, and a leaner, even embarrassingly slim story that in its own way, is still a fascinating early ‘80s document.

Sylvester Stallone stars, writes, and directs a sequel that, for as much as it’s about mindless uplifting entertainment, is also deeply personal. Rocky III finds the boxer confronting his own success, the changes that brought to his life, and how that alters him too. Becoming a (if not THE) box office draw of the decade, Rocky’s problems coincide with Stallone’s own, and the result is a movie caught in the reality.

Rocky III finds those moments, yet also seems stuck on repeat and formula

Rocky III finds Rocky battling (then) rising pro wrestler Hulk Hogan – or the hilariously named Thunderlips in-movie – and soon-to-be temporary pro wrestler Mr. T – or, the equally appropriate Clubber Lang. The set-up lacks the conviction of Rocky and Rocky II. Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) developed into an intriguing villain. For Mr T., he jumped from the A-Team to pro boxer without nuance or depth, his antagonistic speeches more appropriate for a pro wrestler.

The drama is obvious. Blatantly, even laughably obvious. After losing a fight and his manager, Rocky stands in a gym, shrouded by near total darkness, as if Stallone lacked by confidence in his visual storytelling otherwise. And the dialog suffers a similar fate, although to his credit, Stallone gives Adrian (Talia Shire) a key role, undoing Rocky’s self-doubt in a way only a significant other can. While the moment itself comes with visible dramatic seams, it’s performed with pronounced force, it works. Then come the cheers, the celebration, and everything else the Rocky franchise is known for.

It’s worth the wait. With one exception (Rocky V), each of these movies works in the same way, and finish gloriously well, to a point where the absurdity beforehand just disappears, leaving only crowd-pleasing bliss. Rocky III finds those moments, yet also seems stuck on repeat and formula, using music, arcade games, and star power to cover the less potent script. Because it’s stuck between the dramatic superiority of its predecessors and swallowed whole by the noise of Rocky IV, Rocky III feels crushed under their weight. There’s a damned fun boxing movie here though, and an interesting self-examination happening alongside.


The opening United Artists logo looks appallingly compressed. DVD-like even, and when the Rocky III title card scrolls across the screen, mosquito noise follows it along. Mercifully, that doesn’t continue. Rocky III features a notably potent, thick, hearty grain structure. Certain spots show challenging compression; it’s not perfect, and specks of damage mar a number of shots. However, this looks better than expected given the film stock, refined and clean, with resolution improvements consistently visible.

Marvelous gains come via the color, adding zest to the vivid yellow ring outfits. Hefty flesh tones fill the runtime, their richness and depth both excelling. Primaries pop and thrive wherever possible, and that goes double for anything in-ring. Dolby Vision brings a spark to the stadium lights behind Rocky. Even the city lightens up, whether that’s theater marquees or simple street lights. Peak brightness runs high (the statue reveal looks spectacular under sunlight), gorgeously accentuated, and making up for less consistent black levels elsewhere (but still thick at their best).


A remastered DTS-HD track sounds lovely in stereo, the soundstage split naturally as to leave few doubts this is the way Rocky III was meant to be heard. The slight wear in fidelity is only notable in dialog. The music comes through beautifully rich, full, and pure, which in a Rocky flick matters more than others. Note Paramount also includes the original mono track, but given the stereo quality, that’s the better choice for most.


The Rocky III disc itself is barren, but additional bonuses covering the full franchise reside on a bonus disc inside the box set.

Rocky III
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras


Rocky III gives into every pop cinema demand, but it’s still a fascinating, self-examining story about dealing with success.

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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 43 full resolution uncompressed 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD:

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