Go, Rocky, Go! Stallone vs. Sequel-itus

Hollywood's Roman Numeral Holiday Continues With 'Indiana Jones IV,' 'Basic Instinct II,' 'Die Hard IV' and 'Terminator IV'


Oct. 25, 2005 —  When Mr. T took on Sylvester Stallone as Clubber Lang in "Rocky III," he sneeringly told reporters that his prediction for the fight was, "Pain!" Ironically, that's just about everyone's prediction for "Rocky VI" — and like Mr. T, I pity the fool.

Stallone announced last week that he'll begin filming in December, nearly 30 years after the original "Rocky" came out of nowhere to beat "All the President's Men," "Network" and "Taxi Driver" as the Academy Award's best picture of 1976.

It's hard to tell where Stallone — a 59-year-old sequel machine — will take the film, dubbed "Rocky Balboa." A decrepit Rocky may now be battling a leaky bladder, at least that's the joke going around Hollywood.

This much is clear: The new movie finds the ex-champ back in Philadelphia, low on cash and lonely after the passing of his wife, Adrian. He takes on a few exhibition bouts, and that somehow snowballs into a media event, with a challenge coming from reigning champ Mason "The Line" Dixon.

"I am drawing on a lot of my feelings that are in sync with many people's feelings about facing the last chapter of their lives and how they want it to be written," says Stallone in a prepared statement.

To be sure, "Rocky IV" has got to be better than "Rocky: The Musical," and that's a project — no joke — that Stallone has battled with MGM in recent years to get off the ground.

'Stop (Making Sequels)! Or My Mom Will Shoot'

If all this smells of career desperation, consider that His Royal Slyness has gone from $20-million-a-picture paydays to straight-to-DVD hell. The "So Bad They're Funny" section of your local video store is virtually the only place you'll find "Avenging Angelo," "Shade" and "D-Tox" (originally titled "Eye On You"). Those are Stallone's last three films, if you discount his supporting work as a fiendish toymaker in "Spy Kids: 3D: Game Over."

In another career booster, Stallone is also in pre-production for "Rambo IV." Perhaps someone should remind our favorite addled Vietnam veteran that in "Rambo III" he was aiding the Afghan mujahideen — a group that counted Osama bin Laden as a member. Let's just assume Mr. Tough Guy has one more reason to feel betrayed and go on a rampage.

It really wasn't supposed to be like this. "Rocky" was never intended to be a film series, and Stallone once actually had serious career aspirations.

"Ain't gonna be no rematch," a blood-soaked Apollo says in the original "Rocky," as he clutches the challenger in the 15th and final round, barely holding up his gloves. "Don't want one," Rocky says, as the final bell rings.

If it all ended there, "Rocky" would truly go down in history as a cinematic phenomenon. And if Stallone had never made another film, he'd have been remembered for greatness and not such stinkers as "Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot."

Not only did "Rocky" earn 10 Oscar nominations (and win three), but Stallone became only the third person in Hollywood ever to receive a best actor and best screenwriter nomination in the same year. The other two double nominees were Charles Chaplin for "The Great Dictator" and Orson Welles for "Citizen Kane."

It was an amazing achievement, especially considering that, in 1975, when Stallone sold his first screenplay, he was as down and out as Rocky himself. He was an underemployed 29-year-old character actor, who, among a few other things, bullied Woody Allen as a subway thug in "Bananas" and starred in the soft-porn feature, "Party at Kitty and Stud's," as, of course, the stud.

Stallone's best pre-"Rocky" credit was as a Brooklyn greaser in "The Lords of Flatbush," a minor film that also featured a young Henry Winkler, who later said that he based his Fonzie character on Stallone's performance.

Stallone even wrote his own dialogue. "You want a ring," he tells his marriage-minded girlfriend. "I got a ring for ya. In my bathtub."

But those were hardly happy days, and it was only a TV sporting event that turned Sly's life around. One March evening, Stallone watched Chuck Wepner, a club fighter from New Jersey, nearly beat Muhammad Ali in a 15-round fight that caught the champ off guard and nearly turned a nobody into a king.

The only reason Wepner even got a shot at Ali was because his nickname, "The Bayonne Bleeder," caught the eye of fight promoter Don King. It should be noted that Wepner lost another fight two decades later when he sued Stallone for allegedly turning his life story into a blockbuster screenplay.

As the legend goes, Stallone banged out the first draft in a three-day blitz. Producers offered Stallone a six-figure sum, with an eye on James Caan or Ryan O'Neal for the lead role. But just like his character, Stallone gambled on glory. He took $30,000 on the provision that he'd be the star — and a future "Rambo" was born.

Stallone has several times called a moratorium on "Rocky" movies. But every few years, with his career sagging, the Italian Stallion stepped in the ring for a final round. Even in the original script for "Rocky V," the Italian Stallion was supposed to die, but Stallone eventually changed his mind. "It would be like killing off Superman," he said.

Now, it seems, Stallone will pull on his trademark American flag boxer shorts for one more fight. Get ready for those training montages, one more slo-mo climb up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Perhaps The Killers will cut a new version of that "Rocky III" hit, "Eye of the Tiger," or provide a more age-appropriate theme, like "Goiter of the Geezer."

Still, you can't really single out Stallone for cashing in on sequels when nearly every star in Hollywood is milking a film franchise for all of its worth. Think you've seen the last of "Die Hard," Terminator," "Basic Instinct" and "Indiana Jones"? In the next year, you'll see that each of these is a continuing saga — and they're likely to go on for as long as they turn a profit.

Let's take a look:

1. Bruce Willis: Die Hardest
Take a deep breathe. Justin Timberlake is among the names who are reportedly being considered to play Bruce Willis' son in the fourth "Die Hard," due out late next year, which bears the inspired working title, "Die Hardest."

Willis swore off action movies — and specifically "Die Hard" sequels — several times. "I have a little distaste for them based on how much TV I did," the 50-year-old former "Moonlighting" star told USA Today in 2003, calling the original film "the only good one."

"I always said the genre had kind of run out of gas and had to reinvent itself. … We'll see."

Now, Willis is saying he's excited about the script, which calls for his tough-guy hero John McClain to fight terrorists with his son. But perhaps he got a little more excited when he saw the lousy box office returns of such recent bombs as "The Whole Ten Yards," "Heart's War" and "Tears of the Sun."

2. Harrison Ford and the Very Last Crusade
A 63-year-old Harrison Ford is now older than Sean Connery was when Connery played Ford's father in 1989's "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade." Connery isn't going to be back for "Indiana Jones 4," but Ford should be donning his rumpled fedora and snapping his whip by 2007, just in time for him to begin collecting Social Security.

"I realize no one wants to see the hero reach for his cane when he's going to hit someone," he told reporters in 2002, while promoting "K-19: The Widowmaker."

"But I'm still fit enough to fake it."

3. Sean Connery: Never Say 'Never' to a Cash Cow
Sean Connery learned you never say "never" to a sequel. Playing James Bond made him an international star. In the late 1960s, he passed the role off to George Lazenby, who starred in "On Her Majesty's Secret Service." But then he returned in 1971 for "Diamonds Are Forever."

"I've always hated that damn James Bond, I'd like to kill him," Connery once declared. But when he got $3 million to star in 1983's "Never Say Never Again," he may have been inspired by the title of one of his earlier cloak and dagger games — "You Only Live Twice."

The title for "Never Say Never Again" was supposedly based on Connery's promise to his wife to never again play Agent 007.

4. Sharon Stone: Basic Instinct
The world will soon see how long Sharon Stone can keep her legs crossed in "Basic Instinct 2: Risk Addiction." Michael Douglas won't be there to fight temptation, but the new thriller hits theaters in March.

The 47-year-old actress is back as the promiscuous bisexual novelist Catherine Tramell, 14 years after the original. Stone's sex scenes with Douglas were so elaborate and choreographed that she once dubbed them "the horizontal Fred and Ginger of the '90s."

For a while, Stone blamed her sagging career on being typecast, but now she's defending her most famous work. "I think my performance has held up," she told Harper's Bazaar this summer. "That scene doesn't have impact because a woman uncrosses her legs, but because I'm good in it."

"Risk Addiction" takes place in London, and a photo published a few weeks ago shows her seated for a police interrogation, this time before Scotland Yard, fueling rumors that she'll reprise her famous scene from the original. Guys, at least, are keeping their fingers crossed.

5. Arnold: 'I'll Be Back' … Perhaps

With Arnold Schwarzenegger's approval rating as California's governor plummeting to a lowly 35 percent, a report has emerged that he'll be back, perhaps for just a cameo, in "Terminator 4," which begins shooting next year.

The Hollywood action hero has already agreed to a deal, according to Web site Schwarzenegger's office is not yet commenting. But according to the scuttlebutt, the 58-year-old governor will make himself available for five days of shooting.

It's been 21 years since Schwarzenegger gave his career-defining performance as a cyborg killing machine in the original. Schwarzenegger wasn't always so keen on sequels. As he told "Starlog" magazine in 1991: "There's so little time to do all the things I want to do that I can't see any reason to get bogged down in sequels."

But if California voters can be entitled to a recall election, certainly the state's chief executive is entitled to rethink his position on revisiting past glory.

Buck Wolf is entertainment producer at "The Wolf Files" is published Tuesdays.