Exclusive Interview: John G. Avildsen on Rocky and The Karate Kid

When I got the Rocky Heavyweight Collection on Blu-ray, I ended up reviewing every single Rocky movie. Nearly a month later, I was able to speak with John G. Avildsen, the director of the original Rocky, Rocky V, and the Karate Kid trilogy. He was able to answer some burning questions I’ve had from my entire life watching these movies, and now recently having seen them all back to back. The Rocky Heavyweight Collection is now available, and Avildsen told me the truth about Rocky V and Karate Kid III.


CraveOnline: I always like to give attention to the sequels as well as the originals, and you got to direct Rocky V. Did Stallone really want to kill Rocky at the end?

John G. Avildsen: Yes, when I read Rocky V, it was a terrific story, a great script. Rocky died at the end. He has this devastating fight with Tommy Gunn, ends up in an ambulance with his head in Adrian’s lap and by the time they get to the hospital, he’s dead. Adrian comes out of the hospital and there’s the world’s press assembled and she announces that, “Rocky is dead but as long as people believe in themselves, Rocky’s spirit will live forever.” And I thought wow, what a beautiful way to end the series.

So I say yes and we start to shoot and we shoot for about two or three weeks, and I get a call from the head of the studio. He said, “Oh, by the way, Rocky doesn’t die.” I said, “Oh? How come?” He said, “Well, these people don’t die. James Bond doesn’t die, Batman doesn’t die.” So Rocky didn’t die but the movie died because without that ending, it was like a shaggy dog story. There was no purpose so it was a shame that it didn’t happen.


So that ending was why you even signed on to do it?



I wonder if Stallone really regrets that because he brought him back in Rocky Balboa.

I don’t know, you’d have to ask him, but he wasn’t at liberty to change it because he had sold the story and it was theirs. They were calling the shots and they said no, he doesn’t die.


What really struck me about re-watching Rocky was you really set up the franchise right in that first movie. It opens with the scrolling letters, it begins with a fight which in the sequels was always the fight from the previous movie. Did you realize you were setting up something that could be repeated?

No, we had no clue that we were starting a cottage industry as it were. We thought it was going to end up on the bottom half of a second bill at a drive-in in Arkansas. We had no clue it was going to be as successful as it was.


Were you glad that the sequels maintained that structure?

I’ve never given that any thought but you make a good point.


In the training montages, is Sly really working out?

You bet!


We know the story of how Stallone insisted on playing the role of Rocky which he wrote. Did he want to direct the movie too and were you a compromise for him, letting an established director direct the story?

No, I never felt that he had any interest in directing the first one. I had met Sylvester a couple of times before that. I think the first time in 1971, I was down in Miami Beach shooting a movie with Jackie Mason and Sylvester came in to audition. He was a student at University of Miami at the time. I auditioned him again in New York City a couple years later when I was casting a Burt Reynolds picture, W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings. Sylvester came in for an audition as a hillbilly. He didn’t get that one either but I had seen Lords of Flatbush which was a real good movie. Sylvester did a great job in that so when I read the script, which I found very charming and romantic and a great character study and funny, I thought he would be terrific. We had a lot of fun shooting the picture.


Was Stallone really a southpaw like Rocky?

Yes, I believe so.


What are your thoughts on the Creed movie that Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan are working on?

It’s probably a good idea. I wish them good luck with it. It certainly has potential.


You spent so much time creating the character of Apollo Creed, what did you think when he was killed off in Rocky IV?

Well, that’s show business. You never know when the hammer’s going to come down.