The Italian Stallion suits up for his next big fight - to prove he’s still the champ after taking a beating from Mr. T in Rocky III. The film is heavy-handed with the melodrama and the fights are ridiculously over-the-top, but the film’s infectious 80s energy and fight sequences give fans every cent of their entertainment dollar. Now on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray in a two-disc SteelBook exclusive to Best Buy, the transfer is terrific and the English audio is spot on, but the pitch issues carry over to the foreign language tracks and the lack of any bonus features is a bummer.
He went the distance, came back for the rematch, and now Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) is the reigning heavyweight champion of the world. With Mick (Burgess Meredith) in his corner and Adrian (Talia Shire) by his side, Rocky is invincible… and ready to retire. But upstart fighter Clubber Lang (Mr. T) wants his shot at the title. After taking the worst beating of his career as Mick lies dying, Rocky must turn to his one-time nemesis Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) to recapture the eye of the tiger and take back the championship and prove once again to himself and the world he's a great fighter and not just another bum.
As wildly entertaining as it is, Rocky III is the point where the franchise kinda goes off the rails. The first two films were intricate character dramas that delved deep into the need to prove oneself and the dangers of ego and hubris. This second sequel is all about Stallone and his meticulously sculpted physique. From the blow comb hair to the 0% body fat, this movie is all about appearances. Stallone was a star now and he wasn’t going to tarnish his image - even after repeatedly getting punched in the face.
This is also the film where believability goes right out the window. In the first two films when Rocky took a punch, you felt it and it looked painful. His cheeks would get cut, his eyes would swell shut - remember: “Cut me, Mick!” This film virtually drops any realism of the beatings. Sure, when Rocky gets his ass handed to him the first time, he doesn’t look great but he still looks better than he did in the third round against Creed. As we see in the final “You ain’t so bad!” final fight against Clubber, Rocky can take Mr. T’s worst right to the face with barely a trickle of blood preserving Stallone’s good looks. As silly as this is, we wouldn’t get the classic exchange between Paulie and Apollo “He’s not getting killed, he’s getting mad!” - and it’s all the better for it. At this point, the audience needed the fantasy more than they needed the reality.
Released the same year Stallone introduced us to his brooding anti-hero John Rambo in First Blood, Rocky III is all about crowd-pleasing action. There’s just enough drama with Rocky’s confidence being at an all-time low to make you give a damn about the Philly-born pugilist. His life with Adrian is pretty calm and sweet while Paulie briefly deals with fits of jealousy with his best friend’s success and fame to give a little background spice. In addition to the incredible over-the-top fight scenes, it’s the relationship between Rocky and Apollo that makes the film. Carl Weathers damn near steals the show as he worked overtime to turn his two-time foe into a hungry fighter again. As the fourth film would continue to lean into the ridiculousness, I did appreciate that Stallone’s recent recut of Rocky vs Drago would hinge more on this dynamic between Rocky and Apollo. It’s the biggest most fully-developed dramatic muscle in the entire film.
Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
Rocky III takes a hit for 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray with a Best Buy Exclusive single-title 4K UHD + Blu-ray + Digital release. The 4K disc is identical to the one found in the not-quite-so-Knockout Collection and the included Blu-ray is the exact same disc offered by MGM/FOX. However, as has been the case with all past releases, there aren’t any bonus features. Both the 4K and Blu-ray disc load to a static image main menus with traditional navigation options.
Welcome to the 80s! Bigger budget, more flash and pizzaz, and the Dolby Vision transfer looks terrific. Facial features, Thunderlips’ mustache, Clubber’s mohawk, Rocky’s high hair pseudo mullet, the whole show offers up strong striking details with a healthy naturally cinematic grain structure. Didn’t spot any smoothing or at least anything so serious to be distracting. For all of the glitz, I was really taken by the spectral highlights and sheen. This is also when the franchise started getting kinda “oily” for every workout or fight even before a punch was thrown.
As with the past films Dolby Vision works some wonders here pulling deep inky blacks and great shadows into the film. When Apollo takes Rocky to his old boxing gym, there’s much better detail and shadow separation compared to the past DVD and Blu-ray discs. Up to this point in the franchise, this is also the most colorful film with bright bold primaries throughout. The blue sky when Rocky and Apollo are running on the beach, Rocky’s yellow-on-black outfits, Apollo’s red workout gear, it’s lovely stuff. Throughout there’s a terrific sense of depth and dimension to enjoy.
This is a good news/bad news scenario for fans. The good news - the DTS-HD MA 5.1 and 2.0 tracks sound terrific. There are no pitch issues, the 5.1 is lively as ever with plenty of impact for those comically loud punches between Rocky and Clubber, dialog is clean and clear, music is impressive giving Eye of the Tiger and Gonna Fly Now all the required care, and attention. Best of all, the DTS-HD MA 2.0 track sounds correct and impactful and doesn’t sound at all like a fold-down of the 5.1. For the English tracks, this is right on the money. So if that’s how you were going to enjoy the film anyway 4/5 - however, the pitch issues seem to hit the foreign language tracks. I don’t tend to dive into those tracks for an average review because I just never need to, but thanks to a few readers for alerting us to the problem I gave these tracks a brief listen and those music cues are definitely off. So scratch that up for another possible necessary disc replacement.
Rocky III proves the champ can take a licking (dozens of them in fact) and keep on ticking. With Stallone an established star, the film almost becomes an early 80s-fueled high-octane parody of itself with fast-talking Mr. T delivering deadly power punches and an incredible bout with Hulk Hogan as the legendary Thunderlips! Thankfully the film still has a dramatic card to play and that’s best seen with Stallone and Weathers digging into the material that made their characters so appealing in the first two films. Rocky III scores a win in the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray department with an excellent Dolby Vision transfer and two solid audio options - if you’re English-speaking. Unfortunately, the foreign dubbed tracks have that odd pitch issue we heard on the Rocky II disc. Sadly, even with a 1080p Blu-ray disc, there aren’t any bonus features to speak of. To that end, if you’re only aiming to grab individual titles, this slick-looking SteelBook from Best Buy is your best bet.
If and or when replacement discs are confirmed and issued, we'll update our reviews accordingly. Until Warner Bros. officially addresses the issues with the Rocky discs, we're withholding a definitive final Star and Recommendation rating