Rocky Balboa officially steps into the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray ring for the four film five disc Rocky: The Knockout Collection. Serving up the first four films with Rocky vs Drago: The Ultimate Director’s Cut, the films make for often stunning Dolby Vision additions, however, there are audio issues for the first three films that the folks at Warner Bros may need to address with disc replacements. Recommended - but with a note of caution, otherwise, Skip It until corrected discs are available.
Rocky Balboa is a sports movie staple at this point. From the Best Picture-winning first tilm through five sequels, a re-edit of the fourth film, and three spin-off films, Stallone’s Italian Stallion pugilist hero has inspired movie-goers for generations. Objectively speaking, the franchise is a bit all over the place as each sequel became more indicative of the era that spawned it, but they've all got something to them to make them worthwhile, even if they never recaptured the magic of the first film.
A near-perfect character drama, this is the film that birthed Stallone’s career. As writer and star, Stallone smashed onto the scene with a magnetic screen presence giving true humanity to the underdog Rocky Balboa. Seeing him potentially win the title from Carl Weather’s Apollo Creed wasn’t nearly as important as seeing this honest relatable character win the love of his life played by Talia Shire and finally prove to the world that he wasn’t just another washed-up bum from Philadelphia. 5/5
After claiming there won’t be rematch… there was a rematch. Rocky II while proving to be a nice followup just can’t quite recapture the magic of the first film. Stallone serves as star, writer, and director for this followup and you can feel it struggle with the genuine character drama while making the audience wait an eternity for the inspiring training montage and another climactic fight with Weather’s Apollo Creed. 3/5
Rocky Balboa enters the era of American excess with 1982’s Rocky III. While lighter on the human relatable dramatics, this is Stallone in peak physical form taking on the fast-talking power-puncher Clubber Lang (Mr. T). Complete with the Oscar-nominated tune “Eye of the Tiger” this is a redemption story with Rocky proving to himself he’s still the champion with help from his former nemesis Apollo Creed. It’s brash, but it’s a lot of fun, with a good heart. 3.5/5
Rocky III walked the franchise into the era of 80s excess and Rocky IV lives it in style-over-substance geopolitical pandering - and it’s incredible! Edited like an MTV music video, the film features multiple music montages minus Bill Conti’s iconic “Gonna Fly Now” trading in for “Hearts on Fire” by John Cafferty. Rocky avenges the death of his friend by taking on the biggest fighter the Russians could throw at us - Ivan Drago (the actually crazy brilliant chemist and martial artist Dolph Lundgren). It’s loud, it’s over-the-top, but it’s also a hugely entertaining flick. 4/5
35+ years later, Stallone got the notion of re-editing the most financially successful Rocky film into something less 80s-excess and more dramatically satisfying. For the most part, it works. The fights are re-edited for maximum impact while a lot of the goofy humor and Paulie’s robot are excised entirely. It’s an interesting alternate take that some may prefer over the original version but isn’t strong enough to completely replace. 4/5
Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
The Italian Stallion goes the distance on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray for the first time in the new 4-film five-disc Rocky: The Knockout Collection - which must be a KO By Split Decision Collection since it’s missing the last two films and a lot of bonus features. This set offers up three BD-66 discs, one for Rocky, Rocky II, and Rocky III with a BD-100 disc dedicated to Rocky IV and Rocky vs Drago: The Ultimate Director’s Cut on the same disc. Each disc loads to a static image main menu with Bill Conti’s iconic theme - including part IV even though that song is never heard in the film…
The first and best of the series - but oldest - understandably has the most mixed results on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray. The 1.85:1 2160p Dolby Vision transfer is undeniably a step up over the past Blu-ray releases offering genuinely impressive details with a rich film-like appearance given the film’s low-budget-scrappy gritty nature. By and large facial features, the 70s clothing, the grimy Philadelphia locations like the opening boxing arena to Mick’s gym to Apollo’s lavish office digs, you can fully appreciate every crevice, character line, or grease stain on Paulie’s clothes. Dolby Vision HDR works some lovely visual magic for this film greatly stabilizing and enhancing black levels, giving whites that crisp lovely quality, while primaries are giving ample attention. The red and yellow of Rocky’s robe to Apollo’s over-the-top Uncle Sam outfit during the entry for the big fight is lovely stuff.
My one hiccup for this transfer is that it does look as if a little bit of smoothing was employed to balance some of the rougher heavier grain photography. The film famously was under-budgeted and would shoot illegally without permits to get shots done as quickly as possible. Those scenes look a lot cleaner and you can see the shift in film grain structure. However - it’s not a complete disaster. It’s employed judiciously, and it doesn’t appear completely scrubbed out since there’s still plenty of clear film grain and fine details, but you can feel the effort to make a small handful of scenes look more uniform to the rest of the film. Not a deal breaker but something to mention all the same. Overall this is certainly miles better than the streaming 4K presentation that’s been around the block for a while since this disc doesn’t have to contend with bitrate issues and internet connection nonsense. 4/5
A big hit sequel gets a bigger budget and you can feel how much more professional-looking this film is with a gorgeous 1.85:1 2160p Dolby Vision transfer. While still very 70s appearing, the film as a whole is a lot cleaner, brighter, and more lavish so you can see more of those fine details in clothing, locations, and in facial features. Film grain is fine and apparent throughout without looking too noisy or intrusive. I also didn’t notice any of the slight smoothing I spotted for the first film so it looks more naturally uniform.
Dolby Vision HDR offers up similar enhancements to black levels, whites, and primaries as the first film. I felt like this image had a lot more depth to it than before with stronger shadow gradience for those dramatic bits as Rocky tries to read to the comatose Adrian. Reds, yellows, and Blues once again pop beautifully without looking oversaturated and skin tones are nice and healthy without looking to peached or oranged-up. Again the final fight between Rocky and Apollo is the real dazzler moment but Rocky’s training montage is another highlight moment for the film moving from Mick's gym to chasing chickens to Rocky outrunning a hoard of zombie children. All in all an impressive transfer and a notable improvement over past releases. 4/5
Welcome to the 80s! Bigger budget, more flash and pizzaz, and the Dolby Vision transfer looks terrific. Facial features, Thunder Lips’ 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 Apollow 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 absorb. 4.5/5
The fourth and most joyfully ridiculous entry in the franchise explodes onto 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray with a gorgeous 1.85:1 2160p Dolby Vision transfer… well… it’s almost all 1.85:1. Inexplicably there’s a scene at about the 10:17 mark where Rocky is chatting up Rocky Jr while washing the Lambo where the aspect ratio randomly shifts from 1.85:1 to 1.78:1 and back to 1.85:1. It lasts all of a few seconds - but it’s noticeable and very odd and the lone issue for this disc. Otherwise - the transfer looks great. Details are impressive letting you fully appreciate fine facial features, the costumes, and the production design work to turn Jackson Hole, Wyoming into Siberia.
The Dolby Vision HDR is an asset to this film in particular with all of the flashy colors, highly-stylized cinematography, and dramatic lighting effects. Those training montages and music video interludes never looked better with deep inky blacks, bright bold colors, and crisp bright whites. Depth is impressive especially for when the action moves to “Siberia” for Rocky’s training sequence to Hearts on Fire. 4.5/5
Rocky vs Drago: The Ultimate Director’s Cut
Now even though it’s on the same disc as the theatrical Rocky IV, it’s a completely different-looking film. Top to bottom this 2160p Dolby Vision transfer is its own beast. For starters, Stallone reframed the film for 2.35:1 - why I’m not sure when none of the other films in the series appear that way, but there you are. This version of the film may only run about three minutes longer but it uses almost 45 minutes of alternate and deleted footage. Overall details are often striking giving you a full appreciation of fine textures and facial features, but some of the alternate footage looks to have been touched up a bit to make the film more uniform. The clearest examples of this are seen in the press conference footage introducing Drago and later when Adrian confronts Rocky about his decision to fight.
Likewise, the color timing for this edition is notably cooler with more of a slate gray appearance without going into dreaded teal/orange territory. The Dolby Vision HDR grade works with these alterations nicely, so the new version of Apollo talking to Rocky about fighting Drago is bright and beautiful with natural outdoor lighting and colors with Rocky’s baby blue shirt. Black levels are deep and inky offering up healthy shadows and terrific image depth. Primaries are bright and bold - considering how Apollo enters the exhibition match those reds, yellows, and blues are brilliant and bold but skin tones are natural and healthy throughout. Definitely a different appearance but a good-looking one on 4K - and like the alternate cut itself fans of Rocky IV are likely to have some varying feelings about one version over the other. 4/5
Well, if you’re here for the DTS-HD MA 5.1 track, you’re in luck because it sounds pretty solid. It wasn’t a track that was absolutely necessary to have in 5.1 but I’ve always liked it. It’s certainly not the best use of 5.1 since it keeps pretty front/center for long stretches and occasionally some dialog hits come in a little hot and loud, but overall it got the job done and for the iconic training montage “Gonna Fly Now” still sounds terrific and the big fight is a nice stretch in the mix. If you have a DTS Neural X function on your setup, it definitely helps deliver some more impact for the track.
But the big foul-up for this release is the DTS-HD MA 2.0 track that is not the original theatrical mono mix as indicated but a fold-down. And an obvious one at that. This definitely should be the original track and worthy of issuing a corrected disc for fans. While I’d probably stick to the 5.1 anyway, I’m also a bit of a purist and tend to prefer the original theatrical recordings when available. To that end, I’m not giving a final verdict here until a replacement is or is not confirmed. NA/5
It’s difficult to judge this area of the disc because it’s just wrong all over. All you have to do is pop on the old Blu-ray to hear the issue - it’s pitched too low. It’s not softness that can be compensated with a volume shift, dialog, music cues, or sound effects simply sound lower than before and just not quite natural. It’s not a huge shift mind you, but enough of one to kinda itch in your ears after a while. To that end, it’s actually difficult to understand what happened and why it affected both the DTS-HD MA 5.1 and 2.0 tracks but it’s there. Looking through that pitch issue, levels are spot on and each track is nicely engaging in its own way. Dialog is clean for both tracks with an active sound design giving dialog and active sequences plenty of attention. The film really picks up again for the training montage and the big final bout with Creed. NA/5
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, the dialog is clean and clear, music is impressive giving Eye of the Tiger and Gonna Fly Now all the required care and attention. 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 them a brief listen and those music cues are definitely off. So scratch that up for another possible necessary disc replacement.
Finally - a disc that doesn’t have an audio issue! Everything is spot on and right on the money for this disc and for both cuts of the film. The 5.1 and 2.0 options for the Theatrical Cut are terrific offering full-throated music cues, impactful sound effects, and clean clear dialog throughout. When Hearts on Fire kicks in, it's almost impossible not to leap out of your seat and try to work in some crunches. The few genuinely quiet conversational sequences are in great shape, but the mix really comes to life for the fights and generally sounds pretty fantastic throughout giving you a nicely immersive surround experience. 4/5
Rocky vs Drago: The Ultimate Director’s Cut
Re-editing the movie wasn't enough for Stallone, he also had to go in there and rework the audio for the fourth film for a more impactful DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio track. Supposedly this was given an Atmos mix for the one-night-only theatrical outing. Now I didn't get that experience because my local theater shoved us all into the smallest screening room in the complex. But playing the Theatrical Cut and this new Director's Cut side by side, this new mix has a lot more LFE. Bass notes in music and the slams from the punches have a lot more impact. Most of the mix is still relatively front/center with sides only acting up for busy scenes, but as a whole, this 5.1 has a bit more heft to it. 4.5/5
Adding a little more insult to the “Knockout Collection” moniker, nowhere near every new or archival bonus feature ever issued for these films was included for this release - which is a genuine puzzler, it’s not like these materials are going anywhere. The inclusion of just a single bonus Blu-ray without remastered 1080p discs for each film is just a damned odd choice for this set. Compounding the problem is even the Making-Of doc for Rocky vs Drago is about 35-minutes shorter than the one you can watch on Stallone’s YouTube channel?
But, the flip side is the four Best Buy single-title SteelBooks look to be the solution to the problem of missing archival extras as those appear to offer the Heavy Weight Collection discs in addition to the new 4K discs. So if you’re really after all of the bonus features for the films, that’ll probably be the better way to go - provided the myriad of disc issues is fixed soon.
Rocky 4K UHD Disc
Bonus Features Discs
Rocky: The Knockout Collection hardly lives up to its namesake. While each film scores a damned impressive new 4K Dolby Vision transfer well worth celebrating, the set misses out on the final two films, a number of bonus features from past sets without offering up hardly anything new or notable, on top of virtually every disc featuring some sort of replacement worthy issue. To quote RoboCop 2 “waste makes haste” and this is a rather hastily assembled wasteful way to celebrate the Italian Stallion just to spit product on shelves in time for Creed III to hit theaters. As WB seems to be well aware of the issue thanks to the rush of criticism online, this is another high-profile flub for a studio that can sometimes set the standard for home video releases. Hopefully, a disc replacement program is announced sooner than later. To that end, my final call is to say Recommended but proceed with caution otherwise Skip It until the corrected product is on the market. 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