There are moments when creating movie magic puts an immense real-life strain on actors’ bodies—like Jared Leto’s dramatic changes in weight between roles or the time Brad Pitt tore his Achilles heel playing Achilles. But one of the most dramatic instances of real pain onset occurred during Rocky IV when a heavyweight blow from Dolph Lungren sent Sylvester Stallone to the ICU.
Sylverster Stalone & Dolph Lundgren Look Back on the Incident
In commemoration of the film’s 35th anniversary, The Hollywood Reporter released interviews with both actors discussing the incident. Following the box office success of the Rocky and Rambo movies, Stallone had almost landed the role of Han Solo in Star Wars. But instead, he returned to his breakout Rocky franchise as director and lead of Rocky IV.
He told Hollywood Reporter that he wanted to add a sense of realness to the fight scene with Lungren’s character, the towering antagonist Ivan Drago. After his friend Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) is killed by Drago in the ring, Rocky Balboa fights to avenge his friend’s death in a final battle.
Stallone directed Lungren—an international karate champion—to “forget the choreography” for the first minute of the fight and just “go out there and try to clock me.” The Swedish actor obliged, delivering a series of connecting blows to Stallone, including a fierce uppercut to the chest.
Sylver Stalone’s is Rushed to the ICU
It was his co-star’s uppercut, Stallone later realized, that put him in intensive care. Initially feeling fine, it wasn’t until that night that Stallone began to feel something was wrong. At the hospital, doctors informed him that his heart had collided against his ribs—an injury typical of head-on vehicular collisions. Reflecting on the Swede’s size, Stallone joked that he’d “hit a bus, of sorts.”
The Aftermath of the Fateful Uppercut
In the later interview, Lungren joked that he was just following orders. “He was the boss. I did what he told me. We came back to Los Angeles and the producer was like, ‘Hey Dolph, you’ve got two weeks off — Sly’s in the hospital.'”
Stallone would, of course, eventually recover and go on to have a fruitful career. Younger Netflix watchers might better recognize him from The Expendables or Disney’s Marvel movies. Stallone made his MCU debut in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 as Stakar Ogord. Or they might know him from his trending friendly jabs at Arnold Schwarzenegger on Instagram— where he also gave a sneak peek of the upcoming director’s cut of Rocky IV.