We were disappointed but not surprised when Foxtel recently announced their 12 Days of Christmas Movie Marathon. Despite the Movie Hits channel dedicating 24 hours a day to Christmas Movies from December 14 until midnight on Christmas Day, there was not room for Rocky IV on their list of Festive Season films. It has been the same since the movie was released in 1985, despite its obvious Christmas film qualities.
Rather than be angered by this newest slight, we turned our minds to the successful elevation of Die Hard to Christmas Movie status in recent times, and devised a plan. Before we could mount our case, it was necessary to define the shared traits present in each movie already accepted in the echelon of Christmas films.
To that end we settled into our most comfortable tracksuit pants, perched ourselves on the couch and took a deep dive into history’s most beloved Christmas films. As we watched everything from It’s A Wonderful Life to A Muppet Christmas Carol we delightedly saw a common set of themes present throughout each – Family, Nostalgia, the Trappings of Christmas, Villainy, a Great Song and Life Affirmation. Excitedly we knew that Rocky IV delivered a knockout on each and every one.
Family, community or kinship are at the heart of any Christmas movie. This is true whether it is the town rallying to rescue George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life, Liam Neeson helping his stepson pursue the girl of his dreams in Love Actually or the bromance between John Maclane and Al Powell in Die Hard. Rocky IV is no different.
Whatever else Rocky Balboa might be, first and foremost he is a loving and devoted husband. This is illustrated with his surprise almost ninth wedding anniversary celebration with Adrian, complete with a bride and groom boxing themed cake. He is also a doting father completely comfortable in sharing his feelings with his young son. While leaving him at home on Christmas with seemingly just a robot as a carer is questionable, his love is clear. As is the brotherly bond he has formed with his brother in law Paulie, perfectly illustrated in the exchange ahead of his bout with Drago.
Pausing on the way to the arena, a clearly emotional Paulie grabs Rocky’s attention. “I know sometimes I act stupid and I say stupid things, but you kept me around and other people would have said “drop that bum,” he says with an admiration built over the years. “You give me respect. You know it’s kinda hard for me to say these kinda things, cuz it ain’t my way, but if I could just unzip myself and step out and be someone else, I’d wanna be you. You’re all heart, Rock.“
I’m not crying. You’re crying.
Nostalgia and Christmas go together like custard and Christmas Pudding; which means it is omnipresent in films dedicated to the festive season. A Christmas Carol literally drips of nostalgia but it is also distinctly present in a film like Bad Santa where the innocence of a child melts the heart of the seemingly heartless Billy Bob Thornton.
The third sequel to the Academy Award winning Rocky, the first act of Rocky IV relies heavily on flashback to express its themes of growing older and losing what you once held dear. As nostalgic as it was when it was released, the passing of time since has made it even more so.
The Trappings of Christmas
Whether it is the Nakatomi Plaza Christmas Party in Die Hard or Clark Griswald’s attempts to have ‘a fun old fashioned Christmas’, a Christmas movie isn’t a Christmas movie unless it is set in, around or on December 25th. Given the entire movie is a build up to an epic conclusion on Christmas Day, Rocky IV easily ticks this most important of boxes, with bonus points for it being a white Christmas too.
While Christmas is normally associated with peace, love, and goodwill to all men, Christmas movies cannot properly reflect these sentiments without the services of a world class villain. Through the years there have been a number of truly great ones. A Christmas Carol has Ebenezer Scrooge, Love Actually has two in Billy Bob Thornton and Hall of Fame Christmas Villain, Alan Rickman. So too does Home Alone in Kevin McAllister’s parents who forgot to take him on Christmas holidays not once, but twice!
As egregious as each of the aforementioned characters are, none of them can match the pure evil of Ivan Drago. If killing Apollo Creed wasn’t enough, Drago uses five of the approximately 25 words he utters in the film to caringly suggest “if he dies, he dies,” to take villainy to an unprecedented level. To add insult to mortal injury, he then won’t agree to fighting Rocky anywhere but Russia, anytime but Christmas Day without any prize money on offer. Fair to say that is a villain with a capital V.
If you thought that Rocky IV excelled on the last category, great song is another triumph for the movie. While Scrooged might have Put a Little love in your Heart, Die Hard has Christmas in Hollis and Love Actually as Christmas is All Around, this is nothing compared to the one two punch of Rocky IV. While it is the only Rocky movie without a score by Bill Conti, Living in America and No Easy Way Out are awesome 1980 era substitutes.
A Christmas movie isn’t a Christmas movie unless the main protagonist comes to a life affirming epiphany. It’s A Wonderful Life teaches George Bailey that he is the luckiest man alive, A Christmas Carol comes to an end with Tiny Tim’s “God bless us everyone.” Rocky IV is no different with Rocky having his own life affirming moment after overcoming Drago in Moscow.
I came here tonight, I didn’t know what to expect. I seen a lot of people hate me and I didn’t know what to feel about that so I guess I didn’t like you much either. During this fight, I’ve seen a lot of changing, in the way you feel about me, and in the way I feel about you. In here, there were two guys killing each other, but I guess that’s better than twenty million. I guess what I’m trying to say, is that if I can change, and you can change, everybody can change!Rocky Balboa
What’s more Christmasy than a boxer ending the Cold War on Christmas Day with the power of his words? On every possible metric, Rocky IV fits the bill as a Christmas Movie and deserves its place alongside the great movies of the genre.