No film relates the fall of the Soviet Union and the tenacity of the American spirit as beautifully as Sylvester Stallone’s 1985 magnum opus, Rocky IV. Consistently ranked as the greatest Rocky film by people who call films “movies,” there’s no denying that Rocky IV‘s social impact would be remotely as powerful without that perfect Soviet specimen, Ivan Drago.
Ivan Drago is probably the most frightening opponent that Rocky ever faced, despite the fact that he’s the only opponent that never actually beat the Italian Stallion. Apollo Creed, Clubber Lang and Mason Dixon all bested Rocky before ultimately losing to him, yet Drago is the one we remember as being the most powerful — a notion undoubtedly aided by the fact that he literally killed Apollo Creed.
So what’s the deal? Why does Ivan Drago, who never even beat Rocky, seem like the most powerful villain in the franchise? Sure, there’s the fact that he’s 6’5″ and towers over Rocky, but that’s only a couple inches taller than Creed. What it really comes down to is his dialogue — or lack thereof.
Ivan Drago portrayer Dolph Lundgren was born and raised in Sweden and had only lived in the US a few years before giving up on his Fullbright Scholarship to MIT to pursue acting instead. Following his film debut as a KGB henchman named Venz in A View to a Kill, Lundgren beat out 5,000 other actors for the role of a lifetime as Drago. The only problem was that Lundgren didn’t speak English particularly well at the time. The solution? Keep his mouth shut.
Despite being the only antagonist in Rocky IV‘s 90 minute runtime, Ivan Drago has just nine lines. Nine. Basically, Drago talks less than Thunderlips did in his seven-minute fight with Rocky in Rocky III. So what makes Ivan Drago such a memorable foe in Rocky history? Because all nine of those lines are so damn cold and badass.
“You will lose”
Drago’s first line in the film doesn’t occur until right before the fight with Apollo Creed, almost 30 minutes in. “You will lose,” he tells Creed. And in that moment, Creed knows he fucked up big time with all that James Brown “Living in America” nonsense.
“I cannot be defeated”, “I defeat all men”, “Soon I defeat real champion”, “If he dies, he dies”
After besting Apollo in one of the quickest fights in Rocky history, the usually laconic Russian unleashes an uncharacteristic flurry of memorable lines, including the one that still boils red, white and blue American blood, “If he dies, he dies.” That’s some cold commie crap delivered via the Siberian Express.
“I must break you”
Drago keeps quiet for another 40 minutes before delivering his most iconic line right before the start of the bout with Rocky. “I must break you.” While not quite as cocky as the “you will lose” delivered to Apollo, the line is certainly scarier — especially considering what he did to Apollo.
“He’s not a human. He’s like a piece of iron.”
While Duke Evers is busy convincing Rocky that Drago is not in fact a machine but a human being, Drago is now fearing that Rocky might be more than man. Don’t underestimate America, baby!
“I fight to win, for me. For me!”
Drago is just a commie cog in the machine of the Soviet Union and everything he does, he does for his country. Or so his handlers thought. But inside Drago beats the heart of a fighter, a fighter who doesn’t give a shit about some pitiful pinko pride. This scene is not only a dramatic moment of self-realization, but also a prescient metaphor for the fall of the USSR…or something.
“To the end.”
Or until Creed 2…