Rocky IV is one of the world’s greatest and most beloved sports movies. Its delicate blend of sports drama with powerful ’80s optimism has seen it truly stand the test of time, particularly as its story is so crucial for the Rocky franchise as a whole. Its story follows Rocky as he witnesses his friend Apollo Creed brutally beaten to death in the boxing ring by a young Soviet prodigy, with the older boxer then setting up a Cold War grudge match for the ages.

Rocky IV‘s story goes beyond simple Cold War sentiment, though. Its story is primarily about how heart can conquer all in the world of sport, and how a fighting spirit can make even the biggest underdog a champion against all odds. However, this lends itself to one particularly compelling theory: that Ivan Drago is a robot.

Think about it: at the start of Rocky IV, Drago starts the film by being told what to think and do. He’s quite literally a killing machine, pointed at the aging Apollo Creed and told to punch until the man stops moving. Then, his training shows him being hooked up to all sorts of computers in a lab with a team of scientists looking on. He’s cold, he’s calculated, and he’s entirely void of emotion – the opposite of Rocky, who’s reeling from the death of his friend and fighting on pure passion.

Drago’s arc over the course of Rocky IV‘s story is an interesting one because he gradually starts to show some weakness. Rocky’s humanity is what ultimately exposes him: he steps into the ring with Drago against everyone’s better judgment, defying the odds to fight against the impossibly powerful (and much bigger) fighter. Faced with this illogical turn of events, Drago begins to falter. Could it be that Rocky’s fighting spirit was enough to force a system error in Drago’s programming?

Ivan Drago Being A Robot Makes Rocky IV So Much Better

Dolph Lundgren as Ivan Drago and Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa in Rocky IV

Examining Rocky IV‘s story through the lens of this particular theory makes it a far more interesting examination of human nature, and draws parallels with various other ideas in the movie. For example, the film starts with Paulie receiving a robot for his birthday, demonstrating how machines are traditionally viewed as the property of humans. Then, when Drago is introduced, he too seems to “belong” to his Soviet handlers. When he eventually starts to think for himself (or malfunction, if you will), he’s discarded. By the end of Rocky IV, Drago is damaged goods, because machines that can’t carry out their purpose aren’t worth anything.

This man vs. machine subtext certainly speaks to the way promoters and managers handle athletes, particularly in the world of boxing. Fighters aren’t always treated with basic human respect: they’re expected to perform to a certain level, and when they fail to do so, they’re no longer worth time or attention. This is a theme that later Rocky movies expand on, too: both the maligned Rocky V and the much better Rocky Balboa explore the idea of the fighter’s fading relevance, and Creed II explores Drago’s own story after his fall from grace.

The man vs. machine angle also makes Rocky IV‘s emotional core far stronger. Rocky’s love for his friend and his heartbreak over his loss inspires him to be more, eventually ending with him overcoming the incredibly calculated tactics and finely-tuned performance of Drago. The idea that Rocky’s emotions (what ultimately makes him human) are what set him apart from the impassive and obedient Drago (who may or may not be an actual machine) is ultimately what makes Rocky IV so enjoyable, and it’s a big part of why the film remains such a classic today.

Of course, Creed II entirely dispels any notion that this theory could be true by highlighting Drago’s human side. However, Rocky IV alone offers enough evidence that the Russian could be a robot, particularly as it shows that functional robots exist within the Rocky universe (just ask Paulie – or don’t, because we think that robot might be his girlfriend). Either way, it’s an entertaining theory that reframes Rocky IV as one of the most unique sports dramas ever made.

I originally wrote about this theory for ScreenRant – read the article here if you’re interested. If you’d like to learn more about supporting retired boxers, why not look into the Ringside Charitable Trust – a charity working to support fighters with issues surrounding physical and mental health after they’ve stepped out of the ring.