First things first, the full quote as appears in the film. We’ll cite the fictional character instead of the real actor as the real actor did not write the line.
If he dies, he dies.Ivan Drago
The character of Drago has been the subject of much serious research among scholars, and Sylvester Stallone (who wrote the film) seemed to know what he was doing. Stallone wanted to use boxing to highlight the conflict between the exemplary features of Russia vs the U.S in the United States and the subsequent crumbling of the Soviet Union.
Context of the Quote
The quote appears fairly early in the 1985 film and serves some major functions in terms of character development. The iconic American boxer Apollo Creed, who had earned the respect of the audience for his passion in subsequent Rocky movies, agrees to fight the larger, stronger Russian Boxer (who is a member of the Russian army), the 261-pound Ivan Drago. Thinking it will be a cakewalk against a new boxer, Apollo agrees to fight Drago in a promotional match.
The fight is a disaster from the outset with Drago using his size and strength to overwhelm Apollo on the mat and ultimately seems to knock out Apollo, though Apollo does not fall to the mat but instead stays up in against the ropes, in a daze, as the Siberian Express (Drago’s nickname) approaches Apollo for the knockout blow. A dramatic series of clips play, as the scene pans into a slow-motion cut of Drago delivering the final, ultimately fatal blow to the boxer. Apollo’s team, with the addition of Rocky Balboa (played by Stallone) rushes to the mat and calls for an ambulance.
The media, his trainers, and fans rush towards the mat as Drago says into a microphone, as he departs from the ring, simply “if he dies, he dies.”
The film was released in 1985 six years before the official dissolution of the Soviet Union (which ‘began’ in 1998). However, the Cold War was well on its way out at the time. The 13-day-long Cuban Missile Crises was more than 20 years earlier (Oct 16, 1962 – Oct 28, 1962). However, the resolution that was the collapse of the Soviet Union, and a resolution to the tensions between the two countries, were by no means obvious at the time of the film’s release.
The Chornobyl disaster, which occurred on April 26, 1986, did not occur for a full year after the release of the film. The disaster, which many argue contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union’s economy, was one of the last straws that made it clear that the Soviet Union was no longer a major threat to the United States.
Academic Scholarship on Rocky
We’ve been able to find at least two academic sources that analyzed Drago in an academic setting. One of which is Friend Or Foe?: Russians in American Film and Foreign Policy, 1933-1991. A book was written by authors Michael Strada and Harold Troper who looked at the portrayal of Russians as they appeared in film, and the potential impact that had on foreign policy. The authors describe the film as a “parade of Russian evil.” Noting that, try as one might, one is unlikely to find any redeeming quality of any Russian character.
One of the real questions underlying the academic and scholarly works on the fight is, does it seem impossible that Rocky’s speech at the end of Rocky IV could actually turn the crowd? Academics remain skeptical but, it is not without precedence.
Bill Burr, in the famous Philadelphia Incident, was able to turn a group of rowdy, booing Philadelphians into fans by enduring the hatred of the crowd (and returning it). We would be remiss to dismiss this incident as merely an example of drunks behaving erratically in the same way viewers dismiss the soviet audience as monolithic.
This quote comes from Rocky 4, or the fourth movie in the Rocky film franchise.
The Russian trained boxer, colloquially known as Drago, delivers the fatal blow to Apollo Creed in what was supposed to be an exhibition match.
In film circles this scene is perhaps most famous because Sylvester Stallone was adamant that Dolph Lundgren (who played Drago) hit him for real. Lundgren, who was a fully trained martial expert at the time, sent Stallone to the ICU for his massive blow to the, albeit well built, non boxing actor.