Sylvester Stallone originally toyed with the idea of killing Rocky off at the end of the film. The plan was that Rocky would die in an ambulance on its way to the hospital with Adrian by his side. At the hospital, she would have announced to the world of his passing and his spirit would live on with a final flashback of the famous scene of him running up the steps. Stallone ultimately abandoned this concept and rewrote the ending.
According to John G. Avildsen, when shooting the picture, he felt that cinematographer Steven Poster was over-lighting many of the scenes, and thus negating the realism of the piece. He told Poster he wanted the film to look more like Rocky (1976), which had been lit by James Crabe, oftentimes using a single spotlight to light an entire scene (such as the opening boxing match). Poster told Avildsen that the original film "looked like a cheap documentary". Avildsen responded to this piece of criticism by smiling and saying, "Exactly".
Jodi Letizia, who played street kid Marie in Rocky (1976), was supposed to reprise her role in this film. Her character was shown to have ended up as Rocky predicted she would: a prostitute, who had recently been made homeless. The scene however, ended up on the cutting room floor, although Letizia can briefly be seen during the street-fight at the end of the film. The character would be reintroduced properly in Rocky Balboa (2006), where she would be played by Geraldine Hughes.
Sylvester Stallone's salary for the first Rocky film was 23,000 dollars. His salary for Rocky V (1990) was fifteen million dollars. That represents a pay raise of 65,217 percent, and is estimated to be one of the largest pay raises in Hollywood history for any actor.
Sylvester Stallone originally planned to make the effects of Rocky's brain damage much more visible and painful to see, but altered these plans after watching a few days of footage because the sight of Rocky like that was "like seeing your favorite dog with dysplasia."
Michael Anthony Williams, who plays Union Cane, was a real-life boxer, just as was Tommy Morrison (who plays Tommy Gunn). He and Morrison were to have an actual match about a month after Rocky V was released, but it had to be canceled when Williams was hurt. The match was being hyped as "The Real Cane vs. Gunn Match".
The film, in the timeline, began very shortly after Rocky IV (1985) ended. Rocky Krakoff, who played Rocky's son in that film, and Sage Stallone, were both born in 1976, meaning they would have both been fourteen when this film came out. This means Rocky's son would've aged five years from the time Rocky went to, and came back from Russia, when he really should have still been nine years old.
Just as he had done with the first four films, writer Sylvester Stallone incorporated much biographical material into the plot of the film. Stallone particularly focused on the notion of Rocky's fall from grace. In Rocky III (1982) and Rocky IV (1985), Rocky was top of the world, unbeatable and incredibly famous and popular. These two films had coincided with the height of Stallone's own popularity, which had waned decidedly in the years since Rocky IV. As such, when composing the script for Rocky V, he decided to look at the notion of how a man can have it all, only to suddenly lose it.
Gonna Fly Now is not sung in this movie, it only appears in an instrumental form played by the band when Rocky arrives back in the States at the beginning of the movie. This is also the last film in the series NOT to include a version of the song with lyrics, as the "traditional" sung version returns in Rocky Balboa (2006).
Sylvester Stallone rewrote the ending, saying that he decided to change it because Rocky was supposed to be about perseverance and redemption, and having him die in a street brawl would be against the roots of the series.
In the years following the film's release, Sylvester Stallone acknowledged that the injury that forces Rocky to retire, referenced in the film as a potentially lethal form of 'brain damage', was inaccurate. Stallone stated that having discussed the story with many boxing medical professionals, the injury Rocky suffered was a milder form of brain damage, similar to that of a long-term concussion that many boxers suffer from, and by modern-day standards are still able to gain licenses to box. It would not have prevented Rocky from gaining a license to box, nor would it have killed him.
Tommy Gunn's first fight in the film takes place in the same hall where Rocky fights Spider Rico in the opening scene of Rocky (1976). Even the design of the opening shot of the scene is copied directly from the earlier film.
The golden glove necklace featured so prominently in this film was first seen in Rocky III (1982), then again throughout Rocky IV (1985). As a promotional gimmick, replicas of the necklace were distributed to moviegoers at the Hollywood premiere of Rocky V at Grauman's Chinese Theatre.
Rocky V (1990), Creed (2015) and Creed II (2018) are the only three movies in the "Rocky" saga to receive PG-13 ratings. This is also the only movie to receive a 15 certificate in Ireland (solely due to the final street fight, as revealed in an Irish Times article).
On this film, as well as Rocky (1976), Jimmy Gambina, a famous boxing trainer from California, was the trainer. He is barely mentioned, although famous for the fight scenes in both movies, as well as a technical advisor on boxing.
Evander "The Real Deal" Holyfield was offered a part in the movie, but he turned the part down because they wanted him to lose. At the time, Holyfield was an undefeated boxer and didn't want a blemish on his record, even a fictional one.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
According to director John G. Avildsen, Rocky was originally going to die after the street fight with Tommy Gunn. However, they were ordered by the studio to change the ending, because they told him iconic characters like Rocky Balboa shouldn't die.
Originally, the scene where Rocky is knocked out, during his fight with Tommy Gunn, had Rocky remembering the fight with Clubber Lang and afterward, he sees Mickey as a hallucination on top of the subway tracks telling him not to give up. This scene didn't make the final cut.