Ranking the Rocky Franchise
Rocky Balboa is one of the most iconic characters in American movie history. From the second you hear the opening of “Gonna Fly Now” your adrenaline spikes and you are ready to take on the world. The only thing that causes greater emotion than the soundtrack of the franchise is ranking all eight films. Is Rocky IV the best Rocky movie? Spoiler alert, it’s not. Is Rocky V the worst? Do I even need to put “spoiler alert” on this one? I’m here to settle this debate, once and for all (I’m not) and rank all eight movies in the Rocky franchise from worst to best. Joining me for this excursion through Philadelphia, Russia and wherever else Rocky has been is NYYST website contributor Timothy Claro. The number in is parenthesis is our score of the movie out of 10.
8. Rocky V (5/10)
I’d be shocked to see anyone rank the Rocky movies and not have V as the 8th place movie. Is it a bad movie, well not really. The issue with Rocky V is that the bad is so bad that you can’t see past it to see what’s actually good in it. The atrocious street fight to end the movie, the over-acting of Richard Gant as a dollar store, Don King knockoff, George Washington Duke and the non-acting ability of Tommy Morrison. They all overwhelm the senses to a point that you miss how Rocky now struggles being a broke, “bum” from the neighborhood again. The story actually is more in the spirit of what the franchise is about than Rocky IV, which brings me to…
7. Rocky IV (6/10)
Go ahead, throw your tomatoes but this isn’t a great movie. Everyone loves Rocky IV (including me) because of the soundtrack, training sequences and Rocky ending the Cold War but it’s not much more than an 80s action movie. If you were to play “which one doesn’t belong” with the Rocky franchise, it’s Rocky IV. Watch it if you want to get motivated to run through a wall but don’t expect much depth. Do expect iconic one-liners from Ivan Drago though.
6. Rocky III (7/10)
Hulk Hogan, Mr. T and Rocky Balboa. What’s not to love? The problem is that the “Rocky goes Hollywood” storyline never resonated with me. Rocky needs to get back to Apollo Creed’s roots to be able to beat Clubber Lang in their title rematch. The one thing saving this movie from possibly falling lower on the list is when Adrian has her real breakout moment of the series when she absolutely tears into Rocky on the beach when he admits he’s afraid. She always seemed to be the motivation for him to get into gear and her speech finally got him to get his head into his training with Creed.
5. Creed (7.5/10)
Do I have Creed too low on this list? Maybe but it’s definitely not number 1 and anyone that ranks it as number one on any of these lists should be arrested for being…well I’ll be nice and won’t say. It’s my fault, I get it but it just doesn’t feel like a Rocky movie to me. I know it’s Adonis Creed’s story and it’s a damn good one with how Creed tries to forge his own legacy and doesn’t want to live off the one the father he never knew created. Sylvester Stallone is great in this movie and really did deserve an Oscar but it’s just missing something for me to put it any higher on this list.
4. Creed II (7.5)
I said that Creed didn’t feel like a Rocky movie but Creed II definitely does. Is it silly that Adonis has to avenge his father’s death by beating the son of the boxer that killed him? Yes. That would make it a mere sequel to and on the same level as Rocky IV. What separates it is the struggles that Rocky goes through by living with guilt for 30 years because he didn’t throw in the towel when Apollo fought Ivan Drago. How Adonis has to cope with being hospitalized by Viktor. How Viktor and Ivan have to live with being shunned by Russia and Ludmilla leaving them after Rocky beat Drago in 1985. My biggest fear when Stallone came back for the Creed movies was that they would ruin the sendoff the character had in Rocky Balboa but they managed to come up with a near perfect ending for Rocky in Creed II.
3. Rocky II (8/10)
I completely understand how painfully boring this movie can be when Adrian is in the coma. However, once she wakes up and tells Rocky to “win” from that moment on there is not a more emotionally satisfying movie in the franchise and dare I say anywhere with the training montages, Rocky’s title victory and iconic “I did it” line to end the film.
2. Rocky Balboa (8.5/10)
Am I biased towards Rocky Balboa? Yes. After being a fan of the franchise since the first time I watched Rocky IV with my dad in the late 80s, this was the first time I had the opportunity to go see a Rocky movie in the theaters. That’s why I refer to it as “my” Rocky movie. My bias doesn't mean that it is bad. It’s great. We see Rocky some 15 years after his street fight with Tommy Gunn and he’s now a widow and his son resents him. This movie is all about loss and how to cope with it. All Rocky wants to do is have one more fight to get the “stuff out of the basement” as he puts it. The ending is absolutely brilliant with Rocky not even caring if he won or lost because he did what he set out to do in a perfect ode to the original. He and his crew leave to the glorious sounds of “The Final Bell”. It couldn’t have been scored better. This was how we were meant to say goodbye to a legend.
1. Rocky (9/10)
This movie is simply put, an American classic. It belongs at number one just out of respect for allowing seven sequels to be made based on how great it is. Rocky is a nobody making collections for a loan shark and taking beatings in a church for $20. Then it all changes when the reigning World Heavyweight Champion, Apollo Creed needs an opponent for his bicentennial fight. Is it all a gimmick to Apollo? Yes, but Rocky makes the most of it. He finds the love of his life in shy Adrian. Rocky knows he can’t win but it doesn’t matter to him. He just needs to prove he can go toe-to-toe with the best to prove he’s just not another bum from the neighborhood. Five more Rocky movies and two Creed films might not be for everyone but the original Rocky movie should be required viewing for everyone.
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8. Rocky V (3/10)
The Rocky saga is about an underdog overcoming all the odds to become a hero. Rocky V contrasts everything the first four movies created and all of Rocky’s progress is ultimately undone. It’s a sad tale that depicts Rocky as a shell of himself living vicariously through a young boxer who ultimately betrays him. The movie has a couple of saving graces; the street fight was epic as were a couple of one-liners including Rocky telling Tommy, “My ring’s outside.” The final montage of shots from the original 5 movies with Elton John’s “Measure of a Man” playing is a bit of a tearjerker but ultimately, nothing could save how bad this movie was.
7. Rocky IV (5/10) – (Entertainment 9/10)
Let me start by saying I love this movie, it’s one of my favorite Rocky movies but it isn’t very good. Rocky IV boasts the best soundtrack and has some exciting moments; Apollo’s death, Rocky KO’ing Drago and some killer training montages, but that’s all it has. The Rocky storyline doesn’t really advance like it did in the earlier movies. This movie really serves as a typical 80’s machismo film and it makes Rocky feel almost mythical. Maybe that’s why Drago says Rocky “isn’t human, he’s like a piece of iron.”
6. Rocky II (5/10)
Rocky II is incredibly boring. Nothing happens in this movie until an hour and 26 minutes into it when Adrian tells Rocky the one thing she wants him to do for her, “Win.” It gives me goosebumps just thinking about it. The next half hour is thrilling; between Rocky’s training and the actual fight where Rocky becomes champion, the movie finishes strong. Seeing Rocky go from the immediate after fight “highs” of sponsorships and living a life of luxury (in his mind) to quickly becoming a dejected and run-down version of who himself doesn’t sit well and is a bit uncomfortable. Outside of the ending, though, Adrian’s emergence as the central figure in Rocky’s life is quite telling and gives the Rocky story more of “love story” feeling.
5. Creed II (7/10)
As a father, this movie had me close to tears at the end. My issue with it is based on Rocky IV, I find it highly unrealistic. In a world of constant media scrutiny and a sports dominated culture, you want me to believe Ivan Drago has a kid who is tearing up the European boxing world and no one has ever heard of him until Adonis becomes champion? If you can buy that major plot hole then this movie is all aces, but I’m sorry I just can’t. This movie really hits home with family and fathers and sons. And by the time it ends, you realize the Drago’s (especially Viktor) aren’t bad men and they’re not really antagonists. Viktor just wanted to do right by his dad (what son doesn’t) and Ivan was just stuck in the past, wanting revenge.
4. Rocky III (7.5/10)
Other than Rocky V, this is probably my least favorite Rocky movie but it does a great job of showing who Rocky is on the inside. He’s defended his belt 10-times, he’s doing charity fights with Thunderlips (only Bob Hope would do more), he’s got endorsements up the wazoo and he’s living it up in California. Life is good until it’s not. The whole façade crashed down when he finds out everything he thought he knew was a lie and he finally admits to Adrian, “I’m afraid.” Now he’s able to start from scratch and rebuild himself, not just his persona but more importantly who he is a fighter. He learns to box! He’s no longer a street fighter from Philly. Now he’s a boxer and “shocks” the world by KO’ing the invincible Clubber Lang.
3. Creed (9/10)
Creed is so good; from the direction to the acting to the storyline, this is just about as good as it gets. Stallone put on a show in this movie, his raw emotion when talking about his past is gut-wrenching. He and Jordan have an undeniable chemistry. The fights are great, especially the single-shot fight against Leo Sporino where it feels like we’re part of the action. This movie is top notch and it pains me that I can’t put it higher on this list.
2. Rocky (9/10)
You can’t have any of the sequels without the original. The storyline is a similar version of the Creed plot (unknown fighter falls in love and challenges for the belt only to lose a decision) told in an earlier setting, but it hits a bit stronger. Rocky is more of an “everyman” than Adonis was and because of that it resonated with so many people, winning Best Picture. What makes this move so great is that it was never really about boxing. This is about a journey of a good man in a bad way who just needed a chance.
1. Rocky Balboa (10/10)
I love this Rocky character; he’s older, wiser and truly comfortable in his own skin. It brings us back to who he is as a person and shows us his vulnerability when talking about the “stuff in the basement.” He tells us it’s no longer about other people but instead doing for us what we need to be the best version of ourselves. While the original Rocky may have been the “everyman,” this Rocky is who we aspire to be. Piggybacking off HBO PPV, the camera inside the ring feeling like you’re there, the sounds of leather meeting flesh all bring out why this movie was done so well. The plot just made it perfect. And it ends in perfect harmony to the original – a loss in the record books but a win for the man.
Follow Timothy on Twitter @tclaro