Perhaps no one has made movie-going audiences cheer with as much fervor or quite as often as Sylvester Stallone who graced the world with the first ‘Rocky‘ film back in 1976.
Over thirty years, five sequels later and the Creed universe later, there is no doubt that the franchise is one of the most popular and revered in film history. There are definitely good, bad and down right ridiculous things about each film and everyone has a favorite.
1. Rocky (1976)
Before Rocky Balboa was an action hero, he was a lovable and down-and-out street thug who worked as a two-bit loan shark while boxing in dingy Philadelphia clubs. 1976’s “Rocky” is a dramatic love story at heart and uses boxing as a metaphor for achieving greatness in ones life. You have to give Stallone props for refusing to sell his scrip to a studio unless he was allowed to play the lead role. I mean, can you imagine anyone else playing Rocky? Stallone was a struggling artist before this film hit big so the underdog tale works on multiple levels here. It may not have the most action of the series but it is undoubtedly the best film of the first six.
2. Rocky III (1982)
This was the first film in the series that took a more action based approach to the storytelling. Stallone went with far lest story and ramped up the fighting, training and musical score. The opening scene is absolutely awesome as it shows Rocky defending his title several times while Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” plays in the background. Add to that the fact that Rocky fights Mr. T (twice) and Hulk Hogan and you have an absolute smash. And who didn’t absolutely love Rocky teaming with Apollo Creed to seek vengeance on Mr. T’s character Clubber Lang?
3. Rocky II (1978)
Part II picks up right where the first film left off and they really tried hard to replicate some of the storytelling concepts from the first film. Unfortunately, the first 2/3 of the film come off as a little stale as they show Rocky marrying Adrian but losing all of the money he made in the first fight. This is also the first time in the series (but certainly not the last) that Rocky is told that he’s too washed up to fight and he should just retire. Despite constant nagging from Adrian, Rocky agrees to a re-match with Apollo Creed who believes the first fight was a fluke. That is where things get going in a hurry as the fight with Apollo is fast-paced and the ending is extremely emotional.
4. Rocky IV (1985)
The typical casual fan’s favorite film is another over-the-top action film filled with pure 80’s bombast and contained the most recognizable villain of the series, Ivan Drago. To me, part IV lacks a lot of the heart and storytelling that we saw in previous films and hits you over the head early and often with fights and training montages. Ok, I admit, Rocky training in the snow in Russia and his triumph against Drago (as well as a partisan Communist crowd) is pretty spectacular.
5. Creed (2015)
As good as a series restart as could be expected. Michael B. Jordan is outstanding as Adonis Creed, son of Apollo and Rocky’s protege. The film perfectly depicts Rocky in the role of Mickey from the first three films and Adonis’ journey from raw, undisciplined fighter to title contender is most satisfying.
6. Rocky Balboa (2006)
17 years after “Rocky V” disappointed a nation, Stallone returned with one more knock-out. In this film, Rocky (who is long since retired) is shown living a simple life without his wife Adrian, who passed away several years ago. His relationship with his son is a bit tense and he longs for more as he advances in age. “Balboa” is a really nice story that shows us that growing old doesn’t mean we all have to hang up our boots just yet. Rocky agrees to an exhibition fight with the reigning champion of the world and gives us all one more reason to stand up and cheer for this endearing character.
7. Creed 2 (2018)
A more than worthwhile sequel to 2015’s “Creed.” This film is a bit less original than the first film as they bring in Viktor Drago, the son of Ivan from the fourth installment. You still have a tremendous story arch with Adonis overcoming the insurmountable foe with Rocky, once again, providing his tutelage.
8. Rocky V (1989)
I am guessing that this choice is probably universal although I think this film deserves more credit than it gets. Sure, no one wanted to see Rocky getting brain damage, retiring from fight and his family losing all their money, but the movie still works on a few levels. The scene where Stallone returns to Mick’s gym and has the flashback to his time training with Micky for his fight with Apollo is tear-jerking and extremely well done. Rocky’s relationship with the new hot-shot fighter Tommy Gunn is also an interesting plot point in that it heightened the tension he had going with his own family. I might be in the minority, but I really enjoyed the street fight at the end between Rocky and Tommy Gunn as a sanction in-ring fight would have just been corny in my opinion. In closing, worst film of the series? Yes, however it absolutely deserves more credit for being a solid film.