The Rocky Films: From The Best To The Worst
By Henry Walter
The Rocky series grossed over one billion dollars and is now regarded as one of the most successful film franchises in history. While compiling any list of personal preference is highly subjective, here is my ranking of every film in the series.
First released in 1976, Sylvester Stallone’s story of an underdog club fighter challenging for the world title has inspired millions and become probably the most well-known boxing movie. The academy award winning film has a great script but stands above the majority of films due to the incredible standard of the acting.
The heart-warming tale features Stallone at his very best and this is coupled with stellar performances from his high-quality co-stars as well as boxing action that beats any other sports film.
Rocky’s incredible success ensured that fans and the studio demanded a sequel to the low budget hit. 1979 saw Rocky 2 hit the cinemas and whilst not quite capturing the heights of the first film, Rocky 2 still packs a very significant emotional punch and retains the fantastic standard of acting and character development from the first film.
Let down only by slightly over the top action in the concluding fight, Rocky 2 is still a very, very good watch.
Often lambasted for being the most unrealistic entry into the Rocky series, Rocky 4 sees Rocky overcome a ridiculously overpowered opponent coupled with ridiculous disadvantages and odds higher than the Empire State building.
Yet it somehow manages to pull it off. The action is very over the top yet somehow also brilliant.
“He’s cut! He’s cut… the Russians cut and it’s a bad cut! And now it is Rocky Balboa going after Ivan Drago!”
Rocky 4 is a must-see action movie. Whilst lacking the gritty realism of some of the earlier films, it is still a very compelling and larger than life film. It remains the highest grossing Rocky film and its 1985 release was a huge event in the 1980s. The film will also get a new Directors Cut version.
Rocky 3 is one of the most popular Rocky films amongst hardcore fans. Stallone cleverly managed the difficult task of keeping his character in his famous underdog role, despite the fact he is a millionaire champion by this point in the story.
The plot is again well acted and features probably the best villain of the series bar Apollo Creed. The menacing Clubber Lang, portrayed brilliantly by Mr T, captivated audiences. The stunning soundtrack helped to elevate the film and clever plot twists ensured its place in movie legend.
The fifth film in the series was seen as something of a flop, making less than a third of the North American gross of its predecessor. Several controversial plot points did not go down well with fans of the series.
The film returned Rocky to its gritty roots but undid a lot of his achievements and hard-fought gains from the precious films. It is often criticised for being too dark and depressing and was not seen as a satisfactory ending for the otherwise heart-warming Rocky tale.
Despite these criticisms the film again features brilliant and convincing performances from its cast, with a memorable performance from real life boxing champion Tommy Morrison.
The highlight of the film is the beautifully handled relationship arc between Rocky and his son which adds hugely to the franchise. Whilst not being a fan favourite, Rocky 5 is still an excellent film with a clever, realistic premise and an emotional ending.
Not happy with the poor reception of his previous Rocky entry, Sylvester Stallone had always intended to make a sixth film. Having sold the rights to the franchise, he had to convince the studio to greenlight the film.
This task proved too hard for many years as script after script was rejected. Finally, in 2005, fifteen years after Rocky 5 hit cinemas, MGM accepted his story premise for Rocky Balboa and the film entered pre-production.
Released in 2006, the sixth entry in the franchise exceeded both box office expectations and critical feedback. Despite these positive reactions the film’s acting is a little ropey in places as Stallone and Burt Young struggle to get back into character in early scenes. The film’s plot also undoes much of the story arc regarding Rocky and his son from the previous instalment.
Despite the film’s superbly choreographed fight scenes it doesn’t really add anything to the overall story. Rocky fights again and regains purpose but the story doesn’t really offer any long-term solutions to many of Rocky’s problems besides a new, rather unconvincing love interest which Rocky makes clear will never fully be realised.
The Rocky franchise was effectively relaunched in 2015 with a new, younger character. Creed, whilst continuing the Rocky tradition of brilliant fight scenes, it is effectively a rehash of the original Rocky only with a less likeable main character.
Adonis Creed, played by Michael B Jordan, looks much like his father Apollo, featured in the first three Rocky films, yet has little of his wit and charm. Adonis spends most of the film with a scowl firmly fixed on his face and is at one point shown crudely demanding his gloves are cut off so he can defecate before a fight. He has little of Rocky’s likeability and coming from a rich family, virtually none of his hardship.
The film is saved by Sylvester Stallone reprising his role as Rocky, appearing this time in a trainer role. Sadly, in a rather bleak plot twist, the friends Rocky had made in the previous film have disappeared, along with his son and Rocky is alone after a lifetime of hard work and sacrifice.
Stallone’s powerhouse performance earned him an Oscar nomination and his character’s battle with illness brought out some much-needed likeability in the main character Adonis. Yet Stallone carries the film and ultimately, despite being a watchable attempt at a reboot, Creed isn’t as good as any of the Rocky films it tries to emulate.
Creed 2 is a very similar film to Rocky 4 only with events portrayed in a slightly more realistic manner. However, this causes the film to be devoid of the fun and charm that made the Rocky films so enjoyable.
Creed 2 is perhaps guilty of taking itself too seriously. Adonis is seen punishing his body in training and never seems to enjoy it or any aspect of his chosen profession. The whole film looms like torture for his character. Whilst Rocky smiled his way through training and joked around with his wife and trainers, Adonis grimaces through his and is left looking physically destroyed after certain fights.
The film is saved by a clever and powerful ending to the main fight which is the only unpredictable part of the story.
It is ultimately a decent film but the Creed entries seem to come at the expense of Rocky, who is portrayed as alone, poor and depressed despite a lifetime spent trying to pull himself up. This damages the whole arc and positive message of the original films. Creed 2’s ending is obviously meant to offer Rocky some semblance of happiness with a lazy attempt at family reconciliation but it just doesn’t feel satisfying.