With Creed’s impending theatrical release later this month, members of the PTBN Staff came together to rank the previous six installments of the Rocky series. Each provided their own ranking and rationale and then points were awarded based on those rankings to give us our final list. < Ding, Ding>
1. Rocky III – This clearly is not the best Rocky movie based on pure cinematic standards. It clearly is the most fun. It still has the beloved full cast in tact. It has a tremendous, easily hatable villain. It has Rocky and Apollo joining forces and running on the beach. It has the heart wrenching passing of Mickey. THUNDERLIPS! Plus it is a tremendously relatable story where the once hungry champion has gotten complacent and ends up getting mauled by the new up and comer. What more do you need? “PREDICTION? PAIN!”
2. Rocky – Now, this is technically the best movie of the bunch. A brilliant script, beautiful cinematography and a setting that perfectly captures the lower class society of the 1970s. Plus, we get a nice dose of Gazzo. I also love the brilliance of not having Rocky defeat Creed in their battle as Rocky just going the distance and proving he wasn’t just a club fighting bum was his ultimate goal. “YOU’RE GONNA EAT LIGHTNING AND YOU’RE GONNA CRAP THUNDER!”
3. Rocky IV – We complete our descent into absurdity here. One of my favorite running themes of this series is how Rocky’s life and the overall setting closely mirrors society at the time it is filmed. Here, Rocky is an affluent champion that lives in a mansion and is benefiting from the decadence and fat cat lifestyle of the 80s. That all is rendered useless when the roided up Russian (again, in tune with the time period) kills Creed and Rocky heads to Russia to end the Cold War. Lots of fun here, especially if you allow yourself to be washed over in jingoism and ignore the nonsensical plot. It was the Big 80s after all. “YOU CAN’T WIN!”
4. Rocky Balboa – I was so hyped for this movie. And it delivered. I love the slant they took as they didn’t try to sell it as Rocky still being some legit fighter. It was the story of a retired legend being dragged back into the spotlight by the current culture and obsession with “dream matches” and TV ratings and PPV box office. The stuff with his son was well done too and of course, his inspirational speeches to both his offspring and the athletic board were classic Balboa. Paulie was in vintage form here and we even got a Spider Rico cameo! Plus, Rocky totally nailed Little Marie after his big fight. “IT’S NOT ABOUT HOW HARD YOU CAN HIT!”
5. Rocky II – The gap between the top five on this list is very narrow. I wouldn’t complain if you had Rocky II much higher. For me, it is just a victim of circumstance. It is a great movie with another great story and a strong payoff with Rocky besting Creed and taking home the gold. Carl Weathers was a force in this movie, owning the Creed role with gravitas and treading the line between hatable villain and relatable GOAT perfectly. “YO, ADRIAN…I DID IT!”
6. Rocky V – This really isn’t as bad as you may be led to believe. But on the Rocky scale, it isn’t good. It was also the first Rocky movie I saw in the theatre. As 1990 dawned, one of the biggest plagues to many athletes was shady business managers and poor investment planning. And Rocky was not immune. Having lost all his fortune and now suffering from serious brain issues due to years of abuse, Rocky and Adrian were relegated to his old apartment and their previous jobs. And his son feels ignored due to Rocky’s relationship with Tommy Gunn. Rocky being torn between reclaiming glory with Tommy while ignoring his kid getting bullied at school was actually pretty well done. Plus there is some good reflection on Micky with Rocky assuming his old role. Sure there is no in ring fight for Rocky, but we get a decent brawl in the street. Plus we also get to enjoy a blatant Don King ripoff character. There are some moments here, but it easily checks in as the worst Rocky movie and it was a great move to erase the bad taste of it with Rocky Balboa over 15 years later. “MICK USED TO SAY THE ONLY DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A HERO AND A COWARD IS THE HERO’S WILLING TO GO FOR IT!”
1. Rocky III – One of the most batshit crazy and thus awesome pieces of cinema ever committed to film, this is where the franchise decided that dealing with matters like reality and plot were of no importance any longer. Rocky battles a deranged pro wrestler! Rocky establishes the “get beat by heel challenger and return for the rematch to win” model that wrestling would use for the next 20 years as well! MONTAGES EVERYWHERE! I unabashedly love this movie to death.
2. Rocky IV – Everything I said about the first one, but with RUSSIANS. Ivan Drago is so evil that he actually kills a man in the ring and no one stops to question the whole thing because it’s time for a MONTAGE. Watch that sequence with Rocky running up a mountain in Russia and tell me it doesn’t make you want to punch some damn commie in the face. SCREW YOU FOR BEING FROM ANOTHER COUNTRY!
3. Rocky – It’s all right, I guess, but bears little connection to the insanity that the movies would soon embrace.
4. Rocky Balboa – I liked this one a lot, even though it’s two different movies stapled together. One is a tender story about Rocky getting older and finding new love, the other is a nutso story about a senior citizen fighting the World champion and surviving because REASONS. It mostly works.
5. Rocky II – Studio execs probably saw the first movie and said “But…but…Rocky doesn’t win!” and boom, there you go.
6. Rocky V – It’s a boxing movie that doesn’t even end with a boxing match. That’s how much this movie missed the mark.
1. Rocky IV – Unabashed, awesome patriotism. The pathos of Apollo going out for one last moment and getting crushed by the evil Russian Ivan Drago. The iconic soundtrack with Robert Tepper’s “No Easy Way Out” blasting in the theatre while Rocky is driving 500 miles an hour in his Ferrari. The training in Russia and the crowd turning in his favor. Rocky melted the Cold War as well as Ronald Reagan did. My favorite Rocky ever.
2. Rocky III – Agreeing with my PIC, this one has the greatest cast of all time. From the debut of Hulk Hogan as the “Object of Molten Desire” Thunderlips, to a top three movie villain of all time, the great Clubber Lang. His open propositioning of Adrian in public is as heel as it gets: “Hey Woman, hey woman…why don’t you come over to my apartment tonight..and I’ll show you a real man!” Pure awesomeness right there. Then the top tear jerker of Mickey dying in the dressing room after Rocky got punked out in the ring. The birth of Survivor as a band, and the awkward Rocky/Apollo hug on the beach. This is just a notch below Rocky IV for me but not by much. I can hear it now…RISING UP, BACK ON THE STREET…DID MY TIME TOOK MY CHANCES…
3. Rocky – The original is the original, but perhaps hasn’t held up in history due to the awesome sequels in the 80s. Besides the hard boiled Paulie and the incredible character of Gazzo, there’s Gazzo’s driver who needled Rocky at every turn, leading to a memorable if not offensive line about his first date with Adrian: “Take her to the zoo, I heard retards like the zoo…”
4. Rocky II – This is a tale of two movies. The first hour and a half is eye-bleeding to watch, but after Adrian gets out of the coma, the gas is hit and the movie goes into overdrive with the awesome soundtrack and the great rematch with Apollo. Put the Blu-Ray in and avoid the painful scenes of Rocky butchering commercials and move ahead to the second half.
5. Rocky Balboa – I enjoyed this one a lot, but it is not as good as any of the others. Mason Dixon is a great bad guy name and having Duke manage Rocky was old school. It was also good that he wasn’t a broke idiot, as I will comment on more in a moment.
6. Rocky V – The entire story is stupid. Tommy Gunn and his greedy manager was fine, but Rocky being brain damaged and broke was dumb. His kid was a whiny little bitch too, which added nothing to the movie at all.
1. Rocky III – The Oscar movie or the popcorn blockbuster? With Rocky you can pick either to top your list. Ultimately, I went with my favorite of the less art house, more fun flicks. III edges out IV for me both because I prefer Clubber Lang as a villain to Ivan Drago and I think the latter misses out on Mickey.
2. Rocky – A beautifully shot, paced, and acted masterpiece that deserves its Academy Award. Anybody with a bias against Stallone as a flat actor or action dummy should be required to view this and keep in mind he wrote the dang thing as well.
3. Rocky IV – Probably the most iconic of the films between the training montage in Russia and the final battle with Drago alone, but I miss the prominence of the classic supporting cast.
4. Rocky II – Basically a continuation of the first movie, it’s still very good for all the same reasons as the initial outing, but doesn’t bring much new to the table.
5. Rocky Balboa – The coda we needed with Stallone proving he could still play the role with a nicely poignant and well thought-out story.
6. Rocky V – A poor man’s attempt to redo the first Rocky without a memorable antagonist or most of the supporting players.
1. Rocky – Quite simply the greatest script to any movie I’ve seen, Rocky is perhaps the closest Hollywood has ever gotten to capturing the way people, real blue-collar people, not polished or stereotyped blue-collar people, speak and interact with one another. It’s a masterpiece that’s as powerful today as it’s ever been.
2. Rocky Balboa – I’ve never been so disappointed to see such a great movie. My friends and I expected this one to be hilariously bad cinema, and instead it made us all misty-eyed by recapturing the charm of the original.
3. Rocky II – The Rocky/Mickey relationship anchors this one, providing terrific emotional scenes, while Apollo Creed returns as the most charismatic of Rocky’s foes.
4. Rocky III – A cheesy, wonderful action classic, Rocky III set the template for action-based storytelling for years to come (not to mention loads of online wrestling fantasy booking).
5. Rocky IV – Adrian is awful, the kid is annoying and Rocky has inexplicably gotten smart and well-spoken. Despite those flaws, this is a personal favorite, from the series’ most imposing villain (Drago) to the bizarrely hot Brigitte Nielsen to, of course, Paulie’s robot.
6. Rocky V – Just a mess. There are still a few bright spots here, Rocky’s dumb again, the brain damage angle that was never followed up on, but by and large, it’s just filled with bad acting, badly thought-out subplots and anticlimactic fights.
1. Rocky IV – This will always be my favorite. It may be a cheesy 80s action movie, but I love those, and the Rocky name gives it enough credibility to make it one of the best examples of its kind. I mean, how often do you get to see a boxer peacefully end the Cold War?
2. Rocky – Objectively the best in terms of critical reception, groundbreaking at the time, and still influential today.
3. Rocky III – Another excellent entry that helped the series evolve, by making Rocky a victim of his own success, and making Apollo an ally rather than the antagonist. The Hogan cameo doesn’t hurt, either.
4. Rocky Balboa – I think this movie works best when you think of it as almost an homage to the first: Rocky is once again such an underdog, that even going the distance is its own reward.
5. Rocky II – It’s a bit of a rehash of the first movie, and can be a downer with the detached retina and Adrian’s coma. But I still have affection for it.
6. Rocky V – Embarrassing admission time: I have never seen Rocky V. Like Godfather III, I’ve heard too many complaints about it to ever give it an unbiased chance. I’ll have to watch it someday, but I can’t imagine it not coming in last.
1. Rocky IV – This is more of a nostalgia pick for me than anything. I was about nine years old when this came out and, at the time, this was the greatest thing I had ever seen. While a bit corny to rewatch, I believe the movie captures the “Superhero” version of Rocky perfectly. And Drago is the #1 villain for me among all the movies.
2. Rocky – The original and clearly, from a critical perspective, the best overall film of the six. It launched the career of Sylvester Stallone and gave us a cultural icon for the ages. The raw emotion and the fact that Rocky loses a close decision yet wins in the hearts and minds of the fans sets this chapter apart.
3. Rocky III – Another excellent installment in the franchise, this film barely edges out the next two for me. Clubber Lang and the development of the friendship between Rocky and Apollo are the highlights of this flick.
4. Rocky II – Rocky gets his win over Creed in the most dramatic way possible. While not quite capturing the greatness that was the original, the sequel still delivers.
5. Rocky Balboa – I hate to rate this movie fifth as I feel it was very well done. However, I can’t rank it quite above the other films on this list. I loved Antonio Tarver’s portrayal of Mason Dixon and felt the way they set up the fight with Rocky was quite plausible given his advanced age. Overall an entertaining way to spend two hours.
6. Rocky V – While I don’t despise this movie as much as most, it is clearly last for me. Also, as a boxing fanatic, it is sad to see Tommy Morrison in his prime given what happened to him later in life.
Overall PTBN Rankings
6. Rocky V (7 points)
5. Rocky II (19 points)
4. Rocky Balboa (20 points)
3. Rocky IV (33 points)
2. Rocky III (34 points)
1. Rocky (34 points) *
* Tiebreaker was based on second place votes from those that didn’t have either movie ranked in first place