The Rocky Franchise has been my favorite set of movies for as far back as I can remember. I enjoy watching all of them (even Rocky V) and have done so numerous times. I can pretty much recite most of the movies line-by-line. A couple of my friends are also big Rocky fans, and we often quote from the movies when we can.
I’m bringing this up because it seems that the proposed Rocky musical (excuse me while I throw up) is going to happen. Yes, you read that right. One of the greatest sports movies of all time is going to turn into a song and dance routine.
Don’t get me wrong, I know Sylvester Stallone can do whatever he wants with the franchise since he owns the rights, but a musical? Really? Did he not learn from the disastrous Spider-Man musical? I mean, does he really think that the mostly male audience who enjoys these films is going to spend money to hear Mickey singing about having his nose broken 17 times? I know I’m not. Maybe he thinks that this will capture a greater female audience? Somehow, I doubt that will happen.
Thankfully, no matter what Stallone does to the franchise from here on out, I can enjoy the movies as they stand (unless he pulls a George Lucas). With that in mind, here is how I’d rank the six Rocky movies.
6. Rocky V
This movie had a lot of potential. In essence, it tried to take Rocky back to his roots which was a good idea considering how the plot of the franchise grew to ridiculous proportions in Rocky IV. However, bad acting by Tommy Gunn, and Sage Stallone (who played Rocky Jr.), really hurt the film. Even Stallone seemed liked he phoned it in.
That being said, I really liked the idea of an athlete who just fought the fight of his life having to retire, but not on his own terms, and then being forced to deal with that sudden life change. On top of that, I thought the ending was perfect . . . Rocky lost everything except the people that had always been there for him, which in the end is all that matters (a good lesson for everyone to remember).
One last note, Elton John’s The Measure of a Man in the ending montage sequence is awesome.
5. Rocky IV
I’m sure I’ll get a lot of flak for placing Rocky IV so low on my list since many people consider it one of the best of the series (though I think it’s only because he fought a Russian).
However, this whole movie had the least amount of character growth in the entire series for Rocky. The entire movie was really a series of ridiculous plotting in order to get Rocky and Drago to fight at the end (we already killed off Mickey, I guess we have to kill off Apollo now in order to force Rocky into revenge mode).
Yes, the last fight was great. Yes, the movie was filled with awesome quotes. Yes, it had some memorable scenes. But so did the other five movies and they all have a much stronger focus on character development.
Also, the exclusion of Bill Conti’s Gonna Fly Now during the training montage is unforgivable.
4. Rocky Balboa (VI)
I’ve seen Rocky Balboa far less than the other five films due to it being the newest release. I admit I had huge reservations about it being filmed (especially after Rocky V). However, I also knew I had to watch it… just like I’d go watch a Rocky VII if one came out today (despite hoping that doesn’t happen).
Anyway, this film pleasantly surprised me. Yes, they used another death as the vehicle for one of Rocky’s hardships. However, I was glad to see they also strengthened the bond/struggles between Rocky and his son (much better acting by Milo Ventimiglia as Rocky Jr. in this movie).
The plotting was sort of silly again, and the continuity suffered (downplaying the injuries that forced him to retire in the first place) but this has been going on since the second movie with Rocky’s busted eye. What made this movie great was that it captured the underdog attitude in the best way since the first movie. It even provided a happy/satisfying ending with a loss rather than the expected victory.
Best character development and focus since Rocky III.
3. Rocky II Unlike Rocky I, Rocky II gave more depth to Apollo Creed. Rocky I portrayed Apollo as a pretty one-dimensional character (extremely arrogant). Rocky II showed him facing the truth that he might not be the best anymore, and how someone might cope with that realization. Apollo and Rocky were really polar opposites in this film. Apollo started pushing everyone away, including his family because his drive to handily beat Rocky began to consume him. Rocky however, lost much of his fire because he was too worried about Adrian, even willing to give up all his dreams for her.
By the way, the scenes where Rocky refuses to leave Adrian’s side while she’s in a coma hold a lot more weight to me after getting married and having my own family.
2. Rocky III
The most quotable of all the Rocky films, in my opinion. Mickey is at his absolute best, and the combination of Hulk Hogan and Mr. T are perfect as foils for Rocky.
Apollo continues to grow as a character, helping his now best friend, Rocky. Balboa is trying to figure out what he wants out of life, dealing with the death of the manager who helped him become a champion. Mickey acted as a sort of father figure to Rocky, and his death is by far the most impactful in the series. I still get sad when I watch Rocky crying in the locker room (despite the hilarious nature of Rocky crying).
1. Rocky I
It might seem clichéd to put the first movie as the best, but I don’t care. The idea was fresh and original. The characters are well developed and believable. Never before or since has there been a better movie made about the underdog.
The ending might be the best part of the whole movie. Unlike the victory that everyone probably expected when they first saw the film, they just had him “go the distance.” For Rocky, that was enough. He did something that no one else had ever done before. He proved that he wasn’t a bum. And best of all, he got the girl in the end.
And let’s not forget the training montage.
Man, I want to watch these movies again. I can’t wait to share them with my kids when they get older.