The age old question of which Rocky movie is the best is never an easy one. And now, with the inclusion of the serviceable Creed spinoffs, the answer becomes even more muddled. No Rocky film is perfect, and each has its flaws, always making for an interesting, and often times aggressive conversation. Every fan has his or her own favorite, but here we try to break down the good, the bad, and the just okay.
8. Rocky IV
Even at 90 minutes, the Cold War-inspired story is stretched way too thin, which would explain the odd amount of montages–even for a Rocky film. Other than the iconic death that catalyzes the overall plot into motion, Rocky IV is uneventful and unnecessary, as though Stallone simply ran out of creativity. He recreates his proven formula once again, but this time it feels much more empty. A bright spot is Dolph Lundgren as Ivan Drago, who remains stoic as long as necessary, giving us a truly despicable villain.
7. Rocky III
Although Rocky III redeems itself in the 2nd half, we can all see it’s not great. Over the years the movie has become a fan favorite due to its campiness and absolutely ridiculous villain played by Mr. T. Rocky III is the series’ jump-the-shark moment in every way possible. Oozing with ’80s over-the-top glitz, the film adequately pairs those sensibilities with that of Balboa during this stage of his career. Good or bad, this movie has a certain type of rewatchable quality.
6. Creed II
Creed II can come off as soapy at times, but the film’s overall premise has integrity. Connecting the plot to the tragic events that took place during Rocky IV involving Apollo Creed and Ivan Drago, this follow up to writer/director Ryan Coogler’s 2015 smash hit was more than just a cash grab. Though it also pretty much wrote itself. While definitely missing Coogler’s sensibilities, Creed II possesses themes that are much less straight-forward than its predecessor, becoming more complex and even nuanced. However, the film seems to be bogged down by the increased depth, often times having trouble organizing its own thoughts. Also, the ending might be the worst in the series.
This may be blasphemous because of what this movie meant back in 1976 and how it inspired the countless underdog stories that came after it, but the first Rocky is a little overrated. But that’s not to say the movie is bad. Just like the Italian Stallion, himself, Rocky has heart. In his first film, Balboa is a nobody boxer who hasn’t made anything of himself. And when some freak opportunity presents itself, he finally works hard and gets what he wants with very few obstacles in his way. In the films that follow, the conflict is more palpable, but here Rocky has it pretty easy.
In many technical aspects, Creed is better than almost every other Rocky movie, but maybe the issue is that much of it doesn’t feel like a Rocky movie at all. Which wouldn’t even matter if it didn’t try so hard to be one. Creed is definitely flawed, but also brings a new vibe to the franchise as a whole–one that better suits a spinoff like this. The film tackles some interesting themes, and finds poetic closure to past events, but still feels completely separate from the first six installments–for better or worse.
3. Rocky V
This one gets a bad rap. But the reasons fans give for why they detest Rocky V are the same things Rocky films have been doing all along. Maybe it’s just by now people are finally starting to notice. Truthfully, what makes Rocky V so enjoyable is how it’s different from the rest of the pack. Finally breaking away from the tired formula, the story revolves more around Balboa and his young son, and for once we can’t map out the trajectory in our heads before it happens. Rocky V may not be the most popular in the series, but this one provides us with perhaps the most realistic storyline of the bunch.
2. Rocky Balboa
There’s nothing quite like the ending of a Rocky film. Despite what happens during the rest of the stories, those final moments of each movie always give us goosebumps, even tears at times. The ending of Rocky Balboa, aka Rocky VI, is no different. Probably the most beautiful of any in the series. The film deals with age and not letting it define us. Rocky’s struggle here is palpable, reminding us of our own evanescence. Stallone as Balboa faces the one opponent that will never lose–time–and the look in his eyes makes you believe that perhaps he knows the feeling all too well. But he also knows that getting old is a gift. As not everyone gets the chance to see their own old age. And even those who do are not always lucky enough to be able to leave what they love on their own terms.
1. Rocky II
The most underrated and under-talked about in the series, Rocky II gives us a taste of everything that’s good about these movies. We dive deeper into Rocky as a person, and finally get a sense of his flaws as well, better rounding out his character. The themes are much more interesting. Much of this film is about Rocky becoming famous and recognizable–automatically bringing more meaning to the first movie–but then also shows how easily the public forgets about him and what he’s accomplished. Unlike the first film, Rocky actually has his back up against the wall. He’s being laughed at by his peers, and his relationship with Adrian actually has some kinks to work out. It’s nowhere near as easy this time around for our hero. And by now, we know the characters well enough to appreciate their journey more. We’re also given the funniest moment in the entire franchise when Rocky can’t get any of his lines right when filming a commercial. True gold.