The Definitive ‘Rocky’ Ranking
Which One Truly Deserves the Title of GOAT?
When Creed came out in 2015, people were initially unsure what to make of it. The story of Apollo Creed’s son who wants to get into boxing and seeks out Rocky Balboa to train him? It sounded like a cash grab. For me, Rocky Balboa was the only final word this franchise needed. The film Creed felt like a desperate attempt by the studios to reignite a franchise rather than try something new.
So, imagine my surprise when Creed turned out to be a truly emotionally gripping movie tale. It never failed to fire on all cylinders, and it deserves to be ranked among the best Rocky movies.
Then, with Thanksgiving came the inevitable follow-up film, CREED II, in which Creed faces off against the son of Russian Ivan Drago (the man who killed Creed’s father, Apollo). At once, the emotional stakes in this one are sky high. However, could the movie deliver? Would it rank as high as the original Creed?
That’s why we at Control Forver decided to come up with the ultimate Rocky Ranking. When a franchise reaches eight movies, you don’t always have time to watch all of them. Therefore, here they are—the definitive list of Rocky movies, including Creed and Creed II because those are essentially Rocky movies as well. (Note: this list is from least favorite to most liked).
7. Rocky V
Out of all of them, this is the least favorite. Rocky trains a new kid, the kid turns bad, and Rocky has to face him. There’s a reason this one came out in 1990, and why Rocky Balboa came out in 2006. Um, it can be safely skipped.
6. Creed II
I wanted this to be higher on the list; I really did. I wanted to like it just as much as Creed. However, that’s not to say that the material presented doesn’t work because it does, but it doesn’t work as well as I wanted it to—it doesn’t move as much as I wanted it to. The things that happen feel like they happen because that’s the way they were ordered to happen, not because that was the way they had to happen. It’s still (and I argue with myself about ranking this one higher than Rocky IV), though I feel we can’t do that because we need Rocky IV, we need Apollo’s death, and we need to see Creed’s anger and the chip on his shoulder so that we can allow this one to mean what it does. I wonder how much of what isn’t great about this movie is because it was directed by Steven Caple Jr. (whose resume is that of a working director—Creed II being the largest notch in his belt up until this point) instead of Ryan Coogler, who directed the original Creed, then Black Panther, and is now slated to direct Black Panther 2. I understand how anything in the MCU might be more lucrative for him than a sequel to Creed, but it felt as though there was so much of his personal stamp on Creed that you would have hoped he took ownership of the character and the story, and came back for the sequel.
5. Rocky IV
Released in 1985, three years after Rocky III, this one came out at the height of the Cold War. Without going too much into the history and the saber-rattling between the USSR and the USA, and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev and President Ronald Regan, this movie was also a response to 1984s Red Dawn; a movie which suggested that the fall of NATO would leave the U.S. without any allies and susceptible to a Soviet sneak attack, which is exactly what happens. Sure, a group of local school kids band together and take the name of their high school mascot (the Wolverines) and use guerrilla tactics to fight the Russians and the Cubans in the mountains of their small town—maybe those Wolverines score a moral victory, but they all die. It’s a dark movie. America didn’t want to think that could happen. So, we have Rocky IV, which when it’s boiled down, it’s Rocky vs. the USSR.
In the opening fight, it’s Apollo Creed who is facing off in an exhibition bout against merciless Russian Ivan Drago, who sees this fight as not so much as an expedition, but as a way to make a name for himself. In so doing, he killed Apollo when Rocky can’t stop the fight in time. Now, he feels he has to avenge Apollo’s death. In what is one of the series more memorable training montages, we see Drago using all the best technology the USSR has to offer, while Rocky locks himself in a cabin in the Russian wilderness. With all the pluck he has to muster, he trains himself using only what nature can provide, like a real ‘Merican (even though, ironically, Stallone was roided out of his mind for this film). The final speech, with Rocky draped in an American flag, are Stallone’s own words—calling for peace at the height of the Cold War. Did Rocky help to end the Cold War because of that speech? I can’t prove it, but the Berlin Wall did come down four years later. This movie is pure propoganda.
4. Rocky III
Out of all the Rocky movies, this one is the most fun. It’s the one I remember the best from my childhood, and it’s the one I liked best as a kid. It starts with an opening fight, pitting Rocky against Hulk Hogan, whose fame has sustained throughout the years, but during the early 80s, he was a superstar. Then, Rocky has to fight Mr. T, who was well-known to kids because of his role on the television show, The A-Team. This Rocky movie was a pop culture extravaganza for kids in the 80s, and perhaps this film is not always included amongst the best. Although, I will argue the death of Mickey, Rocky’s trainer, played by Burgess Meredith (who we knew as kids as the voice of Puff the Magic Dragon in the cartoon of the same name; as well as Ammon, the old man who helps Perseus in the original and far better 1981 version of Clash of the Titans), earns Rocky III the right to be called meaningful just like the first two films. It raised the stakes of the movie, and made Rocky’s fight against Mr. T’s Clubber Lang mean something. It made the fight matter because if the fight doesn’t matter, then why are we watching it? With Mickey’s death, Apollo takes up the mantle of Rocky’s trainer with one condition, which leads to what might be one of the best final freeze frames in movie history.
3. Rocky Balboa
Out of the best Rocky movies, this one is the quietest. Adrienne is dead now, and it presents Rocky as an old, lonely man who owns a restaurant. His brightest moment in a day is going around to the tables in his restaurant and reliving his glory days. A new fighter comes up, and there is a question on an ESPN-type show. This new boxer is quite good, however, when ranked amongst the best boxers in history using a computer program, it still says Rocky is the better fighter. What happens next? Is Rocky coaxed into the ring again? Of course, he is, but what makes this movie different and harkens back to the original is that it doesn’t matter if Rocky wins or loses the fight. What matters is that he goes the distance. What matters is that, win or lose, he finds meaning in life again. The moments of him walking out of the ring, proudly and victoriously, truly makes you well up with pride for him.
As said above, this movies packs an emotional wallop, and deserves to be ranked amongst the best Rocky movies. It really does because it’s that good.
1. Rocky and Rocky II
Yes, I rank these movies both as number one because they feel like one movie. In the original, though he doesn’t win, Rocky goes the distance and gains self-confidence in doing so, and he also wins Adrienne’s hand. The sequel, using footage from the original, picks up EXACTLY where Rocky ends: Apollo wants a rematch. Does he get one? Of course, he does because there wouldn’t be a movie otherwise. Does Apollo win this rematch, too? Hey, we said we were going to rank the Rocky movies, not spoil them for you entirely.
There you have it…All the Rocky movies ranked from greatest of all time, to only maybe more entertaining than watching paint dry.
Next up, we’ll rank Creed’s main trio of actors (Stallone, Jordan and Thompson) in the order that their characters stand up in the MCU. I’d love to see Valkyrie fight Kilmonger!