Here's a complete ranking of all the Rocky (and Creed) films. With Creed II hitting movie theaters, the Rocky franchise now spans 8 films from 1976 to 2018 - which one goes the distance as the best of them all?
Amazingly, since 1976, there has never been a decade without a Rocky film. The brainchild of Sylvester Stallone, who has starred as Rocky Balboa in every single movie, Rocky is one of the most enduring sagas in movie history. Stallone has also written or co-written every Rocky movie except 2015's Creed and directed Rocky II, III, IV, and Rocky Balboa. All throughout, the franchise has helped launch the careers of multiple stars and has created indelible movie moments and pop culture touchstones. After their heyday in the 1970s and '80s, the franchise experienced lows until it mounted a miraculous comeback. Now, thanks to Creed, director Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan's franchise resurrection, Rocky became a critical and box-office champion again, mirroring the in-ring exploits of its iconic fighter.
Related: Screen Rant's Creed II Review
From the seedy streets of South Philadelphia to the heavyweight championship of the world and back again, here's our ranking of the entire Rocky and Creed saga.
8. Rocky V (1990)
Rocky V was intended to be the conclusion to the Rocky story; the original film's director John G. Avildsen even returned to helm the fifth chapter. Rocky is forced to retire from the ring after being diagnosed with brain damage thanks to his fight with Ivan Drago. Balboa then promptly discovers he was swindled out of his fortune, forcing him and his family to return to his old South Philly neighborhood. The film is really a tale of a son feeling neglected by his father; Sly's real-life son Sage Stallone plays Rocky Jr., who craves his father's attention, but Rocky is distracted by training a protege, Tommy Gunn (Tommy Morrison). However, Tommy falls under the sway of the Don King-like promoter George Washington Duke (Richard Gant), who turns Gunn against Rocky. Rocky V ends with a literal street fight between Rocky and Tommy where Rocky emerges victorious and wins back his son's love.
The fifth film awkwardly tries to mirror the original Rocky as closely as possible while introducing "current" elements like rap music, but much of it is a gross miscalculation. Rocky V is also the final appearance of Talia Shire as Rocky's wife Adrian. Ultimately, Rocky V's biggest fault is that Rocky is unwittingly turned into a villain; his infatuation with living vicariously through Tommy so that he constantly ignores his son made Rocky unlikable for the first time. Even though Rocky does realize the error of his ways and ends the film by taking Rocky Jr. up the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum, Rocky V is simply a bad film and a limp ending to the saga of Rocky Balboa - something not just the fans but Stallone himself felt keenly. Luckily, he was able to rectify Rocky V's mistake with a successful sixth Rocky film 16 years later.
7. Rocky II (1979)
In Rocky II, Stallone, who took over as the director as well as continuing as writer, stuck as closely to the original's formula as possible. Picking up immediately after the fight between Rocky and Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), both fighters are rushed to the hospital and deal with the aftermath of their epic fight in their own ways. Rocky marries Adrian and prepares to start a family but finds, even with the fame and payday he earned from the fight, his career options were limited due to his lack of education. Meanwhile, Apollo is consumed with not being able to definitively beat Rocky and relentlessly goads him into a rematch, but Adrian and Rocky's trainer Mickey (Burgess Meredith) fear for Rocky's health. After she recovers from a coma related to childbirth, Adrian urges Rocky to fight Apollo and "win!" - which he does. Rocky beats Apollo to become heavyweight champion of the world.
Related: Rocky Balboa's 10 Greatest Moments
The Oscar-winning box office success of Rocky was a tough act to follow, but Rocky II gets credit for moving the story forward and realistically analyzing Rocky's problems trying to find a way to support his family without fighting. Apollo's rage and the lengths he goes to in order to embarrass Rocky to agree to a rematch are also entertaining. However, much of Rocky II merely rehashes of the high points of the original, including Rocky's training montage being tweaked so that the children of Philadelphia accompany Rocky on his run, and Stallone builds to Rocky winning it all in the end, rather than being satisfied with a moral victory. The film is mainly memorable for the final image of a bloody and battered Rocky holding up the championship and yelling "Yo Adrian! I did it!", but Rocky II does open the door for the saga's continuation.
6. Rocky IV (1985)
USA vs. Russia is the basic theme of Rocky IV, the most cartoonish entry of the franchise. Rocky is still the heavyweight champion but it's Apollo who wants to get back in the ring to face the Russian national champion Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren). Rocky agrees to train Apollo to face the towering Russian but is forced to watch as Drago, a steroid-enhanced monster, murders Apollo during their exhibition match. After burying his best friend, Rocky vows revenge. He travels to Russia to train and then faces Drago on his home turf, defeating him in a brutal 15-round fight in front of the Premier of the Soviet Union. Rocky's performance is so valiant, the pro-Drago fans in Russia are cheering "Rocky!" by the end.
At 90 minutes and replete with multiple MTV-style music video montages, Rocky IV almost barely qualifies as a movie. Stallone's story is paint-by-numbers and Rocky's climactic speech where he urges an end to the Cold War, which gets a standing ovation from the Russian Premier, is frankly absurd. And yet, Rocky IV is entertaining and memorable. Killing off the popular Apollo (after an appearance by James Brown singing "Living in America") was a bold move, a bearded Rocky's rousing training montages in (set to "Hearts on Fire") and his fight with Drago (set to the music of Vince DiCola) are unforgettable, and Dolph Lundgren is an iconic villain. Rocky IV's importance to the franchise was cemented by Creed since it's Apollo's death that inspires his son Adonis to his own fighting career. Moreso, Creed II tells the tale of the sons of Creed and Drago finishing the fight that began with their fathers in Rocky IV.
Page 2: More Rocky (And One Creed) Movie
- Creed 2 (2018) release date: Nov 21, 2018