The “Rocky” Film Franchise, Ranked

6 minute read

By James Sheldon

Ba Bum Ba-ba-ba Bum Ba-ba Bum-bum-bum…ding, ding, ding. Fighting out of the blue corner, wearing the red, white and blue trucks, a pretty good movie. Fighting out of the red corner, wearing the black trunks, a movie that didn’t really need to be made. Let us rank the Rocky films from worst to best!

The long-running boxing franchise, starring Sylvester Stallone, has been a part of pop culture for over 40 years now. Over those four decades, the movies have earned both rave reviews (including Oscar wins) and deserved criticism (Tommy Gunn? Really?), depending on which one of the sequels you’re talking about.

In celebration of Carl Weathers’ 72rd birthday, join us as we rank the Rocky films from worst to best. Yo, Adrian! Let’s get somethin’ started.

7. Rocky III (1982)

Getting right to the film that didn’t really need to happen, Rocky III. The story worked on some levels, but the choreographed fighting between Sylvester Stallone and Mr. T, who played Rocky’s nemesis James “Clubber” Lang, went to another level of “…really…?” The film featured a well-fed champ in Rocky Balboa and a man who was hungry for the belt in Clubber Lang. After getting his hiney kicked by the challenger, Rock hits bottom, losing Mickey (Burgess Meredith), then subsequently losing himself. Fortunately, Rocky is lassoed by former foe turned friend, Apollo Creed, who pulls Rocky from the depths of despair to train, and get him back to championship form. Sure, the film is still watchable, and quite enjoyable on many levels (it introduced us to “Eye of The Tiger”), but Sly bawling all over Mickey’s corpse…meh. Via fatsaloon.comSource: Screenshot via MGM/UA

6. Rocky V (1990)

Who knew this film would provide a glimpse of art imitating life imitating art. Sylvester Stallone cast real-life heavyweight, Tommy Morrison, to play the fictional Tommy Gunn. The whole premise of Rocky V was askew from the get-go. Returning from Russia, the Balboa family learns their investments have gone sour, and they’re forced to move back into the old neighborhood. It’s tough for Rocky’s son, Rocky Jr. (who somehow aged years while his parents were flying back to the United States), who struggles to adjust to the lifestyle change. Rocky’s priorities are all out of whack. He turns his attention to training Tommy Gunn and ignores his own kid. Somewhere in his lost millions, he doesn’t take a fight (fear of head trauma), or score an endorsement deal to shore up the cashflow!? It’s another Rocky script that could have used a few more passes. Via ColliderSource: Screenshot via MGM/UA

5. Rocky II (1979)

After the wild success of the original, there had to be a Rocky vs. Apollo rematch, regardless of what Rocky said at the end of the first movie. These two characters were born to beat on one another with contrasting styles. There is something endearing about this sequel. It was a metaphor for Sylvester Stallone’s life, and the success he enjoyed following Rocky. It was simple, honest, stripped down and didn’t try to outdo the original, which is the failure of so many sequels. Just give us more of the good stuff; don’t try to reinvent the wheel. After embarrassing Apollo by going the distance in their first fight, the champ continues to jab Rocky with verbal sticks, trying to get him back into the ring. Rocky, who continued to struggle after the first fight, begins to question his own worth as a fighter until he accepts the challenge. Via Collider.comSource: Screenshot via United Artists

4. Creed (2015)

The first movie in the series to not have the word “Rocky” actually in the title, 2015’s Creed was a passing-of-the-torch film that effectively continued the Rocky Balboa tale. The former champ is now approaching senior citizenship and spends his time running a restaurant in Philadelphia. His world is turned upside down when Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan), the illegitimate son of his former friend/foe Apollo Creed, shows up and asks to be trained.

The film received rave reviews, as Adonis’ struggles with living in the giant shadow of his father’s memory. An opportunistic boxing promoter wants to exploit the Creed name to sell a major boxing event, offering Adonis a fight against brash British champion Ricky Conlan in Liverpool. As Balboa battles with his own mortality, Adonis proves himself as the future of the Rocky franchise. In fact, the movie did so well that a sequel was ordered, which will come out sometime in 2018. For fans of the original Rocky movies, they will be excited to learn that Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) will be making his return to the fictional boxing universe.

Source: Screenshot via Warner Bros.

3. Rocky IV (1985)

“Whatever he hits, he destroys!” Dolph Lundgren was terrifying as the cold-hearted, Soviet heavyweight (another Stallone metaphor…Sly is smarter than you think) Ivan Drago, who didn’t bat an eyelash after killing Apollo Creed in the ring. Drago was a product of talent, enhanced by drugs, and afforded every luxury in the realm of training. Now, we can’t go so far as to say this is a better film than Rocky II, but we can say it’s maybe more enjoyable, based on the sheer number of classic one-liners, and the fact that Sly made this in the midst of the Cold War. Rocky played the mouthpiece in suggesting enough was enough. Four years later, the Berlin wall came down. Coincidence? We think not. It was a pretty bold political statement. Since 1985, has anyone climbed a mountain, and not bellowed, “Draaagooooooooo!” Via phactual.comSource: Screenshot via MGM/UA

2. Rocky Balboa (2006)

Thirty years after the original Rocky took the movie world by surprise, Sylvester Stallone wanted to sew up the franchise with something that echoed from the heart of the original. A man with all odds stacked against him, rising to an occasion to prove to himself that champions are made of heart and mettle. An aging widower, Rocky has finally figured life outside the ring, running a successful restaurant, and sharing great stories with his guests. Then, the chatter starts the inevitable sports debate. Who was the best fighter in their prime? This was a perfect story intrusion for Rocky’s final fight. It’s something that is done daily on every sports network, see: 1995-96 Bulls vs. 2015-16 Golden State Warriors. The debate centers around Rocky Balboa, and a current heavyweight champ, Mason Dixon (played by Antonio Tarver). The spirit stirs Rocky, and the two get it on. Via richardcrouse.caSource: Screenshot via MGM/UA

1. Rocky (1976)

There wasn’t much of a decision or debate on the #1 spot. Sure, Rocky IV may be a guilty favorite of many Rocky fans, but when it comes to the best of the best, how can you possibly deny the Oscar Winner for Best Picture? For those who aren’t in the know, this is factual, not some morsel of sarcasm. And the story behind the making of the film is parallel to the film itself. Sylvester Stallone, a broke actor at the time, penned a script–an underdog story. When Sly scored a meeting to pitch it, he was pleased to find interest. However, the studio (Paramount) had no interest in Stallone playing the lead. Instead of selling the story and taking the money, Sly and the production team, including director John G. Avilsden, made the guarantee that they could do it for pennies on the dollar with Sly as the star. Hi-yo. Oscar Winner. Via YouTubeSource: Screenshot via United Artists

James Sheldon


James Sheldon has been writing about music, movies, and TV for Goliath since 2016.