The Rocky franchise is easily the greatest sports franchise in the history of cinema, and with its triumphant return to Netflix this month, they still all continue to stand the test of time. While I am certainly a sports writer and analyst and wouldn’t consider myself a movie critic, when we’re speaking about the Star Wars of sports movie franchises, I think I’m allowed to step in. This ranking will be based on the original five Rocky movies, not including Rocky Balboa, mostly because it doesn’t fit with the number scheme and I don’t think many people consider it in the collection of movies, but if it interests you, it’d be dead last. These rankings also don’t include the Creed movie franchise, while incredible in its own right I believe it is it’s own beast, and it wouldn’t be fair to throw them alongside the five original Rocky movies. So if you’re ready, I’m ready, and I’ll even let you ring the bell. Ding, ding.
5- Rocky III
I mean, what? While a great movie, Rocky III had a lot of parts that just never added up. It opens up with the last round of Rocky II, copying the Rocky II intro perfectly, and then the weirdest thing ever happens. Rocky is having a charity boxing/wrestling match with this giant named Thunder Lips, who was played by professional wrestler Hulk Hogan. In Rocky II, Sylvester Stallone was in amazing shape. In Rocky III, Sylvester Stallone was on steroids and diuretics for every fight, looking like a bodybuilder all of the sudden. Rocky and Thunder Lips have the weirdest wrestling match ever, one where Thunder Lips chucks Rocky seven rows deep into the crowd, gets a chair broken over his back, is put in the deadliest headlock of all-time by Rocky, and then chucked maybe six or seven inches out of the ring by Rocky to lose. It was definitely odd, but during this we see Mickey suffering from heart issues for the first time. After his thing with Thunderlips, we come to see Rocky go on a rampage through many contenders and defending the heavyweight championship. While all of this is happening, they start showing a new fighter played by Mr. T, known as Clubber Lang. Clubber Lang is much lower rated than Rocky, but he is a rookie with a lot of raw power and strength. Rocky is knocking people out, but Clubber is knocking people out of the ring. Mickey attends many of Clubber’s fights trying to scout him, and in the last one, Clubber looks to Mickey in the crowd chanting “I want Balboa!” The city of Philadelphia awards Rocky a statue on top of the iconic steps, and Rocky appears to be incredibly well spoken, and not punchy like he used to be. Let’s talk about that for a second. Rocky was the dumbest guy in all of Philadelphia and would accidentally spew out motivational quotes and beat the best boxer on the planet, and now he is a scholar. I think in real life Sylvester Stallone was sick of being the dumb guy in Hollywood and wanted to appear like he reads books, and it was certainly an odd turn for the Rocky movies to take, and also an impossible one. Back to the movie, Rocky declines and starts to go into his first of many retirement speeches, but is cut off by very rude comments from Clubber Lang towards Adrian. Rocky starts to say he’ll fight Clubber, where he is interrupted by Mickey, who visibly doesn’t want Rocky to fight anymore. Nothing is official, but Rocky wants to fight Clubber. Many conversations are had, and eventually, Rocky convinces everyone this is his last fight and he is retiring, to which everyone agrees. The training montages start, and Rocky is showboating in front of the press with his fancy gym and music, whereas Clubber Lang is training in the mean streets of somewhere, sponsored by Nike, and is training how Rocky used to. The fight comes, and before the fight Rocky is saying how he is thankful to have his last fight and a lot more mumbo jumbo, and Clubber is telling reporters to back off. Somehow, in an awful security move, Rocky and Clubber see each other during their walkout, and that’s when Clubber Lang pushed Mickey. Mickey has a heart attack and Rocky is stuck in the hardest position of his career. Rocky ends up going out without Mickey while doctors tend to him. Apollo Creed is the guest commentator, and greets both boxers before. Rocky seems shaky and doesn’t say much to Apollo, and Clubber waves him off as a hasbeen. Rocky goes out and proceeds to get dropped by Clubber Lang. Clubber Lang is the new heavyweight champion, and Rocky runs to the back just to see if Mickey is going to make it. Mickey is so out of it by the time Rocky comes in that he is convinced Rocky won the fight, and then dies. Watching Mickey die is probably the saddest scene in all of Rocky and was a tearjerker to say the least. After this, Rocky decides to go to Los Angeles with Paulie and Adrian to be trained by Apollo Creed. Rocky then finds out he has lost his edge and his backstreet ways, and he needs to get back his eye of the tiger. While cheesy, that song is one of the best in all of Rocky, if not the best, and I’m glad this movie introduced it so well to the world. Rocky trains and at first is not having it, giving in and becoming soft, and that is where the incredibly famous quote “there is no tomorrow!” from Apollo Creed is said. While training we see more and more flashes of Clubber Lang training, but this is by far the fastest and shortest Rocky movie in the series. Rocky looks incredible for the rematch, and after taking brutal shot after brutal shot, Rocky ends up knocking out Clubber early, which is the only Rocky fight in all of the Rocky movies to not make it the distance. Apollo trained Rocky, a weird roll you wouldn’t ever see, but an interesting one. This movie screamed quantity not quality in comparison to the other four Rocky movies, but it is still a fan favorite and has one of my personal favorite Rocky scenes ever, and is a big part of the Creed franchise. Rocky and Apollo are kicking it back and decide to box, one last time, one last tie-breaker, and the movie ends with them both punching each other at the same time for the coolest stills to end it, a beautiful painting of the punch as the credits rolled. This movie certainly had its moments, but the gaps in between felt rushed and the story was the weirdest by far, and that’s saying a lot since they went to Russia in Rocky IV.
4- Rocky V
Rocky V is an incredible movie, the fourth place is not a knock on it, that is just how good the Rocky franchise is. Rocky V opens with the last round of Rocky vs Ivan Drago from Rocky IV, same exact ending, except when it picks up, Rocky is in the shower. Now, this sounds really odd if you’ve never seen Rocky V and it is a very forgettable part, but it is integral to say the least. Apollo’s old trainer Duke Evers is holding Rocky’s shorts that were identical to Apollo’s signature American flag shorts, talking about how good of a fight it was. When he pokes his head into the shower room, that’s when the entire Rocky franchise takes a turn. All Rocky says is “get Adrian.” Once Adrian comes in, Rocky is sitting down and having a tough time talking, but then the camera shows his hands, shaking mercilessly. Adrian holds him, but it’s painfully obvious that Ivan Drago gave Rocky brain damage in their fight. Rocky gets checked out by doctors, saying he has irreversible brain damage and can never fight again. The doctor’s promise to keep this knowledge away from the media, and Rocky flies home from Russia. As he lands he is greeted by his son who has shockingly aged ten years since the last movie, as well as a lot of media. The media poked around on several topics including brain damage, his next fight, his retirement and other subjects, until they were rudely interrupted by George Washington Duke and Union Cane. ‘The Duke’ is really playing Don King, a man who was notorious for making boxing only about money and not the fights. Yes, superfights happened, but no fighter wants to go to war anymore unless it’s the money fight. Adrian steps in and says that Rocky is officially retired, a common theme of her interrupting throughout the movie. Rocky eventually gets away from the press and the challenge, and the next scene is Rocky coming home, just to find out that Paulie gave all of their money to their accountant, who lost most of it. Rocky then has to sell his home, which is followed by a whole lot of press and media. While this all happens, Rocky has to get a normal job once again, and Rocky’s son loses all of his parents’ money and pleasures of a rich person’s life. While walking the streets of Philadelphia, a blonde haired, stocky white guy runs up to Rocky. While introducing himself as Tommy Gunn (played by real life boxer Tommy Morrison), Duke interrupts again, trying to get Rocky to sign again. While all of this is happening as Tommy waits to speak to his hero, Adrian interrupts, making it even more difficult to pass by. After Duke and Adrian eventually leave, Rocky waves Tommy off, saying his head is busy. Eventually, Tommy walks into the gym Rocky is working in, and wants to show Rocky he is a professional fighter. Once getting in the ring and sparring, Tommy nearly knocked out his sparring partner. Rocky starts to teach Tommy how to fight like a champion, and while this is all happening, Rocky’s son begins to get bullied and beaten at school. Rocky moves Tommy into his house, giving him his son’s room. While taking in Tommy, Rocky was pushing out his son, another common theme throughout the movie. Rocky becomes Tommy Gunn’s trainer, and Tommy fights beautifully in the ring, almost like a carbon copy of Rocky. Duke doesn’t stop appearing, but his offers seem to get weaker as time goes on, and that is when it all hits him. Duke starts to negotiate and speak with Tommy, enticing him and tricking him repeatedly. After winning a few fights, Tommy earns himself a title shot against Duke’s Union Cane, and in doing so, loses Rocky completely. While Rocky was busy training and giving lessons to Tommy, Rocky’s son had his coat stolen, got a girlfriend, beat up multiple kids in a fight, got ignored by his Dad, started smoking cigarettes, and then reconnected with Rocky, and I’m guessing also quit cigarettes. Tommy ends up fighting, and beating Union Cane, but was booed out of the building and was berated by the media about Rocky and how he has had no real fights. Rocky is found at a local bar, where Tommy goes with a camera crew. Tommy challenges Rocky multiple times, to which he says no, but while going outside to go face-to-face with Tommy, the best quote in all of Rocky happens. Two men at the bar, looking like truck drivers, asked Rocky if he needed backup, to which he responded “No guys, this ain’t no pie-eating contest.” Just wow. I will never not think that is funny. After walking back in after turning Tommy and Duke down repeatedly, Tommy comes in and punches Paulie in the face. Rocky says a really lame quote, basically saying to fight him now. As Rocky got brain damage, he got a lot funnier, but way less cool. Rocky goes outside and knocks Tommy down, then giving him a whole speech about how Duke made him a sellout and stuff, then walks back into the bar, or at least tries to. Tommy grabs him before he can and belly-to-back suplexes him right in the street. Tommy wipes the floor with Rocky, and while Rocky is knocked to the ground, he has an odd brain damage flashback thing, which was cool because we saw Mickey. Rocky gets up, saying he didn’t hear no bell, again, Rocky got funnier, but he also got brain damage. Awful grammar. Rocky gets up, destroys Tommy, then embraces with his family. Uncle Carmine was also there, blessing the crowd, in a fever dream type of moment. Rocky walks over to Duke, punches him on to the hood of a car, like a Street Fighter type of punch-into-the-sky punch, and the movie ends for the first time without a still image painting, which upset me. The movie was incredible, some parts were definitely more outlandish than other Rocky movies, but what we should really pay attention to is the Tommy Morrison story. If you haven’t heard it before, the Tommy Morrison story is one of how drugs can take everything from you, even if you’re on top of the world. I recommend all readers do some research on Tommy Morrison, a forgotten story in the annals of boxing history.
It was certainly a tough decision to put the first Rocky in the middle of the pack, and while it is my personal favorite Rocky, the next two are just too special to put below this one out of nostalgia. The first edition of Rocky is also covered in controversy, being based off of Chuck Wepner’s fight with Muhammad Ali, replacing the names with Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed, and Sylvester Stallone was rightly sued for it. The movie opens with Rocky boxing Spider Rico in the basement of a church, and shows the unique Philadelphia crowd and reactions to how Rocky fights. Rocky is down on his luck in the beginning, living in a broken down house with two turtles, two-out-of-three of his friends at the time. The other friend is Paulie, who in the entire franchise is a bum by all means. Rocky is in love with Paulie’s sister, Adrian, who he attempts to flirt with at her work, but they’re both so awkward and live life as underdogs that they don’t make it happen at first. As time goes on, Rocky starts to win over Adrian and thinks his career is probably done for good, and in his hard times he is seen as a loan shark, collecting money for a sports book owner. but then Apollo Creed comes in with the opportunity of a lifetime. Apollo Creed’s original fight was canceled due to his opponent suffering a hand injury, so with five weeks’ notice, Apollo called out local fighter Rocky Balboa at random, and the fight was set. No one had beaten Apollo at this point, so Rocky appeared to be the biggest underdog of all time. Rocky trains with his trainer Mickey, and the fight. In the five weeks of training, we see some of the most iconic motivational scenes of all-time. Gonna Fly Now, one of many Rocky anthems, highlights throughout the movie, either with an entire gospel choir singing, or just a piano lightly in the background. Whether it be Rocky running up the steps in Philadelphia, or drinking raw eggs with the radio in the background at 4 AM, the training sequence is the highlights and most memorable parts of the movie and inspires people to this day. The fight comes, and Rocky knocks down Apollo for the first time in his career. The fight goes a full fifteen rounds, the first time any fighter had brought Apollo the distance. While Rocky loses by split decision, he doesn’t care. Reporters surround him as a beaten down Apollo celebrates his win against the biggest underdog to put on gloves, and the only concern on Rocky’s mind is the love of his life, Adrian. The movie ends with music blaring, I love you’s traded between Rocky and Adrian, and a still image of their embrace to end it off, a staple of all Rocky movies to come. Something about this Rocky just gives you chills. Whether it’s him jumping off his steps and stretching out and running through all of Philadelphia, or the fifteenth round, it just does something to you that you can’t explain.
2- Rocky IV
This was a really close call. If I could put 1a and 1b, I might’ve, but I’m giving Rocky IV the two spot for a few reasons. Rocky IV opens up with Rocky enjoying his new life in retirement, playing with his kid, gifting Paulie a robot, and much more rich life type things. During these times, a new Russian boxer is being glorified in the public named Ivan Drago. This is all amidst the USSR steroid scandals in the olympics, so this was a bold decision by Sylvester Stallone, but it was fantastic. Immediately in Drago’s first press conference, steroids are brought up. Ivan’s girlfriend (I’m not fully sure if she was his girlfriend or like a Russian leader’s wife, I don’t think they explicitly said they were together) compares him to Popeye and states that he is all natural. Just like in Rocky III, Dolph Lundgren wasn’t the only one on set juicing. Ivan Drago comes out and requests that Rocky fights him, to which Apollo Creed accepts. Apollo is bored and hungry in retirement, and foolishly and to many’s dismay, accepts a fight against Ivan Drago. Rocky agrees to become Apollo’s trainer, another thing that you won’t see in real life, but it was certainly an interesting concept. Apollo trains harder than ever and is itching to fight Ivan Drago in an exhibition bout. In his entrance, Ivan is raised into the ring, to his confusion. Then, it was time for the master of disaster’s entrance. Many exotic dancers walk out, an entire band, pyro and James Brown all come out and perform ‘Livin’ in America’ while Apollo comes out and dances like never before. Apollo and Drago meet in the middle of the ring, and that’s when Apollo really feels Drago’s strength and stature for the first time. The beginning of the first round Apollo dances around Ivan Drago and tags him more than a few times, but towards the end Drago hit a big shot, scaring Creed as the bell rings. Going into the second round, Drago starts to really attack Apollo. In the beginning of the round, Apollo didn’t have as much as a scratch on his face, by the end of the center, he looked worse than round 15 of either Rocky fight. While in his corner, Rocky continuously says he wants to throw in the towel, while Apollo begs him not to. Apollo is getting mauled all of the third, and Rocky picks up the towel to throw in and end the fight, but that’s when Apollo starts screaming for him not to. Rocky doesn’t throw the towel in, and Apollo is knocked out cold. Rocky and everyone run into the ring, and as Rocky is holding Apollo’s head in his hands, Ivan says the iconic quote of “if he dies, he dies.” Apollo does in fact pass away, and Rocky has tunnel vision the rest of the film. Despite many requests from many different people, Rocky agrees to go to Russia and fight Ivan Drago on Christmas. Rocky takes Paulie and Duke Evers with him to Russia, to a cabin in the middle of a land of ice and snow, just him and his thoughts, the way he used to. While the signature training montage begins, the song Heart’s On Fire plays, one of the best in the entire Rocky franchise. Rocky is training the old school way while Drago is not only doing steroids but also getting the best technology available. While Rocky is trying to get himself together, Adrian makes the trip to Russia in support of Rocky. The training continues, and then the fight comes. Out of all of the fights in Rocky, this one may be the best excitement wise. Rocky walks out to a loud boo of a Russian crowd while Drago comes out to many cheers, the first time Rocky plays the villain. In the first rounds Drago is definitely dominating, but then Rocky hits him and cuts him, showing that he is human. At the end of a round Drago jumps up and punches Rocky with a hard hit, a very iconic punch for the rest of the Rocky movies. At the end of another Rocky tackles Drago, showing that he is willing to do anything to win. As the rounds keep going back and forth, Rocky starts to climb back, having better and better rounds, as well as turning the crowd. Just after the cold war, an american fighter is turning an all Russian crowd, something unprecedented. Round 14 comes and Rocky has taken a beating, but Drago is out of steam and also in bad shape. Drago throws a leader of Russia off the ring apron, saying he is winning this fight for him. In round 15, Rocky is dropped twice, but towards the end, hits Ivan with a flurry of punches, knocking him down for the first time in the fight. The referee counts to ten, and Rocky has done the literal impossible, defeating the deadly Ivan Drago in Russia. Rocky delivers a beautiful speech to the now pro-Rocky Russian crowd, and the movie ends with a still image of Rocky holding Adrian while wrapped in the American flag. This movie has a top-three soundtrack for a Rocky movie, and insane and emotional story, and a hell of a fight. Rocky nearly reached Forrest Gump level influence, seemingly ending the Cold War with a speech and a knockout.
1- Rocky II
While I am a firm believer in the fact that nothing beats the original, Rocky II does. In real life, Rocky stunk up the box office with two movies after the original Rocky, needing a comeback in real life to save his career. The movie begins like most other movies to come after the original Rocky, in the last round of the movie prior. After they retell the last round once again, it shows a street view of an ambulance racing to a hospital, going through all of Philadelphia while doing so, with amazing instrumental music behind it. As Rocky arrives at the hospital, so does Apollo, ready to challenge Rocky right there, in the hallway of a hospital. Both men have very lengthy stays in the hospital, returning to their homelife weeks after the fight originally happened. Rocky starts off his life with his newfound fame by making a lot of expensive purchases. Before this however, one of my favorite scenes takes place. While walking back from the hospital, Rocky takes Adrian to the zoo, which is ironic to say the least. In the first movie, many derogatory comments were made about the zoo and types of people that go there, and instead of taking it as a negative, Rocky proposes to Adrian there. The wedding happens, and everything is looking amazing for Rocky. During these highs for Rocky, Apollo is only attacked by lows. The media continually badgers Apollo, saying the fight was fixed and that he isn’t a real fighter. While Rocky is living his new life, he starts making a lot of expensive and stupid purchases. Eventually, Rocky has to start doing commercials to pay the bills, and that’s when everyone finds out he can’t read very well. Saying he can’t read very well is honestly an understatement, he reads at about a third grade level throughout the movie. The director gets so upset with Rocky that he offends him and Adrian, and cancels the planned commercials. Rocky goes back to working in the gym he once trained in, and that’s when Apollo attacks. Apollo starts putting out quotes calling him the Italian Chicken, calling him out for a rematch. Rocky begins to train for the rematch, but isn’t the same fighter he used to be. Mickey implements a right-handed fighting scheme, basically starting from scratch for Rocky considering he is a southpaw. A fun fact about the whole fighting switch is, it wasn’t actually in the original script. Sylvester Stallone tore his left pectoral, and they switched to his right side to make it easier for him and his injury. While training, Rocky and Adrian find out they’re having a baby. While training and having zero motivation to fight Creed, Adrian slips into a coma and gets very sick. During this, Rocky stays in the hospital for what seems like weeks, but is only days. Adrian went into premature labor and had Rocky’s son, who was healthy, but Rocky wanted to wait to meet him until Adrian woke up from her coma. While staying in the hospital and not training, Mickey continuously gives Rocky advice on the fight and life, and that’s when Adrian wakes up. Definitely not the most iconic line from a Rocky movie, but certainly a big one, Adrian says the famous quote of “Win.” Shirts can be seen today saying “Win Rocky Win!” and that’s when the training montage begins. In what is easily the greatest run of all-time, Rocky runs through Philadelphia, followed by nearly 1,000 kids in unison behind him, as he runs up the iconic steps in Philadelphia, and that is the last shot before the fight. If that scene doesn’t give you chills, you don’t have a pulse. Apollo looks better than ever, but so does Rocky. The fight starts, and it is a slobberknocker. The fight continues to go the distance like the last one, and Rocky is taking double the punishment of the last fight, while also dishing it out the same. In the fifteenth and final round, one of the best yet most unrealistic boxing scenes takes place; the double knockout. Rocky and Apollo hit each other in unison, and as both try to beat the ten count, Rocky stands with maybe a millionth of a second remaining. After winning the heavyweight title, the most iconic two words in sports movie history were uttered, being “Yo Adrian!”
If you enjoyed me ranking the Rocky franchise, comment another sports movie you’d like to see me analyze in the comments! I hope you enjoyed, and if you haven’t seen Rocky before, I know you have Netflix, go watch it.