There was never supposed to be a Rocky franchise. We all know the story of how the underdog boxing drama was a long shot to even get made, let alone become an Oscar winner. Of course, we also know how the small-scale story became a series of increasingly cartoonish blockbuster tales. What makes it even more interesting is that, after Sylvester Stallone breathed new life into the property years after it had finally laid dormant, another hiatus would lead to an evolution into the Creed movies. Somehow, the franchise became even more popular, creatively vibrant, and exciting again. So, with Creed III releasing this week (my review is already on the site here), I figured it was a good time to show you how I would rank the series. So, that’s what I did. Your mileage may vary, but this list is my take on the flicks. Enjoy…
Here is how I would rank the films in the Creed / Rocky franchise:
9. Rocky V – This is almost certainly the one on the bottom of everyone’s lists. Stallone even basically ignored it when he made his follow-up flick. Rocky V tries to get away from the franchise formula, but it does so in a way that just didn’t work. Ironically, Creed III picked at this carcass far more successfully, but more on that later on in this list.
8 Rocky IV – Now we’re in the run of the series where it became a superhero cartoon, almost. Rocky Balboa against Ivan Drago with essentially the Cold War on the line, in addition to avenging Apollo Creed. Dolph Lundgren is presented as absolutely unbeatable, even though you know what’s coming. The training montage is excellent, but Rocky IV was trying too hard to merge with the Rambo movies, despite it being easy to enjoy.
7 Rocky III – Rocky taking on Clubber Lang gave us Mr. T as a young and hungry fighter, as well as “Eye of the Tiger” on the music front, but it’s completely formula. The sequel went even harder on that, but this is where things moved in a much bigger direction. Balboa as a rich champion was just never quite as fun as when he’s the underdog. Rocky III is fun, but it’s very sleight, even if one death is given its proper weight.
6. Rocky Balboa – Did we need this sequel? No. Did it still manage to exceed expectations? Yes. An older Rocky coming out of retirement to show he’s still got it was a low-key journey with the character. It was the first time that fighting wasn’t the main priority in several movies, making Rocky Balboa somewhat of an underrated entry.
5. Creed II – Initially, I had hoped for Creed to be a one off. So, this sequel seemed even more unnecessary than usual. Still, Creed II manages to continue the story, re-invest you in Rocky IV, and still be massively entertaining. It’s not high art, but it showed that this evolution was not a catching lightning in a bottle situation.
4. Rocky II – Making this sequel defeated the purpose of the original’s ending, but take that away and Rocky II is better than you remember (also marking a run of Stallone helming these himself). Watching Rocky’s struggle in the aftermath of the big fight is compelling, while there’s plenty of him and his wife at home. The big rematch with Apollo Creed is also very exciting, even if the ending is pretty predetermined.
3. Creed III – You can read my review for more (here it is again), but Creed III moving fully away from Rocky and focusing on the evolution of Adonis is the most creatively bold choice possible for the ninth installment in a franchise. Not only that, it makes you eager to see a tenth, which is really something. Throw in the best villain since Apollo in Jonathan Major‘s Damian Anderson and you have an excellent movie.
2. Creed – I was skeptical going in, but Ryan Coogler found a way not only to continue Rocky’s story, getting Stallone nominated in the process, but he introduced us to Apollo’s illegitimate son Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan). Adonis’ rise and relationship to Rocky is the core of an out and out fantastic film, breathing new life into the series through sheer talent and quality control. Creed rules.
1 Rocky – Of course the original is king. One of the best Best Picture winners (to me) and an out and out classic, just watch it again. Rocky is brilliantly done. While it works as a sports movie, this is as much about a man proving his worth to himself/the woman he loves as it is about the boxing match. Obviously, when Stallone dukes it out with Carl Weathers‘ champion in Apollo Creed, sparks fly, but the ending says it all. Rocky wins, regardless of the fight’s outcome.
What is your favorite film in the Creed and Rocky franchise? Let us know!
Thanks for doing this. I love this franchise. The bottom third of this list are all guilty pleasures but there is something about the rocky character and theme that gets me every time. Good list. I couldn’t help but have some fun and give it a go myself.
9 – Rocky V – Unfortunately this one is tough to enjoy. It’s not good when the best part of the movie is the closing montage while a great Elton John song is being played. It still might bring me to tears when I watch it but it might be the only thing worth watching in the movie.
8 – Rocky III – So many problems but obviously the death of Mickey gets to me. I wish that was done better and a lot in this was done better. Mr. T was lacking as an opponent. But far greater than Rocky V.
7 – Rocky IV – I thought about having this higher because it’s the ultimate guilty pleasure when it comes to cartoon characters. But it’s just too cartoonish. But I still love it and don’t turn it off when I stumble upon while channel surfing.
6 – Creed II – Really good sequel while it didn’t have a lot to say. Tessa Thompson’s character and performance really shines here and picks it up when it’s almost going to go too deep in a formula direction.
5 – Creed III – Something was missing with this one that kept it from being near the top. I did miss the rocky element in it and I think it would have been better with a small inclusion of his character leading up the end. But this is still a great movie that again surprised me. I didn’t think going in I’d like it better the second Creed but have to admit I did.
4 – Rocky Balboa – It’s so hard putting this even this low. I was shocked with this one when I saw it in the theater in 06. I was expecting a fun nostalgia trip and while it gave me that it also gave me a story with a lot of heart. A lot of great scenes and what I think is his best written character of Rocky after the first one. It was a hard story to make you believe it and I think it succeeded.
3 – Rocky II – It says a lot about the first Creed putting this at number 3. When I go back to this movie I tend to like it better each time. I think it still has a lot of the rawness that makes the first one an all timer. And just for the “what are we waitin for” line from Mickey followed by the training montage is worth the price of admission. Every first day of a diet should be started with watching that sequence.
2 – Creed – Again I wanted to put the second or last Rocky above this but thinking back I can’t. This was in the middle of my top 10 the year it came out. It was so well written and I’d argue it would have deserved to be recognized for that but the year was pretty top heavy in adapted. Jordan did a phenomenal job with his performance. I do think he should have been nominated along with Stallone. Just like Rocky II and Balboa this movie had no business being this good but somehow found a way.
1 – Rocky – And yes I’m a Rocky apologist as far as its best picture win. It’s in my top 10 of all time or very close to it if it’s just outside. As good as 1976 was I do think they got it right. It’s a beautiful, funny, thought provoking story with an incredible lead character. Special movie and an all timer with 4 top shelf performances. 5 if want to include weathers.
Hard to argue with this ranking!
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