The craziest thing about the Rocky/Creed franchise is the range. There are notable Oscar wins (Best Picture for the original), and appearances by Hulk Hogan and Mr. T, and franchise-killing abominations that shut the whole thing down for over a decade. There is an unlikely spinoff that rebooted the franchise in a fresh way, and there’s a movie about a fight with an indestructible Russian that should be shown in college courses about the Cold War. It’s really pretty wild. Stallone has been playing this character for something like 40 years now over eight films. Think about that for a few minutes sometime.
Below, please find an attempt at ranking all eight films. This ranking is fluid and based on a number of factors, some of which I may value more than you. That’s okay. You can make your own list or yell at me or do both. Or neither. You really have a lot of options here. Pretty big opportunity for you. I wish you the best.
8. Rocky V
Rocky V is almost universally regarded as the worst film in the franchise. There’s a pretty decent reason for this: It is bad. It’s frustrating that it’s bad, too, because it was the first movie to really tackle the consequences of being Rocky. It has a formula that loosely follows the one that worked later in Creed: Rocky is in the dumps and has health problems and training a hungry young fighter helps him deal with it. I think it was just too soon to see Rocky beaten and broken down — and just broke — like that. It also didn’t help that it came out five years after Rocky IV but took place shortly after that movie. Or that the big fight was Rocky whomping on his ex-protege in the street. It just didn’t work in a lot of ways.
The best thing you can say about it, historically, is that it makes for a really easy jumping off point for rankings like these. “Okay, so I’ll slot Rocky V in here in last place and then work from there” said everyone ranking Rocky movies, including me, about 20 minutes ago. I do appreciate this attempt to simplify my job.
7. Rocky II
Maybe I’m alone on this. I probably am. But… how much of Rocky II do you honestly remember, right now, off the top of your head? Because I don’t have a lot up there and I’ve seen the movie on basic cable at least eight times. There’s the run through Philadelphia, of course, and the rematch against Apollo, but… that’s about it. It’s just not as memorable as the other films in the franchise, for good reasons and bad. Later films added flashy co-stars and huuuuge plots in ways that burn holes into your brain. Rocky II, today, many years later, feels like the most forgettable film of the lot.
6. Rocky III
Rocky III, on the other hand, is decidedly not forgettable. There’s an appearance by Hulk Hogan (“No one can believe the superhuman strength of Thunderlips!”), and a villainous Mr. T as Clubber Lang (“My prediction… pain”), and a California training montage that featured Rocky and Apollo sprinting on the beach and then hugging in the surf like two brothers who had just been reunited after an invading army separated them as children. Go watch that montage again if you haven’t in the last year or so. It’s incredible.
I’ll hear you out if you want to argue Rocky II is a better movie. I’ll nod and listen and maybe even concede most of your points. You are probably right, to be honest. It’s just that Rocky III is more rewatchable and a little silly and, while those may not be important factors in your own personal rankings, they are in mine. I mean, how many other sequels to Best Picture winners feature Hulk Hogan throwing people out of a wrestling ring like sacks of dirt? Not enough, in my book.