They are without a doubt the most famous, the most celebrated, even the most cherished boxing films ever. They are the “Rocky” movies, all six of them (seven if you include the highly successful spin-off “Creed;” soon to have its own sequel) and fans in their many millions continue to be moved, inspired and pumped up by a viewing of either episode in the saga.
In short, the “Rocky” films have a genuine greatness to them; it is undeniable. Boxing fans, more than everyday movie fans, may love the efforts of Sly Stallone and co more than most, but pretty much anyone can find, and does find, something to enjoy in all six offerings.
The story began way back in 1976, with the original, soon to be Oscar-winning, film proving to be a real-life upset victory for the struggling, partially out of work Stallone. The success the film enjoyed mirrored the underdog achievements its protagonist enjoyed; the Oscar the film won for best picture being on a par with the world heavyweight crown the fictitious Balboa came oh, so close to winning.
His greatest character now universally celebrated, Stallone was off and running. No way was Sly going to leave “Rocky” alone after just one outing, and thank you so very much we all say to him for allowing the most exciting on-screen boxer in history to keep on doing his roadwork.
Cinema critics may fawn over other boxing films such as “Raging Bull” and “Fat City,” never really giving “Rocky” any genuine praise, but fans will always love and defend the fictitious Philly slugger’s exploits. These films touched us and continue to do so.
But how do the “Rocky” films rate, in order of greatness, from the original, to “Rocky Balboa?”
Here’s a look:
6: “Rocky V” 1990.
The only misfire of the series.
Stallone took it to the streets and it just didn’t work. Real-life fighter Tommy Morrison gave it his best shot in front of the cameras, and the thinly veiled Don King impersonation by Richard Gant (George Washington Duke) is fun, but the film’s climax is far sillier than anything else that takes place in the story. And that’s saying something.
Rating out of 10 – three.
5: “Rocky IV” 1985.
The USA Vs. Russia!
An impossibly paced fourth episode, “IV” is fun and games despite the leap Sly took with regards to his creation’s agonising durability, stubbornness and selfishness. Here, Rocky somehow finds a way to overcome mountainous, gargantuan odds, avenging his former foe turned friend in the process, but the real shocker is the stunningly cringe-worthy speech the badly battered heavyweight gives just before the final credits roll.
Rating out of 10 – six.
4: “Rocky III” 1982.
Rocky gets knocked the f**k out!
Give Stallone credit for allowing his co-star, the debut-making Mr T, to steal every scene he is in. T is simply awesome in this film – over the top, wholly unrealistic, inspirational and funny as hell. Sure no-one would ever have picked the KO’d “Italian Stallion,” who should have listened to his long-time trainer – “You can’t win, Rock!” – to regroup and avenge his defeat, but it’s massively entertaining and uplifting seeing his successful comeback all the same.
Rating out of 10 – seven.
3: “Rocky Balboa” 2006.
The magic returns.
Stallone really rolled the dice here, bringing his hero back after a gap of 16 years. But, despite the odds (yet more of them!) “Rocky Balboa” most definitely works. Antonio Tarver is great as Mason “The Line” Dixon, and the nostalgia factor proves truly moving. Never since “Rocky II” have we all loved Rocky as much.
Rating out of 10 – eight.
2: “Rocky II” 1979.
The saga continues!
The sequel that just had to happen. Sly was on a winner and he knew it! A sign of how good/great “Rocky II” is, is the way, all these years later, we fans can easily get mixed up and erroneously think a scene from the original was in the sequel and vice-versa. And anyone who didn’t/doesn’t scream at the top of their lungs at Rocky to get up during the film’s climax is either dead or dead inside!
Rating out of 10 – nine.
1: “Rocky” 1976.
A cinematic masterpiece.
Can you name a boxing film that inspired as many real-life fighters to become what they became? “Rocky” made an enormous impact and there is so much to enjoy in the film. Stallone’s performance is first-rate, as is Carl Weathers’ as Apollo, while the legendary Burgess Meredith, as the grizzled old trainer/former fighter gives the film added class. Way more than a mere boxing film, “Rocky” is also a love story, a very moving one, and an epic tale of how the underdog can make it.
Gritty, powerful and unforgettable.
Rating out of 10 – ten.