My girlfriend Mhairi and I have been together for three years as of last Wednesday and this year we’ve bought a house together.
So I decided that I would take our relationship to the next level recently and made her do something that she has resisted doing for so long; make her do something that I’ve always been dead keen on but that she herself thought might be painful and not particularly enjoyable for her.
Obviously, I’m talking about making her watch the Rocky movies with me.
You knew that, didn’t you?
Anyway, having watched them all again over a period of a couple of weeks, I felt it was time to rank them for this blog.
My enjoyment of a Rocky movie comes down to a few key factors in no particular order…
- Training Montages
- Opponent/Other Characters
- How much screen time Adrian gets
I’m not too interested in how it’s filmed or how much inner truth the director gets out of the characters. Call me superficial, but I believe a Rocky movie is about the reason for the fight, time devoted to the build up to the fight, some drama in the fight itself, some good music throughout and as little of Adrian as possible.
There’s no question that Rocky’s awful shrew of a wife is the worst aspect of the franchise, thanks both to the character being so annoying and Talia Shire being such an awful actress.
I understand that she is an important part of Rocky himself, but I don’t care. Less Adrian = Better Movie.
Mhairi disagrees with we on Adrian by the way, as she thinks he helps balance the movies, but I’m resolute on the matter.
Anyway, on to the rankings and you’ll be shocked to read what comes last…
8th. Rocky V
Here’s a Rocky movie with no boxing match for Rocky, no training montages, no opponent and a lot of Adrian moaning. She also stops washing her hair to sell the point that she’s moved from a mansion to a reasonably sized house.
Obviously it was always going to finish last on this list.
But I had forgotten just how bad Rocky V was until I watched it again.
Dreadful acting from all concerned, far too much calling back to the first movie, too many major plot threads – none of which were interesting – that didn’t have enough time devoted to them, and it ended with a crappy fight outside a pub. Yay.
While it’s not inconceivable that Rocky could lose all his money, it is inconceivable that he would have no means of earning anything else. It’s also ridiculous that his son aged five years while Rocky was in Russia fighting Drago.
Although it wouldn’t take much to make Rocky V better, I think if they ignored the storyline with his son entirely and instead had Rocky goaded out of retirement by the Don King guy to fight Tommy Gunn even at the risk of his own health, then it definitely would have worked.
What we ended up with though was just dreadful
7th. Rocky III
Based on my ranking criteria you’re probably surprised this ranks so low down, but I just thought it was a bit of a chore to sit through.
It starts off well enough and has a good set-up, with Rocky taking his eye off the ball and being swayed by the glitz and glamour of his lifestyle. His defeat to Clubber also makes a lot of sense, with him being further distracted by Mickey’s heart attack.
But it’s the second half of Rocky III that lets it down.
Rocky loses his heart and trains poorly. Then after a pep talk he focuses again and trains well. Then he easily defeats Clubber.
Wow, great resolution.
There was no drama in the build-up to the fight and even less in the fight itself, so for me there just isn’t much to enjoy.
6th. Creed II
The same problems with Rocky III are displayed in Creed II.
Man loses fight convincingly, man trains, man wins fight.
Certainly the second Creed is told in a less shallow way than Rocky III, but other aspects let it down, such as the music and the direction of the fights.
It’s not a bad movie, and I enjoyed how unlike previous entries to the Rocky series it actually spends a bit of time dealing with the back-story of his opponent and making him a sympathetic character, but it doesn’t deserve to be any higher than 6th.
You can read more of my thoughts about Creed II in my full review, which can be found here.
Disagree if you want, but as its own standalone movie, I actually don’t think the first movie is all that great.
It definitely has a good premise and a charm to it, but too much time is invested in the permanently awful Talia Shire and most of the stuff people remember from it actually happens in Rocky II.
Surprisingly little time is actually given to the build-up to the fight, but I suppose it’s down to it being about Rocky the person and not Rocky the fighter.
As a stand-alone movie it does what it needs to and has an iconic soundtrack, but as part of an ongoing series – which I appreciate it probably wasn’t originally intended to be – it feels like it lacks a certain amount of what makes a Rocky movie a Rocky movie.
Or at least what I expect from a Rocky movie.
Judged on its own merits, Creed is a good movie, but it’s definitely made better by being part of the Rocky cinematic universe.
Creed is the main character, but Rocky is the character people want to see the most.
As opposed to the sequel, the fights are actually very well-directed and the storyline is solid.
But the music is nowhere near any of the Rockys. The same applies for Creed II.
You can read my review of Creed from 2016 here.
3rd. Rocky II
Like I said above, most of the stuff that people say they remember from the original – not least Rocky winning the fight, but also him chasing the chicken and shouting “Yo Adrian, I did it” – actually happens in Rocky II.
Yes, there are parts of it that drag a little in the middle, but I actually found Rocky’s inability to make a life for himself outside of boxing to be more interesting than him taking Adrian ice skating.
Also, the build-up to the fight was much better, and Apollo Creed gets more screen time.
I think that if you put both movies together to make one long one – because Rocky II is a direct followup to the first one in terms of plot and characters – then people would say the second half of it was better than the first.
Definitely underrated by the majority.
2nd. Rocky Balboa
In terms of story and nothing else, I actually think Rocky Balboa is the best one.
It provides the best balance of all things that I personally enjoy about the movies, it doesn’t have Adrian in it – and it benefits hugely from that – and it feels more polished.
It also gave closure to his character as an in-ring competitor; closure that was sorely missing from Rocky V.
What I liked about the fight at the end was that by having Dixon break his hand, it made it much more feasible for Rocky to mount the comeback he did, and while it would have been a little too corny for him to have actually won, by having him lose by split decision it allowed him to leave with his head held high.
The stuff with the woman and her son lets things down a little, but hey, even if it didn’t, it was never finishing on top of this list regardless.
One thing I clearly remember about seeing Rocky Balboa in the cinema back in 2006 was the cheer in the room when the training montage started.
Because as I said at the start, training montages are a huge part of what makes Rocky movies great.
And on that note…
1st. Rocky IV
Rocky IV is the ultimate Rocky movie, but more than that, it’s the ultimate montage movie of all time. 31% of the entire running time of the movie is spent in montage form, and apart from the time-wasting guff where he’s driving around thinking about Apollo – the ‘No Easy Way Out’ montage – they are all great.
You’ve got to admire the balls of the director to do a montage of Rocky training in the mountains and Drago training in the gym, then 75 seconds after it finishes, do another one where they both work even harder.
The two montages encapsulates everything about Rocky and in fact everything about any movie that has ever had a montage. Plus, you’ve got to respect the impressive fitness on display in them. This was no CGI fest; the two guys were genuinely fit as fiddles and an inspiration to any bloke looking to get fit. Just amazing.
It also has the greatest soundtrack of any movie, ever.
But it’s not just about that. While people criticise how shallow it apparently is, it has a good plot.
Apollo is killed in the ring by Drago and Rocky must go into the hostile territory of Russia to seek revenge and defeat him. Sure, he also seemingly ends the Cold War, but that just adds to the fun.
Drago is the best Rocky opponent too. He looks mean, he has some great, ice-cold lines of dialogue that people still quote to this day – “If he dies, he dies”, “You will lose” and “I must break you” are among his only lines of dialogue yet anyone who knows anything about Rocky is familiar with them – and he has the boo-hiss villainy of his wife and his steroid abuse.
Rocky IV also has the best final fight – where they hurt each other for real – ably assisted once again with a montage and some excellent background music.
I can’t speak highly enough about it.
If you don’t like it, I simply have to ask what’s wrong with you?
As always I’m keen to hear if you agree or disagree with me. Let me know.