Ranking the Rocky Series: From Best to Worst

Being born in 1983, I grew up around the period where Rocky Balboa was a household name, and the movies were wildly popular. “Rocky” and the sequels are childhood favorites, and I very fondly remember watching the worn VHS copies on our VCR, and catching their airings on my local television station WPIX. With Stallone re-releasing “Rocky IV” this year with a brand new Director’s Cut, I thought it’d be fun to re-visit the original series and rank the entire franchise from best to worst.

Feel free to post your ranking in the comments.

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Rocky IV: Rocky vs. Drago – The Ultimate Director’s Cut (2021) (Digital)

We’re in an age of modern filmmaking where audiences and even directors are demanding that studios allow them to re-cut their past works. In all of the director’s cuts and recuts I’ve seen, “Rocky vs. Drago” is exactly how the Director’s Cut should be done. I say that with immense surprise as I fully expected to dislike “The Ultimate Director’s Cut.” For fans that viewed “Rocky IV” religiously since 1985, when we get down to it, the film is recut to click better with “Creed II.” That’s either great or disappointing, depending on how you value the original 1985 film.

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The Shakedown (1929)

This early effort from director William Wyler focuses on Dave Roberts, a handsome young boxer involved in a traveling scam anchored around phony fights. Roberts is tasked with ingratiating himself in a small town before agreeing to challenge a visiting pugilist in a bout that culls bets from local gamblers. Roberts always loses the bout and then exits for another town and a repeat of the cycle.
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Rocky V (1990)

You have to give it to Sylvester Stallone. The reason why Rocky is such a pop culture icon is because Stallone has always managed to keep him relevant. Rocky could have gone down with eighties icons like Max Headroom or Alf, but Stallone has kept his character socially relevant time and time again. The first film was about the underdog, the second about fame, the third about repeating history, the fourth about the cold war, and part five is where the series trips and falls on its face. “Rocky V” doesn’t have much of a point to make and doesn’t do much of anything with Rock Balboa at all. It seems to be like one of Stallone’s efforts to break Rocky out of the eighties cold war pigeon hole and make him blue collar and the underdog again. Instead rather than building a hopeful and raucously engaging sports drama, “Rocky V” is depressing right until the very end.

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Rocky IV (1985)


With Superman, Hulk Hogan, and Rocky Balboa, America pretty much beat the hell out of Communist Russia in the eighties, and we were proud of it. While “Rocky III” is the superior sequel in the original “Rocky” series, “Rocky IV” is perhaps the most talked about of the Rocky mythology and is also the most action packed. “Rocky IV” has a brisk pacing with almost no slow down in its storytelling and that brevity is probably why the sequel is still so beloved, despite its camp and homoerotic overtones. There really isn’t much to “Rocky IV” that’s tough to figure out. It has a robot that talks like a woman, features scenes of Rocky’s son trading one-liners with his friends while watching his dad’s fight, and a stern jingoistic attitude that it unapologetically waves around.

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Rocky III (1982)


If there is any real successor to “Rocky” in the original series, it has to be “Rocky III.” While “Rocky II” was an interesting enough look at Rocky dealing with fame, “Rocky III” puts us right in to where we were in the original film that started it all. Now “Rocky” is a champion in his prime who has settled in to his wealth and luxury, and there’s a hungry new fighter named Clubber Lang out there who wants what he has, and is willing to whatever it takes to get it. For the first time ever, Rocky Balboa has a lot to lose, and he meets his match in Clubber Lang, a humongous and deadly boxer who wants to take on Rocky Balboa.

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Rocky II (1979)

At the end of the day, when Rocky Balboa learned to test his limit and prove to the world he is a contender, he is still Rocky Balboa, warts and all. What I enjoy most about “Rocky II” is that even though we didn’t need it, Director Stallone allows us a look in to how the fight with Apollo Creeds affects the man Rocky Balboa in the long run. In the end when he’s gone through the wringer and fought hard, where does Rocky go from there? Apollo is still the champion and is still wealthy, and Rocky is still living in his neighborhood, and is arguably a celebrity. What’s more is that Rocky is thrust in to worldwide fame, and he has to face that perhaps his fame will likely be short lived with an only fifteen minute window for him.

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The Fighter (2010)

fighterI’ll admit I had little to no expectations for “The Fighter” primarily because the stylish trailers have made it feel almost like a clone of the Channing Tatum clunker “Fighting,” when in reality it’s truly an Oscar caliber drama about a man who has the potential to become a boxing legend, but cannot escape the clutches of a family who refuses to let him rise above their lower class pit of despair, regret, and broken dreams. “The Fighter” is based on the true story of Mickey Ward, a low level boxer out of Boston who dreams of becoming the legend his brother Dickey touts himself as.

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