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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Veloce come il vento (Italian Race) (2016) [San Diego Italian Film Festival 2017]

A young race car driver loses her father suddenly. Having no mother in the picture, she becomes in charge of her younger brother when their older brother, an addict and ex-racer himself, becomes their legal guardian.

Based on a story by Matteo Rovere who co-wrote the screenplay with Filippo Gravino and Francesca Manieri and also directed, Veloce come il vento is a touching family drama with a hopeful outlook on things. The film throws many curve balls at lead Giulia as she is trying to win in car racing, but nothing is going to stop her from winning and keeping her family together. The film has its ups and downs and it works well on all fronts. The balance of good moments versus sad moments creates a dynamic storyline and gives plenty for the characters to bond over. The film makes good use of the drama and the few comedic moments and builds itself towards an end that is a touch sad, but also perfect.

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Supaidāman (Spider-Man) (1978)

What was once considered just a passing joke by Spider-Man fans has managed to gather some cult acclaim over the years, and has even been embraced by Marvel (yes, it’s canon, now) and Stan Lee himself. “Supaidāman” is the Japanese incarnation of Spider Man that bears almost no resemblance to the character we know from the US. That doesn’t mean it’s terrible though, as the 1978 action science fiction series is quite entertaining and has a lot of innovative ideas we’d see in future Super Sentai series. Sure it’s cheesy and goofy in some way, (including the opening theme song) but there’s a lot to like if you can divorce yourself from the Marvel Spider-Man and think of this character as something from another universe.

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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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