Rocky Balboa is easily one of the most iconic characters in film history. Back in 1976, Rocky put Sylvester Stallone on the map after becoming the highest-grossing film of the year. Thanks to its cult following, greenlighting sequels was not that hard for Sly, and so in 43 years, we got nine whole movies, including the Creed trilogy. But are they all as good as the first one? Let’s find out!
1. Rocky V (1990)
Rocky V is easily the weakest installment in the franchise. In 1990, Sylvester Stallone seemed too old to throw hands for 15 rounds, and the movie’s $42 million budget didn’t show. It feels more like an amateur production. Even the subplot involving Rocky’s son is poorly written. The drama and action both fall flat. While the earlier films had some impressive boxing scenes, Rocky V doesn’t deliver. The final street fight between Rocky and his student feels more like a scuffle between kids. In every aspect, this film falls short, especially compared to the original. It deserves its place as the worst entry in the series.
2. Rocky IV (1985)
Rocky V tried to break from franchise conventions, but the sequels from the second to the fourth stuck to the original’s formula, with some deviations. However, Rocky IV dared to be different by opening with Apollo Creed’s shocking death. While this was a powerful moment, the rest of the film follows the familiar training and fight sequence, just in a different setting: the cold, snowy USSR. The movie isn’t a total letdown, as it handles the drama well, and the initial Creed vs. Drago battle is intense. Yet, the final Balboa/Drago fight is a letdown because the outcome is too obvious.
3. Rocky III (1982)
The third Rocky movie seems unnecessary and lacks the depth of the first two. It introduces a new, uninspiring boxer challenging Rocky, and the plot feels weak. The only real focus is Rocky’s loss and eventual win to avenge his friend, which is the entire story. On the bright side, the movie handles the death of a beloved character in a touching and tragic way. Another positive is the reunion of Rocky and Apollo, with Creed becoming Rocky’s coach. Despite all that, the film falls short in both the action and storytelling departments, making it a questionable addition to the series.
4. Creed II (2018)
The first two Creed movies earned critical acclaim, reviving the Rocky franchise that had almost ended after the fifth installment due to declining box office sales. Sylvester Stallone resurrected his iconic character, and in 2015, we witnessed a soft reboot as Rocky passed the torch to his late friend’s son. The first Creed, while somewhat repetitive, was well-received. Its success led to a sequel, the eighth installment in the franchise. This time, the story resurrects Dolph Lundgren’s character, responsible for Apollo Creed’s death, setting up a revenge plot. Each new installment followed a similar story with slight variations. Creed 2, however, recycled script elements from previous Rocky films, failing to capture the original’s success. While the first Creed tried to explore new themes, Creed 2 feels like a collection of tired franchise clichés.
5. Creed III (2023)
By the time the third Creed film hit theaters, Michael B. Jordan not only starred in it but also directed the project. Despite five years of anticipation, the movie’s nothing to write home about. Adonis Creed’s newfound brotherly connection feels like a forgotten formality, and the character played by Jonathan Majors adds little depth. The film follows a familiar “Eye of the Tiger” retribution theme, much like the previous installment, making it feel repetitive. The production lacks excitement, with only occasional creative elements like the ring bars. Overall, the action lacks tension, and the ending is predictable. In its ninth installment, the film offers nothing truly new and feels quite dull.
6. Rocky Balboa (2006)
Sylvester Stallone is a true superstar. His films ruled the box office for years, but by the ’90s, they started underperforming. In 2006, he gave his iconic character Rocky a fitting closure in “Rocky Balboa,” akin to “Logan.” The film took a darker tone, with Rocky dealing with the loss of his wife, Adriana, and the challenges of running a restaurant. Meeting a young woman named Marie adds meaning to his life. While not a perfect movie, it’s a great sequel with compelling drama, impressive action scenes, and, most importantly, a good script. Stallone’s physical shape and the fight with his opponent are remarkable. “Rocky Balboa” is arguably the second-best in the franchise, and it marked a resurgence in Stallone’s career.
7. Rocky II (1979)
Rocky II is the only sequel in the franchise that the critics didn’t hate. While it closely follows the original, it actually improves upon it in some ways. The film’s training sequences, for instance, are iconic. The final scene is also well-executed, falling between the high quality of “Rocky Balboa” and the disappointment of the fifth installment. While Rocky’s victory may seem predictable after his loss in the original film, it still feels like the right choice. Surprisingly, Rocky II is many people’s favorite in the franchise, even more so than Rocky and Rocky Balboa.
8. Creed: The Rocky Legacy (2015)
The franchise’s soft reboot shifted the focus from Rocky to Adonis Creed. Surprisingly, Creed succeeded despite following a familiar storyline of an underdog fighter rising to become a champion. Creed benefits from Rocky Balboa’s character arc, where he’s left alone and deals with cancer. The action and fight sequences are also iconic, earning it a high rank for presentation in the franchise. However, when considering the film as a whole, it falls a bit short in terms of story, characters, and script. While the Rocky and Adonis plot threads work well, it’s ultimately a solid but not outstanding movie. Still, second only to…
9. Rocky (1976)
… The original Rocky. Of course, Stallone’s breakthrough debut belongs to the top spot, which gave us a plethora of iconic scenes. The memorable musical score by Bill Conti, alongside iconic themes like those from Back to the Future, Mission: Impossible, and Indiana Jones, has left a lasting impact. The film’s cinematography has stood the test of time despite its modest budget of $1 million. The Balboa vs. Creed fight, while not being a technical highlight, effectively conveys tension and suspense. Rocky paints a classic rags-to-riches story for Rocky, depicting his struggles with money and early boxing career, much like how pitching the idea for this movie was Stalone’s last chance to get into Hollywood.
But, as certain popular YouTube channel claims, “no movie is without a sin.” Rocky’s self-reliance and a somewhat lengthy runtime with unnecessary scenes are quite noticeable on consecutive viewings. Additionally, the portrayal of Rocky’s relationship with Adriana feels awkward, as if the writer didn’t really know how to handle a love subplot. Nevertheless, Rocky has earned its cult status thanks to its many successful moments and remains an enduring classic to this day.