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Sylvester Stallone in “Creed”: Ranking the films in the “Rocky” franchise

On Friday, one of the most shockingly great movies of the year opens in Creed, the sequel/spinoff to Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky series. I’ll have a full on article about that one in a few days, but today I wanted to pay tribute to the franchise in a way by actually breaking down all of the films within it. Yes, I’ll be going from Rock to Creed, with everything in between, ranking them from best to worst. I did the franchise, so this will be a pleasure to me. Take a look, and remember, this is just how I see things, not necessarily the inarguable truth…

Here now is how I would rank the films in the Rocky franchise.

7. Rocky V – The pretty much undisputed worst of the series, it’s the only one that even Stallone seems quick to forget about. It was an attempt to recapture the first one, but without any of the heart. It’s more or less been ignored in sequels since then, and rightly so. It’s not unwatchable, but it’s by a large stretch the weakest link in the franchise. It’s the only one I actually wouldn’t recommend watching. It gets much better from here, trust me.

6. Rocky III – This was the moment when Stallone’s Rocky character became a superhero. Up until then, he’d been a realistic enough person, but in going from champion to someone who needs to once again find “the eye of the tiger” in order to win a rematch with Clubber Lang, he’s essentially turbocharged by a training montage. It would be more apparent in the next sequel, but here is where this just became almost an action movie. It’s still a lot of fun, but the transition from something serious to something silly was complete.

5. Rocky IV – The film where Rocky more or less wins the Cold War by beating a Russian boxer. By somehow being the silliest of the series, it became one that a lot of folks really dig. It knows what it is and follows that thread with some admirable determination. It’s still messy and many steps down from the original, but rooting for the Italian Stallion against Ivan Drago is undeniably enjoyable. You can do a lot better in this franchise, but you can do a lot worse as well, so it’s very much in the middle of the pack.

4. Rocky II – The first in the franchise where Stallone directed in addition to writing, it’s not quite the movie that Rocky is, but it’s a worthy companion piece. You had to know the ending was coming, but it doesn’t make it any less satisfying, I’ll say that. Stallone begins exploring the character as well, something he’d put aside for a number of sequels, but it was clear that this would be a recurring part for him after this one. I probably like it more than some, but I think it’s a very successful, if unnecessary, sequel.

3. Rocky Balboa – What initially was meant to be the end of the line for Rocky, this sequel dealt with him as a relic, someone who’d lost his life and was looking for a place in the world, post boxing career. Stallone is very solid, the film has as much heart as any other in the franchise, and it was, at the time, a phenomenal send off for the character. Had this been the last one, I would have been happy, and initially I was worried that an inferior sequel would tarnish this ending, but luckily that would not be the case, as you’ll see below…

2. Creed – Holy crap is this movie great. I’ll have much more to say on this one before the week is out, so I’ll keep this short. Basically, it’s a stunningly effective retooling of the franchise as well as a love letter. Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan bring a ton of energy to this spinoff, while Stallone does career best work. Seriously, he deserves awards consideration. Again, I’ll have more in a few days, but this is a knockout and the best since the original for Rocky.

1. Rocky – The one that started it all, this an undisputed classic, along with being the recipient of the Academy Award for Best Picture. Stallone wrote and starred, creating an iconic character instantly. It’s basically a perfect sports drama, one that holds up beautifully. So many tropes of the genre got their start here, with its success being aped to this day. A love affair for the ages was born with this one, and rightly so. It’s nearly perfect.

Stay tuned for more on Creed later on this week!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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