After 2006's Rocky Balboa, I never imagined the iconic southpaw underdog returning to the big screen. But to Sylvester Stallone's credit, it wasn't even his idea to continue milking the Rocky cow for whatever it has left. I remember sitting in the Ritz Five movie theater back in 2013 and a young first-time filmmaker named Ryan Coogler was participating in a Q&A following his Sundance winning drama, Fruitvale Station. Coogler was asked what he planned to work on next, and he energized the Philly crowd by announcing he wanted to make a spin-off of Rocky. Later this month Coogler's longtime vision becomes a reality with the release of Creed. Therefore, I'm using November's Movie List of the Month to rank the entire Rocky Series (October's List).
#6. Rocky V (1990)
After the fourth installment became the franchise's highest grossing film in 1985, nothing could stop Sylvester Stallone from lacing up his gloves for another go-around. Unfortunately, the result was a disaster of a film with a melodramatic father-son story that proved to be nothing more than financial exploitation of moviegoers. Thankfully, even before the internet's mainstream introduction, word of mouth spread and audiences refused to pay their hard-earned money see a franchise-worst, Rocky V.
#5. Rocky Balboa (2006)
Everyone would agree that Rocky V was no suitable way to end a series. And although it's a little head-scratching that Stallone waited 16 years to put a more proper finishing touch to his Rocky legacy (perhaps the previous film's theatrical flop played a major role as well), it's impossible to deny that Rocky Balboa was a massive step over its predecessor. Even with a ludicrous premise that placed an elderly fighter back in the ring for an exhibition bought against a younger and more finessed boxer, Rocky Balboa was still a worthy inclusion thanks to its humble storytelling and nostalgic appeal.
#4. Rocky III (1982)
Where the first two installments painted an earnest picture of a strong-willed main character who went from a loan shark's thug to heavyweight champion of the world, Rocky III was more of a spectacle. Bringing in big-named celebrity power like Mr. T. and Hulk Hogan to raise the stakes, the franchise's third installment felt more animated and illegitimate. However, the audience remains engaged as Rocky's pride gets the best of him and, as we all know, sometimes you need to get knocked down in order to get back up again.
#3. Rocky IV (1985)
In the midst of a Cold War with Soviet Russia, the franchise's fourth film pits Rocky against an unforgettable foe, the steroid creation Ivan Drago. In dramatic fashion we watch as the mammoth Russian fighter dismantles Apollo Creed in an exhibition fight, which ultimately sets up a bout with Rocky. But going against his wife's wishes, the Italian Stallion ventures to Russia and prepares for his toughest opponent yet. As an icon of my childhood and with an energizing 80s soundtrack, Rocky IV is a clear step below the first two films but, otherwise, the best of the rest.
#2. Rocky II (1979)
All Rocky wanted to do in the series origin was go the distance with the world champion, Apollo Creed. But after a gutsy and prolific showdown with the champ, Rocky steps into the ring against his nemesis for another shot at the title. As a winning follow-up to the first installment, Rocky II continues to show its lead character in a very personable light. He tries to escape the brutality of the boxing, but finally recognizes that he belongs in the ring. Therefore, with his trainer Mickey by his side and with the blessing of his wife, Adrian, Rocky dedicates himself to the fight of a lifetime. One that will eventually set the stage for countless sequels.
#1. Rocky (1976)
Is it even a question? The undisputed champion of the series is 1976's Rocky. The legendary sports film cemented its place in history as a Best Picture winner that took home three statues from the Academy Awards. Perhaps the greatest underdog story ever told, Rocky is every bit as entertaining as it is inspiring. Sylvester Stallone crafts a lovable and good-natured character who effortlessly captures the respect and admiration of the viewer. Whether it's Rocky Balboa's terrible jokes or the up-tempo boxing scenes, this is a top-notch film straight across the board. And while I'm hoping for the best from Ryan Coogler's Creed later this month, Rocky is one champ it will never beat.