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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Creed II (2018) [Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital]

Ryan Coogler came storming out of the gate with “Creed,” a spiritual sequel to “Rocky” that was so good, it stood side by side comfortably with the original “Rocky.” As all things in Hollywood, despite Stallone’s attempted justification for re-visiting old story lines, “Creed” made money, so we have “Creed II.” I mean, there is room here for the writers to explore the whole dynamic between Adonis confronting the man who murdered his father, but much of that is sidestepped in favor of usual “Rocky” movie tropes, boiling down to a sequel that’s pretty damn—erm, okay. It’s not a bad movie, but it’s not “Creed.”

It’s not even “Rocky II.”

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Cobra (1986): Collector’s Edition [Blu-Ray]

Take the unabashed violence of the eighties action films where all that stood between peace and war was one guy with a gun, throw in a slasher film, and you have what is one of my absolute childhood favorites. “Cobra” brings me back to a time where I’d watch Marion Cobretti bring down a thug with the cold hard steel of his Colt .45 and still have time to go home and unwind with some left over pizza. Thankfully “Cobra” still pretty much holds up today as a mixing of two very popular genres from the decade, and it works for the most part.

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Over the Top (1987)

I always respected how Sylvester Stallone tries to make a lot of his big screen action heroes something of blue collared, under appreciated men who are just working to get by. There was “Rocky” that helped boost how interesting boxing can be, and while arm wrestling never took off in the eighties, “Over the Top” is a decent action film about an estranged father and son making amends. “Over the Top” is admittedly a childhood favorite, and a movie I watched over a thousand times as a kid. Stallone is great, Robert Loggia is great, and director Menahem Globan charismatically films every single instance of arm wrestling as an epic moment of pride, and manhood.

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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)

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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)

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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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