Rocky Balboa. The greatest boxer of all time. A man who does not know the term “Guard!”, who can get battered for 14 rounds and then right at the end, come up with an against all the odds victory all because he “did not hear no bell!”. There is something just so infectious about the entire franchise that once you watched one, you need to see them all. Forget the Oscar winning Survivor’s Eye Of The Tiger and just listen to “Gonna Fly Now” to find yourself getting pumped up and wanting to beat the shit out of those around you. To want to drink a pint of raw eggs and have kids chase you as you run up a huge flight of steps where later on a stature will placed in your honour. Damn everybody wants to be Rocky!
Its quite snobbish to see the Rocky films as nothing more than a silly franchise. Many forget that the original won an Oscar for best film in 1977, and while the serious tone was later replaced by cartoon violence of the popcorn kind, every film is unique and a must watch and no one can deny that Rocky and his sequels are one of the most strong series in America Film History.
Watching them back to back over the last few days was not intentional. A good friend of mine informed me he was having a marathon of Balboa over a weekend and as I had not seen the original for many years, I thought it would be a good idea to sit down and get reacquainted with an old friend. I forgot just how good the film is and before you know it, I had gone through them all and then felt lost as the sixth film came to an end. But how do I rank them in order? This has to be the hardest thing I have done for Hacked To Pieces, because each film is must see, and every fan has a favourite. So with much thought and forever change of mind, here is my order of the worst and best films in the franchise, the six fights that defined Rocky Balboa has one of the icons of film history. You may disagree, you may want to get in the ring with me, but I hope it inspires you for a re-watch one day. Oh and I have left out the Creed films as this is about the fights of Rocky and not the son of Apollo…
Lets get ready to rumble!!!!!!
ROCKY V: Out of such a hard list to do, this was the only easiest one to place in the countdown, because its universally known that the fifth film is also the most weakest. Its an entry that is not loved much by fans or critics and it also took a battering at the box office, but for me personally, I love the film, and have watched this more than say Rocky III, for reasons long time readers of HCF will know with my Guilty Pleasure review a few years back. But no matter how much I think Rocky V is not “as bad” as fans make out, I got to admit and say out of them all, it is the weakest of the bunch.
Shame though as the film starts of good. The events of the fourth film are replayed and we see the aftermath in which thanks to the vicious pounding he suffered, Rocky is suffering from brain damage, he even calls Adrian, “Mickey”, in one brief exchange.
Its a strong story arc that should have carried through the entire film, but Stallone who once more wrote the storyline, which also saw original director John G. Avildsen return behind the camera, piles on the suffering and the film badly suffers from it. So severe is his brain damage, that Rocky does not notice that his son has grown by about five years, unless he spent all that time in Russia, or that his Brother in Law Paulie has lost all his hard earned cash to some dodgy accountant. Its then back to basics, and the feel of the original film, which is kind of a good idea but its hard for fans to see Rocky don the same clothes he once wore and have Adrian work back in that pet shop. Its like we shared this journey with the Italian Stallion over four films, only for him to lose it all and go back to where he was. You can see the reasons for it, the original having won an Oscar and tying to recapture that feel, but the film comes across a muddled mess, it tries to be the Rocky of 1977, but sill harbours the love of its cartoon excess of parts 3 and 4, hence the fight scene at the end.
But there is a lot to love about Rocky V. Stallone rocks in this movie, showing a comfortable and more believable tone to the role. The sub plot of his spoilt son (played by his real son Sage) is a good plot angle, while Tommy Gunn (played by real life boxer Tommy Morrison) and the Don King rip off George Washington Duke are good and different “bad guys” to the likes of Clubber Lang and Apollo Creed. Also unlike Parts 3 and 4, there is a juice of a storyline to proceedings. From Rocky’s brain damage to the showing of how bad agents can corrupt such a wonderful sport. Lets not forget that way back in 1990, the Los Angeles Times actually rated this in their review as the “Best Rocky Sequel” of all, so things can not be that bad.
For me personally, its the climax that I love. The final fight scene between trainer and prodigy is so ridiculous and stupid that I can not help but love every second of it. The “You knock him down, why don’t you try knocking me down now” is a brilliant line, while Mickey returning from the dead to will Rocky back from the pits of defeat, is so outlandish that I can not help but scream at my TV, with the words “Come on Rocky…I did not hear no bell”…. A corny moment in Cinema history but hey its Rocky so who cares….
And that is why I love Rocky V…its so bad at times its instantly brilliant, even though it badly misses a montage or two and by the time the credits roll to Elton John’s “Measure Of A Man” while showing black and white images of the entire Franchise, you can not help but think “Wow…..what a series!”….and if a poor fifth film can whoop up those feelings, it can’t be as bad as the reputation suggests.
ROCKY IV: And this is where the list gets hard. Originally I had Rocky IV number two in the list, then moved to number three, and even for a brief moment at the top spot, but damn it settles for the fifth position and if the Hughesy of 13 years of age could see his future self now, he be screaming at him with all his might. Growing up when the franchise was at its peak, the third sequel was a continuous must watch. It was also the only film of the series that I actually saw at the cinema and the atmosphere when Rocky squares up to Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) and the punches started to land was electric.
Rocky IV is also the fan favourite. The addition that had the character at the peak of his powers, so even for me to place this so low in the list as even come as a shock to myself…. So why? Well basically after watching all six films back to back, even as a die hard, Rocky IV is the most weakest written and also is nothing more than a remake of ROCKY III...yes I said it!
Stallone who wrote every single entry, must have spent a day writing the script as all we have is three long montages, some training and then eventually a big fight. It also takes the essence of what made Rocky III so great. While we all sobbed when Mickey died, we were expected to do the same for Apollo Creed, we had Rocky then conflicted and in pain once more, Survivor trying to replicate their “Eye Of The Tiger” with the inferior “Burning Heart” and also an against all the odds victory when it all seemed lost.
But you know what, its still gloriously brilliant though. Apollo entering the ring while James Brown sings away, Apollo realising for that brief moment what he is up against when he tries to knock down Ivan’s gloves……his eventual pounding and then Rocky doing what a man has got to do and get revenge.
Even doing the training sessions, Rocky has never looked better and I love how Ivan uses the “new technology” while Rocky makes use with old fashioned style grit. No matter where I have placed this, no other film in the 80’s boasted of one man stopping the cold war between Russia and America, simply by beating the shit out another man, and for that, Rocky IV deserves the utmost respect from everyone.
ROCKY BALBOA: So close from coming into the top three, Stallone’s love letter to the fans and to the character he cherishes is a joy from start to finish. This final movie of the saga which we see Rocky as the main focal point (Creed next year is a total different beast) was a wonderful send off for the great icon. It was a case of life imitating art, no one gave Stallone a hope for bringing back this character for one last fight, but like underdog of the character himself, the film won massive acclaim from critics and fans, with a storyline that regained much of its heart and soul, which was ruined by the cartoon excess of the other sequels.
A now clearly aged hero who has lost his love of his love to Cancer, and now spends nights at his restaurant (called Adrian’s), telling tales of old to customers who have clearly heard it all before. A son who is somewhat ashamed of him and his fame. All that Part 5 done wrong, Part 6 makes up for and if it weren’t for a much better foe, because lets be honest, Mason Dixon is a poor opponent compared to what we have had before. Rocky VI would probably be third on the list.
Stallone clearly put all his heart and soul into this film, a labour of love that is shown through out each frame. Its an inspirational movie about “one last chance!” and it also has one of the best lines in the entire film history……..
“Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get it and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done! Now if you know what you’re worth then go out and get what you’re worth. But ya gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody! Cowards do that and that ain’t you! You’re better than that!”………….
I mean with such an inspirational speech like that, you can see why critics lavished praise at the film. Simply by killing off his love Adrian, gave the franchise the heart it needed back. Fans who loved the comic book tone may be put off by the heavy talk and not much action, but for those who fell in love way back in 1977, it was like a hark back to when the franchise was new and fresh. Even the clever plotting of bringing back a minor character from the original in the shape of Marie (Geraldine Hughes), showed the respect that Stallone had for the fans, and while Dixon lacked the strength of Apollo and co, it kept with the realism that they tried for.
While the fight scene at the end, is the weakest of maybe the entire series, its the journey to it that makes Rocky Balboa such a wonderful film, and any fan must get a little upset with emotion when Rocky takes his annual “Adrian Walk” and we see snippets of Talia Shire from the original…..
Like I said………..wonderful………….
ROCKY III: Or the one where Mickey dies! Rocky III is one of the most important films in the entire franchise. The first sequel was simple, we all wanted a rematch! But then having seen Rocky become the champion that he failed to become in the original, every fan wanted to see where the story could go now. So Stallone decided to go bigger and louder. Gone was the simple tale of a “Million to one” shot, and in its place was the Oscar winning “Eye Of The Tiger” blaring out at you and a foe that made Iron Mike Tyson seem like a pussy cat.
Rocky III was a an all out assault for fans everywhere. Clubber Lang (Mr T) was one big bad ass who dared to insult our Adrian. We had the death of Mickey, where we cried in despair as he uttered his final words “I love you kid!”….Rocky losing his title only for Apollo Creed to show up and re-train him up by dancing to hip hop and running around a beach in slow motion.
Then we come to the re-match. Balboa Vs Creed and we pitied the fool. Because there was no way Rocky was going to lose twice. The fight scene, the only one in Rocky History not to go the full distance was a vicious three rounds of boxing……a fight that started the comic book tone which carried through to Part IV. Having watched Part Three again, I can only say “They don’t make them like they used too!” Extra kudos’s to the fight with Hulk Hogan (Thunderlips)……… surreal!
ROCKY: When I re-read this back in a few weeks, I may question how the Oscar winning original is second on the list, damn I may even think I am in an idiot for placing Rocky IV so low down. But the reason why at this particular moment the first is not number one, is because of small tiny details. Which I go into when I write about ROCKY II.
But I love Rocky, the tale of a man who gets a lucky break, may have been told countless times after, but never better, simply because Stallone made us believe that this could happen to anyone. That at any moment we could get that “one” chance of hope. The fact Rocky also loses the fight (many newcomers are still surprised by that), shows that what we have here is a flawed hero and it makes the character all the more better for it.
Like its boxer, the film has a strong heart and after 38 years would you believe, its not dated and still feels fresh to this day. Re-watching it make you realise just how different this is from the Rocky against Ivan Drago. Here he is a man of the streets who beats up guys for a loan shark. Even when we first meet him, he is slugging away in an ugly sweaty fight. Mickey has disowned him and apart from the blossoming romance with the gorgeous innocent sweet young Adrian, his life seems to be going nowhere….until Apollo Creed has an idea…..
From the training montage, to the iconic running up those steps, to even the Bill Conti score, this is where Rocky was invented and we never would have had the memories of later sequels if this weren’t good.
And how good is Carl Weathers in this film? His hand speed during the fight scenes is incredible and the famous end with the screaming for “Adddddddrrrrrrrraaaaaaaaaiiiiiiiiinnnnnnnnnnnnnnn”, is still powerful to this day.
ROCKY II: Just writing that about Rocky made me all set to change my mind but then I remember that one scene, the moment that makes Rocky II so damn good! But before I mention the sole reason why this is number one, lets have a recap. When the final bell rang in the original fight and Rocky utters “I don’t want a rematch!”….. maybe that seemed sense at the time, but money and Oscar success talks.
Box Office takings of $117m way back in 1977 was unheard of and so a fast track sequel was ordered. This time though Stallone was going to put us fans through a nightmare journey for our favourite boxer. The bitter sweet moment in the hospital after the fight when Rocky asks Apollo “Did you try your best!”, is a forgotten classic moment of the franchise, but as Rocky decides to leave the boxing behind, events around him make it impossible.
Apollo, hurt with pride at his failure to knock out a nobody starts to taunt our hero into a rematch. Mickey is not interested as Rocky took too many blows last time, and his failure to read, makes Rocky a laughing stock with TV Companies. Other boxers think he is a coward for not wanting a rematch, so turn their back on him, while even poor Adrian, now pregnant, collapses and ends up in a coma.
Yes Stallone, lets put as much misery onto our hero as possible.
But then we get to that moment…….when Adrian awakes from her deep sleep and Rocky asks her, “Anything I can do for you”…and she utters one simple word…..”Win!”…… and again louder “Win”….. cue Mickey screaming “What we waiting for” and the Rocky music blaring for all fans to sit up and scream, “GO ON SON!”…………
Ahhh…. I love Rocky II, it still manages to keep the essence of the original but then tips to the formula of the later sequels. Its a nice balance and also if you judging the films by the fight scenes, nearly every Rocky fan will agree that Part Two wins hands down. Ingenious writing to have them both fall down in the last round and no matter how many times you watch it, you still be screaming for the Italian Stallion to get up.
Rocky II is pure gold, it has everything and more but most importantly it makes you happy after watching and makes us all believe tha we all have that one fight in us……