With Creed garnering the best reviews of a Rocky film since Rocky--and Rocky Balboa being similarly (although somewhat less) well-received-- the aging boxer from Philly has been experiencing a bit of a renaissance. What better time to tell you how his six previous films rank?
The Entirely Objectively Correct Ranking of the Films of the Rocky Series
Rocky V- A very interesting idea on paper: Rocky is punch drunk and wiped out, back in his poor Philadelphia neighborhood with no clear path back to the middle class, nevermind the heights of his career (see: robot butler).
Then they made it and it turns out to be a dirge of a movie. Muddy, slow, and bleak, burying even Rocky's natural charisma under a mountain of misery, the movie is a slog.
Rocky III- I was actually pretty tempted to place this last because of how unnecessary it is. It is like a distillation of the exact moment in the 80s it was released with roles for Hulk Hogan and Mister T as the two boxing rivals for Rocky. Again, the central conceit offers a tempting plotline: Rocky has grown complacent and needs to be woken up by a hungry younger fighter's challenge. Again, though, the execution is so inconsequential, so bouncy, it is hard to discern why anybody bothered with the thing--beyond profit margins.
Rocky IV- Ridiculous. Dumb. Utterly delightful.
It's not good but it is pure entertainment adrenaline for your eyes.
Rocky fights the Cold War and does a better job of diplomacy that the entirety of our embassy corps by pounding a blonde super soldier esque Ivan Drago in front of a Russian audience in the middle of the USSR. A quintessential example of what Mike Nelson would call "movie megacheese" that you can't help but eat every bite.
Rocky II- The rematch! It hits the ground moving immediately and does not stop until the "injustice." Almost as charming as the first, almost as dynamic. That's the problem...II is good but close in every way to the original not to suffer for next being the original
Rocky Balbao- Rocky is a retired widowed restauranteur living back in the old neighhborhood and rehashing past victories for regulars and tourists. A less bleak more honest and accurate feeling look at what would await Rocky post career, Stallone works Rocky's charisma well to remind you of who he was while showing how the years and losses have dampened some of that never say die energy. Honestly, the central fight--which weirdly echoes the other boxing movie Stallone starred in that year--feels mostly like an afterthought. The point here is to revisit with our aging old friend and cheer him on as he joins, essentially, his 60 and over softball league.
Rocky- The first. The best. A perfectly crafted sports movie that does a wonderful job of feeling "real" and grounded in the neighborhoods it unfolds in. Rocky is a sweet floppy eared dog of a protagonist, all violence in the ring, all awkward stumbling charm out of it. "Yo Adrien" has been much parodied over the years, but their budding romance is sweet and gentle in a way that you might not expect or remember.