Ranking the 'Rocky' Movies In Order of Greatness
How many Rocky movies are there? And which is the best? We find out...
Are you ready to go twelve rounds ranking the Rocky movies? I know what you’re thinking, how can we possibly rank the Rocky movies?
Each one offers such a fun experience, a unique rocky opponent, even different rocky trainers!
But we’re going to the mat on this official Rocky ranking, and if you want to dispute it? Take it to the comments.
Let’s trade punches!
Ranking The Rocky Movies…
In order to rank the Rocky movies, I went over what I loved about each, and how they informed me as a screenwriter. I tried to also evaluate them for how much I cheered at the ending, and on rewatchability.
So, without further ado, let’s rank the Rocky movies...
8. Rocky V
Rocky V is most remembered for the street fight at the end. And that’s sad because it has so much more to offer.
Like...well...like...I don’t know. He yells at his family a bunch and seems generally upset at how rich and famous he’s gotten.
Rocky V isn’t a great movie. It might be a bad movie. I always thought it was close to being a great study of what a guy who has it all does after he’s got it all. But it’s not that. There’s a thinly veiled jab at famous boxing promoter Don King, but other than that it’s a lot of melodrama for not a lot of payoff.
7. Rocky III
I maintain that every Rocky movie besides Rocky V is a good movie. So when I put Rocky III at number seven, I’m not saying it’s a bad movie, I’m saying we are lucky enough to live in a universe where we have seven good Rocky movies.
This movie is a deconstruction of success. While the first Rocky was about feeling worthy, this one is about feeling soft.
What if you came from nothing and wound up with everything? How would you reconcile that with friends who never made it?
What I love about this movie is how it chases the Paulie v Rocky storyline juxtaposed at Rocky’s opponent in the ring; Mr. T. This movie also allows Rocky to team up with Apollo for a pursuit of excellence - a friendship that clearly works as a continuation of this story.
6. Rocky II
Rocky II is the same movie as Rocky except that he wins.
I wish it did more, but it has similar beats to the first Rocky movie, but Rocky is less poor this time.
This movie lives on the rematch idea, but it’s hard to achieve the same thrills as the first film. Since nothing is new, even when the movie gets good it’s hard to really care since we know it’s all just service for the final fight. Props to this movie for making Adrian more than just a shy woman. Shout out to Bill Conti for remixing Gonna Fly Now into a new song called “Redemption” for a sick soundtrack.
5. Creed II
What I loved about Creed is that it felt like the best riff on a Rocky movie, while still having a lot to say about its protagonist. Creed II suffers from Rocky II syndrome - it’s a repeat of a great thing, so it can only ever be good.
I was hoping the movie would leave the “Daddy issues” behind and let Creed become his own man, but instead it refocuses on these elements. It’s still exciting and contains thrilling moments, but in a way it’s hampered by feeling like it owes Rocky fans an obligatory homage to other films, instead of exploring new territory. It’s cool to see Drago’s son...but is it cooler than letting Creed become its own thing?
Creed III can’t come soon enough.
4. Rocky Balboa
At the beginning of the Bill Conti’s remixed Rocky theme, Going The Distance (2006), Adrian whispers the word “win.” And every time I hear it, I get choked up. I think about her in Rocky II, lying in that bed, cradling Rocky’s son, and I think about how the movies have painstakingly preserved her memory. Even after cancer took Adrian from Rocky. And I weep like a drunk Paulie.
I saw Rocky Balboa at the Regal Edgmont in Exton, Pennsylvania. This is not a detail you need to know, but I tell you this because I was expecting this movie to suck. I was not expecting to cry. And I remember the tears flowing as the credits hit. Rocky was back.
He had proved he never actually went away. What this movie does well is it goes back to the original and kept what works. Sure, it works in some homages and cameos, but the original Rocky movie was about heart. It was about feeling like you deserve a shot.
This movie excels there - it captures nostalgia but it also has something to say about not living in that nostalgia, about carving a new chapter. That’s more powerful than a right hook.
3. Rocky IV
Look, we all have complicated feelings about America at the moment. But you know who doesn’t?
The characters in Rocky IV.
They’re a diverse group who just want to beat the Russians. And they’re willing to die for it. I get teared up because I think about Apollo Creed getting in that ring across from Ivan Drago and DYING. I think about his friend burying him. And I think about Rocky training not only to stop Russia, but to honor the guy who gave him everything he wanted...
Including a damn robot!
Rocky IV is all emotion, and slow motion, and cold war sentiment. Is it a perfect movie?
There are some of the most melodramatic screams of all time in it. But it hits you right in the feels.
I never thought there would be a better send off than Rocky Balboa. The movie was already better than anything we deserved after Rocky V. So when I heard they were doing a Creed movie, I was mad. But not for long...
When I saw the talent they signed on and I was hopeful. Maybe it could be as good as Rocky Balboa.
MAYBE. But then...
Creed shattered expectations. It is so good that it’s almost as good as Rocky.
Creed takes the Rocky story map and reinvents the stakes. It pushes Rocky into unfamiliar territory, as a trainer, and it completely highlights Philadelphia through new eyes as well.
It makes us fall in love with the franchise all over, and it like gently whispers to us that if we fight, we can get anything we want. Love. Fortune. Fame. We can live!
I’m not crying, you’re crying!
That means the best Rocky movie is….
There’s a whole mess of people out there who want to say Rocky stole the 1977 Academy Award for Best Picture. Those people all deserve an uppercut.
(Editors note: It absolutely stole it. Better than Network!? That makes me mad as hell and I'm not gonna take it anymore!)
Sure, Rocky beat All The President's Men, Network, Taxi Driver, and Bound For Glory. But Rocky went the distance in theaters and in the ring.
From zero to hero!
It’s only fitting that the greatest underdog story would also prevail in the ring. Rocky is one of my favorite movies of all time because it’s the whole package. The writing is excellent, the acting is excellent, the cinematography is excellent, the costumes are excellent. Rocky is a flawless movie. No wonder it spawned eight sequels!
But nothing is better than the original.
Summing up the Rocky movie rankings
As you can see, the Rocky movie rankings made me a little emotional.
The main takeaway from this list is that if you create an indelible character, they’ll live on forever. That takes incredible writing.
It’s not always easy to sell a screenplay in Hollywood, but believe deep down that you’re meant to do great things!
We have a breakdown of the first Rocky script with our Story Map, and we hope it inspires you to push yourself to be the best you can be.
You deserve it.
Now watch this training montage, eat lightning, and crap thunder!