Even after the first Rocky movie debuted to critical acclaim—and then won the Academy Award for Best Picture—not many predicted that it would have continued beyond one or two sequels.
With the upcoming release of Creed III, the Rocky film franchise is technically still moving forward. Sure, it doesn't feature the stalwart main character of Rocky himself, but it's still the same narrative world.
Over the decades, Rocky has gone from complete underdog to world champion to trainer and restaurant owner. We've seen his life play out on the big screen over several films, and it's never been boring.
But some of the films have been better than others, of course. Here's my ranking of the Rocky movies. Which one sits at the top?
8. Rocky V (1990)
Rocky V is an awful movie in just about every way. It was made by people who were clearly out of any ideas that could resonate with audiences.
The film was supposed to be the final in the series, but it was so bad that Sylvester Stallone wanted to go back to it, telling BBC interviewer Jonathan Ross that he gave the movie a zero out of ten.
Though the film's premise—of Rocky losing all his money—had to hold up in later sequels, his injury magically disappeared without a thought. Fortunately, this led to the significantly better 2006 sequel Rocky Balboa.
7. Rocky IV (1985)
Rocky IV isn't really a bad movie. In fact, it features some of the most fan-favorite moments in the franchise—but it is a bit out there.
The film was made as a literal fight between Rocky and the Russians, who were made out to be cheaters because of their performance-enhancing drugs, which later turned out to be true.
Apart from that, Rocky IV has the best raw Rocky montage with him training in rural Russia to fight the "unbeatable" Ivan Drago.
It's a standard revenge flick, but it's made in the Rocky way, and the result is a film that's well-remembered by fans of the franchise.
6. Creed II (2018)
Creed II expands on the Creed/Rocky storyline introduced in Creed by bringing back Dolph Lundgren as Ivan Drago.
The film measures along nicely, but it has very few twists that are actually surprising. It's straightforward right from the very start—and in the grand scheme, it's not that bad of a film.
However, it does suffer for being the follow-up to Creed, which many regard as the best Rocky film since the original. The loss of Creed director Ryan Coogler is felt in the script and the final picture.
5. Rocky II (1979)
Rocky II leaves a lot to be desired. It builds on the first film by giving Rocky the ending so many wanted to see, but it loses a lot in doing so.
Everybody from the original film returns in this one, and they all deliver solid performances that weave together the first and second movies.
However, while the first film gives us a story about an eternal underdog who finally gets his short, the second film sees him winning the belt in such a way that it slips into the realm of disbelief.
Rocky II is easy to watch and easy to like, but hard to fully love.
4. Rocky Balboa (2006)
Rocky Balboa was supposed to be the final film in the franchise, serving as an end to the saga and Rocky's big-screen life.
The film delivered as a wonderful last outing for Rocky as he faced the heavyweight champion in an exhibition bout after a computer-generated prediction that he would win if both were in their prime.
Adrian's death gives the film emotional resonance while seeing Burt Young return as Paulie was a fitting final outing for him, too.
Rocky Balboa was retroactively improved when Creed came along, with Stallone's return giving him more range as the retired boxer.
3. Rocky III (1982)
The Rocky films went through a stage where they were entertaining but not much more, but even during that stage, there was an effortless lovability to them because they were just so fun to watch.
Rocky III is the epitome of that period, as Rocky must beat a fighter who has nothing to lose. Mickey Goldmill's death is a sad sight in the film, and Rocky's reaction to that gives a heartfelt depth to proceedings.
However, it's Rocky being trained by Apollo Creed—and seeing the one-time enemies become great friends—that sets the tone for the film.
Rocky III is exciting, fun, and feels like everybody involved tried their best to make a proper successor to the first film.
2. Creed (2015)
The only film that has come close to touching the original film is Creed. It has the visceral impact of the original Rocky movie with a story that proves heartbreaking in places. But it still comes in shy of the first.
Michael B. Jordan's performance is more encapsulating than Stallone's in the original, but Stallone himself also brings more to his iconic role and steals every scene as the aged, broken Rocky in Creed.
Throughout the film, we find new reasons to love the franchise, and it plays on everything that came before, making it a brilliant return to the Rocky world for both fans and otherwise.
1. Rocky (1976)
The original Rocky remains the best of the lot, hands down. Though Creed does push it a long way, Rocky remains king because of how much of an impact it had on cinema as a whole.
It's the story of a man who never had opportunities given to him in life, who suddenly finds himself with a shot at the heavyweight title due to a fluke. It's inspiring and emotional in every sense.
Written by Sylvester Stallone as a way to break himself into the industry, Rocky's success was extraordinary—especially because it was a movie that was made on a shoestring budget.
The legendary performances will be remembered for decades to come, with Stallone and Burgess Meredith providing the film with a pseudo father-and-son dynamic that stands the test of time.