I grew up loving the Rocky franchise. I was equally thrilled and terrified when I heard that a twenty-seven year-old screenwriter received the rights to the Italian Stallion story and was planning a spin-off based on The Master of Disaster’s direct descendent. I was excited because this narrative has captured my imagination for my entire life. I worried because I would hate for someone to repeat some of the same mistakes that produced the train-wreck we now know as the fifth movie.
After watching Creed, I can safely say that this film (and I hope to become “films”) is in very safe hands. Coogler paid honor to Rocky while not being overshadowed by him. He retold the story of an underdog without having to reboot it. He honored a time, a place, and a hero – all while reinterpreting the narrative for a new generation.
For those who know me well, you know that I rarely watch a movie twice – especially in a movie theater. I would go back to Creed tomorrow.
After the seventh installment (and an introduction into another chapter), here is how I rank each film to date…
- Rocky. Balboa demands, “Cut me Mick.” Most people forget that this movie won the Oscar for best picture in 1977. As a stand-alone, an absolute masterpiece. It was never about winning – but about going the distance. But as Hollywood (and Sylvester Stallone) would have it, going the distance would simply not be enough.
- Creed. Your legacy is more than a name. For most of the movie I thought, “This is good.” But after the final fight scene (with the stunning cinematography and surprising dialogue) I said, “This is very good.”
- Rocky Balboa. The Champ proposes, “The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It is a very mean and nasty place It will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me or nobody is going to hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you’re hit, it is about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward, how much can you take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!” Finally, a fitting conclusion. An ode to the original. The surprise of returning characters. He takes risks again – both in storytelling and in style. He gets back up again. A challenge to finish strong (and finish-strong he does). A must-see.
- Rocky II. Micky warns, “This guy don’t just want to win, you know. He wants to bury you, he wants to humiliate you, he wants to prove to the whole world that you was nothing but some kind of a… a freak the first time out.” The rematch had to happen. What follows is the most underrated and under-appreciated film in the series. Not the best of the Rocky sequels because it was not necessarily the most entertaining – but judging on the basis of staying true to (and living up to the pressure of) the original – there’s no equal. With the exception of Godfather II, this movie is possibly the best sequel ever produced (and especially since the scripts had not yet fallen into the predictable patterns that would be III and IV). Make no mistake, this was Stallone’s baby from start to finish (writing, directing, producing, and starring role). Truly, he is no bum.
- Rocky III. Micky proposes, “The worst thing that happened to you, that can happen to any fighter: you got civilized.” Easily the most popular (and maybe most fun) of the seven (but not the best story by a long shot). A departure from the first two. Much more pomp and circumstance (a true reflection of Stallone’s own professional and personal transformation during this time). One pitfall of the this movie has to be the wrestling scene. Too-cartoony. Beneath the character. Second, the antagonists from here on out (with the exception of Rocky Balboa) become far too unbelievable. This began subtly with Creed’s personality in the second movie. He went from a showman to one who was outright vindictive. However, there was motive behind his rage. Progression, at least. Even resolve. With Clubber Lang, he just seems hateful for no other reason than he wants to be the champion of the world. If Ali was the influence behind Apollo, was Tyson the thought behind Lang? Finally, Stallone inserts the dreaded flashback scenes – which only increase with time. All that considered, this story really does add value to a few of the original relationships – Mickey and Apollo especially. The “goodbye” scene with Mick could possibly be the best moment we have up to this point in the series (with the only exception being Balboa’s final conversation with Adrian before the fight in the first one).
- Rocky IV. The Champ declares, “Going in one more round when you don’t think you can – that’s what makes all the difference in your life.” But not much difference. Basically this round is nothing more than the third movie – just an exaggerated version. Absolutely entertaining (but at the expense of the series’ credibility as a critical success). We have seen this fight before. A loved-one dies. An Adrian pep-talk. Montage(s) to music. The first Rocky was to be a stand-alone. The story morphed then into a trilogy. Now, like any prize fighter, Stallone just doesn’t know how to say goodbye. So he writes a strange commentary on the Cold War (reaching out for reconciliation with the Russians while writing Rambo III where an exiled veteran is destroying the Commies one chopper at a time?). He paints the Soviets in stereotypical terms – does anyone else find it ironic that Drago is looked down on for using performance-enhancing drugs while we know that Stallone used the same chemicals to get into fighting shape for the third installment? Or especially that he chooses a Swede for the main part? This movie is an action film at best – an extended music video at worst. Nonetheless, it made me want to visit Russia so badly as a child (I have since been there twice – once even in the dead of winter). And I can’t watch this movie without anticipating the next No-Shave November. Say what you will about the Italian Stallion, Sly has great facial hair.
- Rocky V. Rocky yells, “Yo Tommy, I didn’t hear no bell.” Well, he does now. This is the only movie in the series to lose money at the box office – the only one that even Sly gives a zero. The lighting is too bright. The story too dark. The Italian Stallion loses everything. The genre loses it’s way entirely. The father-son story is good – but not good enough to salvage the story. I did appreciate that Stallone cast a real-life boxer to be the villian – and it doesn’t hurt that Tommy Morrison was pretty much as messed up in real life as Tommy Gunn was in the movie. Rumor has it that Sly actually originally intended to kill the champ off in the end. Little did he know that he almost killed the series. It took a long time for Hollywood to give him a rematch. This film happens to be the only one that Stallone did not direct. Can we just pretend that this one did not happen?
What is your first-to-worst? Where do you agree or disagree with me? Go see Creed!