I grew up watching Sly Stallone’s movies, and since my hometown Philadelphia Eagles were underdogs in the SuperBowl this year, I wanted my kids to see some great underdog stories. We watched the whole franchise, so instead of rating individual movies, I’m going to go with the boxers in each, and rate them that way. I’ll give a spoiler warning, but if you haven’t seen these movies shame on you anyway 😛
In the first ROCKY film, Sly’s character had a decent story. Rocky “The Italian Stallion” Balboa struggled to make ends meet. He was relatable in every sense of the term, albeit a bit annoying at times with his incessant ramblings. That just added to the character. He comes off a bit strong, and even uncomfortable in his approach to Adrian. Now I won’t get into Adrian as I’m focusing on the boxers themselves, but she is Rocky’s backbone, and their relationship is fun to watch and build. The build of getting to see him rise up to take on a challenge from the Boxing champion of the world, is a long but enjoyable journey starting with his bout against Spider Rico (who shows up later in the 6th film again).
Apollo Creed is a cocky type of character, but it’s hard to hate him. He has used his fame to give a nobody a chance. Although he wins by split decision, he knows he was underestimate Rocky. This is where ROCKY 2 comes in for the rematch. My problem with the first movie is that Rocky doesn’t guard his head at all. I boxed for a short time, and know that leaving yourself open the way he does in the first film makes for quick matches. This was slightly corrected in the second movie, and the fight is a bit closer to realistic. Apollo, despite being angry at Rocky throughout the film still respects the man.
We will skip ROCKY 3’s opening match with Hulk Hogan’s “Thunderlips,” because although entertaining it’s obviously done with humor, and not to be taken seriously. On to Clubber Lang. Now the movies have gone from boxers for sport to having a real bad guy, and it works. Mr. T is way more intimidating than Apollo was, but having Apollo at Rocky’s side as trainer brings a nice full circle to it all. And yes the beach scene with them training is downright hilariously cheesy, but when you’ve got “Eye of the Tiger” playing you can’t lose. Literally in this case.
ROCKY 4 takes a drastic turn here by killing off the still pompous Apollo Creed. I mean we haven’t recovered from Mickey’s death yet, and another favorite bites the dust. There is purpose though because it fuels the hate for the seemingly unstoppable Ivan Drago. Of all the series, this one was always my favorite because it had my attention as a kid and stayed with me. It’s now my son’s favorite of them all as well.
ROCKY 5 is definitely the low point of the series, but it’s not one you should skip. Tommy “The Machine” Gunn is a turd right from the start, but that’s not what these films are all about. It’s about Rocky’s struggle with returning to a normal life after being told he has brain damage, losing his house, and being betrayed by a kid he takes in as his own. It also shows the heart of fatherhood, and how he doesn’t realize he is failing with his son, by taking in this other youth. In the end it sorts out well for the Balboa family, or so it seems. The street fight with Balboa and Gunn is probably what turned people off the most. It isn’t really a boxing story, despite having that as a root element. Still, it’s fun to watch the beat down.
ROCKY BALBOA was an unexpected return to the series over a decade later, and it makes up for what 5 wasn’t in plot. Rocky’s wife Adrian is dead, his best friend Paulie loses his job, his son Robert Jr does what he can to get out of his father’s shadow, and Rocky deals with a lonely life of pain while managing a restaurant. When I saw this in the theater I was overjoyed at having the character return, but in rewatching it I realize how it doesn’t quite hold up as well as the older ones. Sure, it’s one of the best stories about Rocky’s life, but I’m talking about the fight. Rocky jumping back into the ring at 60 years old is a bit of a stretch. Even the training sequences show that he’s no way near as in peak shape as he used to be. His body just can’t do what it used to. Still, watching him trade blows with Mason “The Line” Dixon was fun enough. The much older boxer was able to prove that age shouldn’t hold you down from what you enjoy, and the younger boxer was able to prove to the world that he could handle an icon and isn’t just fighting nobodies.
Now comes CREED, and just when you think the franchise might get stale, we have a successful reboot that brings the saga to a whole new generation. For one, I hope it keeps going, because Adonis Johnson Creed is a very likeable character in much the same way that Rocky is. I find the fight with “Pretty Ricky” Conlan an entertaining enough bout. Apollo Creed’s son seems to have his father’s footwork and some of Rocky’s power. It’s the best of both worlds making each new match feel unique. I love the throwbacks and references, I hate Pretty Ricky because he’s a punk, and even more so I love that Rocky fights once again (though this time against cancer and not an opponent in the ring). The ending is touching, and brings everything full circle. Rocky is the new Mick, and Adonis “Donnie” is the new Rocky.
Speaking of Mickey “Mick” Goldmill, I could easily see a prequel movie about the rise of Jewish boxers in Philadelphia. I have a great story idea that would be a perfect tie in to the franchise featuring a younger Mick, but be separated enough to be something totally new. Call me, Sly!
This franchise is about heart, never giving up, and dealing with the struggles of life. It can’t get any more real than that. After watching the movies, I took my family down to the Art Museum in Philly to run the steps, pose with the Rocky statue, and see the sights. I didn’t even realize that Rocky’s (Stallone’s) footprints are there. My wife grabbed this shot of the city from the top of the steps with the plaque. It was fun to see countless people doing the same thing that we did, and it’s still over 40 years since the original movie came out.
Photo credit: Roberta Pipito @homemadedelish. Rocky’s footprints at the top of the art museum steps looking out over Philadelphia.
I’ll do a review of CREED 2 when it comes out in October of this year. If you haven’t heard, Ivan Drago is returning sure to put up an interesting interaction between him and Rocky, while Donnie Creed takes on Drago’s son.
What do you think of this series? Which one is your favorite? Do you want to see it continue for years to come? Chime in with your thoughts below.