Ranking Balboa

Yeah, I didn’t get this out in time. Need to do something less ambitious next week. Like 5 things I hate most about Facebook. Or my least favorite type of sports fan. We’ll see.

I thought that in honor of Sylvester Stallone’s nomination for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for CREED, I would rank the 7 ROCKY movies from great to greatest.

SPOILERS GALORE — Ye be warned.

7. Rocky V

Even though it is the worst ROCKY, I still love me some ROCKY V. In this ROCKY, Rocky gets back from ending the Cold War and defeating Ivan Drago to find out that Paulie has lost all of their money and the entire Balboa family is forced to move back to their roots in the poor Philadelphia movie they came from. Rocky is forced to retire from boxing because of a brain injury he sustained over the many years in the ring.

While there, an aspiring fighter Tommy Gunn comes into their life and Rocky begins training him.

Tommy can’t deal with being constantly in Rocky’s shadow (probably how Steve Prohm feels some days) and eventually breaks from Rocky to be managed by George W. Duke (a thinly veiled caricature of Don King). Even after winning the World Championship Tommy is still in Rocky’s shadow. He tracks Rocky down and they engage in a street fight that Rocky wins.

A subplot of the movie is Rocky dealing with his son who becomes jealous of Rocky’s relationship with Tommy. Rocky’s son was played by Sylvester Stallone’s son and while I don’t want to speak ill of the dead, his acting makes Tommy Morrison’s portrayal of Tommy Gunn look award worthy.

This was supposed to be the last ROCKY movie. In Sylvester Stallone’s original screenplay Rocky is killed. However, the studio did not want Rocky to die.

While I’m glad this isn’t the last ROCKY movie, I do think that the last scene of this movie would’ve been a great way to end the series. Rocky’s son takes him up the famous Rocky Steps to the Philadelphia Art Museum. Rocky reveals that he had never knew that it was a museum at the top of the stairs.

ROCKY: … Look at this, you know. I’ve been running up and down these steps for 20 years, and I never knew there were valuable pictures in this building.
ROCKY BALBOA JR.: Well you’re never too old to learn somethin’ new. You’re gonna love Picasso.
ROCKY: Yeah, yeah. Well I love almost everybody.

The last line I think just perfectly encompassed the Rocky character. He is all heart.


ROCKY: You see, fear is a fighter’s best friend. You know, but it ain’t nothing to be ashamed of. See, fear keeps you sharp, it keeps you awake, you know, it makes you want to survive. You know what I mean? But the thing is, you gotta learn how to control it. All right? ‘Cause fear is like this fire, all right? And it’s burning deep inside. Now, if you control it, Tommy, it’s gonna make you hot. But, you see, if this thing here, it controls you, it’s gonna burn you and everything else around you up. That’s right, you know?


ROCKY IV was actually the first ROCKY I ever saw. In fairness, it should be higher on the list. This is the movie (along with RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II and RED DAWN) that helped us win the Cold War. The Russkies saw that they could cheat all they wanted and America would just go in up in the mountains, do some one-armed push-ups and then come back down and kick their asses!

The basic story of ROCKY IV is that after ROCKY III Apollo wants to get back in the ring. He has been out of boxing for awhile and is now aged, but when a Soviet boxer named Ivan Drago is touring the U.S. Apollo sets up an exhibition match with Drago and Rocky signs up to be Apollo’s trainer.

Drago proves to be too much for Creed and kills him in the ring. Drago isn’t too phased about it though. As Apollo is dying in the ring Drago quips: If he dies, he dies.

Rocky isn’t going to sit around and let his best friend get killed. He immediately signs up to fight Drago in the Soviet Union. The actual running time of ROCKY IV is 91 minutes, but at least 40 minutes of that movie are training montages and montages of Rocky driving around in his sportscar feeling bad that he didn’t throw in the towel for Creed when he had the chance.

While Drago is training in a technologically advanced training facility and taking all the steroids he can get his hands on, Rocky and Apollo’s old trainer head up into the mountains where Rocky does manly training like chopping wood, running up mountains and lifting up carts. Oh yeah, and one-armed push-ups. Lots of one-armed push-ups.

When the fight comes around Drago doesn’t seem to be human, but eventually Rocky wears him down and the Soviet crowd begins to cheer for Rocky? Why? Because he is Rocky! After defeating Drago Rocky gives a heartfelt speech about people changing. 2 days later, the Berlin Wall was torn down*.


ROCKY: : During this fight, I’ve seen a lot of changing, in the way you feel about me, and in the way I feel about you. In here, there were two guys killing each other, but I guess that’s better than twenty million. I guess what I’m trying to say, is that if I can change, and you can change, everybody can change!


There isn’t really a ton that stands out about ROCKY II. The story is very similar to the first movie. Only this time Rocky gets to win. It’s like the producers saw the first ROCKY as a failure and then figured, well it would be an even bigger hit if he won. Sort of missing the entire point of the first movie.

There are a couple of strange things in this movie. Mickey trains Rocky to fight right handed, even though in the first movie that make a point of Rocky being left handed and that is one of the reasons Apollo’s trainer doesn’t want him to fight Rocky. It is also in this movie that Mickey trains Rocky for speed by having him chase chickens. After which Rocky quips: I feel like a Kentucky Fried Idiot.


INTERVIEWER: Do you have a criminal record?
ROCKY: Nothin’ worth braggin’ about.

MICKEY: You’re gonna eat lightnin’; you’re gonna crap thunder.


The reason ROCKY III is ranked over ROCKY IV is because this is the movie that introduced the world to “Eye of the Tiger”. Also, Mr. T as Clubber Lang is one of the great movie villains of all-time. Otherwise, they are mostly on par. In ROCKY III Rocky becomes a big complacent after winning the title. He doesn’t train as hard (does this sound like Apollo in ROCKY?) and then to make matters worse, when he fights his nemesis Clubber Lang in this film Mickey dies in the locker room before the fight. Rocky goes out and gets pounded and loses.

In a quest to get his title back, Apollo takes over his training and teaches Rocky how to fight like a black man. Rocky, of course, wins his title back. Then in the final scene Rocky repays Apollo’s training him by granting him his request. A third fight. No cameras. No spectators, just the two of them. Who wins this fight? You have to see CREED to find out.


INTERVIEW: What’s your prediction for the fight?
CLUBBER LANG: My prediction?
INTERVIEW: Yes, your prediction.


We’ve actually hit a point where I believe that the ROCKY movies are great. Independent of a Rocky Bias. Which, I clearly have.

This chapter of the ROCKY franchise checks in on Rocky when he has moved past middle age. He is a widower now. He is dealing with the loss of his wife, the end of his boxing career, and dealing with a son that can’t deal with living in Rocky’s shadow. He can never be his own person. He will always be seen by the world as Rocky’s son.

Into this environment a sports show produces a computer simulation of Rocky against the current champ, Mason Dixon. In the simulation Rocky defeats Dixon. This leads to Rocky fighting Dixon in an exhibition match.

The story about the boxing match is really secondary and not what makes this movie great. What makes this movie great is watching Rocky deal with the themes of the movie. Growing old. Dealing with loss. Having to move on from the things that you can no longer do as you age. Particularly if that thing is how everybody else defines you.


ROCKY: You ain’t gonna believe this, but you used to fit right here.
[taps on the inside of his hand]
I’d hold you up to say to your mother, “this kid’s gonna be the best kid in the world. This kid’s gonna be somebody better than anybody I ever knew.” And you grew up good and wonderful. It was great just watching you, every day was like a privilege. Then the time come for you to be your own man and take on the world, and you did. But somewhere along the line, you changed. You stopped being you. You let people stick a finger in your face and tell you you’re no good. And when things got hard, you started looking for something to blame, like a big shadow. Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done! Now if you know what you’re worth then go out and get what you’re worth. But ya gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody! Cowards do that and that ain’t you! You’re better than that! I’m always gonna love you no matter what. No matter what happens. You’re my son and you’re my blood. You’re the best thing in my life. But until you start believing in yourself, ya ain’t gonna have a life. Don’t forget to visit your mother.


Choosing between CREED and ROCKY BALBOA was the toughest call on this list for me. I’m taking CREED over ROCKY BALBOA because it is viusally better made than Balboa. Directed by an up and coming director Ryan Coogler there are more than a couple of visually impressive feats. One being shooting an entire boxing match in one shot.

The story of CREED follows the son of Apollo Creed (who was born after Apollo’s death) following his father’s footsteps into the ring. Rocky trains him, while fighting his personal battle with cancer.

CREED deals with some of the same themes of other ROCKY movies. Including living in the shadow of a famous parent. But it also deals with new themes like being a caretaker for a sick family member. Deciding what to do when you are given a horrible diagnosis. What makes CREED great is that not only does it throw the punches, it lands them.

The final scene where Creed helps a chemo-weakened Rocky up those famous steps in Philadelphia, should have you weeping like a baby. There is no shame in that.


ROCKY: Time takes everybody out; time’s undefeated.


This one really is a no-brainer. ROCKY. The ultimate underdog. One of the best movie scores of all-time. The movie that launched one of the best and most iconic movie characters of all-time. It even won the Oscar for Best Picture.

Everybody should know the story of ROCKY. Rocky is a failed middle-aged boxer that is given a shot at the title after Apollo Creed’s challenger backs out at the last second. However, in addition to being a great underdog story, it is also a very moving and touching love story.

Rocky is the ultimate underdog. His trainer thinks he’s a bum. The other employee of the loan shark he works for doesn’t respect him. But when Rocky gets his title shot, he is suddenly somebody. Even if it is only going to be for a few weeks.

I just don’t want to describe it any longer. I’m just going to watch it. That is what you should do to. Come over to my house and we will watch ROCKY on the big screen.


ROCKY: Ah come on, Adrian, it’s true. I was nobody. But that don’t matter either, you know? ‘Cause I was thinkin’, it really don’t matter if I lose this fight. It really don’t matter if this guy opens my head, either. ‘Cause all I wanna do is go the distance. Nobody’s ever gone the distance with Creed, and if I can go that distance, you see, and that bell rings and I’m still standin’, I’m gonna know for the first time in my life, see, that I weren’t just another bum from the neighborhood.

MICKEY: Women weaken legs!

ADRIAN: Why do you wanna fight?
ROCKY: Because I can’t sing or dance.

MICKEY: OK, I’m gonna tell ya! You had the talent to become a good fighter, but instead of that, you become a legbreaker to some cheap, second rate loanshark!
ROCKY: It’s a living.

APOLLO’S TRAINER: He doesn’t know it’s a damn show! He thinks it’s a damn fight!

Of course, leave your opinions in the comments section below.

*Don’t try verifying that fact with your history books.

3 thoughts on “Ranking Balboa”

  1. I will cop to only having seen the first Rocky, and that only once. I’m not a huge boxing fan, and don’t love Sylvester Stallone overall (although I agree he’s talented). I know I’m missing some great movies, however.

  2. I’m sorry that your life has been so horrible. I had no idea.

    You should cancel this never-gonna-happen Bollywood idea and schedule a double feature of ROCKY BALBOA and CREED when CREED comes out. Immediately.

  3. I’ll mention it to Jon. I’m not sure what his stance is on Stallone. I’ll have to hang my general disgust for boxing at the door for one night if we do that. I think I can manage that.

    Also, I don’t think crapping thunder sounds all that inviting.

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