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Worst To First: Ranking the Rocky Movies

Rocky Posters

Today is the opening day for Creed, a spin-off from the long-running Rocky franchise in which Sylvester Stallone plays Rocky Balboa for the seventh time.  That’s a lot of “Yo Adrians!”  As the Italian Stallion passes the baton to the next generation, I’m going to rank the Rockies from worst to first.  And of course readers will get a chance to do the same.

 

Stallone - Rocky V.jpg

6. Rocky V (1990)

Summary: Rocky returns to his roots.  That’s the idea anyway.  Having had the biggest fight of his life in Rocky IV, the champ returns to the good ol’ US of A.  After having it easy for the last couple of movies, Rocky’s luck takes a turn for the worse.  All of those punches to the head have left him with brain damage and his accountant has stolen his money.  So Rocky takes his family back to their old neighborhood in Philly.  Since his career as a fighter is over, Rocky begins training a punk kid named Tommy Gunn (played by real-life fighter Tommy Morrison).

What’s Good: The idea of returning Rocky to his roots is a good one.  The wealthy superhero of Rockies III and IV was no loner an “everyman”.  Rocky V went to great lengths to try to recapture what made the first film work including bringing back director John G. Avildsen.  Several bit players from previous movies came back for cameos and even though he died in Rocky III, Burgess Meredith returned as well.  Done right, this could have been a mixture of Rocky Balboa and Creed.

What’s Bad: Unfortunately, not much about this sequel works.  It’s a major bummer to see Rocky reduced so low so quickly.  We want to see Rocky struggling against impossible odds.  Instead, he ends up in a street brawl with his protege and squabbling with his kid (who was nine in the last film but is a teen in this one despite the fact it takes place only a few days after Rocky IV.)

Verdict: Originally, the plan was for Rocky to die in that street brawl at the end.  The studio pleaded with Stallone to reconsider.  If Rocky V was a hit, they were going to want Rocky VI.   Eventually, Stallone decided that having his alter ego die in the streets was not in the spirit of the Rocky series, so he agreed to let the Italian Stallion live on.  As it turns out, the movie was a critical and commercial disappointment that seemed to kill the franchise.

Next: 5th Place

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Posted on November 25, 2015, in Movies, Worst to First and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 50 Comments.

  1. My ranking is almost the same except I’d rank Rocky Balboa 2nd.

    The original. Yeah, it’s a classic. Even though among the nominees for that year I’d rank both Taxi driver and Network ahead of it, I can understand why it won. It was a feel-good movie at a time when Americans needed to feel good about themselves and a psychological thriller and a dark satire stood no chance against the Italian Stallion. And Rocky is a legitimately good movie. It may not go on my all-time list like the Scorsese and Lumet directed films. But it earns its status.

    II is the original with more of a happy ending as you put it. But it was still firmly planted in realistic territory.

    III was when it began to move into cartoon territory. It;s still entertaining enough so that it’s one of those movies if I ever come across it on TV I will watch it.

    IV Is when the series totally lost all contact with reality. However, I have a certain level of affection for it, mainly on account of childhood nostalgia. I remember my aunt taking my cousin and I to see it. I remember cheering when Rocky KOed Drago. If looked at as a movie or as part of the series it looks especially bad. But if looked at as a piece of Cold war propaganda/feature length music video it can be enjoyed on that level.

    V at least tried to make Rocky human again. But the execution went wrong.

    Balboa is definitely number two after the original. It succeeded where V failed.

    Plan to see Creed at some point in the next few days. Based on what I’ve been hearing, this confirms my thinking about something:

    Stallone does his best when he has a strong character and is held to the character by a strong director (Rocky, Cop Land, First Blood). A lot of the time though, it’s either him in the director’s chair or the director is a figurehead.

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    • You bring up an interesting point, Jeff. I just watched the original Rocky again last night, and as always it stands up for me as an absolute classic. Thinking about the Oscar race for 1976 however, I can completely understand why it won Best Picture. When it comes to Taxi Driver, I really try not to use the “B” word very often, but I really think the word brilliant applies. Martin Scorscese arguably created his magnum opus here, and Taxi Driver just as easily could have won the Oscar. That would have made just as much sense to me. Push come to shove I will admit that Taxi Driver is a superior film to Rocky. I count both films among my personal Top 10 favorite movies of the 70’s.

      But while I love Taxi Driver for its brilliance, I have to admit that Rocky is more of a “sentimental favorite”. It’s one of the most well-crafted, well executed and charming “underdog” films of all time, and I can see why Rocky became a blockbuster and pop cultural phenomenon at the time (I bet most people have forgotten this, but even the theme song “Gonna Fly Now” was a huge hit, reaching #1 on the Billboard singles charts) and I can see how Rocky rode that wave of popularity all the way to a Best Picture win. And I don’t necessarily feel that Taxi Driver was cheated, they are both excellent films, just in different ways. Either of them, both of them, deserved the Best Picture Oscar for their own reasons.

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  2. My ranking is almost the same, but I love ROCKY III so much that I put it ahead of ROCKY II. How can you NOT feel something when Mickey dies? Are you some cold, emotionless robot? ROCKY II also has that lame illiteracy subplot. All of a sudden Rocky can’t read? ROCKY V is the pits. I never want to see that fetid corpse of a movie ever again.

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  3. My dad has told me the story of when he and my mom saw Rocky when it was originally released. At the end the audience got up and cheered. I’ve read that wasn’t an isolated phenomenon.

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  4. I mostly agreed with your ranking except I feel Rocky VI is the second best movie. I think Rocky II is too similar to Rocky I, and while you could say that about Rocky VI, the difference is where Rocky is in his life and how it explores him dealing with things he genuinely cannot overcome (age and death). It feels more introspective than Rocky II.

    The only one in the series I don’t like is Rocky V, and even that isn’t terrible, just not that good. Rocky III & Rocky IV are pretty lousy movies in a lot of ways but they are the epitome of 80s action cheese, and as a kid of the 80s I have a lot of nostalgia for them.

    I just saw Creed last night. It was very good. I’d add it to the rankings as my 3rd favorite behind Rocky I & Rocky VI. Some people may well like it enough to call it their second favorite and I wouldn’t take issue.

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    • I debated putting Rocky Balboa in second. It’s a really close call for me. Rocky Balboa has the advantage of being different from the rest of the movies in the series because, as you say, it’s dealing with Rocky at another stage in his life. I gave the slight edge to Rocky II just because the stakes feel higher to me. Maybe the highest of any movie in the series. But I like both movies very well.

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      • I get the stakes thing. It plays a big role for me in ranking superhero films. For instance, my favorite Nolan Batman movie is Dark Knight Rises and my least favorite is Dark Knight. A big reason is that in Dark Knight the stakes are comparatively low. I love all the Nolan Batmans, so don’t misunderstand me as saying I don’t like Dark Knight. I just mean it was harder for me to get invested in two boats full of people, one of which is prisoners, than it is a long term siege of Gotham.

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  5. I saw CREED tonight. It’s great.

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    • I have to be honest and admit that until now, I’ve sort of written off Creed. My doubts were centered around the fact that despite Stallone having written (and directed the majority of) every Rocky film to date, Stallone had no hand in writing (or directing) Creed. So Stallone is just an actor for hire in a Rocky film? Yeah, something seemed off about that. I had planned on skipping this one.

      But I’ve been looking at some of these reviews, and Creed is getting strong raves. Enough so that I now am seriously thinknig of seeing it. One review, on Den of Geek, caught my attention: “The real revelation, however, may be Stallone. Creed captures perhaps the best performance of the longtime icon’s career. Too often doing cartoonish work in dreck like The Expendables, Stallone has always worked harder when stepping into Rocky’s shoes but here he goes above and beyond, delivering a soulful, poignant and at times heartbreaking protrayal of a man that knows that most of his life is behind him and is at peace with that, even as he struggles with loneliness and grief of his own. It’s also quite possibly the best Rocky movie since the first one and a contender on its own terms as one of the best movies of 2015.”

      Well, now that’s an impressive review. I’m now thinking of going to see this.

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      • My first reaction to the announcement of Creed was that it sounded like a bad idea. Rocky had a great send-off with Rocky Balboa. Why take the risk? I wasn’t concerned about Stallone working as an actor for hire. I have never been overly fond of his output. My assumption was that he pushed to get Creed made. I came to find out he was actually really reluctant to do it. But he was won over by the script and his collaborators. Especially Michael B. Jordan. According to Ryan Coogler, he could see Stallone’s reservations melting during the first meeting with Jordan.

        Coogler said having Stallone around was a huge benefit. He gave invaluable advice about how to make a Rocky movie. For example, Stallone suggested shooting all the boxing scenes up front. That lets the actors get the physical stuff out of the way and focus on the drama. And if there are injuries, you have more time to make contingency plans. There was a scene where they couldn’t get a punch to look 100% real. Stallone looked at the footage and said, “Michael’s gonna have to take a punch.” But Coogler couldn’t ask an actor to take a real punch to the head, so Stallone took care of it. He walked up to Michael and said, “You’re not going to be the guy who makes a Rocky movie without taking a punch, are you?”

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        • While looking over your list of Upcoming Events, I just realized something interesting: Rocky IV was released 30 years ago this weekend, and Creed was just released this week. I’m sure that’s complete coincidence (who would notice?), but interesting nonetheless, especially since Creed ties into Rocky IV in a way with Apollo’s death in that film. Oooops, I forgot to say SPOILER ALERT! ha ha

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        • 10 Terrible Ideas That Turned Into Great Movies

          http://flavorwire.com/548994/10-terrible-ideas-that-turned-into-great-movies

          BY JASON BAILEY NOVEMBER 25, 2015 10:30 AM

          Creed, Ryan Coogler’s Rocky sequel/spinoff, is looking like the most critically acclaimed movie of the high-profile Thanksgiving weekend — a real surprise, considering what a goofy idea it is. After all, the Rocky series is (to put it mildly) uneven, its only entry since 1990 was a blatant nostalgia play by star/writer Sylvester Stallone, and the idea of continuing the franchise by focusing on the long-lost son of Rocky’s opponent-turned-friend seemed to be a bit of a stretch. Yet Creed is a rousing, moving, endlessly enjoyable picture, which serves as a reminder that you can’t always judge a movie by its dodgy concept.

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  6. My ranking of the Rocky series is virtually identical, except I too would place Rocky Balboa in 2nd place and Rocky II in third place. On the other hand, despite that I am pleased to see you rank Rocky II so high, if it were possible for there to be an underrated Rocky film then Rocky II would have to be it.

    One aspect I liked about Rocky II was that this time around we get to understand why Apollo Creed would want, even need to have a rematch, making the existence of the film feel organic. It’s clearly obvious that Creed, the undefeated champion of the world, went into that first fight looking at it like a joke, all a big publicity match with some third-rate no-name boxer and had no idea that this guy was going to come into the ring ready to fight with all of his heart and soul. One of my favorite moments in the original Rocky, and it’s a small moment, is deep into the boxing match well into the 14th or 15th round, both Apollo and Rocky are completely exhausted, spent and beaten to a bloody pulp, barely able to stand anymore let alone lift their arms to continue fighting and Rocky is just motioning to Apollo, “Come on, come on”, and Apollo just looks at him in complete disbelief. As the undefeated World Champion Apollo has fought much greater boxers than Rocky and knocked them out with ease, yet here’s this two-bit boxer who has taken more of a beating than any opponent he’s ever faced and he just will not stop, will not go down, will not quit no matter what, still calling on him to fight. That look on Apollo’s face in that moment is just priceless.

    I thought it was an interesting twist in the sequel that despite Apollo having won that contentous match and he is still the undesputed champion of the world, he is being ridiculed by the public and the press for having some two-bit boxer beat the living crap out of him, many saying Rocky should have been declared the winner; Apollo needs this rematch to prove to the world that it was all a fluke. His ego needs this rematch. I actually like that aspect of the film, I feel it gives the film more depth than if the film had just focused all on Rocky again. I also like that Rocky II is still rooted in human drama like the first film. I think the original Rocky is the superior film of the series, but I can understand why Gene Siskel at least preferred II, it is a solid film in its own right.

    To be honest with you, thinking about those first two films now, I am really in the mood to watch them both right now. Thankfully I own all the Rocky films so I plan on watching both of them.

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    • I’m guilty of having dismissed Rocky II as just a clone with a happy ending. I was shocked to hear that Siskel preferred it to the original. That set me thinking about Rocky II’s merits years ago. It took me a long, long time to come around. Despite the obvious similarities, there is a lot going on in Rocky II. As you point out, Apollo’s story is really fleshed out in the sequel. It is definitely the under-rated Rocky movie. The same could be said of Rocky Balboa which a lot of people dismissed out of hand. They are both really solid dramas and I could easily swap their places in my rankings.

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  7. Thinking about Rocky II some more, there’s a terrific scene in there that i’ve always liked. I’m going off of memory but hopefully I’m pretty close with the dialogue. Rocky and Apollo have both been taken to the hospital after the brutal beating they’ve both taken during their 15 round match. It’s late in the middle of the night, and Rocky cannot sleep. He shuffles off down the hallway, looking for Apollo’s room and finds him. “I just wanted to ask you something.” Rocky says. “What is it?” Apollo asks. “I just want to know…. did you give it everything you had in that fight?” Rocky asks him. “Yeah, Rocky. I did”, Apollo answers. Rocky just nods, taking it in, then with sincerity tells him “Thank you”.

    When they’re at their best the Rocky films do have some heart, and I think that’s a lovely, understated moment in the film.

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    • You’re absolutely right. Great bit. You’re making me want to rewatch it. Quit it! 😉

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      • It’s only fair. After reading this article and really thinking about the first two films it really put me in the mood for some vintage Rocky and I decided I’m going to watch both Rocky and Rocky II later tonight, a Rocky double header. And that’s because of you. So if I in turn am making you re-watch Rocky II, it’s all good! ha ha

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        • Sounds like we’re even then! One thing I aspire to is for the site to get people excited about movies. So I guess it’s only fair that I get a taste of my own medicine.

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        • Well Lebeau, you did it. Your article got me in the mood to watch some Rocky, and I made it a double-header last night, watching both Rocky and Rocky II. No surprise here but I really enjoyed both films. I’m now debating if I want to forge ahead and watch the rest of the Rocky movies over the next couple days, and just let that lead into checking out Creed over the weekend. Maybe. At the least I could certainly get into watching Mr. T chew up the scenery in part III. I think that’s on my watch list for tonight. And I blame you Lebeau! All your fault! ha ha

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  8. Since I worked the midnight shift at work and didn’t have the Rocky movies with me, I decided to watch a clip on Youtube from Rocky II to hold me over, and it’s a good one. Apollo’s trainer Duke is in Creed’s office, strongly advising him to not do the rematch. “He’s all wrong for us, baby. I saw you beat that man, like I never saw no man get beat before. AND THE MAN KEPT COMING AFTER YOU! We don’t need that kind of man in our life.” Stallone could write some good dialogue from time to time, I’ll give him that.

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  9. For those of us who grew up in the 80’s and had an appreciation for The Karate Kid, it’s completely understandable why the studio hired John G. Avildsen to direct the film, as he had also directed the original Rocky. And we all saw how well he executed that film about an underdog. Something interesting just occurred to me: John G. Avildsen directed two classic cinematic mentors to Oscar nominations: Burgess Meredith as Mickey for Rocky, and Pat Morita as Miyagi in The Karate Kid.

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  10. I moved “Rocky Balboa” to 2nd place, but otherwise my ranking were the same.

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  11. I just finished watching Rocky III and IV tonight. The first thing that came to my mind after watching Rocky III was this: how ludicrious was it that Mr. T was nominated for a Razzie in 1982? Mr. T is impressively charasmatic and intimidating in his performance as Clubber Lang. Can I go so far as to say electric? Darn it since i just watched and enjoyed Rocky III I’m going to go ahead and say Mr. T was electric as Clubber Lang! Lebeau, your Razzie series is roughly 10 years into its history and so far I might say Mr. T’s nomination might be as wrong as they’ve gotten it so far. How could anybody walk out of Rocky III back then and think they just saw a stinkeroo of a performance there? I don’t get it.

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    • My best guess is that the Razzie nomination was less of a judgement on his performance in Rocky III than a statement that they were already sick of Mr. T. But I completely agree that was a puzzling nomination.

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  12. To some extent Rocky III and especially Rocky IV are moreso guilty pleasures among the series. Rocky IV feels like an MTV director made the film. The film is less than 90 minutes long, and it’s padded out quite a bit with a James Brown song-and-dance number (where Rocky can shake his head at the ridiculousness of it all, but Stallone wrote it and was behind the camera directing it) and he literally plops a 4 minute music video in the middle. Literally. We get Rocky driving and deep in thought, as we get a montage of clips from the previous Rocky films to a uptempo rock song. And of course Paulie finally gets a love interest….. with a talking robot. The film even feels cliche to a point. Despite all this, strangely enough, Rocky IV is still enjoyable.

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    • Completely agree. If you take the music videos, fight scenes and training montages (which are essentially music videos) out of Rocky IV, it’s about 20 minutes long.

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    • The James Brown song was one of his biggest hits. But not one of his best songs. I always felt it was a song that existed mainly so Weird Al could parody it (REM’s “Stand” is another).

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      • “Living In America” was a #1 hit single, surprisingly. Can you believe this song was so popular that at one point it was playing every single hour on Top 40 radio stations??

        It hasn’t aged well obviously, when is the last time you heard the song on the radio?? Yeah, probably 1985.

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  13. What I appreciate most about the Rocky series, ultimately, is that Stallone puts a lot of heart into the films, both in his writing and his performance. The boxing matches are admittedly always very well choreographed and edited – they had better be since they’re always the climax of each film – but ultimately why people still talk about the Rocky series 40 years later and people are now connecting with Creed isn’t because of the well-executed boxing scenes, it is because of the heart that Stallone put into his character Rocky. Ultimately Rocky isn’t the story of one of the greatest boxers of all time (we got that with Will Smith’s ALI, yet that didn’t set the world on fire), it’s about a boxer who fights with his heart and soul. “It’s not about how hard you can hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit, and not go down”, once said the guy with a cast-iron head. I think that heart that Stallone puts into the films is why the series has stood the test of time and can still draw people in four decades later.

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    • I’m not a boxer or even an athlete. But I can relate to Rocky because he is an underdog who perseveres. Rocky’s not the best. But he works hard and never quits. Sometimes, that’s all you can do. and if you do it, winning and losing doesn’t matter so much.

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  14. Training Montages From The ‘Rocky’ Franchise, Ranked From Best To Worst

    http://uproxx.com/sports/2015/11/rocky-training-montages-ranked/

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  15. When I watched Rocky 1 and 2 back to back the other day, I noticed something I had not noticed before. In the original film, there’s this one guy that keeps busting Rocky’s chops for no good reason. When he hears Rocky is taking Adrian out on a date, this guy tells Rocky “Take her to the zoo. Retards like the zoo.”

    In Rocky II, after Rocky finally gets out of the hospital he takes Adrian out, and where is the first place he takes her? THE ZOO!

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    • Wow, I’ll have to be on the lookout for that the next time I see both films in their entirety. It’s awesome discovering little things like that in film.

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  16. Forget Creed. The robot from Rocky IV is the one who should have gotten his (her?) own spin-off movie! Who wouldn’t have loved seeing the robot and Paulie solving crimes and having their own adventures together?

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  17. In anticipation of seeing Creed this weekend, I finished off my Rocky marathon last night with Rocky V, and Rocky Balboa.

    Rocky V is definately the weakest film in the series, I think that is universally agreed upon. And it’s strange to think that John G. Avildsen is responsible for directing both the greatest and the weakest films in the seven-film saga.

    But you want to hear something shocking? I don’t hate Rocky V the way other people do. While doing the Rocky marathon (which is the only time that I would ever put on Rocky V) it is watchable, there are a few spare things about the film that I like and I do give credit to Stallone for at least trying to bring the series back down to earth and to its gritty roots. Though admittedly, calling a film “watchable” is a small compliment.

    I think why Rocky V is so disappointing for me, with it fresh in my mind, is because the whole movie is centered around some undeserving punk (Tommy Gunn) taking advantage of Rocky, and nobody wants to sit though a whole movie about that. Seeing Tommy Gunn take advantage of Rocky’s good heart for 90 minutes and seeing him crushed with disappointment is more brutal to watch than any 15 round beating. It doesn’t make for an entertaining crowdpleaser.. And yo, Rock, you coulda spent a little more time with your son instead of training Tommy Gunn, you know? Maybe gave a damn when he was dealing with school bullies, ya hear? I’m just sayin’, Rocko.

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    • That sums up my take on the movie. I haven’t seen it since it was in theaters. I remember thinking it was bad, but I didn’t hate it. If I was sitting through a marathon, I’d endure it again. Part of the problem was it was a sour way to end the series. Now that it’s not the end, that takes some of the sting out of it.

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  18. Having just watched Rocky Balboa, I’m curious to see Creed to see how the film expands Rocky’s story, because I’ve always been impressed with how beautifully Rocky Balboa ended things for the character. It was a wonderful way to put a cap on things. I’ve read how Adrian was still alive for the first several drafts of Balboa, and it killed Stallone when he realized that Adrian’s death would give more purpose to the story, as Stallone said Adrian dying would tear out Rocky’s heart and bring him back to zero. One thing I love about the film is that even though Adrian is dead, her character is still a vital part of the heart and soul of the movie. Rocky still carries a torch for his deceased wife, still visits her grave regularly, is visiting places from the past to keep her memory alive. “Adrian is gone, but she’s not really gone”, Rocky tells Little Marie. I would say there hadn’t been this much heart in a Rocky film since the first two Rockys. Balboa is a real gem of a film. I’m hearing some good things about Creed, that it has as much heart as Balboa or the original Rocky, so I’m going in with some good hopes.

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  19. The Rocky series became a Stallone biography with a great new ending https://t.co/Nq7KP9eefb

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  20. James reviews the Rocky franchise! Rocky, Rocky II, Rocky III, Rocky IV, Rocky V, Rocky Balboa, Grudge Match and Creed!

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    • I play on watching that video sometime, but I just haven’t gotten around to it. My intake of Cinemassacre has declined the past couple of months, as I’ve only viewed a couple of videos.

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    • The series of Rocky films began in 1976 and are still being made – Creed 2, the eight film of the series, is due out in 2018. Much loved by many, Rocky along with Rambo are the defining films of Sylvester Stallone’s career – here I’m looking at how they’ve changed over time.

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