Having seen the latest “Rocky”/ “Creed” film, “Creed II,” it’s time to rank all eight films of the saga from worst to first. There are no outright bad films in this series, and a case could be made for any order between No. 2 and No. 7. Just thinking back on the 42 years of “Rocky” films is enough to make me want to blast “Gonna Fly Now” and take a run up the museum steps. Here we go. Ding. Ding.
We’re not supposed to heap praise on sequels, since they are standing on the shoulders of their predecessors, but something should be said about how skillfully “Creed II” continues the story from “Creed” (2015) and “Rocky IV” (1985). Suffice it to say, director Steve Caple Jr.’s film will please fans of this franchise that has become a safe haven for grown men to cry in the theater over themes of fathers and sons (real or makeshift) and overcoming the odds.
Ryan Coogler’s “Creed” (2015) was a surprisingly well-executed and welcome addition to the “Rocky” franchise. Working as a reboot of sorts, it brings “Rocky” to a new generation. With “Creed II,” Steve Caple Jr. directs a fairly by-the-numbers sequel that works, but doesn’t have near the impact that “Creed” does.
The fall movie season arguably looks better than the summer season this year, with a nice mix of traditional fall films and a few scattered blockbusters – although a look at each film’s pedigree reveals this to still be the season of the auteur. Here are my picks for the top 10 movies to see:
Available via streaming and Redbox, “Chuck” was quietly in and out of theaters in 2017. The biopic’s titular character, Chuck Wepner (Liev Schreiber), is also under the radar: He was a local legend in Bayonne, N.J., and had a brush with national sporting fame in 1974 when he made it into the 15th round against Muhammad Ali before losing via TKO. This inspired Sylvester Stallone when writing “Rocky,” and for a time it was well-known that Wepner inspired the film’s boxing arc and Rocky’s job as a debt collector, but the public’s knowledge faded with time.
These were my 10 favorite movies of 2015:
1. “Spotlight” — This chronicle of the Boston Globe’s 2001-02 probe of rape allegations in the Catholic Church is a thank-you letter to the dying art of investigative journalism. An all-star cast of actors including Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams and Liev Schreiber does a marvelous job of capturing the small details of how reporters live and behave – particularly Ruffalo, whether he’s boiling hot dogs for dinner of scrounging through his bag for a pen. Meanwhile, the case itself works as a meat-and-potatoes procedural potboiler. (Full review.)
“Creed” — the seventh entry in the “Rocky” series — respects its elders while also doing its own thing. As the saga’s first film not written by Sylvester Stallone, and the first not directed by Stallone or John G. Avildsen, “Creed” has a different sense of style. That having been said, Stallone’s Rocky is the heart of the movie, and another old-timer – the late Apollo Creed (who was killed in the ring by Ivan Drago) – is the soul.
Rightly ranked by IMDB voters as the best of the “Rocky” sequels (with a 7.2 rating), “Rocky Balboa” (2006) is a beautiful grace note to the fighting portion of the Italian Stallion’s career. (His training career appears to continue in “Creed.”) While the film makes few bones about the fact that a 50-something former champion can’t beat a current champion in his prime, it does show that people get better at other things with age.
The “Rocky” films never drifted into the arena of spectacle as much as their reputation suggests. Even the most over-the-top entry, “Rocky IV,” includes acknowledgements of the heightened plot, like when the commentators note the bizarreness of the Creed-Drago match. Still, the larger-than-life villainy of Clubber Lang and Ivan Drago changed the perception of the series, and “Rocky V”(1990) seems to be a calculated reaction to that, as writer Sylvester Stallone aggressively brings the series back to its roots.
With its montages and Eighties arena-rock songs, not to mention the “U.S. versus U.S.S.R.” foundation that begs for the hoariest of subtexts to be added, “Rocky IV” (1985) is unquestionably the most stylized film in the series up to this point. At first blush, it’s a brainless throwaway movie with a must-buy soundtrack highlighted by Robert Tepper’s “No Easy Way Out.” But it is unfairly categorized as the big, dumb and fun entry in the series.