An underdog story is almost always an uplifting and triumphant one. Going up against an undefeated force whether literally or figuratively is extremely relatable to the average audience member. Every person has their battles to fight whether they’re personal or professional. Sylvester Stallone’s professional battle took place in the 1970s revolving around his career path as an actor along with his personal battle against his facial paralysis.
A storm brewed within him after weathering constant rejections as an actor and writer. That constantly caustic criticism is what fueled him to write his screenplay known as Rocky, the story of an underdog boxer who gets a shot at the heavyweight championship. Stallone tapped into a story that ripples in relativity even today.
10 Rocky Balboa: Rocky Returns
Following the lackluster departure of Rocky in Rocky V, Sylvester Stallone had unfinished business with the character. That unfinished business took sixteen years to unravel in the return of the Italian Stallion, Rocky Balboa. Stallone’s AARP status was not ignored in the sequel, and was embraced. Audiences witnessed that same underdog struggling against not just Mason “The Line” Dixon but Father Time as well. Rocky struggles with age, injury, doubt, and family. His dwindling years have left him broken in more ways than one. He truly finds peace climbing back into the ring for one final bout against his opponent and mainly himself.
9 Rocky IV: Rocky Vs. Drago
One of the trademarks regarding the Rocky franchise is the boxing matches. The films have always featured elaborate and hard-hitting fisticuffs between two heavyweight warriors. Rocky IV could quite possibly showcase the most vicious drag-out brawl Rocky had ever endured in the franchise.
His opponent, the Siberian Bull Ivan Drago, seemed to be etched of granite. Drago fatally defeats Apollo Creed, Rocky’s adversary turned compadre. Creed’s death fuels Rocky’s duel with Ivan Drago. Rocky’s fists fly faster and tougher with the animosity raging within him. However, Drago is no pushover as Rocky soon discovers with the passing of every pummeling round.
8 Creed: I’m Here
Creed managed to resurge the Rocky franchise in the best manner possible. The 2015 film brought audiences up to speed with the characters they had grown to love since Rocky to Rocky Balboa. While it did that, it introduced new characters with stories worth unraveling. Adonis Creed, Apollo Creed’s estranged son, attempts to follow his father’s footsteps with Rocky’s aid. Although, Rocky’s biggest opponent emerges from the darkness in the form of cancer. Adonis witnesses Rocky’s emotional deterioration. Balboa stresses how he’s lost everything that ever made him happy. He’s lost Mickey, Apollo, Paulie, and Adrian. Now he finally wants to lose for good.
7 Rocky III: Mickey’s Death
If Rocky Balboa ever lacked anything, it wasn’t heart or brawn. He lacked guidance. That is where Mickey Goldmill’s light shined through. One of the franchise’s most heart-wrenching moments occurred when that light was extinguished in Rocky III. Cartoon-like performances and outlandish dialogue aside, Rocky III had a pivoting point in the character of Rocky Balboa. The core of the story revolved around him losing his edge and selling out to popular public image. Before his death, Mickey warns Rocky about his new dulled demeanor leading him down a broken path of defeat. Rocky ignores this cautionary advice all the way up to Mickey’s passing. Rocky quakes at Mickey’s deathbed, as he lies to him about winning the fight Mickey so desperately warned him not to take.
6 Creed: Adonis Meets Rocky
“Hey, how you doin’?” is a simple and sweet greeting. This encompasses who the character of Rocky is. A simple yet sweet person. With that salute, he introduces himself to Adonis Creed and re-introduces himself to audiences in 2015’s Creed. The aging sage from the past is impacted by the surging upstart of the future. The bridge connecting these two is the specter of Apollo Creed, Rocky’s best friend, and Adonis’ estranged father. Rocky’s hesitation to take Adonis under his wing unearths the guilt he’s had over Apollo’s death. Adonis seeps through it all with his tempered curiosity and fiery drive. Creed respects the history of the franchise while building its own mythology.
5 Creed II: Everyone Goes Home
The essence of Creed II can boil down thematically to the notion of family. This sequel not only carried on characters from Ryan Coogler’s Creed but it exhumed ghosts from Rocky IV. The fourth film in the series was always the subtle catalyst to the newfound face of the franchise in Adonis Creed. 2018 saw the return of Ivan Drago, Apollo Creed’s final opponent which led to his untimely death.
However, Ivan is not alone as he has groomed his son Viktor to challenge Rocky’s newfound nephew, Adonis, for the title. This bravado of brawn amongst the four inevitably resolves in all of them returning home to their families, the crux that truly gives them strength.
4 Rocky II: Super-Fight II
Rocky II is a worthy successor to the Oscar-winning original film. With all great sequels, it brings us up to speed on the characters from before while giving us more. Rocky II showcased the struggles of Rocky’s personal life with post-fame, lack of education, and asset mismanagement. The film also developed more on who the character of Apollo Creed was. Audiences discovered that beneath the loudmouth antics and glitzy demeanor there was a person there. Creed wrestles with re-claiming his integrity after winning the first bout over Balboa by unanimous decision. He earned a hollow victory drowning in controversy. He must now prove it to the public and himself that his honor is worth more than any heavyweight title.
3 Rocky: Mickey Goldmill
The character of Rocky Balboa was primarily introduced as a lost soul digging his way into oblivion. His lack of direction and boiling animosity had him swirling down the drain of boxing mediocrity. It wasn’t until Mickey Goldmill took the reins of Balboa’s boxing career that hope began to take shape.
Sadly, at first, Rocky’s bottled pain of being overlooked made him scathingly chastise Mickey for his neglect. Luckily the self-proclaimed Italian Stallion was able to brush away his agony and accept Mickey’s guidance. Mickey soon became a mentor and even father-figure to Rocky. This is something Rocky needed desperately.
2 Rocky: Rocky Vs. Apollo
From being a nobody to a somebody in one fell swoop is anybody’s life dream. In 1976’s Rocky, the rags squared off against the riches, literally and figuratively. Rocky Balboa personified the lower-class citizen battling to make ends meet for themselves and what life they could afford. Apollo Creed embodied the upper-class subject who indulged in excess and the spoils they earned. The clashing of these two fighters of distinct cultures was an epic. The first film’s main event revolved around so much more than just jabs and uppercuts. It encompassed a melee of personal growth, defiance, and perseverance. Rocky was fighting more than just Apollo. He was fighting the system along with himself.
1 Rocky: “I Love You”
An equally important compound to the Rocky franchise is the character of Adrian Pennino, Rocky’s spouse. Adrian mirrored Rocky’s predicament in the struggle to be themselves. Adrian’s physical insecurities led to her introverted demeanor. Rocky relates to that due to his own mental insecurities that led to his vigorous profession and lifestyle. They each work at peeling away the layers of self-doubt in each other. This leads them down a path towards a positive relationship where they push each other to improve. Adrian breaks out of her shell and away from her abusive household. Rocky gains the confidence to box against the heavyweight champion. This all culminates in them professing their love for one another at the end of Rocky’s battle.
NEXT: Rocky: 10 Best Fights In The Series, Ranked