Michael B Jordan’s Creed (2015) revived one of Hollywood’s most-loved franchises, that seemed dead and buried in 2006. Sylvester Stallone or Sly (as he’s known) was 60 and the franchise was running out of reasons to put his protagonist, Rocky Balboa, back in the ring. Nine years later, in walked Ryan Coogler with an idea of a spin-off that sees Apollo Creed‘s (an important character in the first four parts) illegitimate son emerge out of nowhere, and embrace the long shadow of the father, he knew little about.
The Rocky Balboa films have always been about the outsider underdog fighting using heart and grit against more technically-sound opponents. That motto came full circle in Creed, where an amateur Adonis Johnson (played by Michael B Jordan) goes up against the best fighter on the planet, purely because of his surname.
With Creed II releasing soon, it’s only fair that we go back to our favourite films from the franchise and come up with a definitive ranking:
#7. Rocky V
Easy-peasy. This film, where Balboa loses his fortune and finds a protégé in the form of Tommy Gunn, is the MOST schmaltzy one in a franchise that is already soaked in sugar syrup. Stallone himself, has acknowledged this as the worst film in the franchise. Not to say, it doesn’t have its moments like where an inebriated Balboa goes back to his old gym and imagines Mickey (his former coach) telling him to ‘slip the jab’. Also, the street-fight in the climax where Balboa keeps seeing flashes of Mickey to get up for ‘one more round’.
#6. Rocky IV
My introduction to the franchise, this one instantly became an all-time favourite . But objectively, looking at the franchise after that fabulous first film in 1976, one can see the broad contrivances and the simplistic approach to the US-Soviet relations. Even though the film has one of the greatest training montages in cinema, it isn’t far from the best film of the franchise. No pain!
Fun fact: Creed II picks up from Rocky IV, where Adonis Creed fights against Viktor Drago. Viktor is none other than the son of Ivan Drago, who killed Adonis’s father, Apollo Creed. Payback time, baby!
#5. Rocky III
What happens when the challenger becomes the champion? What happens when his hunger dissipates? What happens the fire within, isn’t burning any more? You pack your bags and you go back to the beginning. You unlearn and relearn. That’s the lesson Rocky III had for us, after Balboa loses his championship belt under the most dire circumstances. One of the finest moments of this franchise comes in the form of a visibly ‘mad’ Balboa taking Clubber Lang’s punches while repeatedly taunting ‘Ain’t so bad! Ain’t so bad!’
#4. Rocky Balboa
Surely, the big surprise. When a 60-year-old Stallone announced that he would be getting into the ring one more time, nearly 16 years after the underwhelming Rocky V, not many were hopeful for a ‘decent film’. Let alone, a great film. And yet, the film produced the franchise’s finest monologue ‘the world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows…’. Like its lead character, the film was completely heart.
Ryan Coogler’s film is one of the strongest in the franchise. Establishing fresh character arcs of the spin-off/reboot, Coogler made a film that was comfortable in its own skin, without necessarily forgetting its roots in the universe created by Sylvester Stallone. It all comes together in that scene of the iconic sprint (a recurring one in the training montages of the Rocky movies), where the street-bikers accompany Adonis, doing wheelies. It’s a fabulous scene where Coogler kneels to the Rocky mythology and asserts the identity of his African-American protagonist, at the same time. It was a moment of cinematic perfection.
#2. Rocky II
Creed II director, Steven Caples Jr has extensively spoken about how his film draws more inspiration from Rocky II, even though it is a continuation Rocky IV. He’s spoken about the doubt in the not-so-bright protagonist’s mind and his struggle with the fame. Even though Stallone loses the fight at the end of Rocky, he gets beaten so bad that a pregnant Adrian (Rocky’s wife) makes him swear he wouldn’t box again. But he’s a born ‘fighter’ and someone who belongs in that ring. This one underlined that for most fighters, the fight is internal as much as it is external.
This Oscar-nominated film, that saw Stallone get nominated for both Best Original Screenplay as well as Best Actor, remains the BEST film of the franchise. A bouncer on the streets (read: a mutton chop who can speak) for a local businessman, Balboa finds purpose inside the boxing ring and a father-figure in his coach, Mickey. And he takes on the undisputed champion of America, Apollo Creed. The parallel narratives between an outsider like Balboa lasting 14 rounds with the world champion and Stallone landing a double Oscar nomination for his first film, is absolutely splendid. This first film established Rocky Balboa as the ultimate underdog in pop-culture.
Creed II releases this Friday, in select theatres across India.