Editorial: Why I Never Met a “Rocky” Movie I Didn’t Like

Joel Eisenberg

I was not yet a teenager when I saw the original film for the first time. I was instantly hooked.

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“Rocky”United Artists, Promotional Art

Author’s Note

Though I have written primarily about retail business and mental health issues for NewsBreak, sharing my pop-culture interests is a particularly pleasant diversion. Spoilers are included herein.

Introduction

1976. I went alone, and I’m glad I did. The audience was standing during that climactic fight — no hyperbole — and pounding their fists into the air. World Heavyweight Champ Apollo Creed was knocked down for the first time in his career, though he didn’t “look the best he’s ever been,” according to one of the ring announcers.

It didn’t matter; he was still down! In the first round!

I was thrilled I had attended alone as I surely would have been a pest on the way home to anyone who may have accompanied me. I would have been more of a pest if I had actually heard, through the eardrum-shattering cheering of my fellow audience members, that Rocky lost the fight in a split-decision.

I had no idea until I read it later. He deserved the win!

Though Mickey did a tremendous job with his fighter, Rocky’s girlfriend, Adrian, didn’t care that her guy lost. She was proud that the former “ham n’egger” proved to himself that he was “no longer just another bum from the neighborhood.” She was so excited she lost her hat running into the ring to exult in her love for him.

Rocky truly did speak to our inner underdog. Perhaps that’s a cliched statement when describing the iconic film 46 years later, but imagine yourself in the theater during that initial release if you were not there at the time. 46 years after the fact, yet another sequel (of sorts), Creed 3, is presently in production.

That speaks to a film that spoke to us all. When the Oscars were announced early the following year, the Best Picture battle was set to be a toss-up between Rocky and Network.

Rocky took that title. The first of many. And to think, “his whole life was a million-to-one shot.”

The Rematch Happens

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“Rocky II”United Artists, One-Sheet

Was the outcome really in any doubt? During the climax of the previous film Apollo said, “There ain’t gonna be no rematch! There ain’t gonna be no rematch!”

“Don’t want one,” Rocky responded.

But there was a rematch. Rocky won it, and Apollo raised the new champ’s arm in victory. Adrian couldn’t make it to the ring this time, as she was home watching the event with her brother, Paulie, on television.

She almost died in childbirth with Rocky’s child.

Would there be a rubber match? Time would tell.

The Saga Continues

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“Rocky III”United Artists, One-Sheet

Risin’ up, back on my feet, took my time, took my chances…

Rocky finds the Eye of the Tiger, but it takes awhile.

The now-current Heavyweight Champion has had ten title defenses, not counting his charity benefit draw against Thunderlips, The Ultimate Male. But those defenses were “has-beens,” according to Mickey. Why? Because Rocky has gotten comfortable. He’s lost his hunger. He wants to fight Clubber Lang, but Mickey would rather leave the side of his surrogate son than see him permanently damaged. “This guy will kill you to death, in front of three rounds!” he says.

Rocky convinces him to stay at his side for just one more fight. Mickey suffers a heart attack, Rocky is knocked out by Clubber, and Mickey dies.

Apollo returns to the scene with a proposition for the depressed Rock. He will train him for the rematch, in exchange for a favor. “What favor?” Rocky asks.

The rematch is set, Rocky and Apollo become close friends, and Rocky knocks out Clubber. In a gym, the two pals have an unsanctioned third fight… but we only see the first punch.

USA! USA!

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“Rocky IV”United Artists, One-Sheet

Apollo comes out of retirement, and Rocky helps train him. Nice reversal, there. But Apollo is killed by his monster opponent, Ivan Drago, when Rocky doesn’t throw in the towel. In an act of revenge — “Because I’m a fighter, Adrian!” — Rocky will fly to Moscow to battle the man who killed his best friend.

Guess who wins? The crowd turns in his favor, and by the end, Rocky is the new national hero draped in two flags.

Tommy Gunn Turns Heel

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“Rocky V”United Artists, One-Sheet

Ivan Drago delivered far more damage to Rocky than anyone could have imagined: brain damage. Further, Paulie signed a blanket power of attorney, in favor of a crooked accountant.

Rocky and Adrian are now bankrupt as a result. They sell off their belongings, and move back to the old Philly neighborhood. Rocky returns to his comfortable old leather jacket and black hat look.

Pardon the pro wrestling terminology in the capsule subtitle above. In the midst of chaos, enter Tommy Gunn. Tommy was a rugged, good-looking persistent kid who strived to have Rocky train him. But he was being seduced by a Don King-like promoter as his winning record continued to improve.

You see, the Don King character was all along attempting to manipulate a multi-million dollar championship fight between his new charge, and the man who trained him.

Tommy wins the title and turns against Rocky, who is not interested in returning to the ring. He promised Adrian. So instead, Tommy challenges the now-retired champ to a street fight.

Rocky kicks his butt. The end.

Fans generally loathe this film (check out most any social media page on the saga). I find it compulsively watchable.

He’s Back, Yet Again

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“Rocky Balboa”MGM, United Artists, Columbia Pictures, One-Sheet

For my money, Rocky Balboa perfectly bookends the original as the finest film in the series. Rocky is old, he’s long-retired, and he owns a restaurant named after his late wife — Adrian’s. Miraculously, he has recovered from the brain damage of the prior film, which is never mentioned in the newer film, but as this one was meant to be a restart after the horrific reception of the last all is easily forgiven. Rocky delivers some inspiring lines to his son, who objects to his old man returning to the ring over health concerns and his own personal embarrassment.

“It ain’t about how hard you hit, it’s about how hard you get hit and keep moving forward. That’s how winnin’ is done!” Rocky says.

Par for the course, a true fighter will never stay down. Rocky will return for one night only, based on the results of a computer simulation with the current champ that he had unexpectedly won. The subsequent real-life fight will be for charity, and aired nationally. Rocky (barely) loses that HBO-telecast battle.

It was close, though. Another split decision. Balboa’s still got it going on.

A New Beginning

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“Creed”MGM, New Line Cinema, One-Sheet

Rocky meets the troubled son of his former foe and best friend, Apollo Creed. He trains the prodigy, Adonis, who rapidly climbs the ladder of success. Romance happens in the process, with a local musician, as do the seeds of an upcoming sequel.

And Rocky seems to be doing just fine following a second-hour cancer diagnosis.

P.S. Rocky tells Adonis that Apollo won their unsanctioned third fight.

Adonis Creed Wins the Title!

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MGM, Warner Brothers Pictures, One-Sheet

He wins the World’s Heavyweight Championship, gets married to the beautiful Tessa Thompson, has a hearing-impaired child (a plot point I absolutely loved and for which I credited the filmmakers for an atypical degree of guts), and defeats Ivan Drago’s kid. Twice.

Once by disqualification.

I’m a sucker for this stuff. Otherwise, Creed II is a well-made entry that merges the overall saga’s more melodramatic elements with its more serious side, and does it with skill and the series’ trademark warmth.

The Future

I meant what I said in the title of this piece. To date, I’ve never met a ‘Rocky’ film I didn’t like.

The movies are all fun, tragic, humorous — sometimes intentionally so — melodramatic, romantic, and generally action-packed.

Are there true masterworks in this saga? The first, for sure, is a film that continues to appeal to moviegoers of all generations. I also believe, as I stated, Rocky Balboa is a sensational picture. The first Creed comes real close.

What about you? Where do you stand with the Rocky series?

Do tell. For one, I look forward to Creed III.

Conclusion

How can I forget the list? To my personal favorite Rocky/Creed films, in descending order:

8. Rocky IV

7. Rocky V

6. Rocky II

5. Creed II

4. Rocky III

3. Creed

2. Rocky Balboa

1. Rocky

Phew! Yo Adrian! I did it!

Thanks for reading.

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“Rocky”United Artists, Poster Art

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I am an award-winning author, screenwriter for film and television, and producer. My mission on News Break is to share socially important perspectives on both culture and pop-culture. Member of PEN America, and the WGA.

Northridge, CA
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