What’s the best part of every Rocky movie? The turtles? The complicated racial politics? The talking robot? (It’s not Paulie’s talking robot.) It’s the training montages, of course. These movies may have begun in the ’70s — and are still going strong today thanks to Creed — but there’s nothing quite as beautifully ’80s as a Rocky montage. If watching one doesn’t give you the “eye of the tiger,” or get you strong now, well, you are dead inside. Now, whadda ya watin’ fer! Here’s the definitive ranking of the Rocky training montages. And let us be clear, there are no losers here. All of these montages went the distance.
7. Rocky V
Okay, never mind. This one does sort of suck. Much like the movie it lives in, this is the weakest of the Rocky training montages. Is it the cheesy ’90s soundtrack rap? Is it that, for the first time, Rocky is training someone else? Is it that the boxer he’s training, Tommy Morrison, has the charisma of a block of wood? No, all the snazzy hats and newspaper headlines can’t hide that this montage isn’t about inspiring us — it’s about Rocky neglecting his son. Um, yay! You get ’em, Rock? The only thing this montage leaves us pumped to do is not phone in fatherhood. And while that’s an important lesson, it’s isn’t a Rocky montage.
Now this is a great movie, with a pretty kick butt montage. Bringing things back down to Earth in a big way, director Ryan Coogler put a hip-hop spin on the stripped down simplicity of the first Rocky’s training sequence. Sure, there are speed bikes and a touch of wacky shadow boxing, but the fact that Adonis isn’t just training for a fight, but fighting for Rocky’s life, gives this whole thing some serious stakes. A lack of Rocky himself, and a stacked deck of classic montages, are the only things that knocks this down so low on the list.
5. Rocky Balboa
As gritty as these things get, this is Rocky back in his element, even if he doesn’t belong there anymore. Rocky Balboa isn’t the best movie of the franchise, but this montage has by far the best speech. Tony Burton, who just recently passed away, runs through a litany of Rocky’s liabilities, before saying Rocky’s trick to beating Mason “The Line” Dixon is “good old-fashioned blunt force trauma.” They’re going to hurt the other guy so much, “they’ll rattle his ancestors.” Yes sir! Add in a back-to-basics Rocky pounding slabs of meat and chugging egg yolks, and this montage combines nostalgia with kick ass-itude in equal measure. (Let’s just hope Lipitor is part of Rock’s training regimen.) Also, Rocky wears matching outfits with his dog, for just the right amount of wacky. A solid outing all around.
4. Rocky IV
Nothing is quite so gloriously ridiculous as Rocky, in peak Cold War form, outrunning Soviet goons like he’s in a Roger Moore Bond movie. This was less a montage than a music video, and the music is pure ’80s cheese. The drop from “Gonna Fly Now” to “Hearts on Fire” charts everything gloriously wrong and ridiculously hilarious about this franchise. Still, it is a classic in its own way. With no equipment, Rocky’s forced to lift wood and rocks to train, as Drago injects himself with steroids to a funky beat. Paulie has to milk a cow, indoors, for sustenance. Between the jazz synth music and Rocky’s luxurious beard, this is by far the most ridiculous training sequence, but for anyone who grew up in the ’80s, this the Rocky training montage they remember best. Who needs the Philadelphia Museum of Art stairs when you can just climb Mount Russkie?
The one that set the standard, this is a no frills, classic example of what a Rocky montage should be. Here’s a big, dumb galoot, in over his head, just trying to get in shape. Light jogging gives way to one-armed push-ups as we start to feel like, hey, maybe this knucklehead has a shot. Unlike some of the later montages, this one feels like a more organic part of the movie, helping to tell the story of a nobody becoming a somebody.
2. Rocky III
Now this is when things starting going a little sideways, in a truly magical way. Stallone had clearly been hitting the gym (and the pharmacist), by the time Rocky III rolled around, and he wanted to show off his massive biceps. One presumes that’s how this montage became, if anything, a glorious celebration of the male physique. Just look at those rippling muscles as Rocky and Creed charge down the beach. Undulating under their short shorts, fighting to break free. This montage has it all. Wackiness, like Rocky pulling Paulie into the pool. A full speed Stallone’s weird O-face. And that ending. Two men frolicking in the ocean, exploring each others bodies with looks of pure joy. We’re not sure what most of this montage has to do with boxing, but it’s all highly entertaining.
1. Rocky II
And this, ladies and gentlemen, is the perfect Rocky montage. No wackiness. No frills. It builds on the first movie, ramping up the stakes and the style. The moment a floundering Rocky hears Adrian tell him to win, we know there is no going back. Rocky is still human here, not an ungodly combination of HGH and Beverly Hills plastic surgeons. And the training itself is some of the most visceral of the entire series. Look at that guy slap Rocky in the stomach after every sit-up. That’s messed up! We still have an underdog Rocky here. He’s never won against Creed, much less a cartoon Russian and B.A. from The A-Team. And we still have Mickey yelling in his ear, pushing him to never give up. The ridiculousness of later montages are fun, and but this is Rocky at his best. Yo Adrian, he did it!
Watch Dick Vitale give a Rocky play-by-play, baby!