There are few film franchises as consistently inspiring as Rocky. The classic underdog story, Rocky Balboa journey to merely go the distance in the original Rocky proves that there is victory even in loss, while depicting an earnest character arc centered on years of wasted potential. There’s more to the first Rocky than meets the eye, but the sequels don’t exactly follow suit. 

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With the exception of Rocky II and Rocky Balboa (Creed is its own beast & should be treated as such,) the Rocky franchise lost its heart rather quickly. All the same, it never stopped being entertaining, with the training montages a constant highlight of the franchise. While the series’ storytelling plummeted in quality with time, Rocky always found the time to reinvent the training montage. 

6 Rocky III

There’s certainly a novelty to Apollo Creed training Rocky. The two spent Rocky I and II rivals, so for Apollo to take Rocky under his wing in the wake of Mickey’s death is a nice way of keeping Creed in the story. Rocky III isn’t as visceral as Rocky’s other training sessions, but it’s an important one with a unique focus.

Specifically, Apollo’s training focuses on refining Rocky’s mobility. Creed retrains Rocky on how to step and how to dodge– basics, but essential ones that Rocky was clearly in need of refinement as evidenced by his fight with Creed. It’s distinctly unique in the context of other training montages for Rocky III to focus so intimately on Rocky’s speed, but it makes sense considering he’s fighting Clubber Lang. 

Rocky III’s training montage feels well thought out and plays out like a natural culmination of Rocky & Apollo’s relationship (arguably the driving force of Rocky III as a film,) but it lacks the same intensity and drama as the other montages. 

5 Rocky V

Rocky V is a bad film, but this is a surprisingly good montage that highlights how strong Rocky V’s bones are as a narrative. Rocky is not only past his prime, he has lost everything. Rocky is at his lowest point and it only makes sense considering the trajectory of the first four films & the ever-raising stakes. 

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Losing his career and fortune, Rocky takes on a Mickey-esque role for up & comer Tommy Gun. Instead of the montage focusing on Rocky’s training, the focus is on Rocky training Tommy along with their developing relationship. The montage puts into uncomfortable perspective just how far Rocky has fallen as Tommy out-Rockys Rocky. 

With better writing, Rocky V could have been a great character study of Rocky’s new role in life, Tommy Gun as a Rocky protege, and how Rocky prioritizes boxing over his own son. Nonetheless, Rocky V’s great montage shouldn’t be discounted because of the movie’s other failings. 

4 Rocky II

After an entire film of struggling and suffering, Adrian wakes up and gives Rocky the strength he needs to compete against Apollo Creed in their rematch. Rocky’s basically been set up to fail at this point, but with Adrian awake, Rocky has all the motivation he needs. Rocky II lacks the elegance of the original montage, but it’s more raw and visceral in exchange. 

Rocky does some heavy lifting, catches a chicken, lifts some logs, and takes some serious beatings. It’s far more intense than the training he did in the first Rocky, but he doesn’t let himself falter, entering his rematch with Apollo ready to do more than just go the distance. Of note, Rocky II lifts the song for its training montage from Rocky and Creed’s fight in the first film.

3 Rocky 

Rocky has the quintessential training montage. Rocky runs through the streets, punches the hell out of some meat, and jogs his heart out. It’s the most relatable training montage in the series because it understands that the world is the common man’s gym. Rocky’s community because his field to grow and strengthen himself. 

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It’s incredibly inspiring watching Rocky run up those now iconic steps, standing triumphant over Philadelphia. Gonna Fly Now is also far and away the best montage song in the series. It’s no wonder Rocky gets such a solid workout when the best of Bill Conti is blaring in the background.

Really, what makes this montage great is its simplicity. It’s to the point and focus exclusively on Rocky’s growth as a character. It plays off of familiar beats introduced in the movie and features important payoff to an earlier moment in Rocky’s training. Want to know how to write a good montage? Watch Rocky

2 Rocky IV

On a purely technical level, Rocky’s montage is the best; but it isn’t the most entertaining, or the most emotional. Rocky IV’s montage is legitimately the best part of the film. Rocky, a man built by nature, and Ivan Drago, a man built by science, go through the hardest training featured in the series– all the to pummel each other to near death. 

Drago is seen actually getting numerically stronger while we witness Rocky’s newfound strength in action. We’re told how strong Drago is, but shown how strong Rocky has become. The incredible music just shines a spotlight on the intense juxtaposition between Rocky & Drago. There’s excellent atmosphere throughout, and it really feels like the Apex of Rocky’s career as a boxer. 

It’s a shame the rest of Rocky IV doesn’t abide by the same quality, but the montage kind of does make up for some of the movie’s failings. If nothing else, it does a great job at justifying Rocky and Drago’s relationship as foils. 

1 Rocky Balboa

Rocky Balboa’s training montage represents everything Rocky stands for as a character and stood for a franchise: One man pushing himself against the odds for nothing more than to go the distance. Rocky doesn’t stand a chance at beating Mason, but that doesn’t mean he won’t pour his heart into trying. 

Watching Rocky suffer through what was once basic training is hard to watch, but how he overcomes his age is a triumph in motion. The training is the rawest and release it’s been since the first, and the emotion is high as a result. With references to the original film and montage throughout, Rocky Balboa’s final training session is a love letter unlike any other.

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