One cannot have a Rocky or a Creed movie without a training montage. When the testosterone hits the fan, there's only one thing to do, and that's to self-consciously pummel one's way to potential success via a spectacular musical accompaniment.
With Creed III on release this week, directed by and starring Michael B. Jordan, we've got Rocky montages on the brain. Therefore, we've collated the greatest ones from the history of the series, which will hopefully get you ready for a spectacular big-screen experience.
1. Rocky (1976)
This is the archetypal Rocky montage sequence. In fact, it might be the best training montage from any movie, period. The first Rocky movie's gritty and grounded sense of verisimilitude means we're fully invested in the titular character as he pounds the pavements of his hometown, Philadelphia. Eventually, he triumphantly ascends the Philadephia steps in one of the most famous shots in cinema history.
In lieu of the escalatingly cartoonish approach favoured by the sequels, this is a vivid and realistic impression of a humble underdog simply vowing to better himself. And unlike the Rocky sequels, one senses that the most important thing is how Rocky's tenacity binds his working-class community together in a spirit of solidarity.
Bill Conti's brassy main theme 'Gonna Fly Now' passed into movie lore, becoming the de facto playlist track for anyone looking to get fit and shed the pounds. It's the music that encapsulates the heart of the enduring series, compelling people to never give up on their dreams.
2. Rocky II (1979)
At the end of the first Rocky film, Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) wins by default. (Don't forget to check out our Rocky-Creed storyline recap for more details.) However, it's not so much about the winning for Rocky, so much as it's about finding the glory in losing. And once he's reunited with great love Adrian (Talia Shire), everything else fades into memory.
However, at the outset of Rocky II, Creed thinks he's been cheated out of a match with a worthy opponent. He eventually goads Rocky into a rematch to decide the true victor, culminating in a city-wide montage sequence that's undeniably derivative of the original film, but still stirring and blood-pumping. Bill Conti's variation on his rousing main theme is what carries us through, reminding us that Rocky still has it.
3. Rocky III (1982)
There's a new rival for Rocky's supremacy in the third movie, which tends to get overlooked in all the hoopla. Having made friends with Apollo Creed at the end of Rocky II, the plucky pugilist now faces Clubber Lang (Mr T), the cocky upstart who may well pose a threat to Rocky's well-being.
Amidst the usual ups and downs, what resonates is the burgeoning relationship between Rocky and Apollo. In watching the movie again, we understand why Apollo's tragic and untimely death continues to haunt Rocky so much in the later Creed movies. Their relationship goes beyond mere respect into a full-blown bromance, and it's cemented by the quintessential training montage sequence.
In order to defeat Clubber, Rocky must work under the tutelage of Apollo to sharpen and hone his fighting style. The latter's precision fuses with the former's brute force to craft a truly formidable new fighting champ to ultimately prevails to put Clubber in his place.
4. Rocky IV (1985)
We now arrive at the irresistibly cheesy Rocky IV, one of the most parodied, yet popular, instalments in the series. The tone now goes full mid-eighties Cold War as Rocky squares off against the fearsome Soviet titan Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren). The latter has already killed Apollo Creed in the ring and Rocky must step up to avenge his late friend's honour.
There's only one way to do this: decamp to snowy Russia, grow a beard and haul implausibly massive logs to the tune of a Yamaha synthesiser. It's almost certainly the most ridiculous moment in the series so far, but you'd be hard-hearted to deny its inspirational impact as a promotional relic from a bygone era.
5. Rocky V (1990)
The much-derided Rocky V killed the franchise dead, but there's still stuff to recommend it. Sylvester Stallone plays around with his Rocky iconography, reconfiguring the title character as a trainer who only reluctantly re-enters the boxing fray. (This in and of itself anticipates the arc of the later Creed films.)
With his health failing after beating Ivan Drago, Rocky then starts to mentor the ambitious young boxer Tommy 'The Machine' Gunn (Tommy Morrison). The master-pupil relationship soon curdles, however, and Rocky realises that to level the playing field, he must fight him outside of the ring, on the streets that he's always called home.
Before we get there, however, we are treated to another training montage in which Tommy himself is the subject of the blood, sweat and tears. It's just a pity that we never really become invested in his character.
6. Rocky Balboa (2006)
Some 16 years after Rocky V, Stallone successfully resurrected the spectre of the Rocky franchise. The ensuing Rocky Balboa was hailed as the best entry since the series' heyday, once again planting us in the messy, appreciably gritty confines of Philadelphia life, albeit this time underscored with more wish-fulfillment fantasy.
How so? Well, if we're applying real-world logic, it's hard to imagine the ailing and ageing Rocky successfully taking on his youthful new nemesis, Mason 'The Line' Dixon (Antonio Tarver). However, by this stage, the Rocky mythology is essentially invincible and deflects all implausibilities with a series of emotional right hooks.
As we build to the inevitable final match, we're primed with a nostalgic endorphin rush of a montage sequence, one that knowingly resurrects the shot technique and structure of the original film to suggest the weight of the past bearing down on Rocky himself. It's all to play for, and the spine-tingling return of Bill Conti's 'Gonna Fly Now' is all we need to get the adrenaline pumping.
7. Creed (2016)
The success of the first Creed movie becomes more and more apparent with hindsight. Directed by Ryan Coogler, who brings the same sense of character insight that distinguished his lacerating Fruitvale Station (2013), it recontextualises a series with which we've lived for several decades. It makes a dramatic virtue of placing the ageing Rocky Balboa on the sidelines, mining greater dramatic weight from his passivity and sage observation while the physical detail is handed to Michael B. Jordan's fierce Adonis 'Donnie' Johnson nee Creed.
The latter is the biological son of the late Apollo Creed, and this tragic family history is what compels Donnie to seek out Rocky as his boxing trainer. Although reluctant at first, Rocky sees a shot at redemption, vicariously honouring his deceased friend's legacy via the medium of nurturing his son. The inevitable training montage is fascinating for how it replicates the original Rocky sequence but with a dynamic and bold new character at the forefront. Past and present thrillingly collide in a manner that makes us eagerly anticipate the bruising endgame.
8. Creed II (2018)
The chickens come home to roost in the second Creed movie, directed by Steven Caple Jr. Rocky's disgraced and embittered former Soviet rival Ivan Drago now returns, ready to pit his son Viktor (Florian Munteaneau) against Donnie in a grudge match. However, this promises to be no mere boxing bout, but an active collision between past and present, an expulsion of decades' worth of anger and resentment that is refracted across the generations.
Rocky, fully aware of the threat that Drago poses, refuses to put Donnie up for what he considers to be a suicide mission. Enraged, Donnie initially leaves Rocky's mentorship and moves his family to Los Angeles to take up the fight. Eventually, however, and in anticipation of a rematch, Donnie appreciates the scale of the conflict and falls back under Rocky's tutelage, fully coming to terms with the deadly legacy of the man who killed his father.
To quote Team America: World Police, we're gonna need a montage. And it's another winner, this time underscored by the manifest complexities of the rivals involved in the conflict.
Will Creed III present another classic montage to honour the franchise? Find out when it's released at Cineworld on March 3rd.