There have been seven Rocky films and seven Star Wars films in the last 40 years. Both series have a devoted following. One series is an international juggernaut. But is that series the better of the two?
Brandon Wetherbee: 39 years ago a man with a vision took Hollywood by storm. His tale of redemption, love and fighting for the right side resonated with both critics and audiences, winning the Academy Award for Best Picture and topping the 1976 box office gross. Rocky made Sylvester Stallone a bona fide Hollywood A-lister.
38 years ago a man with a vision took the world by storm. His tale of redemption, love and fighting against the dark side resonated with both critics and audiences, winning six technical Academy Awards and topping the all time box office gross. Star Wars made George Lucas a force in the cinematic galaxy.
Rocky advanced sports films. Star Wars changed all of film. But Rocky is better than Star Wars.
According to the critics that make up Rotten Tomatoes, the average for the seven Rocky films (Rocky I-V, Rocky Balboa and Creed) have a 66.6% average. As of this writing, the critics’ average for the first six Star Wars films is 77.8%. Those number should be switched.
The Rotten Tomatoes audience average is a more accurate but still incorrect ranking of the two series. Rocky comes in with 72.1% and Star Wars at 78.7%. Those numbers should be switched.
Both stories are a hero’s journey. Rocky and Luke are men without stature. By the end of the series, we’ve followed their expeditions into manhood, witnessing redemption, trials and tribulations. Whether in the streets of Philadelphia or on the desert planet Tatooine, in the ring against Clubber Lang or in an X-Wing shooting at the Death Star, we’re rooting for our hero against all odds. The major difference between the two series is the scale.
Rocky is a small film. The Rocky series is small compared to Star Wars. Both first entries were made on relatively modest budgets (Rocky $1 million, Star Wars $11 million) and increased with time and success (Creed $35 million, Star Wars: The Force Awakens $200 million). But more important than money, is focus.
Rocky stayed smaller than Star Wars, ultimately making it more re-watchable. That’s the key for this comparison.
All seven Rocky entries are enjoyable on multiple viewings. The same can not be said for the first six Star Wars movies.
According to critics, Rocky IV has a 40% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Upon first viewing in 1985, Rocky Balbora defeating Ivan Drago to avenge his friends death/defeat communism, seemed absurd and a giant step in the wrong direction from its first entry. 30 years later, it’s what people put on during Fourth of July parties. It’s why it has a 79% user rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
When Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace was released in 1999 people were excited. Critics were excited. It’s the only way to explain a 56% critics rating. It’s the only way to explain a 60% user rating. It’s one of the worst films of all time. Star Wars fans grounded in reality will agree. So why does the fourth film in the Star Wars cannon rank higher than the fourth film in the Rocky cannon, at least according to critics?
The new Star Wars entry will most likely fall into the Creed ratings and boost the Star Wars averages but it doesn’t matter. The one thing that critics don’t take into consideration is multiple viewings. No one wants really wants to re-watch Episodes I, II or III. Rocky IV (America!), Rocky V (street fight!) and Rocky Balboa (Old man redemption!) are especially re-watchable.
Cale: I agree with a lot of this, so this will be less of a debate and more of a friendly discussion among gentlemen. But obviously I’m still right and you’re wrong. Star Wars TKOs Rocky. A quick overview of where I’m starting from: I am a life long original trilogy (OT) Star Wars fan. The prequels are three of the worst films ever made. The OT are three of the best (even Return of the Jedi [ROTJ]). I am not a life long Rocky fan. Of course I was familiar with Rocky and had seen bits and pieces, and surely pretended to be Rocky as a kid, but I watched most of them in their entirety and chronologically in the past decade. I really like them. I haven’t seen Creed yet because I don’t like people, I’m looking forward to seeing it on Bluray, it looks great.
Nerd note: when I refer to the OT I am referring to the original theatrical cuts / Harmy’s Despecialized Editions / anything prior to the 1997 Special Editions (SE). If we’re talking the SEs I guess Rocky wins. Yes, the SE’s are that bad. Do yourself a favor and watch the original OT (OOT?). There will not be a single frame where 90s CGI would have made it better or a single deleted scene that you miss. A discolored light saber does not take you out of the fantasy for a second, and the 80s space battles in ROTJ still look better than anything in the prequels.
YES, nobody ever wants to watch Episodes I-III again. They are boring and stupid and if you haven’t seen them you should not see them. And YES, Rocky III swept the scrappy Philly underdog with heart story under the rug to usher in the 80s with Hulk Hogan, Mr. T, and “Eye of the Tiger” and Rocky IV lost it’s god damn mind with robots, exploding boxing gloves, and multiple training montages and freeze frames and homo-erotic beach runs, and Rocky V did something else bad – yet they are still totally watchable and essential pop culture viewing. And YES, Rocky Balboa is arguably the best franchise comeback of all time – featuring all the right beats and references, a great Conti score, authentic locales, another freeze frame training montage, and IMO Stallone’s best performance to date.
But despite all this, Star Wars did something Rocky could only dream of – it spawned an expanded universe (EU), both in the form of a relentless cavalcade of TV series, video games, novels, RPGs, comics books, etc. but more importantly, in the brains of children and fans everywhere for decades. Currently standing proudly on my desk at work I have my original Star Wars Amanaman action figure. This character appears in ROTJ for like 1 second. When I bought him as a little kid I don’t think I even remembered that he was in ROTJ. I have no idea who he was or what he did. But it didn’t matter, because Star Wars inspires the imagination better than anything except for LSD. I loved him, he went on thousands of adventures and had a different complete and detailed backstory each day. There is an entire (in cannon) novel about General Tarkin. Only nerds even know who that is. The OT somehow hit the perfect balance of showing us just enough to thoroughly and completely entertain and satisfy, while leaving a tantalizing entire universe under the surface for us to explore. Rocky did not. Rocky showed us everything we wanted and we left the theater content. We’re not interested in what happens next, or what happened in between, or what happened before. It’s a closed system. And that’s totally OK. And you could argue maybe even better because probably 75% of the Star Wars EU is garbage, but I don’t think that matters, in fact it bolsters the case. The Phantom Menace is the most disappointing film of all time. It ruined Star Wars. Yet, The Force Awakens aka Troll 3 has already made like 50 million dollars in advance sales. I am excited to see it and I haven’t been excited to see anything related to Star Wars since 1999. Creed II will never garner this level of excitement, even if it’s a better film than The Force Awakens. It can’t compete, because light sabers beat boxing gloves.
Brandon: If you’re already willing to concede that the special editions, technically the films in the canon as decided by its creator, that catapults Rocky ahead of Star Wars.
Rocky 1, Star Wars 0
When it comes to re-watching the series, Rocky I, II and III are also great on repeat viewings. They may not be as desirable as the original trilogy, but the refusal to re-watch Episodes I, II and III make Rocky IV, V and Rocky Balboa more desirable.
Rocky 2, Star Wars 0
You are 100% correct about the expanded universe. Rocky is set in Philadelphia. Star Wars is set in an alternate universe. A galaxy far away is much more interesting than America’s first capital.
Rocky 2, Star Wars 1
The Star Wars score is slightly better than Rocky. Sure, Rocky has the most inspiring workout music of all time, but Star Wars has the most intimidating villain entrance music and being evil is more badass than being heroic.
Rocky 2, Star Wars 2
What clinches Rocky’s greatness is its lack of meddling. Stallone was done with Rocky in 1976. Rather than update the origin story, Stallone let Rocky be the Rocky he was in 1976. Instead of altering the past, he moved on. Sure, some of the steps were ill advised, but it’s better to move forward and error than ruin a former masterpiece.
The seven Rocky films go in one direction. The seven Star Wars films go backwards and forwards. If you watch the Star Wars films in the order its creator wishes, you’ll know who Luke’s father is by Episode III. The big reveal in Episode VI is no longer a big reveal.
Cale: OK, while my Special Edition hate was authentic (apparently now Darth Vader yells NOOOOO! before chucking the Emperor to his doom, which is so batshit I can only surmise it was Lucas purposefully trying to piss people off), I may have exaggerated a bit in saying that it’s a game changer. If it was an alternate universe where they were the only versions that ever existed, maybe, but that’s not the case, so I’m calling foul on that first Rocky point.
Rocky 0, Star Wars 0
You know what’s slow? Rocky movies. And just about everything else made from 1976-1990 except for Star Wars. While every Rocky movie is arguably re-watchable for either ironic or non-ironic reasons, and while half of the Star Wars movies are so absolutely un-watchable that just thinking about them is depressing, the OT is infinitely more re-watchable than any Rocky movie. The non-stop ahead of their time thrills, effects, creatures, environments, and props in all three OT Star Wars films are simply more exciting on repeat viewings than anything in the Rocky films, even if you argue the Rocky films are better. The OT is like the poster child for re-watchability. The dreaded special editions, endless repackaging, both studio and fan tinkering, are all testament to this. Secondly, I’d like to point out that it’s easier to remember which Star Wars films feature which scenes, characters and lines of dialogue. Can you do the same for Rocky I vs II, Rocky III vs IV, or even remember what happened in Rocky V? I think there was a kid? But everyone, even my mom, can answer some basic Star Wars trivia.
Rocky 0, Star Wars 1
EU – we agree. Again, just to be clear, I do not recommend reading Star Wars novels, but yeah.
Rocky 0, Star Wars 2
Soundtrack / Score – we agree. Conti is great, Survivor is fun, but Williams is like… the best ever? Plus the fact that he’s the only good thing about the prequels.
Rocky 0, Star Wars 3
Your final point is valid. Note: I will argue that with any series they should always be watched in order of release date, but still, sure. The AV Club actually came up with an interesting order if you insist on watching all: New Hope > Empire > Phantom > Clone > Sith > Jedi. I actually do kinda like this as it keeps the surprises in Empire, but leaves you on the uplifting note / obvious story conclusion of Jedi. Curious what a Star Wars virgin would think about that.
Rocky 1, Star Wars 3
I’ll even give Rocky and extra point for not having Jar Jar in it.
Rocky 2, Star Wars 3
But I’m gonna give Star Wars another one for the OT being funnier than Rocky. Seriously. A New Hope is really funny. And not in an unintentionally funny homo-erotic beach run way. Plus Weird Al did two different Star Wars parodies and only one Rocky parody.
Rocky 2, Star Wars 4
The Library of Congress has selected two Star Wars films for preservation in the National Film Registry, but only one Rocky film.
Rocky 2, Star Wars 5
That scene in Spaceballs where they’re combing the desert.
Rocky 2, Star Wars 6
Rocky 3, Star Wars 6
Rocky 4, Star Wars 6
STAR WARS WINS!
Brandon: Based on Weird Al alone, Star Wars is better. Using Weird Al as a litmus test for cultural relevancy is excellent and should be used as often as possible. This is your strongest point for Star Wars over Rocky.
We have yet to discuss the love story. Rocky and Adrienne, specifically their origin story, is the best love story of the 70s. It’s more realistic, romantic and heart warming than Han and Leia. The most recent film in the series solidifies this point.
Rocky 5, Star Wars 6
We need to revisit the first point up for debate. The Special Editions do exist. Those are the films that are available for digital download, DVD and Blu-Ray. And Episodes I, II and III do exist. If we cherry pick different versions of IV, V and VI, yes, those are better than Rocky I, II and III. But this is about reality, not a fans wish.
If Lucas hadn’t revisited his vision, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Because the filmmaker altered what he made from 1977 to 1983 and because he revisited his universe from 1999 to 2005, there are enough films to do this.
The original versions of Star Wars IV, V and VI are better than Rocky I, II and III.
The special editions versions of Star Wars IV, V and VI may not be better than Rocky I, II and III.
Star Wars I, II and III are worse than Rocky IV, V and Rocky Balboa.
Creed is fantastic and will most likely be on par with Episode VII. But it’s too late. You can’t undo history. Episodes I, II and III will always exist.
What made Rocky IV, Rocky Balboa and Creed great were their acknowledgement of time. Your prime is not indefinite. It’s not healthy to live in the past. In fact, you might die because younger, hungrier boxers may take your life as they try to take your place in the sport. It’s also not healthy to live in a continuous state of what could have been. The Rocky series has flaws. The original Star Wars trilogy had few flaws. Now it has many.
If we’re based in reality, that’s one less point for Star Wars and one more point for Rocky, bringing the final to Rocky 6, Star Wars 5. If we’re based in an original trilogy alternative universe where there’s only Rocky I, II and III and Episodes IV, V and VI, Star Wars win. But we live in this world.
The Rocky films are better than the Star Wars films but the Star Wars franchise (movies plus expanded universe, merchandise, etc.) is better.
Cale: Guess there is only one way to settle this: Rocky vs Han. Football field, to the death, in their prime, signature accessory (boxing gloves / blaster) allowed.