An Unofficial Ranking of ‘Rocky’ Franchise Wisdom Bombs
The most inspirational quotes from the film, ranked.
Image courtesy of Warner Bros.
This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.
When you hit up a Rocky movie, you come in with story-by-numbers expectations. Plotwise: it’ll be the same story of an underestimated “bum” reaching deep to discover some champion within. Music wise, it’ll be Bill Conti and that building orchestra of “stronger” vocals. And script wise, it’ll be the wisdom bombs...bomb after bomb of lines that both hold and age in the most unfortunate ways. It’s all built on a system designed to inspire, but when it doesn't work, it really doesn't work.
In expectation of Creed II, I gathered up some of the more memorable wisdom bombs and ranked them from the wisdom you should absolutely follow, to the wisdom that can feel like an actual bomb that sears the skin off to the point of death.
“I stopped thinking the way other people think a long time ago. You gotta think like you think.” —Rocky Balboa to his son, Rocky Balboa (2006)
Sooo.. don’t think like you think, if other people think the way you think, because if you think the way they think, you’ll stop thinking in the right way to think, because they thinken thick, think thuck...tank...hello, my name is Rocky Balboa, and I don’t think because I’m very concussed.
Is this good advice? I guess it’s like ‘be yourself.’ Which is fine.
“Do you like having a good time? Then you need-a-good-watch!” —Rocky Balboa in a TV advertisement, Rocky II (1979)
Yeah, but a watch can’t cure debilitating depression.
Is this good advice? See above.
“Going in one more round when you don’t think you can – that’s what makes all the difference in your life.” —Rocky to his nine-year-old son Rocky Balboa, Jr. Rocky IV (1985)
Yeah, the thing is, if you are a professional fighter and you go an extra round, you might die. We all get where Balboa is coming from with this 80s bedtime cheese, but the wisdom is bad and everyone knows it. Just forget the towel or your fundamental limits, and keep going until that permanent brain damage kicks in.
Is this good advice? ‘Try a little harder,’ when your physical well-being is not being threatened, is good dad advice.
“Stay in school and use your brain. Be a doctor, be a lawyer, carry a leather briefcase, forget abouts sports as a profession. Sports make you grunt and smell. Be a thinker, not a stinker.” —Apollo Creed to local reporters in Rocky (1976)
Boxer Apollo Creed seems to be calling himself smelly here, so this already in a wrong direction. You never throw up pointers in a way that makes you, the point giver, look like simultaneous trash. But that’s neither here nor there; let's also consider that we’re no longer in the 70s here. You’ve got a Facebook nerds posing as human entities, and he’s a multi-million dollar entrepreneur. Even with his briefcase, he probably stinks.
Is this good advice? Maybe the world doesn’t need another lawyer.
“See? You use dirty words, and maybe you end up becoming a whore.” —Rocky Balboa to a local street girl who swears too much, Rocky (1976)
Classic 70s Balboa brain processing. Because bad words were turning women around in the world into full blown prostitutes in 1976.
Is this good advice? Kinda surprised this isn’t one of the 12 Rules.
“You can’t learn anything when you’re talking. That’s a fact of life. As long as you’re talking, you’re not listening.” —Rocky to Adonis Creed during a training session, Creed (2015)
Sure, but you can learn plenty by talking. They call it a question, which Adonis asks plenty of in Creed.
Is this good advice? ‘Be an active listener’ is good for first dates.
“She’s got gaps. I got gaps. Together, we fill gaps.” —Rocky Balboa to Paulie Pennino in a parking lot, Rocky (1976)
Replace “gaps” with baggage and you’ll understand why the divorce rates were so high in the 70s. I think we’re good, Rock.
Is this good advice? I guess everyone has flaws. It’s really down to the flaws you can live with.
“It’s your right to listen to your gut, it ain’t nobody’s right to say no after you earned the right to be where you want to be and do what you want to do!” —an older Rocky Balboa during a verbal fight for his boxing license in Rocky Balboa (2006)
Nobody on the commision board wants to call Rocky an old geezer here, which props this wisdom bomb far higher than it deserves to be. When someone puts a pause on your glow-up, maybe, just maybe...just maybe, it’s for your own damn good. You have a right to listen to your gut, but you also have a right to be wrong.
Is this good advice? Sometimes your gut is a real dick.
“Nobody owes nobody nothin’. You owe yourself.” —Rocky Balboa to Paul ‘Paulie’ Pennino, Rocky III (1982)
Solid, timeless shit here. Gets straight to the point without the long old-man rant. Not a single person has time for a leechy sibling like Paulie who considers himself as being owned shit from a come up.
Is this good advice? Sure beats ‘love thy neighbor’
“During this fight, I’ve seen a lot of changing, in the way you feel about me and in the way I feel about you. In here, there were two guys killing each other, but I guess that’s better than twenty million. I guess what I’m trying to say, is that if I can change, and you can change, everybody can change! ” —Rocky Balboa to Russian opponent Ivan Drago after his win, Rocky IV (1985)
This quote killed the Soviet Union.
Is this good advice? This quote killed the Soviet Union.
“You see this guy staring back at you? That’s your toughest opponent. I believe that’s true in the ring and I think that’s true in life.” —Rocky to Adonis Creed during his first training session, Creed (2015)
This holds and falls depending on your state of mind and aversion to that romantic cheese. If Adonis felt like he could only rely on himself—where it was him against the world—this wisdom wouldn't hold up. In fact, the quote drop would feel like self-sabotage.
Is this good advice? You are your own worst enemy is a classic for a reason.
“One step at a time. One punch at a time. One round at a time.” —Rocky to Adonis Creed during another training session, Creed (2015)
It’s slow and boring, but it reminds that greatness must come in steps. As student Adonis stares stares at himself in front of a mirror, he reminded to acknowledge the steps before the climb. That’s an especially hard piece of advice to take in the younger you are, but when it come to a mastery of anything, it’s pretty damn true. Take it slow.
Is this good advice? Get your 10,000 hours in, dawg.
“You don’t have a boyfriend because you hang around coconuts, you get nowhere, they’re lemons. You hang around with nice people, you get nice friends, you understand? You hang out with smart people you get smart friends, you hang out with yo-yo people, you get yo-yo friends. It’s simple mathematics.” —Rocky Balboa to a local street girl who swears a bit too much, Rocky (1976)
It’s got early Balboa-isms sprinkled all over the joint with the yo-yo’s and coconuts, but it checks out. We can ignore that Rocky was in fact a coconut in this conversation, so we could guess that a coconut would recognize the contagiousness of coconuts.
Is this good advice? This is barely English.
“You gotta be a moron to be a fighter.” —Rocky Balboa speaking to Adrian about why he chooses to box, Rocky (1976)
Or desperate. But nine times out of 10, Balboa was a moron. I don’t think this can be any more true.
Is this good advice? It’s not really advice, but it’s an accurate statement.
“Ya know, they always say if you live in one place long enough, you are that place.” —Rocky to Paulie Pennino before a training session for the media. Rocky Balboa (2006)
We’ve all lived in a place where we begin adopting the languages, styles and customs of that locale. As of now, I’m overweight, seasonally depressed, and I’m dreaming of sleep as I write. I call this place journalism, and I live in it. This is a great, but occasionally depressing, dose of wisdom.
Is this good advice? There’s a nugget of wisdom here, Rock.
“Time takes everybody out. Time is undefeated.” —Rocky to Adonis Creed about the defeat of his father, Apollo Creed, Creed (2015)
On my way to work, I felt a pain in my foot. I don’t know how it got there, but I know what caused it: time. The older you get, the more mysterious the pains become. It’s the kind of “yeah, yeah” wisdom that’s obvious as it’s true. So of course, unless you’re reading this in an age when they’ve got the whole immortality thing on point, time will always have the upper hand. Duh.
Is this good advice? Rock dishing out the truth bombs, Christ.
“You see, fear is a fighter’s best friend. You know, but it ain’t nothing to be ashamed of. See, fear keeps you sharp, it keeps you awake, you know, it makes you want to survive. You know what I mean? But the thing is, you gotta learn how to control it. All right? ‘Cause fear is like this fire, all right? And it’s burning deep inside.” —Rocky to trainee Tommy 'Machine' Gunn and son, Rocky Balboa Jr. Rocky V (1990)
This directly contradicts that brain damage advice from Rocky V but yes, Balboa was reminding us all that fear steers us from the dumbass moves in life, but equally, it can prevent us from greatness.
Is this good advice? Embrace your fears, embrace greatness. Buy a PlayStation.
“Now, when we fought, you had that eye of the tiger, man; the edge! And now you gotta get it back, and the way to get it back is to go back to the beginning.” —Apollo Creed to former opponent Rocky during a training session, Rocky III (1982)
It’s all in the energy. Apollo “Hypeman” Creed says this with conviction and without the unnecessary allegories: in order for Rocky and audiences to get that young and hungry grit back, it helps to go back to where it started when you didn’t have shit but wanted shit.
Is this good advice? It’s definitely a good idea to remember where you come from.
“It doesn’t matter how this looks to other people, if this is something you wanna do, and if this is something you gotta do, then you do it. Fighter’s fight.” —Wife Marie to Rocky, Rocky Balboa (2006)
Yeah, and fighters get brain damage but it’s forgivable. Emotions were running high in this scene, so if we separate this from the ring, it holds up stronger. In current speech, you’d never want to go through life regretting decisions you never acted on.
Is this good advice? Yes.
“Nothing is real if you don’t believe in who you are!” —Rocky yelling to Adrian during a confrontation about his fight with Drago, Rocky III (1982)
This make for a great quote from The Matrix, but even with context, I still don’t completely get what this means.
Is this good advice? Solipsism is cool.
“It ain't how hard you hit; it's about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward. How much you can take, and keep moving forward. That's how winning is done.” —Rocky Balboa to Rocky Balboa Jr. during a heated exchange, Rocky Balboa (2006)
Classically corny, classically cheesy, and classically direct. By now Rocky’s aged, and he has no time to beat around the bush. Sure, he acknowledges that his son like many of us go through the shits, but he’s no longer willing to let audiences off the hook. By tying an analogy to the sport he not loves with the realities of our life, he throws a wisdom bomb that still bumps.
Is this good advice? Hell ya.
Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.
Follow Noel Ransome on Twitter.