After eight rounds as Rocky Balboa, franchise star and creator Sylvester Stallone isn’t getting back in the ring for Creed III. Stallone played the character in all six Rocky movies between 1976 and 2006, reprising the role as retired heavyweight champion-turned-mentor and manager to Adonis “Donnie” Creed (Michael B. Jordan) in 2015’s Creed and 2018’s Creed II. That film ended with the retired Rocky stepping back from boxing and reuniting with his estranged son, Robert “Rocky” Jr. (Milo Ventimiglia), and grandson in Vancouver, Canada. By the time of Creed III, Rocky is only mentioned in the context of his ’76 bout with Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) for the world heavyweight championship title.
Asked about the absence of Stallone’s Rocky in Creed III, Jordan told HOT 97 that the third movie is about taking Donnie out of Apollo and Rocky’s shadows to “progress the franchise forward.”
“First of all, Sly and Rocky’s DNA is through this entire franchise. You can’t have these movies [without that],” Jordan said. “That underdog spirit, I think, connects the underdog in all of us. I think what we love about these movies so much is that we see somebody that’s going through hardships, that’s able to rise from the ashes and reach the mountaintop, and we connect with that. For us, we connect with characters that can do the same, and that’s what we want to do with Adonis Creed.”
Ryan Coogler’s Creed, which saw Donnie travel to Philadelphia and seek out his father’s friend and two-time opponent as a trainer, “was a lot about Rocky and Apollo,” Jordan explained. “The first movie was a lot about that. The second film was really Adonis Creed trying to come out of Apollo Creed’s shadow, and being comfortable in his own skin.” After making peace with his father’s death in the ring at the hands of Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) by battling the hard-hitting Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu) in Creed II, actor and director Jordan wanted Creed III “to stand on Adonis’ shoulders.”
“I want Adonis to stand on his own two feet. In order to do that, we had to go into the past,” Jordan said of Donnie’s childhood friend, Damian “Dame” Anderson (Jonathan Majors), once considered his “brother” when the two teens lived in a group home. “What were those transformative years, those childhood traumas that shaped [Adonis] today? I think the room for this story was really about Adonis Creed moving forward with his family, and having him move forward. That’s kind of how we rolled out the story for this one.”
Why Wasn’t Sylvester Stallone in Creed III?
Creed III credits Stallone as a producer, but the actor — who created the saga’s characters as the sole writer of the six Rocky movies — does not appear as Rocky. When wrapping filming on Creed II, Stallone announced his Rocky retirement after more than 40 years, writing on Instagram: “It’s been my ultimate privilege to have been able to create and play this meaningful character. Though it breaks my heart, sadly all things must pass… and end. I love you kind and generous people, and the most wonderful thing of all is that ROCKY will never die because he lives on in you.”
By 2019, Stallone began developing an idea for a Rocky VII that would see the retired Rocky mentor another young fighter. “I never say no to Rocky, because I have a couple of ideas,” Stallone wrote on Instagram in 2022, adding that his ideas for the potential sequel “don’t really involve the ring as much as they should. I’m not so confident that will be exciting enough for the audience. But who knows?” He also teased his treatment for a Rocky prequel series for streaming.
Complicating Stallone’s Rocky future is his public feud with longtime Rocky and Creed franchise producer Irwin Winkler. Since last year, Stallone’s Rocky rights fight has seen him urge Winkler to return “what’s left” of ownership over the franchise that Stallone created.
“It’s never gonna happen. It was a deal that was done unbeknownst to me by people that I thought were close to me and they basically gave away whatever rights I would have had,” Stallone recently told The Hollywood Reporter when asked if Winkler might share the Rocky rights. “At the time I was so excited to be working and I didn’t understand this is a business. Who knew Rocky would go on for another 45 years? I’ve never used one [line of dialogue] from anyone else — and the irony is that I don’t own any of it. The people who have done literally nothing, control it.”
Stallone also told THR of Rocky’s absence in Creed III: “That’s a regretful situation because I know what it could have been. It was taken in a direction that is quite different than I would’ve taken it. It’s a different philosophy — Irwin Winkler’s and Michael B. Jordan’s.”
“I wish them well, but I’m much more of a sentimentalist. I like my heroes getting beat up, but I just don’t want them going into that dark space,” Stallone continued. “I just feel people have enough darkness.”
Starring Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson, Jonathan Majors, Wood Harris, Florian Munteanu, Mila Kent, and Phylicia Rashad, Creed III is now playing only in theaters.