The successful re-invention of the Rocky franchise via the Creed films is fairly unprecedented in cinematic history: Creed III is the culmination of a film series that builds on its inspiration without rebooting, recasting, reimagining or cheapening it. It expands the Rocky-verse and makes it richer.
In the latest Low Key podcast, Keith Dennie, Tim Molloy and I discuss all that Creed III does right, and why we think the franchise can keep going strong. You can listen on Apple, Spotify, wherever you get your podcasts, or, you know what? Right here:
Creed, Star Wars and Indy
Movie sequels quite typically feel completely stale by movie three. But Creed III is critically acclaimed and broke multiple box office records over the weekend, including for the biggest box office opening weekend of all-time for a sports movie. Like Rocky, which was still going strong by Rocky IV (the film that opened the door to the Creed franchise), Creed III has beaten the sequel odds.
The closest analogues to the Rocky/Creed franchise are the Star Wars and Indiana Jones films. All originated in the same five year period, from 1976 to 1981, and all are still active today. Financially, Star Wars is the most successful — and the second-most successful franchise ever, after the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It has earned more than $5 billion domestically, far more than the Indiana Jones or Rockyverse films.
But its owners seem confused about its direction, with Lucasfilm canceling projects soon after greenlighting them. (Before he left Disney — and then returned — Disney chief Bob Iger promised a “slowdown” of Star Wars films, conceding that a recent run of Star Wars projects was “too much, too fast.”)
Indiana Jones hasn’t had that problem. It has released only three films since Raiders of the Lost Ark, in 1981, and 80-year-old Harrison Ford will don the fedora for the fifth and last time in this summer’s Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. The Indiana Jones films have earned almost a billion dollars, all on the shoulders of one actor. But there are no apparent plans to keep the franchise going without Harrison Ford.
Creed has youth on its side. Its star, Michael B. Jordan is 36, and Jonathan Majors, who seems ready to assume a bigger role in the franchise, is 33. Jordan has promised a Creed 4, and there are also plans for a Drago spinoff. Together, the Rocky and Creed franchises have made more than a billion — and the Creedverse is only expanding.
Other franchises are taking notes. It’s no surprise to learn that Creed was a key inspiration for Cobra Kai, another hit saga that builds on the history of decades-old IP, the Karate Kid films. (Which were, in turn, inspired in large part by the Rocky films. There was once even talk of a crossover.)
Cobra Kai and Creed are both success stories of revitalizing old stories while honoring them — but Creed got there first.
Creed III has also earned universal acclaim from pretty much everyone except, well, Rocky Balboa himself. Sylvester Stallone has distanced himself from Creed III, the first film in the Rockyverse in which he does not appear, because of an ongoing feud with producer Irvin Winkler.
The connection audiences feel with Michael B. Jordan’s portrayal of Adonis Creed is easy to understand, but the Creed franchise doesn’t coast on nostalgia. It finds a believable thread to pull Adonis out of his role as boxing promoter by drawing from his unexplored past as a troubled youth.
It also makes great utilization of the talents of Jonathan Majors, arguably the hottest actor in Hollywood, to play Adonis’ old friend and intimidating foil, Damian Anderson. Fans get treated to some of the coolest boxing action we’ve ever seen on the big screen, and a story about a hero who learns to face the shame and guilt he’s fought to keep hidden since he was a child.
The formula from the first Rocky film was repeated in the ensuing five films, and an incalculable amount of poor imitations. Movies in the Rocky-verse are typically inspirational, underdog stories where the protagonist overcomes an opponent deemed insurmountable by the general public and, oftentimes, from his own corner.
Creed III contains shades of that familiar framing and adds another layer that isn’t present in the previous films: trauma. Adonis is haunted both by the moments he’s chosen to erase from the past he chooses to share with loved ones, and the methods used to protect him from the same friends who allowed him to survive on the streets as a young boy.
Ironically, Adonis resents being cut off from Damian, while also intentionally trying to forget the events leading up to the night that altered their lives forever.
The dynamic between Adonis and Damion is grounded and heart-wrenching as we watch it play out in a diner, on a beach, and in the ring. Jordan and Majors make it feel believable wherever they are, even without the boxing gloves.
Most encouragingly for the franchise, Jordan — who by now knows Adonis Creed better than anyone — makes his directorial debut in this film, and shows really great promise.
“I felt like with Creed III, it was knowing that I had the best handle and insight on this character and this world because I lived with it the longest,” Jordan noted in this MovieMaker cover story.
The quiet shots in Creed III convey everything that needs to be said through posture and lighting, but Jordan also expertly meets the action with a chaotic expressiveness that is rare with films lacking superpowers. He’s obviously got more ideas in his bag, possible glimpses of a real champion.