Why Sylvester Stallone Is Not in ‘Creed 3’

Michael B. Jordan’s “Creed III” is now playing in theaters, which means a lot of moviegoers may find themselves asking the same question: Where the hell is Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Balboa?

Stallone starred opposite Jordan in “Creed” and “Creed II,” even earning an Oscar nomination for supporting actor thanks to his role in the 2015 first installment. But Stallone is entirely absent from “Creed III.” While Rocky’s name gets name-dropped a couple times in the script, his whereabouts are never explained.

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Stallone’s absence in “Creed III” marks the first time in nine films and 47 years that a movie in the “Rocky” film franchise does not feature Rocky Balboa. The reason behind Stallone’s departure is twofold: He wasn’t the biggest fan of “Creed III’s” creative direction, and his clash against longtime franchise producer Irwin Winkler remains ongoing.

“Creed III,” scripted by Keenan Coogler and Zach Baylin from a story they cooked up with original “Creed” director Ryan Coogler, is a far darker take on the uplifting “Rocky” franchise. As Variety film critic Owen Gleiberman observed in his review, “Creed III” is a sports drama that feels more like a “Cape Fear”-inspired thriller than a traditional “Rocky” movie.

“That’s a regretful situation because I know what it could have been,” Stallone told THR about disagreeing with the sequel’s tone. “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. I just feel people have enough darkness.”

Jordan was also interested in crafting an Adonis Creed movie that was all about Adonis. The first “Creed” movie focused on the relationship between Adonis and Rocky, while “Creed II” pushed Adonis on his own path. For Jordan, it only made sense for “Creed III” to show Adonis without the safeguard of Rocky.

“First of all, Sly and Rocky’s DNA is through this entire franchise,” Jordan told HOT97 ahead of the third film’s opening. “You can’t have these movies [without that]. That underdog spirit, I think, connects the underdog in all of us…I want Adonis to stand on his own two feet. In order to do that, we had to go into the past. 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.”

Stallone’s clash with Winkler is an even bigger reason for his absence in “Creed III,” so big that it might mean Stallone never plays Rocky again. The two have long feuded over rights to the “Rocky” franchise, which Winkler has owned since the Oscar-winning 1976 original. Stallone naively sold Winkler the rights all those years ago when he was a struggling actor and clearly unaware of the franchise potential for the character.

Speaking to SiriusXM host Jessica Shaw last November, Stallone said it was “a rough emotional ride” cutting ties with the “Rocky” franchise for “Creed III.” The actor added he needed to do so because “you can’t make peace with someone who’s been so, so nefarious, in my opinion.” Stallone was referring to Winkler, of course.

Stallone first opened up about his resentment over the “Rocky” rights in a 2019 interview with Variety. Although he earned net points on the original movie — which cost just over $1 million to produce and grossed $225 million globally — and received first-dollar gross on the early sequels, Stallone does not maintain the rights to the characters.

“I have zero ownership of ‘Rocky,’” Stallone told Variety at the time. “Every word, every syllable, every grammatical error was all my fault. It was shocking that it never came to be, but I was told, ‘Hey, you got paid, so what are you complaining about?’ I was furious.”

The clash between Stallone and Winkler over “Rocky” rights was reignited in 2022. Stallone published an Instagram post in July featuring a portrait of Winkler as a knife-tongued serpent.

“A very flattering portrait of the great ‘Rocky’/’Creed’ producer, Irwin Winkler, from one of the country’s greatest,” Stallone wrote in the caption. “After Irwin controlling ‘Rocky’ for over 47 years, and now ‘Creed’, I really would like to have at least a little [of] WHAT’S LEFT of my rights back, before passing it on to ONLY YOUR CHILDREN — I believe that would be a fair gesture from this 93-year-old gentleman?”

A few weeks later, MGM announced it was developing a new “Rocky” spinoff movie centered on the Drago family. Dolph Lundgren starred as Rocky’s Russian rival Ivan Drago in “Rocky IV,” while Florian Munteanu debuted as Ivan’s son in “Creed II.” Robert Lawton was hired to pen the script. Stallone spoke out publicly against the spinoff and said he was never told about its development.

“Another Heartbreaker… Just found this out… ONCE AGAIN , this PATHETIC 94 year old PRODUCER and HIS MORONIC USELESS VULTURE CHILDREN, Charles And David, are once again picking clean THE BONES of another wonderful character I created without even telling me,” Stallone wrote on Instagram. “I APOLOGIZE to the FANS, I never wanted ROCKY characters to be exploited by these parasites.

“By the way, I have nothing but respect for Dolph but I wish HE had told me what was going on behind my back,” Stallone added at the time. “Keep your REAL friends close.”

Lundgren then got involved by telling “Rocky” fans to relax after Stallone called out the spinoff. “Just to set the record straight regarding a possible ‘Drago’ spinoff. There’s no approved script, no deals in place, no director and I was personally under the impression that my friend Sly Stallone was involved as a producer or even as an actor,” Lundgren wrote. “There was a press leak last week which was unfortunate. In touch with Mr. Balboa – just so all the fans can relax…There ya go.”

Stallone and Lundgren have since squashed their beef, but that’s not the case when it comes to Stallone and Winkler. As long as the producer maintains the rights to the franchise, it doesn’t seem like moviegoers will ever see Stallone’s Rocky back on the big screen.

“Creed III” is now playing in theaters nationwide.

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