Watch: Creed III trailer
Sylvester Stallone is synonymous with Rocky Balboa. Even more so than Stallone with Rambo. The story of Rocky getting made on a wing and a prayer, and how it saved Stallone from poverty, is equal to the underdog story the film itself is prided on. The fact that, fifty years on, we’re still watching the ongoing saga play out on the big screen is miraculous and that the quality has been kept is something staggering.
With the release of Creed III (in cinemas and IMAX now), the Rocky franchise enters uncharted waters as the first film in the series not to feature Stallone as Rocky.
Addressing his absence from the film, Stallone said: “What it was is Michael [B Jordan] is telling a story, highly personal, but there’s no room for me. In other words, it’s about his [character Adonis Creed’s] family, about his dilemma, and about his journey that has nothing to do with boxing.
“I don’t want to give anything away, but it’s a whole different point of view than Rocky’s point of view.”
Read more: From Rocky to Creed III: The story so far
Stallone’s relationship with the franchise is strained at best though, and given that we left Rocky in Creed II, reconciling with his son Robert and meeting his grandson Logan, it’s not hard to imagine the narrative of the new film will simply say he’s decided to stay with Robert and make up for lost time.
Behind the scenes, however, is a different matter. Despite playing Rocky eight times, writing seven of the films and directing four of them, Stallone actually has very little ownership over the series.
When Stallone wrote the screenplay and sold it with an eye to starring in it, he only earned $75,000 for both acting and writing, as well as a cut of the profits, despite this the film was a huge success. The rights to the characters, however, belong to producer Irwin Winkler.
Winkler has been the producer of every film in the series, and aged 91, still produces them. He, along with producer Robert Chartoff (who died in 2015) are the owners of the series and names, a fact that Stallone has been openly annoyed with. Speaking in 2019 with Variety Stallone stated that while he had nothing but respect for the late Chartoff, he remains furious at Winkler and his sons for not giving him more of a stake in the series.
Stallone states in that Variety interview that when he confronted Winkler around the release of Rocky IV about not having a equity stake he was told “Hey you got paid, so what are you complaining about” following up with “I was furious”.
Stallone has also said there have been fewer films than expected, thanks to the producers keeping a firm grip on the series. In a since deleted Instagram post deriding Winkler’s son David (also a producer on the Creed films) “if it wasn’t for Winkler there would’ve been at least another three Rockys”.
Looking back, Creed director Ryan Coogler spoke of being turned down by Stallone when he pitched Creed originally perhaps owing to Stallone’s reluctance to work with Winkler once again but was won over by Coogler’s enthusiasm and story.
For his role in Creed, Stallone was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, itself a rare feat for a sequel, and his first nomination since he was nominated as lead for Rocky. This clearly emboldened him to write the sequel film in 2018 and at one point consider directing the film as well.
Since then Stallone has spoken of his idea for a epilogue film for Rocky seeing him train a young Mexican migrant in a story he described as “very, very timely”. He has also spoken of a desire for a Rocky prequel television series.
With both of these projects stalling because of Stallone’s ever deteriorating relationship with the Winklers, things were made worse when a spin-off focussing on Ivan Drago, the villain of Rocky IV and his son Viktor from Creed II, was announced without consulting Stallone, it’s clear that Stallone has no desire to work with the producer who he feels is keeping him from having something to show for his time with the series.
Michael B. Jordan, who serves as director as well as star for Creed III, also decided to move the story forward and allow Adonis out of Rocky’s shadow. That’s not to say that Stallone has washed his hands of the series, he still remains a producer on the film and has read the script by Zach Baylin and Keenan Coogler and described it as “really interesting”.
Tessa Thompson, who plays Adonis Creed’s partner Bianca, said that she felt Stallone’s presence every day while filming the threequel. “His DNA is so inseparable from the project, that I feel like he's ever present,” she told Yahoo UK. “I feel like Mike just so wanted to do him justice and make him proud,” she continues. “So I really felt his presence on set the whole time in a way.”
Stallone has remained open about collaborating again if Winkler were to leave the picture, and given the producer is in his 90s it’s likely that will be sooner rather-than-later, but it remains to be seen if a deal can be worked out with Winkler’s sons and Stallone and what will happen to the franchise after Creed III.
Creed III is in cinemas and IMAX now.