With Rocky in its corner, the film fought off skeptics to win over critics and moviegoers. Could awards-season gold be next?
Credit: Barry Wetcher

Call Creed Thanksgiving’s surprise champion. Over the five-day holiday weekend, the Rocky spin-off punched above its weight, fighting off multiplex competition from The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2 and The Good Dinosaur to haul in a chest-thumping $42.1 million. Since opening in theateers, it’s now grossed $64.6 million. What’s more, the reported $35 million sports drama — starring Michael B. Jordan as Adonis Creed, upstart boxer progeny of Rocky Balboa’s late ring rival Apollo Creed — has rope-a-doped awards-season conversation. Costar and Rocky mastermind Sylvester Stallone’s performance, which has already earned a best-supporting-actor prize from the National Board of Review, seems particularly primed for attention.

In the film, the Italian Stallion has basically put himself out to pasture; he must slug it out with his own mortality before helping mold the younger Creed into a champion. “I thought it would be interesting to take a character like Rocky, who’s always been so physically tough, to where he never throws a punch and is dealing with being an older guy,” says writer-director Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station). “Sly’s been in hit movies for 40 years. People have a tendency to take his talent for granted. Because he’s so good, he makes you believe he is these characters — Rocky Balboa, Rambo. He’s totally not. It’s all performance. If people are handing out awards, I think Sly definitely is deserving.”

Jonathan Glickman, president of the motion-picture group for Creed‘s codistributor MGM, credits Coogler, 29, with persuading Stallone to return to the series as a producer-writer-actor after the middling reception of 1990’s Rocky V and 2006’s Rocky Balboa. He wooed Stallone, in part, by his personal connection to the material: Coogler’s father is a major Rocky fan, and the filmmaker had recently watched his dad’s near-fatal battle with a degenerative neuromuscular disorder. The struggle inspired one of the film’s plotlines and helped steer Creed in a direction that’s neither retro nor reboot. “Ryan was able to make a film that paid attention to what we love about the franchise that was also a forward-looking picture of a modern hero in Adonis Creed,” Glickman says. “It tells a contemporary story. But his reverence for the franchise allowed him to be respectful and give the fans of Rocky what they needed in a Rocky film.”

For his part, Jordan entered into portraying Adonis — an underdog struggling to reconcile his father’s legacy with his own self-worth inside the squared circle — with Stallone’s explicit blessing. “He was like, ‘You shouldn’t compare yourself to what I did 40 years ago, because this is your movie,'” Jordan recalled during a recent conversation on SiriusXM’s Entertainment Weekly Radio. “Just hearing him say that took that weight off my shoulders…. If he’s cool with it, I’m cool with it.”

In Hollywood, nothing succeeds like success — except, perhaps, for sequels. And as Rocky himself is apt to point out, every champion was once a contender who refused to give up. So can audiences reasonably expect a Creed 2 anytime soon? “I’m lying if I tell you I didn’t think about what would happen next for these characters,” Coogler says. “But it’s still way too soon to talk about it!” Just don’t count it out.

Additional reporting by Kyle Anderson

Rocky spinoff
  • Movie
  • 95 minutes