Why Isn’t Rocky Balboa in Creed 3? Sylvester Stallone Absence Explained

Adrian! ADRIAN! A D R I A N! Sylvester Stallone is beefing with the curmudgeonly producer of the Rocky movies—and Dolph Lundgren, too—and he’s on the outs!

This is the perilous situation of Mr. Rocky Balboa himself. If you see the stellar, Michael B. Jordan-directed Creed III this weekend, you’ll notice that not only is Rocky suddenly missing from his own spinoff franchise, but that he goes mostly (almost defiantly!) unmentioned. If you haven’t heard the infamous story, let’s throw it back to Rocky‘s 1976 debut. Stallone was a struggling young actor looking for his breakout role when he wrote an inspired screenplay about an underdog boxer. He agreed to sell the rights to producer Irwin Winkler for a measly $360,000 on the condition that he’d get to star in the film. Of course, Rocky went on to win the Academy Award for Best Picture and the franchise became a box-office heavyweight. It made Stallone’s career but the success was in some ways bittersweet. “I have zero ownership of Rocky,” Stallone told Variety in 2019. In the same story, Winkler claims that Stallone’s stake in 2016’s Creed alone netted him $10 million. Fast-forward to late 2022, and Stallone is telling SiriusXM’s Jessica Shaw that he’ll “never” see Creed III, because of his squabbles with Winkler. “You can’t make peace with someone who’s been so, so nefarious, in my opinion,” he said.

I’ll spare you the deleted Instagram where Stallone called Winkler, and I quote, a “PATHETIC 94 year old PRODUCER,” in response to reports of an upcoming Ivan Drago spinoff, which Stallone has also chirped at Lundgren about.

I want to keep the rest of this about Creed III. Because while Stallone metaphorically tumbling down the art museum steps and out of sight is sad for series loyalists, it’s actually the best thing that could’ve happened to Jordan’s Adonis Creed. The character never truly stood on his own until he was forcibly separated from the Italian Stallion. It’s fully his franchise now.

The first thing you’ll notice about the first Rocky-less Rocky movie is that it feels… lighter. Unburdened. Turns out, when you don’t have to squish in the scene where Uncle Rocky flies to LAX for a visit and gurgles, “Heyyy, kiddd,” to Adonis, you can do a lot! Jordan relishes in the sudden free time. When Creed III opens, Adonis has entered his Rocky IV, retired-robot-servant-in-a-mansion era. We feel his boredom. Spend real time with his young daughter, who is deaf—and very curious about dad’s old gig where he beat up on other men. Most importantly, the time we would’ve spent watching Balboa apologize to Rocky Balboa Milo Ventimiglia Jr. goes to a pretty important place: building up Damian Anderson, the eerie, Jonathan Majors-played villain. (Who, much like his Marvel counterpart, is obsessed with time.)

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Creed III finally lets Michael B. Jordan’s Adonis become his own man—without Rocky Balboa constantly looking over his shoulder.

Warner Bros.

When Damian was a teenager, he was best buds with a young Adonis—and a Golden Glove champion. Adonis and Damian had an incident, one I won’t spoil, that leads to Damian spending 18 years in jail. If Damian was the baddie in Creed II? That’s just about all the characterization we get. Old friend out jail mad! Instead, we get countless delicious scenes between Majors and Jordan, flexing their astronomically huge acting muscles (and real ones, of course), teasing the kind of resentment that comes from 18 years of sheer abandonment. I would’ve watched five hours of it. When the men truly turn on each other and slug it out, it’s earned—only because Jordan had the discipline to get us there. Don’t even get me started on the training montage, which is right up there with Ryan Coogler’s legendary “Lord Knows,” wheelies-in-Philly sequence in Creed.

Really, though, it’s simply nice to see one of our biggest and best movie stars—Michael B. Jordan—stand in the middle of the ring alone as director and star. No one whispering in his ear. No debt to a movie made in the ’70s. You can feel both Jordan and Adonis being themselves, the heroes in their own stories. For Adonis, he’s done being the supporting character in a franchise with his name on it. And for Jordan, Creed III is a true creative achievement, which even, I’d argue, makes an oddly strong argument for why we need to fight, sometimes. You’ll see. Hell, Jordan even introduces the idea that he’d be the one to gracefully pass the gloves to another bright young star someday. Bring it on, Michael—as long as you give us Creed IV first.

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