Reviewed By: Brandon Katz
Ever since the 1976 original hit us as hard as a blow to the jaw, the Rocky franchise has been a touchstone of American pop culture. The Best Picture–winning film owes much of its success to Sylvester Stallone’s cleverly simple script, which tapped into the mythos of the American Dream: With hard work and sheer force of will, you can do the impossible. Across six installments, its titular boxer has repeatedly cast the spotlight on the underdog while allowing audiences some exhilarating wish fulfillment. And for the most part, it has all been quite glorious.
But as Rocky Balboa lives on as an integral part of the terrific Creed franchise, his continued existence raises the question of when a story should finally end. Creed II just enjoyed a fantastic $56 million opening over the Thanksgiving weekend against a $50 million budget. The Steven Caple Jr.–directed sequel is well on its way to becoming a mini-blockbuster just like Ryan Coogler’s first effort in 2015. However, that doesn’t mean that star Michael B. Jordan should carry on as Adonis “Donnie” Creed for decades like Stallone has done with his iconic character. Instead, Creed III should wave goodbye to Donnie and tie up an improbably great spin-off series.
Various elements can come to define a film franchise—memorable characters like John McClane’s everyman hero in Die Hard or the groundbreaking special effects and stunt choreography of The Matrix trilogy immediately come to mind. But what makes a franchise really compelling is a strong arc for its protagonist. As the Rocky franchise spilled ever onward, its thread began to unravel as the stakes continued to grow (Rocky ends the Cold War!), but the Creed series has a chance to complete Donnie’s journey and go out on a high note.
The first Creed, as The Ringer’s Jonathan Tjarks notes in this poignant deep dive, is very much a story about a boy growing up without a father. Due to Apollo Creed’s death in Rocky IV, Donnie never gains a true understanding of where he came from or what his place in the world is. Without that assurance of identity, the character seeks validation from others—hence why he turns to boxing, which also connects him to his dad. Despite his age and success, Donnie is very much a child trying to prove to himself that he isn’t a mistake. He is struggling to believe in his self-worth.