The surprising reason why Sylvester Stallone didn’t return as Rocky in ‘Creed III’

Creed III was the top movie in the US this weekend: the film, the third in the Rocky spin-off series focusing on Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) received critical acclaim and was the #1 movie at the box office.

But fans may have noticed one actor missing from the film: Sylvester Stallone, who played the iconic role of Rocky Balboa in the original series and in the first two Creed films, in which Rocky serves as a mentor to Creed.

So why was Stallone suddenly missing from Creed III? The actor has explained his reasons for hanging up the gloves.

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Stallone as Rocky Balboa

Rocky Balboa is Stallone’s most famous character. The original Rocky from 1976 is a classic, was a smash hit at the box office and won the Academy Award for Best Picture.

Stallone returned for five sequels, which had more mixed reception but were generally successful. Stallone returned for the 2006 sequel Rocky Balboa, which seemed to mark the end of the Italian Stallion’s career.

But in 2015, Rocky returned to the screen in the spin-off film Creed, the story of young boxer Adonis Creed, who is the son of Rocky’s deceased rival-turned-friend Apollo Creed.

In the film, Rocky Balboa serves as a mentor and trainer to Creed. Stallone’s return to the role was highly acclaimed, and he received many awards and honors: he was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance, four decades after he was nominated for the original Rocky.

He returned for the sequel, 2018’s Creed II, which also had strong ties to the Rocky franchise as Adonis Creed fights Viktor Drago, the son of Rocky’s former opponent (and killer of Apollo Creed) Ivan Drago, played by Dolph Lundgren.

Not returning for ‘Creed III’

But Creed III, which opened on Friday, takes the series in new directions. For one, Michael B. Jordan has taken over directing duties for the first time in his directorial debut, just as Stallone did on the Rocky sequels.

The franchise also moves further out of Rocky‘s shadow, with Adonis facing off with a new rival (played by Jonathan Majors) who has no connection to the original series — and most tellingly, Rocky does not appear at all.

Stallone’s absence from the film is not a shock: he hinted in 2018 that he was thinking of retiring from the role, and in 2021 confirmed he would not be in Creed III, though he gave his blessing to Jordan to take the mantle.

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“This is probably my last rodeo,” he said in 2018. “My story has been told. There’s a whole new world that’s gonna be opening up for the audience, this generation.”

“What it was is Michael is telling a story, highly personal, but there’s no room for me,” he told The Independent. “In other words, it’s about his [Adonis’] family, about his dilemma, and about his journey that has nothing to do with boxing.”

Feud with producers

But there many be another, more personal reason for Stallone suddenly walking away from the beloved franchise: a feud with Rocky producer Irwin Winkler.

Stallone, who created the character and wrote the original screenplay, sold the Rocky rights to Winkler in 1976 for $350,000, and has been “furious” by the lack of ownership of a franchise he made famous.

Stallone has not held back his anger at Winkler and his children. After the family announced a spin-off film about Ivan and Viktor Drago, Stallone wrote that “pathetic 94 year old producer” Winkler and his “moronic vulture children” were “picking clean the bones” of a character he created without his permission, the actor wrote in a since-deleted Instagram post.

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Stallone wrote that he did not want to see the series “exploited by these parasites.” Given their current feud, it’s understandable that Stallone wouldn’t want to participate in Creed III, which is still produced by Winkler. Stallone is also listed as a producer on the film.

Creative differences

While Stallone has given his blessing to Michael B. Jordan on the new film, he also hinted that it took the franchise in tonal directions he disagrees with.

“It was taken in a direction that is quite different than I would’ve taken it,” he told the Hollywood Reporter. “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.”

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Rocky is mentioned a few times in the film, but his whereabouts are not explained. When we last saw him in Creed II, he was reuniting with his estranged family.

While Stallone isn’t in Creed III, the cast says he is still part of the movie’s spirit.

“His DNA is so inseparable from the project, that I feel like he’s ever present,” Tessa Thompson, who stars in the Creed movies as Adonis’ partner Bianca, told Yahoo UK.

But the Creed movies should be about Creed, not Rocky: it makes sense for the character, at this point in the series, to step out of Rocky’s shadow. And Creed III has proven that, while Stallone’s presence is always welcome, the series doesn’t need him to succeed: the film had the biggest opening weekend for a sports movie ever with $58.6 million, and is one of the best-reviewed movies in the series.

Still, Stallone is great in the first two Creed movies and we’d love to see him make another appearance in the future.

Did you miss Rocky in Creed III, or are you glad the “Italian Stallion” has hung up his gloves and passed the torch to a new generation?

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