How Creed III Fits Into—and Diverges From—the Rocky Franchise

8 minute read

In 1976, Rocky Balboa appeared on the silver screen for the first time in Rocky and an underdog icon was born. Now, nearly five decades later, the franchise—not so much an underdog but a champion—boasts multiple sequels, with the latest, Creed III, releasing in theaters on March 3. The film, which is the ninth in the Rocky franchise and the third in the Creed series, centers on Adonis “Donnie” Creed, the son of Apollo Creed, as he confronts dark secrets from his past after and old friend-turned-foe reappears in his life after 18 years.

The film marks a series of firsts for the franchise; for star Michael B. Jordan, who’s portrayed Adonis since his breakout role in Creed in 2015, Creed III will be his directorial debut. For Sylvester Stallone, the face of the franchise and the figure most associated with the films, Creed III will be the first Rocky film that he will not appear in, although he was a producer on the project.

As the film hits theaters, here’s what to know about how Creed III fits in the Rocky franchise.

Warning: Spoilers ahead for Creed III

Is Creed III a continuation of Rocky?

Michael B. Jordan stars as Adonis Creed in CREED III.Eli Ade—© 2023 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc.

As the ninth film in the Rocky franchise and the third film in the Creed series, Creed III is the latest in a long legacy of films in the Rocky Balboa universe. Examining the challenges of healing from past traumas and the trappings of fame, as well as the importance of family, the film centers on Adonis Creed, the once-forgotten illegitimate son of boxing great Apollo Creed, the longtime rival-turned-close friend and trainer of Rocky Balboa. While Apollo Creed died before he could see his son Adonis follow in his footsteps as a world champion, Adonis keeps his father’s legacy alive. He does this first as a boxing champ, then after he retires, as the proprietor of a boxing gym led by Tony “Little Duke” Evers, the son of Tony “Duke” Evers, who trained both Apollo and Creed. In Creed III, however, Adonis decides to come out of retirement to defend his title as the world champion after Damian (Jonathan Majors), an old-friend-turned-rival, emerges from a dark past in his life.

Read more: Creed III Is the Kind of Movie the Big Screen Was Made For

Creed III is Michael B. Jordan’s directorial debut

Director Michael B. Jordan on the set of his film CREED IIISer Baffo—© 2023 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc.

As the star of the first two Creed films, it feels like a natural progression for Michael B. Jordan to now take the helm as the director of Creed III. Jordan was directed in the first Creed movie by his longtime collaborator Ryan Coogler (the pair began their working relationship with 2013’s Fruitvale Station and continued it with 2018’s Black Panther), who is a producer on Creed III and executive produced Creed II. Coogler’s direction helped influence Jordan to take the leap into directing with this film; in an interview with Entertainment Tonight, he said that watching Coogler direct on the set of Fruitvale Station, a breakout film for the both of them, was pivotal.

“[The directing] interest sparks back [to] Fruitvale Station when I first kind of saw a guy, up close and personal, that looked like me, directing, commanding the set,” he said, noting that Coogler made himself available for “911 phone calls” during the filming of Creed III, despite being busy on a set of his own with the production of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.

Read more: Creed Director Ryan Coogler on His Chemistry With Michael B. Jordan

For his directorial debut, Jordan was attuned to details, but especially the importance of integrating American Sign Language into the film, as his character Adonis’ wife Bianca (played by Tessa Thompson), has progressive hearing loss, and their daughter, Amara (played by Mila Davis-Kent), is hard of hearing; all of Jordan’s scenes with Amara are in ASL with subtitles. in an interview with Indiewire, Jordan described the film as “quadrilingual.”

“We have English. We have Spanish. We have ASL. And then we have the fighting language we explore [in the final fight],” he said, noting that it was important to him that viewers see a world that embraced deaf characters. “I had the ability to really just drop them in this world and see how the ASL family is living and let the audience go for a ride.”

Why isn’t Sylvester Stallone in Creed III?

Michael B. Jordan stars as Adonis Creed in CREED III A Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures filmCourtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer—© 2023 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc.

Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Balboa is noticeably absent from Creed III, despite having prominent roles in the first two Creed films. In Creed, Stallone returned to the screen as Rocky when Adonis approaches his father’s old friend and formal rival to train him as a boxer. In Creed II, which Stallone also co-wrote and produced, he reprised his iconic role to train and mentor Adonis as he faces Viktor Drago, the son of Ivan Drago, who killed Adonis’ father, Apollo Creed.

Despite being the face of the Rocky franchise, Stallone chose not to appear in Creed III due to creative differences with producer Irwin Winkler as well as with Jordan, although he is still a producer on the film. According to Stallone, the film had a much darker tone that he didn’t agree with.

“That’s a regretful situation because I know what it could have been,” Stallone told the Hollywood Reporter of his decision. “It was taken in a direction that is quite different than I would’ve taken it. 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.”

Read more: Read TIME’S original review of Rocky

Stallone has been vocal about his conflict with Winkler, who owns the rights to the Rocky franchise, airing his grievances about it on social media and in interviews.

“You can’t make peace with someone who’s been so, so nefarious in my, in my opinion,” he said in an interview on SiriusXM’s “Pop Culture Spotlight with Jessica Shaw,” noting that he had hoped that the films, which he starred in and the first of which he wrote, would be a legacy for his family. “I wrote it. I thought it would be nice to say, ‘Here’s the gesture darling here. Beautiful children, beautiful wife. When I’m long gone, this is you. This is what I made for you.”

What to know about Jonathan Majors’ character, Damian “Diamond Dame” Anderson

Jonathan Majors stars as Damian Anderson in CREED IIIEli Ade—© 2023 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc.

In Creed III, Jonathan Majors plays Damian “Diamond Dame” Anderson, a former boxing prodigy and childhood friend of Adonis’, with whom he shares a dark secret from their past. The pair met and formed a close bond while they were both living in a group home for boys, where they were both subjected to violent abuse by an authority figure in the home. After a life-altering run-in with the law results in 18 years in prison, when Damian is released, he approaches Adonis, now a world champion and a celebrity in the boxing world and beyond, to reconnect—and to ask for an opportunity to finally fulfill his dreams of being a boxing champion.

It’s clear, however, that their years apart have changed both men, especially Damian, who quickly turns from friend to foe, intent on revenge and reclaiming the life and opportunities he believes he deserved instead of Adonis. The animosity between the two men grows so intense that Adonis comes out of retirement to settle their differences in the ring.

Read more: Jonathan Majors Is On the TIME100 Next

For Majors, the struggles of the character of Damian hit close to home. In an interview with Complex, the actor shared that he took inspiration for developing the complex character from his stepfather, who had been incarcerated.

“Dame is very close to [me],” he said. “I modeled a great deal of him after my own stepfather who had been incarcerated for 15 years. And so I saw that; the resentment, the ambition, the drive, the fear, the joy, the awe of freedom. The fear of freedom. I saw all that, and so I was trying to put that in Dame.”

Will there be more Creed movies?

While a Creed trilogy has a nice ring to it, Jordan said that fans shouldn’t rule out the possibility of another film in the franchise.

“I feel like the Creedverse is definitely going to expand and grow and it can go a bunch of different ways,” he said in an interview with Complex. “But you’ll see more of the Creed family in the future. I can say that.”

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