There are few franchises as long lasting — or as heavy-hitting — as the Rocky saga. Launching in 1976 with the Best Picture-winning Rocky, written by and starring Sylvester Stallone, the boxing series is entering its fifth decade with its ninth film: Creed III.
Landing in cinemas on 3 March, the third Creed film is the first instalment of the series to not feature Stallone, so let’s take a look back at the story so far.
Rocky | 1976
Rocky (1976) follows down-on-his-luck amateur boxer and loan shark enforcer Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone). When the heavyweight world champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) goes to Philadelphia looking for a local boxer to challenge him for the title he sets his sights on Rocky, who begins training with gruff local trainer Mickey Goldmilll (Burgess Meredith).
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At the same time he begins dating shy pet-shop worker Adrian Pennino (Talia Shire), who lives with her brother and Rocky’s friend Paulie (Burt Young). Rocky takes on Apollo in the ring and loses by a split decision, but in doing so earns not only Apollo’s respect and Adrian’s love but the proof that he could go the distance.
Rocky II | 1979
Immediately following the events of the first film Rocky II (1979) sees Apollo challenge Rocky to a rematch to prove his distance was a fluke. Instead Rocky opts to retire from professional boxing, marry Adrian and father a child.
Still, as a fighter by trade no other job is the right fit for Rocky and so he agrees to the rematch. Adrian gives birth to their son Robert “Rocky” Balboa Jr and eventually agrees to let Rocky take the match. Rocky almost loses the fight but, willing himself to keep going, he wins by technical knock-out as Adrian watches him triumphantly proclaim he ‘did it’.
Rocky III | 1982
Five years later, Rocky III (1982) sees Rocky defending his title ten times, bringing his family from poverty to wealth. At the same time, rising boxer Clubber Lang (Mr. T) challenges Rocky to a fight, to the concern of his trainer Mickey.
Mickey doubts Rocky’s ability against a younger, hungrier fighter, made worse when a pre-fight altercation causes Mickey to suffer a fatal heart attack. His death drives Rocky to fight with aggression, not skill and he loses his title.
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Witnessing the fight Apollo decides to retrain Rocky, completely changing his style to catch Lang off guard. In a rematch Rocky defends his title by taunting Lang, and taking him down with a knock-out blow. Afterwards Rocky and Apollo celebrate with a sparring match that freeze frames in iconic fashion.
Rocky IV | 1985
Fast forward to Rocky IV (1985), Soviet powerhouse Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) arrives in the US looking to make a name for himself. Curious Apollo agrees to an exhibition match, unaware that Drago fights to kill. Coldly proclaiming “if he dies, he dies”, Drago beats Apollo into submission and Rocky plans to throw in the towel for Apollo but Apollo disagrees. Drago subsequently beats Apollo to death.
Livid with Drago’s indifference, Rocky decides to go to Russia to challenge Drago to an unsanctioned 15-round fight with only Paulie and Apollo’s trainer Duke (Tony Burton) with him. Eventually he’s joined by an apprehensive Adrian, and on Christmas Day takes on Drago.
Despite only training with grit, he goes up against Drago who has been pumped with steroids. After a devastating round of blows Rocky finally gains the upper hand and knocks out Drago, avenging Apollo’s death. He then gives a strange speech which sort of calls for the end of the USSR.
Rocky V | 1990
In the aftermath of the fight, Rocky V (1990) sees Rocky and his family return to the US. The Balboas discover that Paulie gave their power of attorney to Rocky’s accountant who has squandered their wealth and left them with nothing.
Rocky begins suffering from complications due to excessive blunt force trauma and is forced to retire from boxing and move back to Philadelphia where he begins operating Mickey’s old gym. He takes an interest in a young boxer Tommy Gunn (Tommy Morrison) putting a strain on his relationship with his son Robert (Sage Stallone). When success comes for Gunn he disrespects Rocky and teams up with a high profile boxing promoter who tells him he can only secure his legacy by fighting Rocky.
Refusing the fight, Rocky is spurred to take on Tommy in a street fight after Tommy punches Paulie. Risking his health Rocky takes on Tommy in the streets and wins. Afterwards he takes Robert to see his statue and they reconcile.
Rocky Balboa | 2006
After Sixteen years we find Rocky in Rocky Balboa (2006) running a restaurant called Adrian’s, still reeling from Adrian’s death a few years prior, Rocky continues to try to mend a strained relationship with son Robert (Milo Ventimiglia) who resents living in his father’s shadow.
After a boxing show compares Rocky in his prime to current champion Mason Dixon (Antonio Tarver), an exhibition match is set up. Rocky uses this to regain a relationship with his son, and to drag Paulie out of a depression caused by being laid off. Together they go back to training and Rocky is able to take on Mason in the ring.
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Rocky loses by split decision, but doesn’t mind, instead pleased that he was able to go the distance one last time.
Creed | 2016
Creed (2016) informs us that Apollo fathered an illegitimate child born after his death. This son, Adonis (Michael B. Jordan) was adopted by Apollo’s widow Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad) following his mother’s death.
Heading to Philadelphia, Adonis sets about making a name for himself fearing he’ll only ever be seen as a false Creed. He convinces Rocky to become his trainer and embarks on a relationship with rising singer Bianca (Tessa Thompson). He’s challenged to a title fight against Rocky Conlon (Tony Bellew) which is complicated when Rocky is diagnosed with cancer.
Adonis and Rocky work together, with Rocky going into remission and Adonis taking on Conlon. He loses by split decision, but proves himself a worthy successor to his father’s legacy.
Creed II | 2018
After years as a champion Creed II (2018) sees Adonis face a challenge to not just his title but his legacy as Ivan Drago’s son Viktor (Florian Munteanu) who has grown up in disgrace with his father comes into the picture.
Adonis loses horrifically in their first fight, putting a strain on his relationship with both Rocky who is against him fighting Drago, and Bianca who is pregnant with his daughter Amara. Amara’s birth comes with complications due to Bianca’s hereditary hearing loss, but upon reconciliation with Rocky, Adonis goes into training and takes on Drago once more.
Read more: How Creed II connects to Rocky IV
This time beating him when Ivan throws in the towel to save his son. Victorious, Adonis takes his newborn daughter to his father’s grave. While Rocky reconciles with Robert and meets his own grandson Logan.
Creed III | 2022
Michael B Jordan returns as Adonis for a third time in Creed III, and it’ll also mark the Black Panther star’s directorial debut. The film sees Adonis trying to balance his career and family, with Bianca and his daughter by his side, but an old friend threatens to unsettle things when he is released from a long prison sentence.
Damien Anderson (Jonathan Majors) has a score to settle with Adonis and wants to take his belt from the man who he feels owes him a lot.
Addressing his absence from the film, Stallone said: “What it was is Michael is telling a story, highly personal, but there’s no room for me. In other words, it’s about his [character Adonis Creed’s] family, about his dilemma, and about his journey that has nothing to do with boxing.”
“I don’t want to give anything away, but it’s a whole different point of view than Rocky’s point of view.”
Creed III is in cinemas and IMAX from 3 March, 2023. Watch a trailer below.