Sylvester Stallone has been in every movie in the Rocky universe as Rocky Balboa — until now. "Creed 3" marks the first film in the "Rocky" and "Creed" franchises that doesn't include Stallone as the beloved Philly boxer who rose from an underdog to one of the greatest of all time. And Stallone has been very open about his reasons to not join the new movie, which stars Michael B. Jordan as Adonis "Donnie" Creed. (Jordan also served as the film's director.) In the movie, Adonis reconnects with his childhood friend Damian "Dame" Anderson (Jonathan Majors), who's just been released from prison. Adonis has a lot to handle as he navigates the film, and it does feel a little odd that he never turns to Rocky for advice. Here's why Stallone as Rocky isn't in the film at all.
Why Sylvester Stallone Isn't in "Creed 3"
Stallone first let fans know that he wasn't going to be in "Creed 3" in a comment on Instagram in 2021. But he didn't explain why at the time.
It seems now that a a big influence on Stallone's decision-making has been his conflict with the franchise's producer Irwin Winkler. In a 2019 interview with Variety, Stallone opened up about he feels he was robbed of the rights for "Rocky" — which he wrote the original screenplay for. Stallone has no ownership stake in it, though he has made money on the franchise. Stallone believes he deserves much more. Explaining why he didn't fight for a stake at the time, he said, "I think there was a certain code of business conduct, maybe not as much now, but back then, that you don't ruffle the feathers of the golden goose." He said he was "furious" to realise that he wasn't paid enough, adding, "'Rocky' is on TV around the world more than any other Oscar-winning film other than 'Godfather.' You have six of them, and now you have 'Creed' and 'Creed II.'" At the same time, he told Variety he was interested in doing another movie where Rocky trains an undocumented fighter.
In 2022, Stallone used Instagram multiple times to attack Winkler after The Wrap reported in July that a "Creed" and "Rocky" spinoff movie about Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu) and his father Ivan Drago (played by Dolph Lundgren) was in the works. At the time Stallone posted in a since-deleted Instagram post, "After IRWIN controlling ROCKY for over 47 years, and now CREED, I really would like have at least a little WHAT's LEFT of my RIGHTS back, before passing it on to ONLY YOUR CHILDREN – I believe That would be a FAIR gesture from this 93 year old gentleman," according to The Wrap. Some of Stallone's anger is that he won't be able to pass down ownership rights to his own kids.
The outlet reported that the actor said in another deleted post, "If it wasn't for Winkler there would've been at least another three 'Rocky''s, that would've been wonderful," adding, "Frankly that crew are the worst unhuman beings I've ever met in the movie industry. I will forever love the loyal fans and keep punching.!!! REMEMBER IT FEELS GOOD TO CLEAR YOUR HEART."
Stallone said the issue also affects his feelings about the "Creed" movies in a November 2022 interview with The Hollywood Reporter. "I'm not an executive producer on the Creed movies. [Director] Ryan Coogler is. [Star] Michael B. Jordan is. [Winkler and Chartoff's] children are. Not mine. I'm the only one left out," he said.
However, it seems that his decision not to return for the third movie wasn't just because of his issues with rights, but also with the film's content. When asked about why he wasn't returning for the new instalment, he told THR, "That's a regretful situation because I know what it could have been. 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." Stallone is still credited as a producer on "Creed 3," however.
Jordan told Sports Illustrated in a March 3 interview when asked why Stallone isn't in the movie, "There are obviously politics that go beyond me."
Will Sylvester Stallone Ever Return to the Rocky and Creed Franchise?
Stallone has left the door open repeatedly for a return to the franchise. In March 2021, he posted on Instagram that he was working on a treatment for a "Rocky" prequel series, adding that the vision would be, "Ideally 10 episodes for a few seasons to really get to the heart of the Characters in there younger years."
Jordan also told SI that Rocky is always welcome, saying, "I think there's always space for Sly, for Rocky, to come back. That's one of those amazing things about that character. It would make sense in any storyline because it all stems from the world of Rocky. So any version of that, it would make sense."
"Creed III" is in theatres now.