A brief history of Stallone’s fight for an ownership stake in the franchise he created.
Brief History is a column that tells you all you need to know about your favorite — and not so favorite — pop culture topics. This entry looks at Sylvester Stallone’s feud with the owners of the Rocky franchise and what it has to do with his absence from Creed III.
The latest installment in the Rocky Balboa/Adonis Creed cinematic universe, Creed III, is the first without the man who started it all, Sylvester Stallone as Balboa. With Creed III, which marks star Michael B. Jordan‘s directorial debut, the franchise successfully moves on from the shadow of Balboa, with Jordan, in the role of Creed, building new mythologies and characters. Stories of underdogs and friends-turned-enemies-turned-friends remain, but it all feels fresh and new. Having said that, many will watch this film and wonder why Stallone, who is one of the film’s producers, is not on the big screen. As is often the case in show business, it’s a story of money that stretches back decades.
Financing the Original Rocky
Like the original Rocky film, the story of its creation is one of an underdog doing everything he can to make his dream happen. Stallone wrote the script for Rocky in 1975. Despite interest from producers in Hollywood, he refused to sell the script without a guarantee that he would play the lead role. Eventually, he found a pair of producers who would give him a chance: Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff.
The first Rocky (1976) was, of course, a hit. It won the Academy Award for Best Picture and marked the beginning of one of the most iconic franchises in the history of Hollywood. Five sequels followed. Stallone starred and wrote the scripts for all of them. And he directed all but Rocky and Rocky V, which were both directed by John G. Avildsen. Stallone made millions of dollars through the release of the films. But he has no ownership stake in the franchise he created. Years later, it remained the root of an ongoing dispute.
Pursuit of An Ownership Stake
Not until the start of the Creed franchise was Stallone credited as a producer. The next chapter of the franchise was a good one for Rocky, who took on the role of mentor, and Stallone, who won a Golden Globe for his work. Yet, Stallone still had no ownership stake in the franchise. He started to voice publicly his frustrations. As Variety reported in 2019:
“Every word, every syllable, every grammatical error was all my fault,” [Stallone] says. “It was shocking that it never came to be, but I was told, ‘Hey, you got paid, so what are you complaining about?’ I was furious.” That said, he blames his own naiveté and lack of business savvy at the time for not pushing the issue hard enough: “You don’t want to ruffle the feathers of the golden goose.”
Stallone said he wanted an ownership stake that could be passed on to his children. Citing anonymous sources, Variety reported that Stallone had made more than $20 million as a producer on the first two Creed films, and that Winkler acted with “surprise” when he heard the news. While that certainly is a lot of money, it is worth noting that the franchise has made over $1.7 billion worldwide, with more films on the way.
An Angry Instagram Post
The public spat between Stallone and Winkler (Chartoff died in 2015) took a turn for the worse in 2022. Last summer, MGM confirmed that a second Rocky spin-off franchise was in this works, this time focusing on the father-son team of Ivan and Viktor Drago. Rocky fights Ivan (Dolph Lundgren) at the end of Rocky IV. Ivan kills Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) at the beginning of the film. Viktor (Florian Munteanu) features as the antagonist of Creed II.
After the new series was announced, Stallone, who was not told in advance, took to Instagram to voice his displeasure. Per Variety:
“Another Heartbreaker… Just found this out… ONCE AGAIN , this PATHETIC 94 year old PRODUCER and HIS MORONIC USELESS VULTURE CHILDREN, Charles And David, are once again picking clean THE BONES of another wonderful character I created without even telling me,” Stallone wrote. “I APOLOGIZE to the FANS, I never wanted ROCKY characters to be exploited by these parasites.”
He also voiced anger towards Lundgren:
“By the way, I have nothing but respect for Dolph but I wish HE had told me what was going on behind my back,” Stallone concluded. “Keep your REAL friends close.”
Stallone Will Never Watch Creed III
According to Men’s Health, Stallone said in an interview on Sirius XM that he would no longer be involved in the franchise as long as Winkler remained a producer. “You can’t make peace with someone who’s been so, so nefarious, in my opinion,” he said at the time. He went so far as to say that he would “never” watch the new film. Though he said he remains open to working with Jordan and returning to the franchise in the future.
And such is the history behind Stallone’s absence. While we understand his decision, we hope that this is not the last we have seen of Rocky Balboa. And Mr. Stallone, if you’re reading this, check out Creed III. It’s a damn good installment in your iconic franchise.
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