How often does a franchise include seven films? How often are any of them up to the quality of the original that launched the franchise in the first place? The 1976 surprise hit Rocky was nominated for ten Academy Awards and took Best Picture, Best Director (for John G. Avildson), and Best Editing. In every way Rocky Balboa and Sylvester Stallone have been synonymous ever since. Stallone was nominated for his original screenplay and for best actor. Rocky is the story of an underdog, and Stallone was the mirror of Rocky in real life, proving himself to the world as a wannabe A-list movie star. As the franchise continued, Stallone became an international megastar, with movies like Rambo. Many argue the sequel to Rocky, simply titled Rocky II, is akin to the Godfather 2 or Superman 2, an example of Hollywood crafting a truly worthy sequel. From there critics and audiences diverge: Was Rocky vs. Dolph Lundgren as Drago in Rocky IV up to the adrenaline rush of the boxing rounds in the earlier films? Where does Rocky III fit in? The latest entry in the Rocky series, the reboot and eighth film in the series, Creed, is now streaming on Amazon Prime. If you are looking for an inspirational, feel-good movie, it should be the next movie on your list.
What seems to be unanimous is a drop in quality and excitement beset Rocky V and the sixth film Rocky Balboa. So when Creed was released at the end of 2015, who could have guessed it could be on par with the original? The odds were against its success, much like the character of Adonis “Hollywood” Johnson, the son of the late Apollo Creed, played by Michael B. Jordan in the film. Director Ryan Coogler, born ten years after the original Rocky film, grew up with Stallone’s boxer already part of the national psyche, along with other motivational sports films like Rocky director Avildson’s other unforgettable classic, The Karate Kid. Coogler draws from that film’s sensei Mr. Miyagi in one particularly well played training sequence between Stallone and Jordan. Stallone has played sensei before in the series, but only now, with the actor a real-life wise, elder thespian, does he provide a performance that in some parallel universe garnered him not only an Oscar nomination but a win (Stallone was only the sixth actor twice nomination for playing the same character). The young Jordan is equally superb, holding back when others may take obvious choices with a hot-headed fighter. Coogler’s subtlety is the stuff of great filmmaking, such as editing in musical cues from the original Rocky like a whisper throughout the film, only to release the full weight of Bill Conti’s goosebump inducing theme when it meant the most.
But how can Creed be as good as the original?
At a critical point in last year’s World Series the crowd drew silent and a fan in the crowd could be seen in the Jumbotron holding up a sign with three words: Never say die. The crowd erupted. And his team went on to win.
In Ice Castles a young woman overcomes blindness to become part of a successful figure skating team. In Rudy a young man fights desperately to play college football. In Caddyshack a kid picks principle over a college scholarship to compete in a round of high stakes golf. In Slap Shot and Necessary Roughness a coach tries some innovative methods to turn a losing team into a successful hockey or football team. In The Bad News Bears and The Mighty Ducks, a coach tries to make a team of youth baseball or hockey players out of a group of misfits. In The Natural, Field of Dreams, and Moneyball a has-been baseball player returns to the game to save the day. In Pride of the Yankees a professional baseball player tries to fight a terminal disease to keep playing the game. In Jim Thorpe–All American a Native American overcomes racism and class struggle to become a track, football, and Olympic icon. In Brian’s Song two professional football players move past racial differences and face a terminal illness. In Rocky and Creed a guy from the streets fights to be a contender in the boxing ring. In Cool Runnings (Jamaican bobsled), The Cutting Edge (pair figure skating), and Chariots of Fire (track) athletes overcome their personal trials to compete in the Olympics.
The underdog finally has his day.
Each of these sports movies follows a trial against adversity, whether it be a physical, mental, social, economic, or cultural barrier. Some are seriously dramatic and others comical, but most manage to include more than an ounce of humor along the way. And all incorporate plenty of heart. But they all share the theme of “beating the odds”.
A new movie from 20th Century Fox looks destined to be the next beat-the-odds sports movie triumph, and seems like it may be good enough to be added to this list of great sports films based on a new trailer. Eddie the Eagle follows a British skier who in 1988 became the first competitor to represent Great Britain in Olympic ski jumping.
Okay, it doesn’t really seem possible. We know Sylvester Stallone more for his action movies than any acting prowess. Yet he is Oscar material. Rocky–the movie and role that made him a household name, earned him nominations for both acting and his screenplay. The latest Rocky movie, titled Creed, is his seventh film as boxer–now retired boxer–Rocky Balboa. And the latest trailer (see here at borg.com for the first Creed trailer) shows he still has the acting chops, and can give as emotional a performance as ever, and maybe one that could garner him another Oscar nod for the same role he played nearly 40 years ago in 1976.
Like the first Rocky film, Creed looks more like a drama than just another boxing movie. This time Stallone handed the writing and directing honors to 28-year-old Ryan Coogler. Will it take passing his most significant life’s work to someone else to get him a story that provides the recognition he deserves?
If you’re a Veronica Mars or Heroes fan, as you watch this new trailer for Creed keep an eye out for the girlfriend of Creed’s son (Michael B. Jordan playing the characters Adonis Johnson). It’s Tessa Thompson who played Veronica Mars’ off and on friend Jackie Cook, and Becky Taylor on Heroes (Claire’s sorority sister and her power was invisibility).
Here’s trailer #2 for Creed: