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Let’s get ready to rumble! Welcome to WatchMojo and today we’re pitting the original six Rocky movies against the contemporary chronicles of Adonis Creed.
While both series have given us some of the best sports dramas ever made, only one can be crowned the champ!
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Round 1: The Hero’s Journey
When people think of underdog stories, Rocky Balboa is the name that immediately comes to mind. Ironically, Rocky’s journey mirrors the career of actor Sylvester Stallone. Both started as unknowns looking for a chance to shine. When finally given a shot, they surprised everyone by going the distance. As Stallone became a household name, Rocky basically evolved from an everyman to a superhero. In time, though, Stallone brought Rocky back to his humble beginnings, reminding audiences why they fell in love with him. Despite his rough exterior, Rocky is a gentle soul who inspires us all to do our best, whether we win or lose.
Adonis Creed is similar to Rocky in some respects, but couldn’t be more different in others. Where Rocky came from nothing, Donnie is the son of a champion who died 30 years earlier. While you’d think this would give him an advantage, Donnie worries that he’s destined to live in his father’s shadow. Although great challenges await Donnie in the ring, the real fight is within himself as he attempts to strike a balance between following in his father’s footsteps and being an individual. Donnie’s character arc actually parallels the Creed movies, which have honored their predecessors while also shaping their own legacy.
Both Rocky and Creed are retable characters who must overcome trials that are not only physical, but internal as well. Between the two, Creed’s inner struggles have more layers, which makes for a complex character study that’s equal parts brain and brawn. As likable as Rocky is, Creed is the more interesting character when you look at the big picture.
Winner: Rocky 0 / Creed 1
Round 2: Opponents
Of all the fighters Rocky has gone up against, Apollo Creed has easily gotten the most screen time. The undefeated World Heavyweight Champion, Apollo is cocky and charismatic, but never becomes a straight-up villain. By the third film, he develops from Rocky’s rival to a friend and mentor. Between Clubber Lang, Ivan Drago, Tommy Gunn, and Mason Dixon, none of Rocky’s other opponents are as multifaceted as Apollo. Most of them can come off as one-dimensional, over-the-top, or goofy. Even at their most ridiculous, however, Rocky’s opponents have almost always been entertaining and we genuinely want to see them square off with our hero.
Donnie’s first major opponent is “Pretty” Ricky Conlan, a hotheaded world light heavyweight champion looking for one last fight before going to prison. Conlan isn’t above taking cheap shots at Donnie, calling him a “false Creed.” By the end of their first brawl, though, Donnie earns Conlan’s admiration, just as Rocky won Apollo over. Donnie’s big fight in the second film is more personal, as he’s going up against the son of Ivan Drago, who killed his father in the ring. While the film allows us to see a more human side of Ivan, his son feels underdeveloped, which subtracts from his rivalry with Donnie.
While Rocky’s opponents could get rather silly at times, that’s also what made them so memorable and fun to watch. Donnie’s opponents may be more grounded, but they’re also kind of forgettable. In any case, Apollo is by far the most iconic opponent, securing Rocky’s win for this round.
Winner: Rocky 1 / Creed 1
Round 3: Style
The original Rocky was far from the first sports movie, but it did perfect a lot of the tropes we’ve come to associate with the genre. With its adrenaline-pumping training montages and intense boxing matches, you can see why the film won an Academy Award for Best Film Editing. As epic as the movie can feel, its style maintains a modesty that’s in the spirit of its humble hero. While the franchise would eventually go Hollywood with the later entries, the passion behind the camera is always apparent. Electrifying songs like “Gonna Fly Now” and “Eye of the Tiger” only add to each film’s atmosphere.
Like its titular character, the Creed franchise feels grittier and more contemporary than any of the Rocky movies. While still borrowing many of the same cues from earlier films, director Ryan Coogler brought his own unique visual eye to the first Creed. Perhaps the most impressive sequence in the film is Donnie’s match with Leo “The Lion” Sporino, which Coogler pulled off in a single take, practically making the audience part of the action. Where the songs in the Rocky films put a strong emphasis on hard rock and orchestral music, the Creed movies lean more towards rap, which accentuates their edgier look and tone.
Even though the Rocky and Creed movies share many of the same traits, they distinguish themselves with very different styles. The Creed movies are clearly a product of modern times, however, whereas the old-fashioned nature of the first couple Rocky films holds up nearly four decades later. With a timeless tone and signature style, Rocky comes out on top here.
Winner: Rocky 2 / Creed 1
Round 4: Consistency
The Rocky movies are all over the map in terms of quality. Having won the Oscar for Best Picture, the 1976 classic set the bar pretty high. Nevertheless, Rocky II was a worthy sequel that expanded upon the characters and story. Rocky III was more overblown, but still had its fair share of heartbreaking and triumphant moments. While a guilty pleasure for some, Rocky IV is where matters really went off the rails with its Cold War subtext and Paulie’s robot. Rocky V tried returning to the basics, but 2006’s Rocky Balboa would do this much better, leaving the franchise on a high note.
Just when audiences thought they’d seen the last of Rocky, he returned to pass the torch to Adonis Creed. On paper, the premise to Creed sounds like a joke. What, Apollo had an illegitimate son we never knew about and now he’s going to take center stage? Against all the odds, Ryan Coogler turned in a riveting and respectful spin off/sequel that ushered in a new era with a bang. Creed II, while not quite as stellar as its predecessor, did something equally impressive. It took several plot points from Rocky IV, the most absurd film in the franchise, and molded them into something dramatically compelling.
To be fair, there have been six Rocky movies, which is three times more than the number of Creed movies thus far. So, it’s only natural that the Italian Stallion would have more misfires in his filmography. As of now, however, the Creed series just seems to have a better idea of what it wants to be while the Rocky franchise went through an infamous identity crisis.
Winner: Rocky 2 / Creed 2
Round 5: Legacy & Impact
Aside from winning three Oscars and inspiring a billion-dollar franchise, the original Rocky holds a special place in the hearts of many, especially the citizens of Philadelphia. The film is such a prominent love letter to the City of Brotherly Love that a Rocky statue was built by the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Speaking of which, the titular character’s climb up the Rocky Steps is one of the most iconic moments in cinematic history, inspiring countless parodies. Even if the Rocky sequels couldn’t reach the heights of the first film, each has at least one memorable line or scene that’s left an impression on pop culture.
Creed came out at a time when Hollywood was essentially resurrecting every beloved franchise, either as a sequel, reboot, or reimagining. As you can imagine, many people jumped to the conclusion that Creed would be another cash-grab that didn’t need to exist. Audiences were caught off-guard by the film’s fresh take on a familiar story, though. Like Mad Max: Fury Road, Casino Royale, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the film has become a textbook example of how to properly revive an aging franchise, introducing new characters and themes while also remaining true to its roots. That being said, Creed wouldn’t even exist without Rocky.
As influential as both of these franchises are, there’s no denying which one has left the greater impact. Even if Adonis Creed gets a statue of his own someday, the character’s legacy is forever intertwined with his father’s and Rocky’s. No matter how you look at it, Creed is a chip off the old rock.
Winner: Rocky 3 / Creed 2
Keeping in the spirit of both franchises, it was a close call, but nobody can break Rocky, who wins with a score of 3 to 2… and there ain't gonna be no rematch.