The Creed franchise is much more than a Rocky spinoff

  • Michael B. Jordan’s directorial debut, Warner Bros.’ “Creed III,” will be released March 3.
  • Paying homage to the iconic films of Sylvester Stallone, the Creed film franchise has flipped the script on the Rocky series, highlighting black talent behind the camera and in front of the camera.
  • The first two Creed films have been box office successes, each grossing over $100 million in ticket sales domestically.

Michael B. Jordan starred in “Creed III”.

Warner Bros.

LOS ANGELES – This is an underdog story for the 21st century.

The Creed series is a Hollywood marvel in many ways. It’s a charming spinoff of the beloved, decades-old Rocky series, but it has its own modern style and sensibility.

And, in homage to the star and the stories that gave it foundation, it has overturned the mythic script of a perpetual white working-class cast by highlighting black talent on both sides of the camera.

Warner Bros. The upcoming “Creed III,” which hits theaters March 3, also sees its lead actor as director, a move also taken by Sylvester Stallone with the release of “Rocky II” in 1979. The film Michael B. The film will be Jordan’s directorial debut.

“Michael B. Jordan has worked on some amazing television series and movies and I’ve always said the best film schools happen on sets,” said Shawn Edwards, a film critic who sits on the board of Critics’ Choice Association & Co. African American Film Critics Association founded. “I think it was only a matter of time before [he] Jumped behind the camera.”

Jordan’s path to the director’s chair was paved by Ryan Coogler, who wrote and directed the first Creed film, as well as Steven Caple Jr., who directed the second. Coogler, who had not yet released his first film, “Fruitvale Station”, which also starred Jordan, approached Stallone about a Creed spinoff.

After many years, he finally won her over. Stallone co-starred in the first two films and co-wrote the screenplay for “Creed II”. Stallone was not involved in the third Creed film and declined CNBC’s request for comment.

The first film, 2015’s “Creed,” followed Adonis, the son of Rocky’s longtime rival and later friend, Apollo Creed. The story examined the life of an orphaned boy living in the shadow of a boxing legend and dealing with his own underdog story while seeking to follow in his father’s footsteps and enter the ring.

“Creed” echoed many of the narrative cues from the original Rocky films, focusing on a so-called “ham-and-egg” from the average streets of Philly’s white working-class who becomes a heavyweight contender and Eventually, becomes the world champion.

But the new franchise also addressed issues of the Black experience and Black masculinity.

“It’s refreshing to see this focus not on our traditional ways of thinking about black representation in terms of the past and historical struggles against discrimination and oppression,” said Brandi Monk-Pyton, a professor at Fordham University. “I think the way they’re embedded [the film’s characters] Roam around the world… But at the same time, it’s not the focus of the story. The focus of the story is this every man who goes through struggle and triumphs.”

Michael B. Warner Bros. Jordan and Jonathan are major stars. “Creed III.”

Warner Bros.

Industry insiders and experts say this kind of story can only be told if black actors are part of the production process and take on leadership roles at studios.

Sheldon Epps, one of television and theater’s leading black directors, said it’s only been in the past decade that he’s seen a change in Hollywood’s diversity.

“I’ve been around long enough that in some situations, I’ve been one of the few, or only black directors or black leaders, of an arts institution,” he said. “Over the years, just one of a few television shows that I’ve been on, like ‘Friends’ and ‘Frasier.’ And it’s sad that for many years that was true.”

Epps said that gradually changed as more Black directors were hired on hour-long dramatic television shows, including Paris Barkley (“Cold Case,” “The West Wing”) and Eric Laneuville (“Lost”). She also pointed to Black auteurs like Ava DuVernay, people who have risen to positions of power and used that position to uplift others. DuVernay’s series “Queen Sugar” had a policy that only female directors would be hired to work on the show.

“Participation by more artists of color in the process of creating stories, not only creating them, but writing them, is essential because it broadens the canvas,” Epps said. “Instead of getting a narrow view of Black people, or Latino people, or Asian people because the stories are being written from inside those worlds, we’re getting a more broad view of all the diverse communities of our nation.” “

Jonathan Majors and Michael B. Jordan star in Warner Bros. “Creed III.”

Warner Bros.

And stories of black heroes sell tickets.

“The Woman King” grossed nearly $100 million worldwide during its theatrical run last year, and Coogler’s two “Black Panther” films under the Marvel banner have together brought in more than $2 billion at the global box office.

According to comScore data, both “Creed” and “Creed II” grossed over $100 million at the domestic box office. And the third film is expected to gross between $25 million and $35 million in its opening weekend.

“It’s expanded the audience,” said Rolando Rodriguez, president of the National Association of Theater Owners. “There is a distinctly additional energy within the Hispanic and African American community.”

Rodriguez believes that while black people make up 13% of the population, black moviegoers will represent approximately 20% to 22% of total ticket sales for “Creed III”. Similarly, the Hispanic community accounts for approximately 19% of the population, but represents 25% to 28% of movie tickets sold.

“It really helps the overall film, because it’s not taking away from other audiences,” he said, noting that other demographic groups will still flock to the film, so it’s not a replacement for those audiences.

“I’m excited about it because it’s nice to see some of these diverse films where these young men and women can really see themselves being represented on screen as lead actors and actresses,” Rodriguez said. “That you can become someone who is expected to become a CEO or a movie star, producer or director … I think it sends a very important social message.”

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