Warning: This article contains spoilers for Creed III.Creed III created several different paths for the franchise, but if it wanted a future with the most possibilities, it needed to kill off Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone). The capstone of the Creed trilogy was the only film in the Rocky franchise not to include The Italian Stallion after 47 years, instead choosing to focus on Adonis (Michael B. Jordan) retiring from boxing, training the next generation of young boxers, and cultivating a life with his family. Even when everything he’d worked for was jeopardized by the sudden appearance of Damian Anderson (Jonathan Majors), an old childhood friend with a score to settle, Rocky was nowhere to be found.
Fans shouldn’t get their hopes up for Stallone’s Rocky returning in Creed 4, but there’s always the possibility that he could come back if the storyline called for it, and therein lies the problem – it shouldn’t. Donnie found himself not only struggling with the guilt of knowing a friend went to prison for an altercation he was responsible for, but trying to make peace with Apollo’s past, and he needed to be the father his own father never could be, without the father-figure he’d always had by his side. Like his statue, Rocky looms large over the Creed franchise and its future depends on stepping outside his shadow.
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Creed 3 Could Have Easily Killed Off Rocky Balboa (Why Didn’t It?)
Creed 3 could have easily killed Rocky off, either offscreen or in a death scene tailored to his character. In Creed II, Rocky agreed to go round after round with chemotherapy if Adonis agreed to keep training to fight Viktor Drago, so he could have lost to the illness the way Stallone killed off Adrian in Rocky V. Instead, he’s briefly mentioned by a few characters in a locker room, but as the movie takes place in Los Angeles and not Philadelphia, the nucleus of the Rocky franchise, there’s not much of a reason for him to factor into the plot.
By not addressing his death directly, Creed III leaves open the possibility for Rocky’s return to the franchise at a later date, whether it’s a simple cameo, a ghostly apparition like Mickey in Rocky V, or something else entirely. Beyond that, given that Rock is a character created by Stallone, it makes sense that he would have wanted a hand in writing how he passed on. Killing Rocky would have severed all ties with the original movies, and it might have alienated Creed fans who grew up on them in the ’70s and ’80s, making it the wrong time to pass the torch.
Creed Movies Can’t Truly Escape Rocky While He’s Still Alive
Creed III focused on killing the past as Donnie came to terms with his father’s legacy and reconciled with his own. It was always going to be a personal journey, but that was compounded by Dame’s storyline, which forced Donnie to confront his feelings of shame and guilt at contributing to his friend’s incarceration. Rocky might have been able to offer advice, but since most of the villains in the Rocky universe are one-dimensional, making Dame Donnie’s new challenger presented something outside of Rocky’s wheelhouse.
Until Rocky dies, the Creed movies will always be overshadowed by his legacy, and at some point, they need to stand on their own merit. Adonis needs to be able to take Rocky’s place and mentor a new fighter the way Rocky mentored him, particularly since unlike Rocky, he handled his sudden rise to fame in a well-adjusted way. In Rocky 3, Rocky became complacent and short-sighted, but in Creed III Adonis avoided a crucial Rocky mistake by using his wealth and reputation to help others, and he’s in a much better place after retiring from the ring.
Rocky’s Death Can Push Adonis Creed’s Own Story Further
By the time Creed III is over and Donnie has defeated Dame and his own personal demons, he’s emerged on the other side of a ruthless gauntlet like a phoenix rising from the ashes. Rocky had always told him that the greatest opponent he’d ever face in the ring was himself, and he faced his own fears and his own failings to snatch the belt from the jaws of defeat, once again becoming the undisputed champ. It would seem as though Donnie has no further conflict in his life now that he’s left the ring for the final time, but Rocky’s death could still push his story further.
Donnie might be out of the ring, but the Creed movies are much darker than the Rocky movies, with a much less black-and-white take on morality. Rocky dying in Creed 3 would have mirrored Mickey’s passing in Rocky’s life and galvanized its titular character, but it can still happen in the future, whenever Donnie’s narrative needs to become complicated. His story will look quite different when every vestige of the Rocky era is behind him.
Rocky Deserves A Proper Ending In The Creed Movies (& Dying Makes Sense)
Given all of his influence over the Creed movies, Rocky deserves a proper ending, and an epic death makes sense. The passing would need to be climactic and heartwarming to properly highlight the passing of such an indomitable spirit, but if Stallone had the opportunity to write it himself, it would no doubt incorporate elements from across the Rocky franchise. Fortunately, it wouldn’t be at the hand of anyone in the ring like Apollo, because after the fight at the end of Rocky V, and the nearly fatal pummeling he took from Tommy Gunn, Rocky deserves something a little more dignified.
Creed III’s big death was given to another important character in the franchise, and it greatly affected Donnie’s mental state going into the World Heavyweight Championship with Dame. Rocky’s death would have probably revealed a different side of Donnie’s character that hadn’t been explored yet, while at the same time symbolizing that Donnie may have put the past behind him, but he could still confidently carry all of their memories into a bold future. That changing of the guard from old to new could have reflected public comments Stallone has made himself, citing the end of Rocky was near.
Stallone’s characters, much like the plots of his Rocky movies, are all about principles. In the ’70s, after the surprising success of Rocky, he once explained that he wrote the film at a low point of morale in America, and he wanted the public to have someone to root for (via BBC). Stallone’s had the screenplay for Rocky 7 prepared for quite some time, and assuming he can ever get the Rocky rights back from producer Irwin Winkler, he’ll be the one to have Rocky go out on his terms, but after missing the opportunity in Creed III, it’s up to the Creed franchise until then.