A gritty, compelling depiction of a young boxer pursuing his dream, searching for identity, and fighting for an opportunity to prove his self-worth
When Creed was released in 2015 to audience and critical raves and massive box-office success, the filmmaking team had pulled off a seemingly impossible task: staying true to the spirit and style of the film’s iconic predecessors while forging its own path — not unlike the journey of its young protagonist, Adonis “Donnie” Creed, who sought to forge his own legacy while following in the footsteps of the world heavyweight champion father he never knew.
Creed II is the next chapter of the Adonis Creed story, which follows the young boxer’s life inside and outside of the ring as he deals with newfound fame, family, his father’s legacy, and his continuing quest to become a champion.
Award-winning filmmaker Steven Caple Jr. (The Land) directs from an original story and screenplay written by Juel Taylor and Sylvester Stallone, story by Sascha Penn and Cheo Hodari Coker, based on characters created by Sylvester Stallone.
Through the introduction of Adonis — the illegitimate son of boxing legend Apollo Creed, Rocky’s onetime opponent-turned-friend and coach —the film reinvigorated and expanded the Rocky cinematic tapestry by returning the series to its underdog roots.
Its gritty, compelling depiction of a young boxer pursuing his dream, searching for identity, and fighting for an opportunity to prove his self-worth became a fable again for a new generation, many of whom weren’t even born when Rocky became 1976’s highest-grossing film, was nominated for ten Academy Awards, won three (including Best Picture of the Year), and launched the career of its then-unknown star and screenwriter Sylvester Stallone.
After six films between 1976 and 2006, as well as 2015’s Creed, it was the spirit of rebirth — and the emotional theme of what it means to be a father or a son — that drove the team to forge new ground in Creed II.
“It was a brilliant idea to have the character of Adonis Creed, played beautifully by Michael B. Jordan,” says Irwin Winkler, who has produced all the Rocky and Creed films. “It was natural then that the next step would be taking that character into the future, and delve further into his relationships with Rocky, his love Bianca, his adoptive mother Mary Anne, and show how he’s handling life in the celebrity spotlight as a rising boxing star.”
Creed II dives deeper into how Adonis, seeking to confront the legacy of the father he never knew, comes face-to-face with the man responsible for Apollo’s death … and with Rocky’s own trauma more than three decades afterward. As Adonis achieves the heavyweight championship title, just as his father, and his mentor Rocky, did before, he struggles inside himself with the meaning of that success. Is he fighting for himself, or for the father he never knew?
Meanwhile, deep inside Ukraine, there’s a man who will force Adonis to confront history: Ivan Drago, the man who killed Apollo Creed in the ring before losing to Rocky in a dramatic U.S.-Soviet super-match. When Ivan lost that fight, he lost everything, and his son, Viktor, was forced to grow up in a hard life as he learned to hate while training to box. When Adonis wins the heavyweight belt, Ivan and Viktor Drago see their chance, and become determined to defeat him for their family’s redemption.
Rocky warns Adonis against the match-up, but Adonis must face his father’s legacy if he’s to move forward and be the best man he can be for the people he loves — and to himself. “I’m a big believer that life is cyclical — it goes around, and keeps coming around and around,” says Stallone. He had once considered exploring Drago’s life in the former Soviet Union following his humiliating loss to Rocky.
When the franchise began to delve deeper into the themes of parenthood, fathers-and-sons, and legacy that were introduced in Creed, it led Stallone to think of Drago.
“When I started imagining the storyline for Creed II, I thought, ‘It’s about the sins of the father,’ and that Adonis isn’t the only son carrying the weight of a legacy,” says Stallone. “So, I considered some questions: what if Ivan Drago had a son? What type of legacy did he inherit?”
“In Creed II, Rocky’s past has caught up to him, and also with Adonis, who is drawn into it because this is the man who killed his father,” continues Stallone. “It was also the darkest moment in Rocky’s life when Apollo basically substituted for him in the exhibition match with Ivan, and he died. So now Adonis feels like he should take on Ivan’s son, Viktor, to avenge his father. As for Ivan, after losing the fight to Rocky, he lost everything else in his life, and has spent years instilling in his son nothing but hatred and revenge. Ivan has come back to prove to the world he isn’t a loser and is using Viktor to achieve that, while Rocky is afraid that history is going to repeat itself.”
The idea of Adonis avenging his father’s death in the boxing ring by fighting the son of Ivan Drago seemed like a natural, even inevitable progression for this complex character, part of Adonis’ journey to come to terms with his life, who he is, and why he fights. “I thought this would be an interesting theme, sort of Shakespearean in its characters and its arc,” Stallone says. “It was also a melding of two different generations and popular characters.”
The storyline reverberates through the new life Adonis is starting with Bianca, which includes the couple starting a family — an event that inevitably brings up what came before. For Adonis, who grew up without a father figure, this fight with Viktor Drago becomes the missing piece of an emotional puzzle. “Everything started to click when Sly came up with the Drago storyline,” says Jordan, who is also an executive producer of Creed II. “It was natural that Adonis would be a boxer like Apollo, and that Viktor would box the same as his father. In the boxing world, fighters’ sons often grow up in the gym watching their fathers, often following them into the sport. It was a genius idea.” Not to mention an idea that pulls together various threads and characters across the rich tapestry of the Rocky and Creed franchises.
“Aside from offering the opportunity to ten an incredibly exciting, moving and entertaining story, it just felt like a very organic continuation of the journey of Adonis Creed and Rocky Balboa,” says producer William Chartoff, who grew up with the Rocky franchise that his father, the late Robert Chartoff, produced. William also worked on Rocky IV and 2006’s Rocky Balboa, producing the latter, as he did with Creed. “Now world champion, Adonis is suddenly faced with the man who was responsible for his father’s death — and then getting into the ring with his son, who is an absolute beast, played beautifully by Florian Munteanu. We understood the potential magnitude of what these fights could mean for our characters and the ongoing mythology of the franchise.”
Creed II raises the stakes for the characters while offering fans the exciting training and fight sequences they’ve come to expect from cinema’s most popular and successful series of dramatic sports films. That includes the championship match in Moscow Olympic Stadium between Adonis and Viktor, and a rough-hewn training camp in Death Valley, California, where Rocky brings Adonis.
“We’re always aiming to keep things fresh, and to bring in new ideas, so we were careful to not rehash the same concepts and ideas that I think we had very successfully covered in the first Creed,” says producer Charles Winkler, who also grew up with the Rocky franchise in the family and served as executive producer and second unit director on Rocky Balboa and a producer on Creed. “Many in the audience are familiar with these characters, so they know the tragedy and animosity in their past, which is a plus. And in this film, we develop these characters more, and add more great characters by which these new ideas can play out.”
Behind the camera, a crucial new addition also gave Creed II an additional layer of passing the torch.
Prior to helming Creed II, Caple, an award-winning independent filmmaker, wrote the screenplay for an HBO drama about the life and death of Emmett Till and directed the Netflix docuseries Rapture. Caple’s feature debut The Land was sold to IFC following its premiere at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, which landed him a coveted spot on Forbes’ annual “30 Under 30 in Hollywood & Entertainment” list.
Featuring an electric mix of characters and action and shot in Caple’s hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, The Land evoked the same gritty, old-school style realism as Creed and the original Rocky. Beyond sharing the same vision for the film, Jordan says Caple’s creativity and personality made him the perfect choice to direct Creed II.
“Ryan Coogler and I have a very strong relationship, so when the timing didn’t work for him to return and he suggested Steven — somebody he knew and trusted and who is also of our generation — I was excited,” says Jordan. Working with Steven was a blast. He’s really smart and extremely collaborative. He thinks a lot about the nuances, and brings his own gritty, emotional, and down-to-earth feel to the film.”
“If we had had to create a director to take the reins from Ryan Coogler, yet make the film totally his own, it would have been Steven Caple Jr.,” says Chartoff. “Steven’s sensibility is a bit different than Ryan’s. And Steven has a great ability to recognize what’s going on in a character, not just on the surface but inside, at every moment in the story. He’s extraordinarily focused and enormously gifted. We got so lucky that Steven wanted to do this film.”
Caple was a huge fan of the Rocky films. “I first saw Rocky when I was a kid, and watching it again recently, it’s just as relevant today as it was then,” says Caple. “You can always relate to an underdog story, you can always relate to a person who’s fighting for something he’s passionate about. All the Rocky films kept that heart going, and the story of Adonis Creed took the saga to another level of connection for me.” He was inspired by the reinvention of the Rocky film series, and eager to explore and build on the themes and characters introduced in Creed. “One of the big challenges when you’re getting passed the torch by two iconic filmmakers is staying true to all of that while putting your own stamp on it,” says Caple. “Sly is a filmmaker at heart and a huge collaborator, and so is Ryan, and they’ve both been very helpful in allowing me to make this film my own.”
In Creed II, Caple had an additionally exciting opportunity: to build on a crucial part of the film series’ mythology with the return of Ivan Drago and the introduction of Viktor Drago. In Rocky IV, when the 6-foot-4 Russian boxer towers over the bloodied, mortally wounded Apollo Creed and says without remorse, “If he dies, he dies,” Drago secured his spot as the most memorable villain of the Rocky saga— and a place in movie history. With the Drago-Creed storyline, Caple was determined to avoid making Creed II into a “revenge movie” by focusing on what’s at stake for Adonis and Viktor: two sons with dreams of their own, caught up in their fathers’ legacies … and linked by the same tragedy.
In early scenes, Ivan and Viktor move about their lives in Ukraine, hollowed-out but hungry, their eyes haunted by a glory Ivan feels was taken from him and which Viktor has only heard about — a remnant from an era he never knew. “With Ivan and Viktor Drago, I wanted to really dive into their characters,” says Caple. “In a way, I was dealing with an origin story: what happened after the fight in 1985, and the motivations and pain these characters endured living as outcasts after Ivan’s loss to Rocky. We haven’t seen Ivan in years — what’s happened with him? What is Ivan coming for, exactly? I wanted to know what their life had been like. It was really cool to get into the Drago backstory and revive it in a way that felt new.”
Caple knew that while the Creed vs. Drago face-off provided a thrilling high-stakes framework for the film, the biggest dramatic punches remained in exploring the emotional life of these two young fighters and those around them.
“We always go back to that one root: what is this story about? Because we know it’s not about the boxing,” says Caple. “It’s not about the left hook or jab. It’s about the relationships between the two people in the ring to those in the corners and ringside, even the crowd and the press and what they represent. How does all of that get into their psyches? How does the action in the ring affect the loved ones who are watching? We always go back to what’s beyond the ring to focus on what’s really important — the characters’ journeys.”
Lundgren says so many of the central metaphors in the Rocky and Creed films continue to connect to us because they are so relatable, and so human. “There’s a true bit of magic about getting your shot, reflecting on that, and seeing that kind of story portrayed,” says Lundgren. “You don’t have to know anything about boxing to enjoy a Rocky movie, or a Creed movie. It’s ultimately not about boxing: it’s about life. They help people reflect on their own lives and dreams. And in Creed II, I think Steven Caple Jr. has really added to that. Now it goes even deeper.”