At the 1977 Oscars, a surprising film about a Philadelphia boxer came out of nowhere to shock now-classics like Taxi Driver and All the President’s Men and take home the Best Picture award. Now, almost four decades later, the seventh movie in the Rocky saga is turning heads again. Creed might have been little more than yet another throw-away boxing movie– the last chapter in a series that could have called it quits thirty years ago. But in the more-than-capable hands of Fruitvale Station director Ryan Coogler, it’s emerged as a legitimate contender.

Credit goes to Coogler first, who not only helmed the film but co-wrote the smart screenplay with Aaron Covington. It was such a solid story that Sylvester Stallone agreed to reprise his iconic role and, in the process, ditch his own revival plans for the franchise.

Adonis “Donny” Creed (Michael B. Jordan) is the illegitimate son of Rocky’s old friend/rival. When we first meet him, he’s kicking the snot out of another kid in a juvenile detention center. Years later, after racking up an impressive record as a semi-pro boxer in Mexico, Donny decides to look up his dad’s old friend in Philadelphia. At first Rocky has no interest to getting back into the boxing life, but eventually he agrees to train Donny, and the film is off and running.

On the surface, Creed is the most basic of boxing movies, re-telling the plots of not only the entire Rocky franchise but countless other ones, too: hard-on-his-luck young man trains with haggard veteran to finally get his shot in the ring. But there’s so many other things happening in Creed that it slowly takes on a life (and identity) of its own. Central to it all is Stallone himself, who does his best work since he introduced the world to The Italian Stallion so many years ago. It’s a multi-layered performance full of raw emotion and honest-to-goodness acting, and it may just land Stallone an Oscar nod. (He’s already won this year’s Best Supporting Actor award from the Boston Online Critics, and he earned a Golden Globe nomination as well.)

Likewise, Jordan deserves plenty of attention. Along with the physical rigors he underwent to play Creed, he packs an emotional punch, too– driving the film forward with a stellar, head-turning performance. Even the boxing sequences themselves bring something new to the table; Coogler brilliantly shot the entirety of Donny’s first professional fight in a single take, and the end result is one of the most mesmerizing scenes in cinema this year.


No matter if Creed serves as the launching point for a Rocky reboot or as a perfect nostalgic bookend, in and of itself it’s a powerhouse film, and it’s a welcome return to the ring for a hero we forgot we missed.


4.5/5 stars