Creed Ending Explained: One Step at a Time, One Punch at a Time, One Round at a Time

Film franchises are revisited all the time. Whether it’s reboots, remakes, prequels, or legacy sequels, no classic movie is safe from resurrection. More often than not, you get the cynical brand extension of the “Jurassic World” series, which largely produces movies that feel like endless box checks. However, there are times when a filmmaker takes the reins of a beloved series, less interested in revisiting it for mere nostalgia than in examining and recontextualizing it, producing a new classic in the process. There’s no better example than 2015’s “Creed,” a legacy sequel to the “Rocky” series.

“Creed” is a film intimately dealing with themes of grief, legacy, perseverance and identity. Director Ryan Coogler brought the visceral immediacy and naturalism (and stardom) of his low-budget debut “Fruitvale Station” in 2013 to a beloved Hollywood series that was largely over. 2006’s “Rocky Balboa” was a belated conclusion to its titular character’s story, largely because writer-director-star Sylvester Stallone disliked 1990s “Rocky V,” which had to origin a more tragic end. There was little story left for the character, especially as Stallone envisioned.

The perspective of an outsider like Coogler’s was necessary and revealing. Rather than continuing to repeat the show’s familiar narrative beats, it found new ways in its conventions. The film’s biggest departure was casting out Rocky (Stallone) in favor of Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan), the illegitimate son of Rocky’s late friend Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers). His second biggest departure was taking the show back to its roots.



It’s hard to imagine a “Rocky” movie beyond the original opening with the tone of “Creed.” A juvenile detention center in 1990s Los Angeles, filled with children who ended up on the wrong side of the law. These opening shots tell their own story. When one of the children turns out to be Adonis “Donnie” Johnson, son of Apollo Creed, it’s hard not to think about how easily he could have slipped through the cracks. If he wasn’t the son of an extremely rich and famous boxer, he probably would have.

Instead, he is cared for by Apollo’s wife, Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad), who raises him in luxury. 17 years pass, leaving their relationship largely unexplored, but we see enough to know the depth of their affection for each other. We also see that she hates boxing, a hobby that adult Donnie enthusiastically embraces, flying to Tijuana on the weekends and working in an office during the week. His passion is overwhelming – we see him shadowbox clips of his old man, and we see him quitting his job so he can pursue what he really wants: to fight.

The film’s understated naturalism is a far cry from the bombshell that topped the “Rocky” series. In “Rocky IV,” Apollo Creed died fighting a seemingly superhuman Russian boxer named Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), in one of the series’ silliest entries, even though Stallone tried to make it genuine. “Creed” is less about international relations at the height of the Cold War and more about the man at its center, the father he never knew and the father figure he will find.

philadelphia cream


When his local gym rejects him, Donnie leaves Los Angeles for the streets of Philadelphia, hoping to reconnect with his late father’s rival and friend, Rocky. The man retired after the events of 2006’s “Rocky Balboa,” one of the series’ best films and a solid finale for a beloved character. Like the gym Donnie sought out earlier, Rocky declines the invitation to train Donnie. It’s not until Donnie asks about an unofficial fight between Apollo and Rocky, which took place at the end of the freeze frame of “Rocky III”, that the old man becomes interested.

So Donnie practices, calling Rocky “Unc” the whole time, and the movie settles into a relaxing groove familiar to “Rocky” fans. Rather than finding traditional ways to train, Donnie catches chickens and helps stock Rocky’s restaurant. He also improves in combat. Far from the tragic circumstances of his childhood and his more sheltered upper-class adolescence, he is blessed to find himself, embracing the rigors of training and the joys of following in his father’s footsteps for the first time.

Donnie is also lucky enough to fall in love with a local musician named Bianca (Tessa Thompson), who, like Adrian (Talia Shire) in the early “Rocky” films, is a fully developed character, more than a love that has a complicated relationship with boxing. His own passion for music and his rapid hearing loss also reflect on Rocky and Donnie in unique ways.

Building a Legacy


Donnie does not follow Adonis Creed. He goes by Adonis Johnson, hoping to forge his own identity out of what his world famous father has accomplished. But as his stature grows in the boxing community, it becomes more difficult. His fight against Leo “The Lion” Sporino (Gabriel Rosado), told in one gripping and breathtaking single shot, put him in the spotlight. When his name is leaked to the press, his sense of self-actualization is diminished, as he is simply seen as his father’s illegitimate son.

That’s why he becomes a prime target for the creations of Liverpool boxer “Pretty” Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellew), the light heavyweight world champion, in hopes of securing an easy victory against a boxer named before. to go to jail. His only condition is that Donnie change his last name to Creed.

Because the film goes to such lengths to simply show its characters simply alive, these moments sting even more. Faced with the challenge of a world champion, Donnie is about to lose his coach too: Rocky’s diagnosis of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma has pushed him to the brink of despair. Director Ryan Coogler has often cited his father’s cancer diagnosis as an influence on “Creed,” just one element of the film’s personality for him. “That’s the story I wanted to tell,” he told the Philadelphia Inquirer, a story about how grief and fear can become powerful fuel, how worry about the future doesn’t shouldn’t stop you from fighting.

go the distance


The film flies into its climactic match as Rocky deals with the pain of chemotherapy and Donnie the anxiety of proving his name. Mary Anne and Bianca are also worried, scared of what awaits Donnie as they should be.

The final match connects the stories of Rocky and Donnie, with the old man expressing his gratitude for his trainee’s ambition and drive, how it rubbed off on him in return. As the fight turns in Conlan’s favor, Donnie collapses to the ground, waking up only to the mental image of his father at the peak of his powers. Rocky feels worse for having helped Donnie to participate, more and more worried for his safety. But Donnie pushes on, needing to prove, ultimately, that he’s “not a mistake.”

It’s a moving scene. While it’s not quite as dramatic as the single-hit sequence earlier in the film, it’s far more dramatic, alternating between clips from an HBO show of the fight and the actual fight, where each hit becomes a greater threatens.

Donnie goes the distance, eventually accepting Creed’s name. He loses the fight, but manages to prove that he himself is an accomplished boxer. Not just a name, and not just an echo of his father’s legend. The film’s epilogue is as sweet as the rest, with Donnie and a dejected but not depressed Rocky climbing the familiar stone steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. In the first film, this visual signified the main character’s drive and willingness to climb. Here, it becomes a reflection of the film’s legacy, a meta-narrative about what it means to revisit an old franchise, and a tribute to the beloved Rocky.

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