Feud over Stallone’s lost ‘Rocky’ legacy—and why he’s not in ‘Creed III’

Rocky Balboa knows how to take a punch.

But Sylvester Stallone, 76, who created and portrayed that iconic boxer, seems pretty beaten up over losing control of his “Rocky” legacy.

The actor has long been galled by the fact that, as a young unknown in Hollywood, he signed a deal in which he gave up ownership of the “Rocky” franchise, which he created. (Stallone wrote the film.)

Since at least 1976, Rocky’s rights have been in the hands of producer Irwin Winkler. 

Now, with the Friday release of “Creed III” — a spinoff of the “Rocky” franchise — things seem to have reached a new low.

While Stallone had cameos in the first two “Creed” movies, he does not appear in this one. In fact, he said on Sirius XM’s “Pop Culture Spotlight with Jessica Shaw” this past November, he will “never” watch the third installment, even though he has a producer credit on the movie.

Irwin Winkler and Sylvester Stallone
Winkler and Stallone before the “Rocky” battle turned ugly.

Last July, Stallone posted to Instagram a photo-illustration of a vampiric Winkler sucking the blood out of Rocky. It has since been removed from the site but can be seen on Deadline Hollywood.

In the caption, he wrote, “Throughout history so many artists in every industry, recording, painting, writing, you name it have been destroyed by these blood suckers Who have destroyed so many families, lining their pockets with other people[‘s] work.”

He’s also described Winkler as “Presumed to be the most hated, untalented, decrepited Producer in Hollywood.”

Representatives for Winkler, 91, did not respond to a request for comment.

Irwin Winkler
Winkler provided opportunity for Stallone back when the now-legend was a struggling actor.

It all began in the mid 1970s, when a friend of Stallone’s arranged a meeting with producing partners Bob Chartoff (now deceased and Winkler — who is now a seasoned movie producer on films such as “The Irishman,” “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “The Right Stuff.”

Stallone, a struggling actor, told them about his idea for “Rocky.”

The producers asked him to write the script on spec. It was agreed that, if the movie got made, Stallone would play Rocky.

As explained in Winkler’s memoir, “A Life in Movies,” Chartoff and Winkler had a production deal with United Artists.

Sylvester Stallone
Stallone wants what he believes is his fair share of “Rocky” ownership.
Getty Images

It included a clause that would have the studio financing a film of the duo’s choosing, as long as it came in at a budget of less than $1.5 million and they had not made a film in nine months.

“Rocky” became that film.

“Stallone was unknown at that point He had no leverage,” one Hollywood insider told The Post. “It took balls for the producers to let him star in ‘Rocky.’ And that made him a star.”

In fact, it took more than balls. In 1983 Winkler told Hollywood Reporter that he and Chartoff “put up our houses as collateral” in order to guarantee that the movie would come in on time and on budget.

Carl Weathers, Irwin Winkler, Sylvester Stallone
Carl Weathers, Winkler (center) and Stallone (right) celebrate the producer receiving a star on Hollywood Boulevard’s Walk of Fame.
Corbis via Getty Images

Winkler writes in his book that United Artists chairman Arthur Krim reluctantly agreed to cast Stallone and wanted to see the actor in action.

He watched “The Lords of Flatbush,” a 1974 film about 1950s street gangs in Brooklyn. Stallone was one of the four leads.

According to Winkler’s book, United Artists, which financed the film, offered to buy the “Rocky” script from Stallone for $250,000.

Sylvester Stallone
Sylvester Stallone ultimately earned some $2.5 million for writing and starring in the first “Rocky” movie.
©United Artists/Courtesy Everet

“I suspect,” Winkler wrote of the offer, “with no intention of making the movie, but just to get us out of their hair. To them, $250,000 seemed a lot cheaper than $1.5 million.”

Additionally, Winkler writes, Krim mistook Stallone for another actor in “Flatbush” and “was quite pleased … It wasn’t until he saw our finished film nine months later that he realized he’d made the movie with the wrong guy.”

According to Deadline Hollywood, Stallone received $75,000 for writing and acting in “Rocky.”

When the movie became a sleeper hit, he wound up earning some $2.5 million on the back-end

Sophia Stallone, Jennifer Flavin, Sylvester Stallone, Scarlet Stallone, Sistine Stallone
Sylvester Stallone with wife Jennifer Flavin (second from left) and their daughters, Sophia, Scarlet and Sistine. He hopes to leave them the “Rocky” legacy.
Getty Images for A Sense of Home

“When he wrote ‘Rocky’ and starred in ‘Rocky,’ he was a brand new actor,” one source told The Post. “Younger actors don’t get ownership. Rarely do studio’s give ownership to anyone. Studios want to own it. When he did the first ‘Rocky,’ I don’t think anyone suspected what would happen with it.”

“How [Winkler] got the rights, I don’t know…” a miffed-sounding Stallone said when interviewed on Sirius XM. “… It was all supposed to be neutral. No one [was supposed to have] had anything more than the other. I don’t care about the money. I want to leave it to my children. I wrote [‘Rocky’] … “

However, Stallone, who is said to be worth $400 million, added that it “is never going to happen. I can’t forgive that.”

Winkler owns the six “Rocky” films and other movies that spin off from “Rocky,” including the “Creed” movies.

Michael B. Jordan in "Creed III"
Michael B. Jordan stars in “Creed III,” a movie that Stallone does not intend to watch.
©MGM/Courtesy Everett Collect

Stallone, according to the Wrap, was “never written into the ‘Rocky’ ownership and was unsuccessful pushing for the rights later … ”

Winkler can bring out movies built around various characters from the “Rocky” universe.

Adding insult to injury, another “Rocky” spinoff, “Drago” — named for the Russian boxer, Ivan Drago, played by Dolph Lundgren, who fought Stallone’s character in “Rocky IV” — is in pre-production.

Seemingly incensed by the news, Stallone took to Instagram in July 2022 and dragged “this PATHETIC 94 year old PRODUCER and HIS MORONIC USELESS VULTURE CHILDREN, Charles and David…” for “picking clean THE BONES of another wonderful character I created without even telling me.”

Dolph Lundgren and Sylvester Stallone in "Rocky IV"
Stallone’s Rocky character connects with Ivan Drago, played by Dolph Lundgren in “Rocky IV.” Off-screen, Stallone and Lundgren are said to be friends.
©MGM/Courtesy Everett Collectio

The Post reached out to Lundgren, a reported friend of Stallone’s who appeared in “Creed II” but is not in the new one, for comment.

According to IMDB, Lundgren is “rumored” to be playing Drago in the sequel.

Stallone did not hold back on Instagram, posting in July: “I have nothing but respect for Dolph but I wish HE had told me what was going on behind my back. Keep your REAL friends close.”

Stallone played aging versions Rocky in each of the first two “Creed” films, released in 2015 and 2018 (for the former, according to Parade, Stallone earned $10 million). But he’s nowhere to be seen in the most recent entry to the canon. 

Sylvester Stallone in "Creed II."
Stallone played an older Rocky in “Creed II.”
©Warner Bros/Courtesy Everett C

“It was taken in a direction that is quite different than I would’ve taken it,” Stallone told The Hollywood Reporter. “I’m much more of a sentimentalist. I like my heroes getting beat up, but I just don’t want them going into that dark space. I just feel that people have enough darkness.” 

Still, he admitted that not being in the movie was “a regretful decision.”

Michael B. Jordan, who stars in and directs “Creed III,” doesn’t seem too bummed about it, though.

“I’ve got a following that love Creed for who he is,” Jordan told the Los Angeles Times. “Some of these people don’t even know who Rocky is. They’ve never even seen the ‘Rocky’ movies. But they’ve seen ‘Creed.’”

source: nypost.com