Sylvester Stallone deserved an Academy Award for Creed

(Photo by John Lamparski/Getty Images)
(Photo by John Lamparski/Getty Images) /

As fans naturally migrate over to the Academy Awards post-Sixers game, let’s take a look back at Sylvester Stallone’s criminally underappreciated performance in Creed.

Philadelphia has a weird relationship with the film industry.

From tv’s longest-running live-action comedy in television history, It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia – which, FYI, only partially films in Philly – to the excellent, star-making adaptation of Matthew Quick’s Silver Linings Playbook, the deeply layered tapestry of our fair city has been examined through a very specific, dare I say singular lens.

Which is why Ryan Coogler’s Creed is such a transcended film.

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My personal pick for the best sports movie of all time, 2015’s Creed not only delivered some of the most visceral boxing scenes ever put on film (technically put on digital via an Arri Alexa) but also recontextualized Philadelphia and the man who helped to personify its spirit some 44 years ago: Rocky Balboa.

As crazy as it may sound – as believe me, any comedian worth his salt who has performed in the 215 will eagerly point out – Rocky, a fictional character, has a statue outside of the Philadelphia Art Museum. Heck, said museum’s steps have effectively been renamed ‘The Rocky Steps’ for a pair of running sequences in the original picture. His rise from an over-the-hill brawler to championship contender is the story of Philadelphia; it’s the story of our founding fathers, the Broad Street Bullies, and the 2017 Philadelphia Eagles.

Rocky has become so mythologized that in 2018, the Philadelphia 76ers unveiled quite possibly the coolest City Edition jersey of all time; featuring the instantly recognizable color scheme of Balboa’s heather gray sweatsuit.

But as these things so often go, Rocky hasn’t exactly grown with the city he fictitiously called home.

While the original Rocky is surprisingly progressive for a mid-70s film, as Apollo Creed and Adrian are given emotionally rich stories that could have easily turned problematic, the film lacks a real down point at the end of the second act and lacks ever so slightly in the stakes department. If Rocky wins the fight, great. If he loses, which he does BTW, at least he has Adrian, Paulie, and the hearts of Philly’s blue-collar boxing lovers.

Creed, some 40 years after Rocky’s inception, finally gives him depth and allows Stallone to deliver the performance of a lifetime.

You see, much like your standard high school quarterback-turned-so and so, Rocky is no longer Rocky, at least, not the Rocky people want him to be. Physically beyond his prime, Rock is a has-been, a living legend without a ton to live for. Sure, he still has the boxing gym, his restaurant (Adrian’s), and presumably would never need to buy a drink in Philadelphia ever, but after losing his wife, his best friend, and his son, what’s there left to do but die?

Factor in a nasty case of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and it appeared the fight that made Balboa a legend has finally run out.

In the hands of a lesser actor, or at least a less aware actor, this ‘one last job’ motif may have felt tired, overdone, or *gasp* melodramatic, but in the hands of a master of self-mythologization like Stallone, film fans were graced with a performance that transcended the genre.

In a lot of ways, Stallone is Rocky. He created Rocky, Stallone won an Academy Award for writing the film’s screenplay and used Rocky to become a certified Hollywood superstar. But much like the Rocky film franchise, a franchise that got rather goofy and cartoony as it progressed through the years, he never quite returned to the critical heights of his initial success. Sure, he had First Blood, another franchise with a wonderful first installment that turned into popcorn fare by the second film, but Stallone’s status as a leading man left the Manhattan, New York native out of awards consideration for his entire prime.

By allowing himself to get vulnerable under the watchful eye of a pre-Black Panther Ryan Coogler, Stallone showcased an emotional depth the film going public had not yet seen from the then-69-year-old, and frankly haven’t seen since.

Simply put, Sylvester Stallone deserved an Academy Award for Creed.

Initially viewed as a strong contender for the award, as evidenced by his win at the Golden Globes, Stallone was ultimately bypassed for the honor by Mark Rylance, who admittedly was pretty great as Rudolf Abel in Steven Spielberg’s Cold War spy drama Bridge of Spies.

What? Unlike Creed, Bridge of Spies isn’t played on the Paramount Network at least 10 times a week? I wonder if there is a reason for that?

Call it overly reliant on nostalgia, or knock Coogler for crafting a story designed to jerk on your tear glands (as if every film isn’t trying to do that), but when you put on Creed in 2015, 2017, or even now in 2020, it feels special. You feel like you’re watching a film that has something to say, that has life, that means something.

Next. The Philadelphia sports fan’s guide to the Oscars. dark

The original Rocky will always be at the top of Philly’s cultural zeitgeist and a classic underdog story both in its plot and its reception. However, Creed manages to show its love for the original while also giving Rocky Balboa, and Sylvester Stallone, a fitting and emotional character arc that such a legendary character deserves. An Academy Award would have been perfect for a film that made such an achievement.