Rocky Rides Again: Creed and the American Dream

Curator's Note

In 1976, John G. Avildsen’s “Rocky” introduced a character who, in his original iteration, defined the contradictions inherent in the American dream—the struggle between its material and spiritual ambitions—in his rags-to-riches quest to go from a working class boxer to heavyweight champion of the world. Though in the end Rocky didn’t win the title, he stayed with reigning champ Apollo Creed for all fifteen rounds and, as a result, gained the self-respect he was looking for. He also wins the love of Adrian, and the success of this relationship, together with what he proves to himself by matching Creed blow for blow in the ring, underscore the intangible elements of the American Dream which define Rocky’s quest far more than money or fame. The success of “Rocky,” both critically (it won the Oscar for Best Picture) and commercially (the $1 million production grossed $225 million worldwide) inevitably led to a series of sequels with arguably the best, Ryan Coogler’s “Creed,” being released a few months ago. In a storyline with clear parallels to the original, the son of Apollo Creed, Adonis “Donnie” Johnson, gets his chance to fight in a championship bout after convincing Rocky Balboa, his dad’s ex-opponent and good friend, to train him. As in the original, Donnie’s dream is more about proving himself as a boxer and a man than cashing in on his famous father’s name (indeed, he is adamant about being called Johnson instead of Creed for much of the film). And though, like Rocky, he fails to win the title, he does achieve those spiritual aspects of the American Dream which are more important to him: the opportunity to become the person he wants to be, to form a relationship with his dad’s old friend Rocky, whom he supports when he is diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and to fall in love with (quite literally) the girl next door. Most American Dreamers on film are ultimately corrupted by it (see Gordon Gekko, Jordan Belfort, Tony Montana, et al), so it’s refreshing to find an example—or two—in this genre that, in the end, doesn’t turn into a nightmare.


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