March 4, 2023 | 7:38
Although Sylvester Stallone (center) created the character of ‘Rocky’, he lost the rights early on, jeopardizing his control over his own legacy. He has been going after producer Irwin Winkler (right) for years.
Popperphoto via Getty Images
Rocky Balboa knows how to take a punch.
But 76-year-old Sylvester Stallone, who created and portrayed this iconic boxer, seems battered enough to have lost control of his “Rocky” legacy.
The actor has long been infuriated that, as a young Hollywood stranger, he signed a deal in which he relinquished ownership of the “Rocky” franchise he created. (Stallone wrote the film.)
Since at least 1976, the rights to Rocky 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 hit a new low.
While Stallone made cameos in the first two “Creed” movies, he doesn’t appear in this one. In fact, he said on Sirius XM’s “Pop Culture Spotlight with Jessica Shaw” last November that he will “never” watch the third episode, even though he has a producer credit on the film.
Last July, Stallone posted a photo-illustration on Instagram of a vampiric Winkler sucking Rocky’s blood. 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 all industries, recording, painting, writing etc. have been destroyed by these bloodsuckers who destroyed so many families, lining their pockets with other people’s work.”
He also described Winkler as “presumed to be Hollywood’s most hated, talentless, decrepit producer”.
Representatives for Winkler, 91, did not respond to a request for comment.
It all started 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 veteran film producer on such films as ‘The Irishman’. “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “The Good Things”.
Stallone, a struggling actor, told them about his idea for “Rocky.”
The producers asked him to write the screenplay 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 contract with United Artists.
It included a clause that the studio would fund a film of the duo’s choosing, provided it had a budget of less than $1.5 million and they hadn’t made a film in nine months.
“Rocky” became that movie.
“Stallone was an unknown at the time. He had no leverage,” a Hollywood insider told the Post. “It took balls for the producers to let him play in ‘Rocky.’ And that made him a star.
In fact, it took more than bullets. In 1983, Winkler told The Hollywood Reporter that he and Chartoff “put our houses up as collateral” to ensure the film would arrive on time and on budget.
Winkler writes in his book that United Artists president 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 street gangs in 1950s Brooklyn. Stallone was one of the four protagonists.
According to Winkler’s book, United Artists, which financed the film, offered to buy the “Rocky” screenplay from Stallone for $250,000.
“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, writes Winkler, Krim cast Stallone as another actor in “Flatbush” and “was pretty happy… It wasn’t until he saw our finished movie nine months later that he realized that he had made the movie with the wrong guy.”
According to Deadline Hollywood, Stallone received $75,000 for writing and starring in “Rocky.”
When the film became a sleeper hit, it ended up earning some $2.5 million in back-end
“When he wrote ‘Rocky’ and starred in ‘Rocky,’ he was a brand new actor,” a source told the Post. “Young actors don’t become owners. Studios rarely give ownership to anyone. The studios want to own it. When he did the first ‘Rocky’, I don’t think anyone knew what was going to happen.
“How (Winkler) got the rights, I don’t know…” a miffed Stallone said during an interview on Sirius XM. “…Everything was supposed to be neutral. No one (was supposed to have) had anything more than the other. I don’t care about 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 “will never happen. I can’t forgive that.
Winkler owns all six “Rocky” films and other “Rocky” spin-off films, including the “Creed” films.
Stallone, according to the Wrap, was “never listed in the ‘Rocky’ property and failed to secure the rights later…”
Winkler can release films built around various characters from the “Rocky” universe.
Adding insult to injury, another ‘Rocky’ spinoff, ‘Drago’ – named after Russian boxer Ivan Drago, played by Dolph Lundgren, who fought Stallone’s character in ‘Rocky IV’ – is in pre-production.
Seemingly exasperated by the news, Stallone took to Instagram in July 2022 and trolled “that PATHETIC 94-year-old PRODUCER and HIS USELESS MORONIC VAULT CHILDREN, Charles and David…” for “choosing the bones of another wonderful character that I created without even telling myself.”
The Post reached out to Lundgren, a reported friend of Stallone who appeared in “Creed II” but isn’t in the novella, for comment.
According to IMDB, Lundgren is “rumored” to play Drago in the sequel.
Stallone didn’t 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. YOU.
Stallone played aging versions of Rocky in each of the first two “Creed” movies, released in 2015 and 2018 (for the former, according to Parade, Stallone earned $10 million). But it is not found in the most recent canon entry.
“It was taken in quite a different direction than I would have been taken,” Stallone told The Hollywood Reporter. “I am much more sentimentalist. I like my heroes getting beat up, but I just don’t want them going into this dark space. I just feel like people have enough darkness.
Still, he admitted that not being in the film was “a regrettable decision”.
Michael B. Jordan, who stars in and directs “Creed III,” doesn’t seem too disappointed, however.
“I have a following that loves Creed for whom 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 saw “Creed”.