Ryan Coogler

Ryan Coogler

*Now that the holidays are here, get set for family visits, tons of home cooked food to eat and marathons of classic TV, specials and movies.

As you kick back enjoying leftovers, chances are one of those back-to-back programs may be the six-film saga of fictional boxing icon Rocky Balboa. Especially since the series’ spin-off “Creed” is taking on various competitors for the number one movie title of the extended box office weekend.

So the question is: What is your favorite “Rocky” film?

While their reasons differ, the answer is the same for “Creed” director Ryan Coogler and star Tessa Thompson: 1976’s “Rocky,” the film that started it all.

“I like ‘Rocky I,’ maybe that makes me just a chick. I love the story of how ‘Rocky I’ got made,” Thompson shared with the Electronic Urban Report/EUR, citing Sylvester Stallone’s struggle and persistence in getting the sports drama he wrote and starred in on the big screen.

“No one wanted to let Sly make that movie and then when they said ‘yes, you can make the movie, but we don’t want you to be in it.’ I love that he didn’t take no for an answer.

“So I love the narrative around the movie, but I also love that ‘Rocky I’ is a love story between he and Adrian,” Tessa continued, while taking note of the iconic romance of Rocky and his wife. “It’s about two sort of, you know, at first glance just similar people falling in love and making each other better versions of themselves because of it and the backdrop is boxing. So that’s my favorite ‘Rocky’ for sure.”

A classic love story is a great motivator, but for Coogler, “Rocky” as a whole wins out over its successors. To hear him tell it, the Oscar-winning original is a “nearly perfect movie” that’s filled with everything that set the blueprint for films that followed.

“To me, I find ‘Rocky I’ to be a nearly perfect movie and it’s such an impressive script. I think it’s probably the most impressive script. It’s gotta be one of the most influential scripts ever written,” the filmmaker, who’s father exposed him to the “Rocky” films at an early age, told EURweb associate Chris Richburg. “So many things come out of that movie that are now kinda like staples, you know what I mean. Like this idea of the montage that shows improvement. It’s been adapted from not only sports movies, but adapted in the gangster movies and any kind of movie where there’s a character that’s on a mission, that goes from nothing to something and this idea of a whole movie leading up to a big fight. It’s something being classified as a boxing movie, but you know when you look at ‘Rocky I,’ it’s very little boxing in it. It’s really a guy going around Philadelphia and you’re seeing’ this guy’s life.”

Like Thompson, the notion of “Rocky” being a different kind of sports movie resonated with Coogler, who voiced how the film’s setup for its climatic ending still carries weight years after folks first caught it in the theater.

“The unconventional nature of it. The fact that it’s a sports movie where a guy gets a one in a million shot and doesn’t get what you think the normal goal would be. But yet the ending is probably one of the most satisfying endings you will ever see in a movie,” he said. “I think that that side of it is just really impressive and I don’t know if it’s ever been carried like ‘Rocky.’ So that’s probably why the first one is my favorite.”

Considering that “Rocky II” is the “Rocky” film that ranks highest for Coogler’s father, the moviemaker’s co-sign of the first “Rocky” is a slight twist. Especially since the second feature was the movie in the franchise Coogler has seen the most.

tessa-thompson

Tessa Thompson

Still, the “Rocky” films hold a special place for many people, a fact that could translate well for “Creed,” which centers around Adonis Johnson, the son of Rocky’s archrival turned close friend Apollo Creed, and his internal struggle to carve out his own identity personally and in the world of boxing while upholding his late father’s legacy.

“I think the iconography of the ‘Rocky’ movies is kind of inescapable,” said Thompson, who became a huge fan of the series again upon re-watching all the “Rocky” films after she was cast in “Creed” as Adonis’ love interest Bianca. “There’s a reason why there are so many because I think people are, not just Americans, but globally, people are still interested and compelled by the character of Rocky and the world that it takes place in.

A big part of that comes from Stallone, who reprises his role as the Italian Stallion in “Creed” and serves as a producer on the film. In Thompson’s eyes, there is nothing but love for Stallone and how he ultimately triumphed with “Rocky,” despite studio heads not wanting him to play the title character. The 1976 movie ultimately became the highest grossing movie that year and took home three Oscars, including one for best picture. For Stallone, the recognition was especially sweet in light of him receiving a best actor nomination.

“It was incredible,” Thompson said about working with the action star. “I mean he is actually literally a legend. I feel so inspired by his story of how he broke into Hollywood. He’s a huge cinephile and sort of an encyclopedia of film history.”

“I was just so impressed with him and how he passed the torch on,” a humble Thompson added about Stallone’s willingness to let a new director and entertainers carry on the legacy of Rocky and Apollo for a new generation of moviegoers. “This was the first ‘Rocky’ that he didn’t write himself and he passed it on just with such an incredible way about him and grace and humility. So he’s a rock star.”

With Thompson, the longevity of the “Rocky” series lies in being about “friendship and loyalty” while touching on “really familiar themes that we can all relate to, like love and self-determination and feeling you aren’t capable of something and then overcoming that.”

“They’re just told with the backdrop of boxing, but they’re not really boxing movie, she added, pointing out that “’Rocky IV’ is about the Cold War.” “They’re about all sorts of things.”

“Creed” is in theaters now.