The star-turned-director has proven that Adonis Creed is a draw on his own while the studio used its new parent company’s global reach to signal-boost the marketing
“Creed III” has enjoyed exactly the kind of success that MGM and movie theaters were hoping for, blowing by studio expectations to deliver the largest opening weekend that MGM has seen in years outside of the hallowed James Bond series. It also showed that Amazon can do more with MGM than just exploit its library.
Heading into the weekend, pre-release projections had predicted that the third installment in the “Rocky” spinoff series would get an opening of around $40 million, not particularly exceptional but still respectable and higher than the $35.5 million three-day opening of “Creed II” on Thanksgiving weekend in 2018.
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But as the weekend progressed, “Creed III” went farther than anyone could have expected. Weekend estimates rose from around $45 million on Friday afternoon to $51 million on Saturday morning, then up to what ended up being its final total of $58.3 million on Sunday morning, combining with a $43.1 million total from its overseas release — handled by Warner Bros. — for a $101.5 million global launch.
That total passes the 2011 remake of “The Karate Kid” to become the highest unadjusted opening weekend for a sports movie and also beats the opening weekend of any film released by Amazon Studios, which purchased MGM last year for $8.5 billion.
With strong reviews from both critics and audiences, “Creed III” is in position to have a very strong run at the box office even with the busy slate of blockbusters on its way. This can be attributed to the film’s studio, the new resources it has from its parent company, and of course, the film’s cast and crew helmed by its director and franchise leading man.
Michael B. Jordan has arrived
Heading into this past weekend, the big question surrounding “Creed III” was whether the two preceding installments in the series had won over audiences to the point that Jordan’s dominant, yet sensitive, boxing champion, Adonis Creed, could carry a film on his own without Sylvester Stallone alongside him as the famed Rocky Balboa. The answer was an unqualified “Yes.”
When “Creed II” came out in November 2018, Jordan was one of the biggest names in movies thanks in large part to his captivating, much-debated performance as the “Black Panther” villain Killmonger under the direction of Ryan Coogler, whom the actor had worked with for “Creed” and his breakout leading role in “Fruitvale Station” in 2023. That momentum led to a solid $115.7 million domestic run for “Creed II” as a mature blockbuster alternative to family films like Illumination’s “The Grinch” and Disney’s “Ralph Breaks the Internet.”
Since then, Jordan hasn’t had any significant presence in major studio films, save for some surprise cameos in “Space Jam: A New Legacy” and “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” so the release of “Creed III” was a true test of how much his audience popularity and that of his most famous character had grown, four-and-a-half years after Adonis Creed had last been seen onscreen.
In today’s IP-driven market, the influence of star power, irrespective of who actors are playing, has been significantly diminished. But films like George Clooney and Julia Roberts’ “Ticket to Paradise” show that such star power can still drive a film at a certain budget level to profit.
“Creed III” can now join that list, as its $58 million launch couldn’t have happened without Jordan’s work in nurturing a fan base that wants to see him get in the ring no matter what famous actors are in his corner. What’s more, the praise that Jordan has received for giving the franchise a fresh cinematic look in his directorial debut is likely to build that core fan base as Jordan is sure to continue directing future “Creed” installments.
“Normally, it’s the law of diminishing returns when it comes to sequels, but with ‘Creed’ it has been the reverse,” said Comscore analyst Paul Dergarabedian. “This franchise had the advantage when it started out of being a spin-off to a beloved series that’s over 40 years old, but they’ve really sustained it with these sequels built around universal, human themes.”
That said, Jordan’s popularity alone isn’t enough to explain the huge leap in box office grosses from “Creed II” to “Creed III.” There are other factors that grew the audience, including the man that Jordan trades blows with in the ring.
A “major” Marvel boost
“Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” has taken a lot of hits in the press — including this column — for its poor box office legs and its struggles to meet the high expectations placed upon it as a key chapter in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But the success of “Creed III” this weekend has sent a message that should encourage Marvel: People really like Jonathan Majors.
The star of “The Last Black Man in San Francisco” and “Lovecraft Country” has spent the past month earning rave reviews for his two antagonist turns as Marvel’s multiversal tyrant Kang in “Quantumania” and Adonis Creed’s childhood friend-turned-bitter rival Damian “Dame” Alexander. Even among critics and Marvel fans who were left cold by the “Ant-Man” threequel, the consensus seems to be that Majors lifted the film with his chilling presence, and that there’s interest in seeing him play Kang in the MCU films to come.
It’s quite likely that “Creed III” got an interest boost from general audiences thanks to its proximity to “Quantumania” on the release slate. Moviegoers who turned out for the Marvel film during its $120 million four-day opening weekend were treated to a trailer for “Creed III” prior to the film, and after seeing Majors play Kang on the big screen, many of those moviegoers likely walked past “Creed III” posters featuring the actor they had just seen.
MGM distribution chief Erik Lomis said that opening close to “Quantumania” wasn’t a primary intention when setting “Creed III” for an early March release after delaying it from its initial Thanksgiving 2022 launch, but he does believe that riding in Majors’ cultural slipstream as Kang certainly helped grow interest in their film.
He also believes that the number of moviegoers that have returned to theaters on a regular basis has grown enough that “Creed III” won’t be competing for a smaller customer pool with the other blockbusters to come and that momentum for the box office will only get bigger in the coming weeks.
“I am a firm believer that rising tides lift all boats,” Lomis said. “I think we’re going to have a very long run in theaters as more people discover what an exciting and moving drama Michael has made here, and at the same time, I think we’re going to see other films this month perform better than what some may be expecting.”
Amazon boosts MGM
It’s easy to see why Lomis believes that films from rival studios can lift each other up. Along with “Quantumania,” MGM built its marketing campaign around the global theatrical surge triggered this winter by “Avatar: The Way of Water,” and it got a huge boost in those efforts from the additional resources it has under Amazon’s ownership.
Moving “Creed III” from Thanksgiving to the start of March might have been a heavy blow for that holiday weekend, but it allowed MGM to run trailers and featurettes ahead of Imax screenings of “Avatar: The Way of Water” in December” and “Quantumania” in February, touting to audiences that the film would be the first boxing movie shot with Imax cameras. It also gave the studio the chance to run a halftime ad for the film during the Super Bowl as well as ads during the NBA All-Star game, UFC pay-per-views and the Grammy Awards.
But in between these big marketing pushes, Lomis says that “Creed III” got significant marketing space on all of Amazon’s outlet, from a dedicated page on its main website visited by billions worldwide to its streaming services Prime Video and Twitch. Amazon also advertised Jordan’s worldwide promotion of the film with stops in Atlanta, Chicago and London among other cities.
“Amazon was committed to giving ‘Creed III’ full theatrical support with a global marketing campaign to match across all its verticals,” said Lomis. “There was a lot of press about Amazon getting James Bond and our film library, but they knew that they are also getting a studio with a full theatrical distribution network.”
With Amazon helping to elevate “Creed III” into an event release on par with those of any other legacy studio, MGM has yielded an opening weekend that puts the threequel on course to become one of the studio’s top 10 highest grossing films in North America before inflation adjustment, a list that currently includes eight Bond films and the third and fourth “Rocky” movies. If “Creed III” passes $122 million, it will become MGM’s highest-grossing non-Bond film since “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” back in 2013.
The rest of MGM’s theatrical slate for the year probably won’t get close to cracking this list, but the box office potential for any well-received film that the studio releases should now significantly increase with Amazon showing it’s willing to use its global footprint to get the word out.
The next film on MGM’s schedule is “Air,” a sports drama about the origins of Nike’s Air Jordan shoe brand that pivoted from a Prime Video exclusive release to a full theatrical exclusive release with a significant theatrical window next month.
Box Office Reporter • firstname.lastname@example.org • Twitter: @jeremyfuster