Warning: This article contains SPOILERS for Creed II.
The Rocky franchise continues to find new life with Creed II, and the sequel brings back plenty of familiar faces from past Rocky movies. Ryan Coogler revived the franchise through the perspective of Apollo Creed’s son, Adonis (Michael B. Jordan), in 2015. The original Creed film only had a few recognizable characters return though, as the focus was squarely put on the rising boxer and his relationship with Bianca (Tessa Thompson).
Creed II finds Adonis back in the ring and rising through the boxing community after his loss to ‘Pretty’ Ricky Conlan. But for the purposes of Creed II‘s story, director Steven Caple Jr. and writer Cheo Hodari Coker (Luke Cage) decided to tie the Creed series heavily into Rocky IV.
The Drago family makes their return to the boxing world and sees Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu) challenge Adonis to a fight. The reunion of the Creed and Drago bloodlines comes 30 years after Apollo died in the ring at the hands of Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), and they’re just a few of the returning characters that Creed II has.
The biggest returning star in Creed II is, of course, Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balbora. After spending years as a boxer himself, Rocky Balboa has now transitioned to the coach’s corner to help train and mentor Adonis Creed. They’ve proven to be a successful pairing in the years between Creed and Creed II, while Rocky’s health is largely restored after battling cancer in Creed. This makes for the eighth appearance of Stallone as Rocky.
With Adonis Creed and Viktor Drago squaring off, it couldn’t be done without the return of Dolph Lundgren as Ivan Drago. Lundgren only appeared in Rocky IV in 1985, but his physical presence made the Russian an intimidating opponent for Rocky Balboa. Ivan Drago is responsible for killing Apollo Creed over 30 years ago, but was handed his first defeat at the hands of the Italian Stallion. The loss ruined his reputation in Russia and saw the entire country turn his back on him, leaving him “pretty damaged” according to Lundgren. With just a son and years of built up rage to fuel the return of the Drago name, Ivan Drago attempts to make a triumphant return.
One of the returning characters that may come as a surprise is the return of Bridgette Nielsen as Ludmilla Drago. Nielsen also appeared in Rocky IV as the wife to Ivan Drago. She is an Olympic gold medalist, just like her husband, though she specializes in swimming. Ludmilla leaves Ivan and Viktor Drago sometime after Ivan’s loss to Rocky Balboa due to the humiliation. Nielsen was previously rumored to be returning for Creed II, and though it was never confirmed prior to Creed II‘s release, she is part of the cast.
Another surprise return comes in the closing moments of Creed II, when Milo Ventimiglia reprises his role as Rocky Balboa’s son, Robert Balboa Jr. Ventimiglia entered the Rocky franchise in its final installment, as the grown up version of Robert, in Rocky Balboa, but other child actors played Robert in Rocky II, Rocky III, Rocky IV, and Rocky V. Although Ventimiglia got to bring some closure to the role and the father-son relationship, Creed established that they have not spoken to or seen each other much lately. But, the emotional reunion does finally happen in Creed II.
Since Creed II is largely about Adonis facing the family responsible for his father’s death, Apollo Creed’s presence is felt throughout the sequel. At one point in Creed II, Adonis is shown watching the fight from Rocky IV, which momentarily brings Carl Weathers back. Weathers, otherwise, appeared in the first four Rocky films and was featured in photos and recordings of the previous fights in Creed. But, the most important moment in Creed II comes when Adonis finally visits Apollo’s grave to talk about his life.
Apollo Creed’s wife, on the other hand, is still alive and well, and she makes a return in Creed II. Sylvia Meals first played Mary Anne Creed in Rocky II and then returned to the franchise in Rocky III and Rocky IV. But, since Meals passed away in 2011, Phylicia Rashard stepped into the role for Creed. She is back for Creed II after finally coming to terms with Adonis’ decision to fight Viktor Drago. Once Adonis and Bianca move back to Los Angeles, Mary Anne becomes a much bigger part of their lives.
The familiar face of Tony Burton as Duke also returns in Creed II. Duke was Apollo’s long-time trainer and eventually transitioned to help train Rocky Balboa as well. Burton made an appearance in all six of the original Rocky films as a result. He is only included in Creed II through a photograph of him and Apollo that hangs in Tony ‘Little Duke’ Burton’s office. Little Duke is the owner of Delphi Gym and helps train Adonis Creed for his fight against Viktor Drago, making for three descendants to be included in the pseudo-rematch.
The love of Rocky Balboa’s life, Adrian, also has a small role to play in Creed II, as Rocky is shown visiting her grave. Talia Shire recurred as Adrian for the first five Rocky films, but was also included in a flashback in Rocky Balboa. Shire isn’t shown in the movie beyond a photograph hanging on Rocky’s fridge. However, it’s Rocky’s routine visit to her grave that serves as the biggest reminder to their long-lasting relationship.
Of course, it’s impossible for Rocky to visit Adrian’s grave without also being reminded of her brother and his best friend, Paulie. Burt Young played Paulie in all six of the Rocky movies, but it was shown in Creed that a tombstone for Paulie was put right next to Adrian’s. Rocky doesn’t actually address Paulie during this visit, but the bottle of whiskey is still there.
Character, Creed, II, Returning, Rocky