By Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., NNPA Newswire Culture and Entertainment Editor
Ryan Coogler has done it again. The man behind Creed and Marvel’s Black Panther franchises brought Creed to film fans this past Thanksgiving bringing in $55.8 million at the box office. Ralph Breaks the Internet broke the box-office raking in $84.5 million, while Creed II, the latest film in the Rocky franchise and the follow-up to 2015’s Creed, also broke a record. Creed II brought in the largest holiday opening ever for a live-action film. Directed by newcomer Steven Caple Jr. and written by Sylvester Stallone and Coogler, the film out earned all other Rocky films box office receipts for opening weekend. Creed II’s success is another feather of the cap of indie darling turned Hollywood blockbuster executive producer, writer and director, Ryan Coogler.
What’s interesting is Coogler’s meteoric path to superstardom is similar to the path of recent collaborator and Hollywood legend Sylvester Stallone. Many forget Stallone earned his stripes in the indie world and was able to translate that early success into a storied Hollywood film career. As Executive Producer and writer, Coogler does a fantastic job of building on Stallone’s legendary franchise, wowing us with character driven plots, iconic Philly and Los Angeles locations and culture. Caple, Jr.’s subtle direction along with Cheo Hodari’s storytelling and excellent writing by Stallone and Coogler reminded viewers of why Rocky and stories that emanate from the 1976 Academy Award nominated film continue to mean so much to audiences and the industry alike. Many may wonder why Coogler and Stallone work so well together but a little film history makes it clear.
Like Stallone, Coogler’s film career took off after his independent film Fruitvale Station wowed festival audiences. Coogler and his muse Michael B. Jordan came together to tell the story of the last night of Oscar Grant III’s life. Grant, a 22-year-old African American man, was murdered by a white BART police officer Johannes Mehserle on New Year’s Eve. Grant was killed while handcuffed and lying on his stomach on the subway platform. Mehserle claimed he accidentally shot Grant when reaching for his taser even though Grant was already subdued and cooperating as video of the incident demonstrated. Mehserle was initially acquitted of the murder charges in the initial trial, but later found guilty of involuntary manslaughter of the young father, for which Mehserle received no jail time. An Oakland native, Coogler’s tear-jerking film about Grant’s murder earned him the coveted Grand Jury Prize and Audience award at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and the Prize of the Future award at the Cannes Film Festival.
Like Stallone, Coogler capitalized on the small, character driven film, set against the backdrop of this West Coast, urban port city, giving voice to the working-class trying to survive with odds stacked against him. Like Stallone, Coogler’s masterful storytelling draws in audiences, takes them to the highest and lowest of emotional places and ultimately reminds them in life, we’re only one punch away from a knockout or championship. Like Stallone, Coogler’s little film that could, catapulted him into the stratosphere, placing him at the helm of two of Hollywood’s biggest contemporary franchises – Black Panther and Creed. Coogler wrote and directed Black Panther and will do the same for Black Panther 2. The film maverick executive produced and wrote Creed I and Creed II. Director Caple Jr. satisfies Rocky and Creed fans with his subtle direction, excellent use of lighting and composition while moving the narrative forward through action and intense dialogue. The chemistry between it actors Michael B. Jordan and Tessa Thompson is palpable reminding viewers of the need to have someone fighting hard for you inside and outside of this boxing ring called life.
Creed I helped the Rocky franchise restore respect among audiences for the first two prestige Rocky films. Like Rocky II, Creed II helps the franchise’s recovery by lovingly blending the old with the new through smart narrative and stylistic choices including a great soundtrack. With hit film after hit film, Coogler, who won the 2011 African-American Film Festival (ABFF) HBO Short Film competition for Fig, is the heir apparent to Stallone’s Hollywood throne, which is teeming with movie franchise hits, despite some of the misses. Ryan Coogler is still in the hitmaking space and hopefully will avoid the pitfalls of working in Hollywood which can devour and spit out the most promising talent. If Coogler continues his hitmaking success at the box office and beyond, then he will be regarded as one of the greatest filmmakers of this century and certainly his time. That is truly a Hollywood knockout.
Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D. is culture and entertainment editor for NNPA/Black Press USA. She is also founder & editor-in-chief of The Burton Wire, an award-winning news blog covering the African Diaspora. Follow her on Twitter @Ntellectual.