Ask Michael B. Jordan what movies top his list of classic sports films, and you'll quickly find out just how well-versed he is in the genre. "The Mighty Ducks is a classic. Sandlot, classic. Friday Night Lights is a classic. Remember the Titans is a classic," he says.
He would know.
In 2015, Jordan almost single-handedly revived the blockbuster sports movie with his performance in the Rocky franchise spinoff Creed. The movie, directed by Ryan Coogler, grossed $173.6 million in the box office. It follows the journey of Adonis Johnson, played by Jordan, as he struggles to follow in the footsteps of his father, the boxer Apollo Creed, who died in a fight against Ivan Drago in Rocky IV.
The sequel, Creed II, which Steven Caple Jr. directed, drops the day before Thanksgiving. With this performance, Jordan hopes to vault Creed into the realm of the classics.
"I think what makes the classic sports film is standing the test of time," he says. "You can't ordain something a classic while it's still out. I think it's something people revisiting and going back to that transcends an era. I think the stuff that we have now with Creed…we hope it becomes one of those classic franchises."
What makes a sports movie a classic? Athletes have definitions of their own.
"Classic moments," New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. says. "Legendary moments. Iconic moments. Moments that will never be forgotten."
Giants safety Landon Collins says great sports films have memorable storylines. He cites Sylvester Stallone's Rocky franchise, which initially released in 1976 and has had five sequels over three decades, as the standard. "I watch all of the Rockys," he says. "That's where it started from and originated. You've got to. It's the story behind how you become a great boxer, how you have a great mental mindset, the fight to win."
For Jordan, classic sports films tap into both the specific and the universal.
"It gives people hope and aspiration watching as they watch Adonis overcome these obstacles throughout life," Jordan says. "I think it's good for people to be able to see that and the representation of people in that community, black and brown faces being able to see a character that can be their era's Rocky. Someone they can really look up to and set a good example. But then also have a universal appeal that everybody can relate to and that everybody can have some type of connection with. They can feel good, cheer and be able to root for someone that against all odds is able to overcome them."
When Jordan was 13, he played a supporting role alongside Keanu Reeves in a 2001 film about a youth baseball team formed in the Chicago projects. It might not top many critics' lists, but it would for Jordan, who said, "You can't forget about Hardball."
In the 14 years after Hardball, Jordan moved away from sports movie roles. In that time, the appetite for sports films increased. Documentaries, led by ESPN's "30 for 30" series, garnered the attention of sports enthusiasts. However, the sports blockbuster had all but faded from view during the early 2010s.
Following the success of The Fighter in 2010, which was nominated for Best Picture, Moneyball, a 2011 film based on a book about the 2002 Oakland Athletics, was critically acclaimed but barely considered to be a sports film by baseball fans. The movie 42 failed to fully capture the significance of Jackie Robinson in 2013. Million Dollar Arm, a 2014 film about a sports agent recruiting two cricket players to switch to baseball, was solid but lacked the ingredients for resonating deeply with diehards. Draft Day and Concussion—despite their important messages—missed the mark.
One element that was lacking might have been the ability to summon the unifying force of sports—the same force that runs through Creed. With the sequel, Jordan hopes to exhibit that through the spirit of his character, a feat that could resonate in these divisive times.
"I think a lot of people might feel hopeless right now, and they might feel like they're not able to accomplish certain things," Jordan says. "Through our movie, they might get a little bit of hope. They might get a little bit more inspired to accomplish whatever their heart desires. That makes me feel good being able to be a part of that."
Yo Adrian! What’s the most memorable line from your favorite sports movie? From Rocky to The Godfather, Caddyshack and more, the stories behind the movies you love are coming to CNN! The new CNN original series The Movies, from the people who brought you The Seventies and The Eighties, starts Sunday, July 7 at 9 p.m. ET/PT only on CNN.