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Creed II was about facing up to the ghosts of one's past, but it seems that at one point there may have been a plan to include an actual ghost. Dolph Lundgren recently revealed that in an early script of Creed II there was apparently a plan for the story to include Apollo Creed himself. Lundgren much prefers the decision to bring back another Rocky IV co-star, Brigitte Nielsen, instead. According to Lundgren...
It was a great idea I thought [to bring Nielsen back]. In the original first draft it was Apollo came back. Or like his ghost or something. It was a little hokey, you know. So I think it was much better to bring Brigitte back.
Unfortunately, Dolph Lundgren doesn't elaborate on his comments, which he made during a Q&A at Monster-Mania Con 42 in Cherry Hill, New Jersey over this past weekend. That means we have no idea exactly how this idea of Apollo Creed returning in Creed II was originally supposed to be handled.
Sylvester Stallone has recently stated that he now feels the decision to kill Apollo Creed in Rocky IV may have been the wrong one, if only because he so enjoyed working with actor Carl Weathers. Perhaps that led Stallone, who co-wrote the screenplay for Creed II, to try and find a way to include him.
Obviously, it seems unlikely that the actual plan had been to include Apollo Creed's ghost. Perhaps there would have been a dream sequence of some kind where either Rocky or Adonis Creed finds himself across from Apollo. Of course, just creating a "ghost" version of Apollo would have been one of the more complicated things in the movie. Creed II isn't exactly a visusal effects blockbuster but a lot of that would have been necessary to bring Apollo Creed back.
However you look at it, it feels awkward, which is probably why the scene never made it into the final film. Still, the desire to include Apollo, and Carl Weathers, in the movie in some way certainly makes sense. It's understandable that people would want to try. There's just no good way to do it.
And at the same time, if Apollo Creed doesn't die in Rocky IV, then Creed II, really the entire Creed franchise becomes an entirely different pair of films. Apollo's death in Rocky IV is one of the iconic moments of the entire series.
In the end, bringing Brigitte Nielsen back for Creed II was clearly something that was much easier to do. And it was certainly impactful as well. Nielsen's return helps put the story of Ivan Drago into a context that we never got to see in Rocky IV. It makes the villain of the earlier movie a much more sympathetic character in the sequel.
While bringing Apollo back in any way would have been a nice nod, it would not have meant as much to the actual story. And who knows. There's always Creed III.