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Apollo Creed vs. the Joker: Who Had the Better Entrance?

Two classic ’80s movies, two iconic characters, one winner

Ringer illustration
Ringer illustration

Rocky IV came out in 1985. It’s about a man who fights another man, but really it’s about one ideology versus another ideology. (But actually it’s mostly just about a man who fights another man, like I said the first time.) One of the best parts is when Apollo Creed, a primary figure in the Rocky movie franchise universe but a secondary figure in this particular movie, makes his way to the ring to fight Ivan Drago, an especially ferocious Russian who is there only because Rocky Balboa declined Drago’s challenge to a fight. Apollo takes nearly three full minutes to enter the MGM Grand and get to the ring. The scene is stuffed with things to look at and listen to and think about. It’s wonderful and great and a top-tier entrance.

Batman came out in 1989. It’s about a man who fights another man, but really it’s about one ideology versus another ideology. (But actually it’s just about a man who fights another man, like I said the first time.) One of the best parts is when the Joker, the primary antagonist, makes his way to a dinner table in a museum to speak with Vicki Vale, a photojournalist who is there because she thought she was going to meet with Bruce Wayne. The Joker takes nearly two full minutes to enter the museum and get to the table. The scene is stuffed with things to look at and listen to and think about. It’s wonderful and great and is a top-tier entrance.

So the question here is obvious:

Who had the better entrance? Apollo Creed entering the MGM Grand in Rocky IV or the Joker entering the museum in Batman?

That’s what we need to figure out. It’d seem to be a problematic thing, trying to answer a question as nebulous as this one. But it’s not. The way you do it is you break up the entrances into categories and then select the better of the two entrances for each category. Then you just tally up the total and there you go. If you do that then that’s how you answer a difficult or knotty question in a tidy, easy way.

Category 1

Why are they entering wherever it is that they’re entering?

Apollo Creed enters the MGM Grand because he is scheduled to fight an exhibition match against Ivan Drago. Drago is an Olympic gold medalist and also a Soviet military hero and also (probably) a flattop enthusiast. That’s all unnecessary info, though — or, at least it is to Creed. He doesn’t know anything about Drago because he doesn’t feel like he has to know anything about him beyond that he is a man who will wear boxing gloves and stand in a ring with him. Creed isn’t fighting Drago because he wants to beat Drago. He’s fighting Drago because he is struggling with the concept of being a retired fighter. “See, we’re born with a killer instinct that you can’t just turn off and on like, like some radio,” Creed tells Rocky before the fight. “We have to be right in the middle of the action because we’re the warriors. And without some … some challenge, without some damn war to fight then the warrior might as well be dead, Stallion.”

The Rocky movies can be silly, for sure. But they can also be poignant. The scene between Creed and Rocky is beautiful. (The only weird part is seeing both Rocky and Apollo with all their clothes on. Guys with a lot of muscles look so weird in proper clothes. Creed looks like if you put a button-up shirt on an 18-wheeler.)

The Joker enters the Flugelheim Museum because he has tricked his way into a meeting with Vicki Vale, who he’s hoping will join up with his team to take pictures of the terrible things he’s done and plans on doing. She turns down his offer, so he tries to burn her face off with acid. It’s hardly an appropriate response but also not a surprising one because he is an adult man and adult men act like idiots when they’re told they can’t have something they want, especially when it’s a woman who’s telling them they can’t have it, but also because by that point in the movie he’d already killed dozens and dozens of people. He literally orchestrates the deaths of everyone else who happens to be in the museum that evening just so he can be alone with Vale, which I guess is at least a little bit romantic when you really think about it.

Winner: Apollo Creed wins because his story is just a little more complex. He’s dealing with growing old. The Joker is a bad guy with a crush on a girl. Complexity is interesting.

Score: 1–0, Apollo

Category 2

Which entrance is accompanied by the better entrance song?

Apollo has James Brown performing “Living in America” at his entrance. That’s a very clutch move, and one that deserves to be respected for three reasons:

  1. It’s thematically appropriate, since Apollo is fighting someone from a country that America views negatively. He spent time thinking about which song would be perfect for his fight with Drago. He wouldn’t have picked that song if he were fighting anybody else.
  2. It’s the perfect tempo for Apollo Creed’s fighting style. No boxer has ever been more aware of his professional persona than Apollo Creed.
  3. James Brown was probably a very busy man at the time, so for him to go out to Las Vegas just to perform for a couple minutes as Apollo’s pre-fight entertainment is mammoth. I have to assume that he told Apollo no at first, but Apollo was like, “James, listen to me. I got this American flag top hat, homie. It is gonna blow your mind.” Then James was like, “For real?” And Apollo was like, “Yeah.” And James was like, “I don’t know, man.” And Apollo was like, “James …” And James was like, “What?” And Apollo was like, “It’s got fucking sequins on it, my dude.” And James was like, “Oh shit. I’m on my way.”

So there’s a lot leaning in Apollo’s favor here. However …

The Joker enters to Prince’s “Partyman,” and Prince, in nearly every setting and every situation, music or otherwise, is a trump card.

And even if you could somehow say that James Brown and Prince were on even footing here, a peek at the lyrics of each song as they pertain to each situation shows that the Joker still ends up winning. The lyrics for “Partyman” are extremely appropriate and applicable to the Joker (“All hail the new king in town”; “[He can] rock a party like no one can”; “Rules and regulations, no place in his nation”; etc.). James Brown’s “Living in America,” on the other hand, is all about living in America. Apollo doesn’t do that, though. Apollo dies in America. :(

Winner: Apollo can’t catch the Joker here. The Joker wins.

Score: 1–1

Category 3

Who’s wearing the better outfit while entering wherever it is that they’re entering?

The Joker is wearing an aggressively Jokery outfit: a purple suit coat with tails, high-waisted purple-and-teal plaid pants, a teal vest, a Push-up orange satin shirt tucked into the pants, a teal bow tie that’s undone, a lime-green pocket square, a flower that shoots acid pinned to his jacket, and a purple satin hat that looks like a sad chef’s hat but probably isn’t.

Apollo Creed is wearing an aggressively patriotic outfit: boxing trunks patterned like the American flag, a boxing robe patterned like the American flag (with sequins), an oversize top hat patterned like the American flag (with sequins), white boxing shoes with red tassels and red-and-blue stripes on them like an American flag, and red-and-white boxing gloves.

This category is tough to call. It seems like it’d be way harder to find the Joker’s outfit in the store because there are so many pieces and layers and flourishes to it. But I can’t remember a time I was ever in a store and saw a gigantic top hat in the American flag colorway and also sequins on it. Like, that’s not some shit you just happen across, you know what I’m saying? You don’t accidentally find that. You have to search for it. So I think for that reason the nod has to go to Apollo. I respect his dedication to his “America, the Beautiful” aesthetic.

Winner: Apollo Creed

Score: 2–1, Apollo

Category 4

Who has the more compelling entourage?

Apollo has somewhere between 20 and 40 back-up dancers, singers, band members, and entertainers with him when he makes his entrance. That’s a big entourage, and surely normally would net him the win in this category. But the singers and back-up dancers all almost certainly came with James Brown, so that means those people are his entourage, not Apollo’s. Same goes for the girls with the feathers and whatnot. They almost certainly work for the casino, so they’re no more a part of Apollo’s entourage than, say, the blackjack dealers or buffet-line workers. Apollo’s actual entourage is Rocky, his trainer Tony “Duke” Evers, and Paulie, who is shown onscreen for only a few seconds but manages to steal a stage prop during that time. It’s a sad group.

The Joker has seven henchmen when he makes his entrance. There’s a guy who holds candles and wine and an ice bucket (for when the Joker finally gets to the table with Vale). There’s a guy who holds a boombox (to play Prince). There’s a guy who holds a worker’s toolbox full of cans of paint (for vandalizing the museum’s artwork). There’s a guy who holds a notebook (to write down everything that happens). And there are three other guys who are there in case other things need to be held.

I’m always in favor of the Anonymous Entourage. It’s a more powerful message. There should be a central figure in the group, and then some people around the central figure whose names don’t matter and the only way they ever get remembered is if they have some sort of gimmick or if they say one line really great. The best-ever example of the Anonymous Entourage is the bad-guy entourage from The Karate Kid. There was Johnny as the main bad guy, and then his bad-guy friends, whose names nobody knows anymore. If you ask someone, “Hey, can you name one of the guys in the Cobra Kai besides Johnny?” the only answer that ever comes back is, “Um … oh, there was that one guy who shouted, ‘Get ’em a body bag. Yeaaaaaah!’ during the last fight, right?”

Winner: The Joker’s entourage was better.

Score: 2–2

Category 5

Whose entrance is more theatrical?

The Joker’s entrance is exceptionally theatrical. He starts it out by sending a package to Vicky Vale’s table. She opens it, sees it’s a gas mask, sees poison gas start to get pumped into the museum, puts on the gas mask, then watches in terror as everyone around her dies. The camera cuts away and we see a close-up of the Joker. He’s at the front door with his team. He shouts, “Gentlemen, let’s broaden our minds,” looks back at the henchman holding a boombox, says his name, then the guy turns the radio on. For the next 1:46, the eight of them dance through the museum, destroying paintings and mocking statues and then destroying statues. It’s A+ anarchy; the Joker is so convincing as a silly loon that five seconds into his act you forget that he’s just killed an entire museum and restaurant’s worth of innocent bystanders.

Apollo’s entrance is also exceptionally theatrical.

  • He plans it so that Ivan Drago is transported into the ring via what essentially amounts to a large trap door, raising Drago up into the ring from underground. Conversely, Apollo descends from the sky. I have to believe this is done on purpose to paint Drago as a giant hell demon crawling up to the earth’s surface, while Creed plays the angel floating down from heaven.
  • Apollo rides down on a giant golden bull’s head with ruby eyes that sprays smoke from its nostrils and also dismantles itself like a Transformer as he walks toward the ring.
  • There are two giant animatronic planes, one of which is a USA model and the other of which is a Soviet model, and they fly at each other.
  • There’s fire.
  • There’s lights.
  • There’s a band.
  • There’s a woman in a thong.
  • James Brown is there.
  • So is James Brown’s perm.

It’s all just really smart and tremendous imagery. It’s too much for the Joker’s mania to defeat, in fact. This category goes to Creed.

Winner: Apollo Creed’s entrance was more theatrical, for sure.

Final score: 3–2, Apollo

So, the question again:

Who had the better entrance: Apollo Creed in Rocky IV or the Joker in Batman?

Apollo Creed did. Apollo Creed had the better entrance, 3 to 2.