[Posted by: Martin Keller]

Profile: Sylvester Stallone has an impressive resume: he has acting credits in over fifty films and television shows, starring in and immortalizing two major movie franchises, Rocky and Rambo; he has over twenty writing credentials, having written the screenplay to the original Rocky (1976), he’s directed eight films and even has a few soundtrack credits from Rhinestone (1984) and Paradise Alley (1978) So, say what you will about the lack of substance in his work or strength of his acting, but Stallone is a man bent on success and has followed its trajectory all his career. When he first pitched the screenplay for Rocky to producers, they loved it and thought it a vehicle for another, already established, major star. But Stallone envisioned himself as the lead and didn’t want it any other way. As they say, the rest is history. The film was critically and commercially successful, winning the Best Picture Oscar, inspiring generations to come and has even spawned a video game.

However, after Rocky most of Stallone’s career has been in the action genre. The 80’s spawned the Rambo franchise and all of its sequels, save but the most recent, along with the cheesy but entertaining Cobra (1986), Over the Top (1987) and both Lock Up and Tango & Cash in 1989. In the 90’s Stallone had a string of action flicks. In 1993 he starred in Cliffhanger and dystopian action flick Demolition Man. In 1994 there was The Specialist; in 1995, Judge Dredd (which is a personal favorite for awesome action and scenery chewing at its finest); also in 1995 Stallone starred opposite Antonio Banderas in the action thriller Assassins. In 1997, he starred in the police drama Cop Land, offering up perhaps his best performance to date.

Stallone has done a few comedies, Oscar in 1991 starred Stallone in the titular role as a 1930s gangster trying to go straight at the behest of his dying father’s last wishes. Dramatic irony ensues. While this film has many detractors, I have met many who love it. I am part of the latter group. In 1992, he starred opposite Estelle Getty in the tiresome Stop or My Mom Will Shoot! in which Getty holds a gun that is bigger than she.

Stallone has certainly created a place for himself in the annals of Hollywood history.
Although he’s not the strongest dramatic actor, he took what he had and used it all the way to the box office. He has built his career on what seems to amount to nothing more than determination, hard work and the belief that he can; his success is seemingly all his own.

Quote: “Nothing is over!!” – John Rambo, First Blood

Defining Role: Stallone may be a famous action star still helming black ops missions halfway around the world, but he first shone big on the public’s radar with the release of Rocky in 1976. Stallone wrote the screenplay and starred as the titular, perennial underdog hailing from the city of brotherly love. Although it spawned a slew of bastard sequels, the original film is not without its charm. Stallone strolls as the innocent puppy-dog lone shark, runs as the blue-collar underdog in training, and dances with Carl Weathers (Apollo Creed) in the ring as the southpaw fighting for the everyman everywhere. And for his troubles it won the 1976 Academy Award for Best Picture. Stallone went on to write all five of the sequels and direct all of them save for Rocky V (1990), which is easily the most abysmal of them all, and will surely haunt us all the days of our lives.

However, as this is an action column, and I would be hardpressed not to mention the beloved and much parodied John Rambo, a character whose violence has increased exponentially as the sequels have gone on. The original Rambo film, First Blood, as pointed by our editor, is equal parts character study and action film. It addressed the treatment of veterans after the conflict in Vietnam, and explores the duality of Rambo: his brutality versus his humanity, producing, at times, ridiculous results. But in that Rambo movie, only one person dies. The most recent film simply titled Rambo (2008) boasts a whopping kill count of 236, that’s 2.59 deaths per minute, on average. ( Perhaps, we as a culture have dehumanized Rambo, or maybe we just thought he needed to grow a pair. Rambo has maintained his place in pop culture, rendering multiple references and parodies, Son of Rambow (2007) and Hot Shots! Part Deux (1993), to name a couple, and it’s doubtful that we have seen the last of him.

Best Action Moment: This category always brings up the issue of quantity versus quality. What’s more important, a high quantity of killing or a few well planned and executed action sequences. With Stallone, there’s much more of the former than the latter. However, in the interest of progressing the scope of this article I would like to present to you examples of both. You decide which is better.

Concerning quantity of action, you can’t ask for more than the most recent Rambo film. Downtime in this film is an afterthought, focusing its sights on the destruction of genocidal Burmese soldiers. Furthermore, the action is extremely graphic and is primarily CGI, which I think is the only failing of the film. Computer generated blood and guts tend to look dated much more quickly than well placed squibs. 300 (2006) and Watchmen (2009) come to mind as movies with CGI heavy, highly stylized violence that have lost much of their luster in the years since their initial release. Still I cannot detract from the unforgiving brutality and utter awesomeness that is Rambo.

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Now let’s talk quality. While action scenes filled with insane amounts of firepower, blood and guts certainly get my heart pumping, nothing compares to close quarter and hand-to-hand. The best Stallone flick for such action is Get Carter (2000). It’s not a great movie, hell it’s not even a good movie, filled with bad acting, bad writing and perhaps its worst flaw: heavy-handed directing. But, there are some great scenes with Stallone reprising his loan shark occupation, and is certainly more intimidating the doe-eyed Balboa.

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The kitchen scene is definitely my favorite.

Best Non-Action Turn: Rocky was my initial response, because it’s an Oscar-winning drama and was Stallone’s launch pad to success and commercial acceptance. Then I saw Cop Land (1997). By no means is it a monumental film, it concerns a contrived conspiracy amongst New York City cops to create the perfect suburb for themselves and their families, while doing less than legal things to maintain this dream. Stallone plays the simple sheriff of this suburb. Stallone’s performance is quite good and is marked by his lack of scenery chewing amongst a trio of scenery chewing extraordinaires: Harvey Keitel, Ray Liotta and Robert DeNiro. Stallone’s acting is also given a boost by James Mangold’s writing, never allowing Stallone’s character to rise above his nature. The character follows a natural trajectory to the end, never selling out to the Hollywood trope of the unexpected and uncharacteristic hero. I recommend it just for Stallone. I wanted to post a trailer, but I can only find trailers that paint it as a tense action thriller. I would say it’s more of a morality play on the definition of justice. Check it out.

Previously Featured Action Stars
Bruce Willis
Arnold Schwarzenegger



  1. […] Action Stars — Sylvester Stallone […]

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