Total Recall: Sylvester Stallone's Best Movies
We count down the best-reviewed work of the Expendables star.
By the early 1990s, there wasn't much Stallone hadn't done as an action hero -- and in the post-Die Hard era, the entire genre was starting to feel a little stale. The solution? 1993's Cliffhanger, which embraced action movies' inherent silliness (by tapping the marvelously hammy John Lithgow as the villain) while taking them someplace semi-original (the top of a mountain). It certainly didn't win any points for believability, but it did sate thrill-seeking filmgoers -- not to mention critics like Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman, who cheered, "Despite the don't-look-down Olympian settings, Cliffhanger's spirit is brutal and earthbound. The movie is like one of those computer-designed simulator rides that whip you around until you're dizzy and aching but don't actually take you anywhere."
Take a story about a dystopian future in which an authoritarian government soothes the masses with the bloody spectacle of a cross-country race, add the words "a Roger Corman production," and what do you get? 1975's Death Race 2000, a cult classic starring David Carradine as "Frankenstein," the champion racer who always defeats his competitors -- including the perpetually frustrated "Machine Gun" Joe Viterbo (Stallone). Even bloodier and more gleefully gratuitous than the similarly themed Rollerball, Death Race 2000 earned sniffs of derision from critics like Roger Ebert, who deemed the whole thing tasteless -- but most scribes disagreed, including Dave Kehr of the Chicago Reader, who called it "an elaborate and telling fantasy about our peculiar popular entertainments" and "fine work carved from minimal materials."
3. First Blood
Like Rocky, 1982's First Blood acted as a launchpad for a series of progressively more cartoonish action films -- and like Rocky, it's a much darker, more sensitive film than you might remember. The role of haunted Vietnam vet John Rambo took full advantage of Stallone's gifts -- both his knack for portraying quiet, haunted men and his athletic build -- and while the end result didn't exactly stay true to the David Morrell novel it was based on, it resonated with audiences and critics alike, and managed to provide some legitimate social commentary to go with all the action. "Call it macho crap," wrote Filmcritic's Jeremiah Kipp. "Call it mindless escapism. Call it Stallone's grand posturing. In fact, call it all of the above."
As the old saying goes, you're supposed to write what you know. And although Stallone wasn't a boxer when he wrote the screenplay for Rocky, he was certainly a dreamer, and he understood the painful pursuit of a dream in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. Like Rocky, Stallone needed a big break, and he got it with this critically lauded box office smash, which earned ten Oscar nominations, winning three, and launched what would become arguably the signature franchise of his career. Though the Rocky movies would eventually lose sight of the qualities that made the original special, this film stands as one of the decade's classic dramas -- and it deserved the praise of Roger Ebert, who wrote, "A description of it would sound like a cliche from beginning to end. But Rocky isn't about a story, it's about a hero. And it's inhabited with supreme confidence by a star."
He's always been most successful as an action star, but Sylvester Stallone is capable of more -- and while many of his attempts to branch out have been met with varying degrees of failure, he hit critical paydirt with 1998's Antz. As Weaver, the burly best friend of Woody Allen's Z, Stallone got to do something besides fire weapons and throw blows for a change; in the process, he also made history, as part of the voice cast of the second feature-length CGI film. Though it was overshadowed commercially by Pixar's A Bug's Life, Antz was a favorite among critics who appreciated the film's political subtext and sharp wit. It is, as David Denby wrote for New York Magazine, "A kids' movie that will leave grown-ups quoting the best lines to one another."
In case you were wondering, here are Stallone's top 10 movies according RT users' scores:
1. First Blood -- 81%
2. Rocky II -- 79%
3. Rocky IV -- 79%
4. Rocky Balboa -- 77%
5. Rocky III -- 74%
6. Rambo -- 70%
7. Rocky -- 65%
8. Rambo: First Blood Part II -- 63%
9. Death Race 2000 -- 61%
10. Demolition Man -- 60%
Finally, here's a young Sly facing off against another famous tough guy -- Woody Allen -- in Bananas: