Tom Jolliffe selects his Five Essential Sylvester Stallone films…
From the moment he brought us Rocky, through to giving us Rambo, until his most recent gift, The Expendables, Sly Stallone has been a hero to many a red blooded male. Be it the bygone days of childhood, sneaking Stallone viewings from the video collection of a friends older brother, or having yet another round with the likes of Carl Weathers, Mr. T and Dolph Lundgren in repeat Rocky saga viewings in your adult years, Sly has inspired so many underdogs to strive for their day, or limp-chested flab monsters to pick up a dumb-bell. The man is an icon, and one of the three kings of the action world. Part of the trifector that is the Planet Hollywood gang, of himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis. Sly commands respect from those around him and will always try to deliver what the fans want (even though he sometimes misfires badly… ahem… Rhinestone!). His latest triumph was in orchestrating perhaps the ultimate assembling of badassedness to ever grace the silver screen, with The Expendables featuring a who’s who of rugged blow ‘em up specialists. Only Sly could have made it possible. With this in mind, and in honour of the Italian Stallion, I bring you: the essential Sly Stallone!
5. Cliffhanger (1993, dir. Renny Harlin)
Very tough to start. Lets be honest, Sly has had his share of turkeys, and given the man’s acting ability on top form, he’s not always pushed himself in his roles. The action genre has made him an icon, but by the same token moved him away from dramatic weight quite often. However, Sly throws himself into his action flicks with aplomb and Cliffhanger is no different. With a fantastic setting, a ridiculously hammy bad guy (John Lithgow) and some ridiculously hammy co-stars (Michael Rooker, Rex Linn), Cliffhanger delivers what action fans desire. There’s some brilliant mountain-set set pieces, and Stallone once again plays the underdog who defies the odds to win.
4. Rocky Balboa (2006, dir. Sylvester Stallone)
16 years after almost nuking the series into submission with Rocky V, Stallone finally got the chance to redeem himself and bring about a satisfying finale to the Rocky canon. This is a wonderful retreat of old territory that gets back to the personal roots of the first film. Though this film is a little sentimental and sloppy at times, it’s rides the nostalgia value well. Watching this on the big screen at the time gave me that tingle in the spine, hairs on neck standing up, rush that I’d not felt at the cinema since I was a kid. When the theme kicked in for the training montage, the butterflies kicked-in in my stomach. By the time the fight was in progress I was lost, gone, 10 years old again! Nostalgia aside, Sly knows well how to engage his audience, and he ticks all the boxes. What’s more Stallone himself delivers a wonderful, heartfelt performance. The film is almost a love letter from Sly, to his own creation, Rocky, but it works.
3. Copland (1997, dir. James Mangold)
Pitting himself against the likes of De Niro and Harvey Keitel, Stallone put aside the normal routine of blowing shit up to do some serious acting. With a beer belly where his six pack used to be, Sly embodies the cumbersome, slightly slow witted Freddy Heflin brilliantly. Copland is kind of Scorsese-lite, but it’s a good film. The cast is huge, and aside from those mentioned, there is also Ray Liotta, Robert Patrick, Annabelle Sciorra and Cathy Moriaty. Despite ample competition, Sly holds the movie and delivers a great performance, reminding people at the time just why he was once nominated for an Oscar.
2. First Blood (1982, dir. Ted Kotcheff)
Before Rambo become an American icon, a caricature and Ronald Reagan’s adopted son, he was a burnt out, slightly unbalanced Vietnam vet, pushed too far by local sheriff Will Teasle (Brian Dennehy) in First Blood. This is far from the explosive insanity of the sequels, which are still delightfully loony, but it’s a grounded fugitive on the loose movie. Only this fugitive is not to be trifled with, especially hiding out in the wilderness, inviting the hunters into his territory. First Blood notches up the tension nicely and features some memorable set pieces, but it’s the character work that most interests. Stallone is excellent, portraying the tortured soul of Rambo well. Despite being a cornered beast, Rambo is still fragile here, and Stallone brings that out fantastically, especially during the famous breakdown scene at the films climax. Despite his excellent, it’s Brian Dennehy though who in fact steals the movie, while Richard Crenna chews scenery nicely.
1. Rocky (1976, dir. John G. Avildsen)
Well, it had to be didn’t it? A classic. One of the ultimate underdog films. Sly delivers one of cinemas most endearing characters. There’s probably a lot of similarity between Rocky and Sly himself and as such he slips beautifully into the character. Rocky isn’t bright, but he’s likeable, and Stallone gets the viewer right in the Stallions corner. Sly puts his all into the role and deservedly picked up a best actor Oscar nomination for his performance. Equally good are Talia Shire as Adrian, and Burt Young as Pauly. As Mickey, Burgess Meredith steals the movie though, which given the amount of first rate acting takes some doing, but Burgess does it! Rocky is an enduring tale, relatable, and infinitely repeatable. Sly has proven himself a master at setting the pulse racing, getting the blood pumping, and the fists clenching. The pattern of training montage followed by fight has become the Rocky staple through five sequels, and the main man always has the odds stacked against him. Despite seeming a little trite in that regard, it never feels it, certainly not in the first, and best of the series.
Rocky II-IV, Rambo: First Blood Part II, Tango & Cash and Demolition Man. Of course The Expendables in time will be worthy of mention, and perhaps crack final place in the top five one day.
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