Sylvester Stallone turns 75 today. As an actor, screenwriter, director and producer, Stallone remains a Hollywood icon having launched the “Rocky” and “Rambo” franchises, as well as countless other beloved films, most in the action genre.
To wish the cinema icon a happy birthday, we are going to share and categorize our 10 favorite movies.
We’ll cover a lot of hits you know and love, but we’ll also include less famous titles that are worth loving. Yes, there are four “Rocky” movies on the list. So what? You want the best, they are the best. What are your favorite Sylvester Stallone movies? Read our picks (and honorable mentions) below:
10) Victory (1981)
Stallone certainly has a proven track record in the sports movie genre, but you have my fear and respect if you predicted he would make one of the best football movies of all time. It’s a limited area, of course, and it helps when choosing professional footballers like Bobby Moore, Osvaldo Ardiles, and the one and only Pelé. As Allied prisoners of war prepare for a football match against the German national team which will take place in Nazi-occupied Paris, the French Resistance and British officers prepare for the team’s escape. Stallone plays an American who plans his own getaway, joins the team and even plays the role of goalie. A wonderful high concept war adventure, co-starred with Michael Caine and directed the great John Huston.
9) Land of Cop (1997)
Stallone takes on the role of the Sheriff Schlubby of a New Jersey suburban community populated by New York City police officers, as he slowly discovers that the city is a front for mob connections and corruption. Harvey Keitel, Ray Liotta and Robert De Niro co-star in this gritty crime film by James Mangold (“Walk the Line”, “Logan”). Stallone gives perhaps his most low-key performance ever in this slower-paced drama, a welcome departure from a recent series of ’90s action films.
8) Creed (2015)
“Fruitvale Station” director Ryan Coogler has teamed up with star Michael B. Jordan for this “Rocky” spin-off about Apollo Creed’s son, who travels to Philadelphia where he meets Rocky Balboa (Stallone, reprising his star role) and asks the veteran boxer to train him for a big fight. Critics loved it, calling it one of the best “Rocky” movies if not the best since the first Oscar-winning film. Sly won a Golden Globe but barely lost the Oscar in an upset against Mark Rylance (“Bridge of Spies”).
7) Cliffhanger (1993)
Stallone plays a haunted ranger tricked into helping hijackers find their lost millions in the dangerous Rocky Mountains in this thrilling action flick co-written by the star. This has a handful of wonderful backdrops, perfectly punctuated by high altitude climbing stunts that actually put you on the edge of your seat. It’s unclear how much actual climbing Stallone did, but some of the stunts seemed difficult to simulate, including the jaw-dropping opening.
6) Rocky II (1979)
It belongs to the same conversation as “The Godfather II,” “Aliens,” and “Terminator 2” as a sequel as good as the original, with Stallone taking over as director (while writing and acting). Rocky struggles with money and family life after his fight against Apollo Creed, while the embarrassed champion challenges the Italian stallion for a rematch. An exceptional, underrated follow-up that maintains the gritty, naturalistic tone of its predecessor, seeing Stallone’s acting chops improve against a determined Carl Weathers, as the pair deliver another exciting showdown in the ring.
5) Demolitionist (1993)
Stallone plays John Spartan, a rogue cop released from his freeze-frozen prison to pursue an old, ultra-violent foe (Wesley Snipes) who is on the loose in a future non-violent society. Underrated 1990s action movie with a nice mix of satire, powered largely by comedic timing and Stallone chemistry with then-unknown Sandra Bullock. How? ‘Or’ What do do these seashells work?
4) Rocky IV (1985)
It’s only fitting that Stallone was born just two days after July 4th. After a robotic Soviet super-boxer kills his friend in the ring, Rocky Balboa comes out of retirement and travels to Russia for revenge and for the honor of his beloved U, S and A. Although it’s hard to buy America (or even Rocky at this point) as the underdog in any story, actor / director Sylvester Stallone and the franchise are so compelling, perhaps making the only movie that we would rather watch every fourth of July.
3) First Blood (1983)
Stallone plays John Rambo, a troubled and misunderstood veteran returning from Vietnam and looking for an old friend and something to eat in a small town in Washington before local law enforcement attempts to drive him out. Director Ted Kotcheff’s first entry is a much more toned down and personal story before Stallone is content to just shoot everything for the rest of the series.
2) Rocky III (1982)
As a world champion, Rocky is on top of the boxing world until tragedy and a dangerous opponent strikes. Perfectly structured revenge sports movie with Stallone in the director’s chair (and in the gym, because the dude is shredded), advancing the bromance between Rocky and Apollo through a workout montage that might as well define the 1980s. Features an excellent Mr. T as his brutal opponent, Clubber Lang, as well as the Oscar-nominated Survivor hit hit “Eye of the Tiger” which has become synonymous with the Rocky franchise.
1) Rocky (1976)
The movie that gave us Sly, although we had to reframe it as Sly giving himself to us given that this is his own creation, writing the script and insisting that he is playing the lead role in it. which has become Hollywood tradition. A little boxer has the rare chance to fight a heavyweight champion in Philadelphia. Under the constant leadership of John G. Avildsen, this ultimate outsider story won the Best Picture award and launched a beloved franchise that remains a vital part of American cinema history.
Honorable mentions: Nighthawks (1981), Cobra (1986), Over the Top (1987), Tango & Cash (1989), Oscar (1991), Assassins (1995), The Expendables (2010)
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Tom Cruise’s 10 Best Movies
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The 10 best John Wayne movies ranked
The 10 best Clint Eastwood movies ranked
Meryl Streep’s 10 best movies ranked