My Top 5 Sylvester Stallone Films

by | Aug 11, 2010 | POLITICS

I am literally counting down in anticipation of The Expendables, the new action film from Sylvester Stallone that harkens back to yesteryear. (ed. note- Read what Jimmy wrote about it a few weeks ago HERE.) With that in mind, I decided to focus on the man known as Sly’s body of work for this week’s Top 5. This was definitely tough for me as I’m a lifelong fan. My oldest possession is a rusted combat knife I bought at a flea market as child after watching First Blood for the first time. I think I was 5, but I may have been 6. I begged my parents to let me spend a few nights in the woods with this mighty weapon, but they refused. I remember being very upset. I had watched First Blood, after all, and I owned a combat knife. Seriously, what could go wrong? The knife had matches, fishing line, a sewing needle, and some other shit I can’t remember. I still have the knife, but everything that came with it is long gone. There was a compass on the end, I remember that. It was like the cap.

My father said, “You don’t even know how to use a compass.

I just held it up and said, “You see that: that means it’s pointing North. The E is for East, the W for West, and the S is for South. I’m ready to go survive in the wild now.

My father then backhanded me across the room. I didn’t make up any of that except for the backhand part. That actually happened the first and only time I ever asked about an allowance. That was also a lie. (ed. note LIAR!)

Anyway, I’ve grown up watching Stallone’s movies, and several of his features are personal favorites of mine. He is a very talented actor, writer, and director, and his talent and charisma have won over audiences across the globe.

This is the first time I’ve ever done a list for an individual where sequels were involved, but I don’t think that hurts Sly’s legacy. He was the driving force behind two very successful franchises that yielded several hits and a number of his best performances. Here then are my Top 5 Sylvester Stallone Films:

I am literally counting down in anticipation of The Expendables, the new action film from Sylvester Stallone that harkens back to yesteryear. (ed. note- Read what Jimmy wrote about it a few weeks ago HERE.) With that in mind, I decided to focus on the man known as Sly’s body of work for this week’s Top 5. This was definitely tough for me as I’m a lifelong fan. My oldest possession is a rusted combat knife I bought at a flea market as child after watching First Blood for the first time. I think I was 5, but I may have been 6. I begged my parents to let me spend a few nights in the woods with this mighty weapon, but they refused. I remember being very upset. I had watched First Blood, after all, and I owned a combat knife. Seriously, what could go wrong? The knife had matches, fishing line, a sewing needle, and some other shit I can’t remember. I still have the knife, but everything that came with it is long gone. There was a compass on the end, I remember that. It was like the cap.

My father said, “You don’t even know how to use a compass.

I just held it up and said, “You see that: that means it’s pointing North. The E is for East, the W for West, and the S is for South. I’m ready to go survive in the wild now.

My father then backhanded me across the room. I didn’t make up any of that except for the backhand part. That actually happened the first and only time I ever asked about an allowance. That was also a lie. (ed. note LIAR!)

Anyway, I’ve grown up watching Stallone’s movies, and several of his features are personal favorites of mine. He is a very talented actor, writer, and director, and his talent and charisma have won over audiences across the globe.

This is the first time I’ve ever done a list for an individual where sequels were involved, but I don’t think that hurts Sly’s legacy. He was the driving force behind two very successful franchises that yielded several hits and a number of his best performances. Here then are my Top 5 Sylvester Stallone Films:

1) FIRST BLOOD (1982)
Could this be the finest action film of all? I might argue that point. It’s certainly one of the most effective, and it is equally unique. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: you have to love a movie where the hero is a deranged Vietnam Vet who has declared war on a small town and the villain is a pompous sheriff. The lean running time yields a rollicking pursuit and the gripping plot resulted in the birth of an American icon. John Rambo is a force to be reckoned with, a virtual powderkeg who only wants to be left alone. Sometimes that’s too much to ask for, and I think anyone who has ever dealt with a Will Teasle would like to pull a Rambo. When Stallone explodes here, the result is a frantic escape from jail that remains one of the best action scenes ever, a vicious assault that gives way to a violent chase that doesn’t truly end until the final frame. Some say the sequel is better, and though I am ashamed to admit that at age 13 I might have agreed, my fully-developed brain rejects that notion outright. The most recent offering is a far more relevant contribution, and while I greatly enjoyed Rambo, I choose to ignore the second and third entries altogether at this point. I no longer feel that they do the character justice, and despite all the amazing action on display, that’s really what this movie is all about. If you like John Rambo (and you will) you’ll be thoroughly captivated, but if you don’t you probably won’t enjoy First Blood at all. Personally, I think John Rambo is one of the cinema’s most compelling creations, and this film is a thrill ride of the highest order.

2) ROCKY (1976)
Could this be the finest sports film of all? I might argue that point as well, and once again, it is both effective and unique. Stallone’s charm is impossible to ignore here, and no lovable halfwit could ever impress us quite as much as Rocky Balboa does. Who else could be so clueless and so gutsy, so incredibly naïve yet so dogged and pugnacious? Of course we have to give credit to one of the best foils ever, as Burgess Meredith found his signature role as Mickey, Rocky’s grizzled trainer in this instant classic. Rocky and Mick’s interactions are an accurate reflection of the film itself, ripe with humor and wit, driven by passion and raw emotion, and perhaps above all else, a stirring portrait of conviction and devotion. Hey, what about that score? Is there an athlete in this country who hasn’t worked out with that song ringing in their ears at some point? That’s pop culture for you, and this is a fine example of a worthy picture finding a major audience. This was Stallone’s springboard to fame and he knew it, so considering his considerable passion, it should come as no surprise that he absolutely nailed it. 34 years later people are still falling in love with this goofy boxer from the streets, and 34 years later Rocky is still delivering the goods.

3) COP LAND (1997)
Why didn’t Cop Land have more of an impact? I like to think it was something I call “The Cobra Effect.” Basically, I think that Stallone fans didn’t like the film because they were hoping for something more like Cobra, while people who don’t like Sly stayed away because they were expecting something more like Cobra. I’m dead serious here, and so is Cop Land, unlike that other farce. Yes, I enjoyed Cobra as a child. Yes, I grew up. I like to think I’m aging well. Cobra isn’t. Cop Land is a fine picture with a hell of a cast, and the film is grounded by a sublime performance from Sly in the lead role. I think he relished the chance to act again after so many years of flexing his muscles in paper-thin action hero roles. At his best, Stallone has always been a valiant performer who takes big risks, and yet here his subdued approach to Cop Land is surprisingly effective. Somehow Rambo becomes an average Joe who aspires to be something more, and the film grants him the opportunity to do just that, though it certainly isn’t an easy journey for the character. Cop Land is one of Stallone’s least appreciated efforts, and that is a tremendous shame because it was good enough to mark a new direction in his career. If it had received more fanfare, Sly might have taken this meek resolve even further, but that simply wasn’t the case. Regardless, I strongly recommend Cop Land, and though Freddy Heflin may be small potatoes compared to Rambo or Rocky, his tale is just as remarkable.

4) ROCKY II (1979)
I actually like this film more than its predecessor, but I’m surely in the minority there. Regardless, this is Stallone at his most endearing, and the film rewards audiences with an epic journey that ends in total jubilation. This is the kind of movie-going experience that was worth paying to see—that’s something I thought as I recently viewed Inception, and it definitely holds true for Rocky Balboa’s second battle with Apollo Creed. Some films take audiences to such heights and provide them with such excitement and emotion that they transcend film and become galvanizing experiences. That’s honestly how I feel about Rocky II. I have seen this movie so many times it’s ridiculous and I still feel the joy every time that plucky little bastard pulls it off. The ending is truly absurd, but it still resonates, largely due to the unmistakable power of Sly at his absolute best. Here he gives us a fight so incredibly dramatic that it is surreal, yet the authenticity required to make us feel the impact is there as well. The shot selection is epic, the performances are on point, and the score is still nothing short of magical. If the closing shot doesn’t warm your heart, you might want to defrost it.

5) NIGHTHAWKS (1981)
This overlooked gem is a powerful thriller that also features Rutger Hauer as a ruthless terrorist, and the picture boasts a terrific ending that still packs a mean punch after all these years. Sly is great as a gritty street cop going toe to toe with sophisticated enemies who he may not be prepared to deal with. The tone is dark, the suspense is palpable, and a few jarring setpieces really set this one apart from the pack.

Det. Sgt. Deke DaSilva: Why’d you kill the woman?
Reinhardt Heymar Wulfgar: I wanted to.
Det. Sgt. Deke DaSilva: So why don’t you kill me?
Reinhardt Heymar Wulfgar: In due time.
(ed. note: awesome.)

Nighthawks is a neat little plunge into darkness that gave audiences a glimpse of what was to come. Sly isn’t required to take control of the picture here, yet even at this stage of the game you can sense that he could overpower everyone around him if he wanted to. Well, everyone besides Rutger Hauer, that is. That one’s a dead heat. Their game of cat-and-mouse here is a memorable struggle for dominance that shouldn’t be missed. Nighthawks may not be one of Stallone’s most recognizable films, but it is definitely one of his best.

Special Bonus Prize:
Top 5 Ludicrous Stallone Films

1) Over the Top
I love Stallone. I understand his popularity. Yet the question remains: how did this shit ever get made?

2) Cobra
Mind-numbingly stupid. Yeah, I know. Some of you think Cobra is the coolest movie ever. I say again: mind-numbingly stupid. Rambo: First Blood Part II is a mindbender compared to this one.

3) Staying Alive (director)
Just try and sit through it. I dare you.

4) Death Race 2000
In Stallone’s defense, he was very young. Also: it’s so bad it’s good.

5) Judge Dredd
A great example of how bad movies can be.

R. Anthony Harris

R. Anthony Harris

I created Richmond, Virginia’s culture publication RVA Magazine and brought the first Richmond Mural Project to town. Designed the first brand for the Richmond’s First Fridays Artwalk and promoted the citywide “RVA” brand before the city adopted it as the official moniker. I threw a bunch of parties. Printed a lot of magazines. Met so many fantastic people in the process. Professional work: www.majormajor.me




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