6 Must-See Sylvester Stallone Movies

Sylvester Stallone may have narrowly missed his chance to win an Academy Award for his emotional seventh appearance as Rocky Balboa in Creed, but the film still earned him some of the best reviews of his decades-long career and served as the launchpad for a whole new era in the boxing franchise.

Over the years, Stallone has proven his mainstream appeal as an undisputed icon of action cinema. Recent years have seen him add yet another successful franchise to his repertoire with The Expendables series, continuing his status as a living legend. Here are his six most memorable big-screen appearances. For the record, we’re limiting our list to one entry per franchise.

1. Rocky (1976)

Sylvester Stallone in Rocky
Sylvester Stallone in Rocky | MGM

This Best Picture winner is perhaps one of the most popular sports films of all time and is certainly regarded as one of the most inspirational. As a working-class boxer taking on the world champion, Stallone brings humanity and heart to Rocky Balboa, a character that instantly became one of cinema’s most beloved underdogs. A string of sequels followed the original John G. Avildsen-directed film, though the first film still remains the series’ high point. Last year’s Creed arguably has come the closest to matching its acclaim and saw Stallone receive a second nomination for playing Rocky nearly 40 years later.

2. First Blood (1982)

Sylvester Stallone in First Blood
Sylvester Stallone in First Blood | Lionsgate

Not content to simply rely on the Rocky series, Stallone created another iconic action hero with disillusioned Vietnam veteran John Rambo. First Blood tackled a number of powerful themes regarding the nature of war and features standout supporting turns by Brian Dennehy and Richard Crenna. Despite its heavy subject matter and extreme violence, the film was a box office success and became a phenomenon that included three sequels (the last of which Stallone directed), an animated series, novels, and comic books. If not for his signature Philly boxer, Rambo would be Stallone’s most famous role.

3. Tango & Cash (1989)

Sylvester Stallone in Tango and Cash
Sylvester Stallone in Tango and Cash | Warner Bros.

Stallone took on an against-type role here as the calmer, more rational half of the titular duo in this buddy cop film. The actor has dynamite chemistry with fellow 1980s staple Kurt Russell, and though the film doesn’t represent the best work of anyone involved, it has developed a cult following over the years for its over-the-top sense of bravado and ludicrously implausible plot. Tango & Cash may not be a stone-cold classic, but it definitely works as a time capsule of action films at the time and one of Stallone’s greatest guilty pleasure films.

4. Cliffhanger (1993)

Sylvester Stallone in Cliffhanger
Sylvester Stallone in Cliffhanger | Sony Pictures

Throughout his prolific career, Stallone has had his share of misfires, but Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot — which pairs the actor with Golden Girls star Estelle Getty (yes, really) stands as the perhaps the most notorious bomb. Luckily, Stallone bounced back quickly with this Renny Harlin film, which sees him star as a mountain climber who gets caught up in a heist gone awry. With John Lithgow delivering a memorable villainous turn, Cliffhanger became a summer smash and still stands as Stallone’s highest-grossing non-franchise film to date.

5. Demolition Man (1993)

Sylvester Stallone in Demolition Man
Sylvester Stallone in Demolition Man | Warner Bros.

Set in the year 2032, Demolition Man centers on an infamous 20th-century cop who is released from his cryo-prison to face an old nemesis (Wesley Snipes) and unravels a larger conspiracy behind the peaceful world he discovers upon his awakening. The film received mixed reviews but has since become popular for its tongue-in-cheek version of the future as well as delightful performances by Snipes — as the colorful villain Simon Phoenix — and a pre-Speed Sandra Bullock. Plus, though it’s played as a joke, the film predicted Arnold Schwarzenegger’s entrance into politics. Well-played, Demolition Man.

6. Cop Land (1997)

Sylvester Stallone in Cop Land
Sylvester Stallone in Cop Land | Miramax

By far, Stallone is best known for his roles in violent action thrill rides. However, this James Mangold (Walk the Line) release sees the actor take on a more subdued role as a small-town sheriff grappling with corruption within his department. More of a crime drama than an action film, Cop Land received heaps of critical praise for its ensemble cast — including Harvey Keitel, Ray Liotta, and Robert De Niro — and features a surprisingly poignant performance by Stallone that stands among his very best.

Follow Robert Yaniz Jr. on Twitter @CrookedTable

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