Perennial action star Sylvester Stallone returns to theaters this summer when The Expendables 3 debuts on August 15. Like the previous installments in the franchise, The Expendables 3 features an ensemble action star cast that includes Jason Statham, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jet Li, Wesley Snipes, Harrison Ford, Antonio Banderas, Dolph Lundgren, Mel Gibson, and Terry Crews, according to IMDb. Although the cast also includes several younger actors, many of Stallone’s costars achieved their fame during the heyday of blockbuster action films in the 1980s and 1990s. This is no coincidence, since Stallone has made no secret of the fact that the films in The Expendables franchise are essentially homages to the aging action stars’ original hit movies. “It was a genre that cropped up in the early ‘80s, and I don’t know how long it will last,” said Stallone about The Expendables 2, according to USA Today. “I just wanted to keep it going.”
Stallone, who directed and co-wrote 2010’s The Expendables, also helped write the screenplay for The Expendables 2 and The Expendables 3, although he surrendered the director’s chair after the original film. The Expendables and The Expendables 2 were widely panned by the critics and the films currently hold 41 percent and 65 percent approval ratings, respectively, from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes. On the other hand, both movies were also considered box office successes. According to Box Office Mojo, The Expendables racked up total worldwide grosses of $274.5 million, while The Expendables 2 collected $305.4 million. The third installment in the franchise will likely garner a similar combination of critical derision and substantial box office receipts.
For moviegoers who enjoy seeing their favorite action movie icons reliving their glory days, The Expendables 3 will likely offer them plenty to love, as seen in the trailer above. However, with the release of The Expendables 3 still over three months away, there is plenty of time for fans to revisit the original films that made Stallone into the international action star that he is today. In no particular order, here are six classic action flicks starring Sylvester Stallone that every Expendables fan should see.
6. Death Race 2000 (1975)
While Death Race 2000 usually isn’t the first movie to spring to mind when listing action flicks starring Sylvester Stallone, this bizarre cult film gave Stallone one of his first true action movie roles. Death Race 2000 is set in an alternative future America where a repressive government sponsors a violent cross-country car race that encourages participants to murder pedestrians. As noted by IMDb, Stallone played “Machine Gun Joe Viterbo,” the primary antagonist to David Carradine’s “Frankenstein” character.
5. Nighthawks (1981)
This early entry in the “buddy cop” action film genre stars Sylvester Stallone and Billy Dee Williams as New York City police officers who are tracking down an international terrorist played by Rutger Hauer. Featuring plenty of gun battles, car chases, and an all-star cast, Nighthawks is a must-see for fans of early Stallone action flicks. This film gets extra points for featuring actors from two sci-fi classics: The Empire Strikes Back and Blade Runner, as well as for somehow making Stallone in drag an essential plot twist.
4. First Blood (1982)
First Blood is probably the first movie that comes to mind when most people think of action films starring Stallone and for good reason. Although the other films in the Rambo franchise followed a more typical “shoot-‘em-up” action film formula, First Blood is a darker and more realistic film than the three sequels it spawned. The film tells the story of John Rambo, a Vietnam War veteran who is pushed into using his formidable fighting skills in order to defend himself against an abusive small town sheriff. First Blood was a commercial success and established Stallone’s status as an action star. The film currently has an 87 percent approval rating from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes.
3. Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985)
The follow-up to 1982’s First Blood was a more conventional action movie and featured the high body count and explosion quota that would typify the rest of the films in the Rambo franchise. In the film, John Rambo is recruited out of prison to lead an operation to rescue American prisoners-of-war still being held in Vietnam. While Rambo: First Blood Part II was a significant commercial success at the time of its release, perhaps the most enduring legacy of this often parodied movie is the image of Stallone as an oiled-up, explosive arrow-shooting commie-killer.
2. Cobra (1986)
While fans of the Rambo franchise waited for the next sequel, Stallone wrote and starred in Cobra, a film in which he plays a Rambo-like, trigger-happy cop who battles a cultish criminal organization. Although Cobra was a commercial success, the film was almost universally panned by the critics and currently has a dismal 13 percent approval rating from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes. However, the film’s over-the-top violence and 1980s aesthetics have made this film a cult favorite among fans of Stallone.
1. Demolition Man (1993)
Stallone once again plays a police officer with a tendency to resort to violence in this dystopian action flick. After being blamed for the deaths of a group of hostages, John “Demolition Man” Spartan (Sylvester Stallone) is sentenced to be cryogenically frozen along with Simon Phoenix (Wesley Snipes), the criminal who is actually responsible for the hostages’ deaths. Thirty-six years later, Phoenix manages to escape the cryogenic prison and begins wreaking havoc in the tightly-controlled, but non-violent society. In order to combat Phoenix, the police reawaken Spartan and hilarity ensues as the “Demolition Man” struggles with the restrictive constraints of the supposedly “utopian” society.
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