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Sylvester Stallone Movies: His Biggest and Best Knockout Films Through The Years

From Rocky to Rambo and beyond, Sly has proven to be a Hollywood heavyweight who pulls no punches!

Yo, Adrian! Sylvester Stallone movies have been winning over fans for decades, ever since he wrote and starred in his 1976 hit Rocky. “I just wrote about what I knew. I was writing about this little kind of mentally challenged guy who happened to have a lot of heart,” the actor, 77, recently said during an appearance at the Toronto Film Festival. And just like his scrappy, determined boxer Rocky Balboa, he had to fight like you-know-what to succeed in the movie business.

Sylvester Stallone in Rocky
Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa in Rocky, 1976Archive Photos / Stringer/Getty

“Nobody wanted to make [Rocky]. It was my best writing, too,” Stallone added about the struggle to make his now iconic film, which was the underdog that took down such heavyweight competition as All the President’s Men, Network and Taxi Driver to win the Best Picture Oscar in 1977. Fans of Sylvester Stallone movies are grateful he fought as hard as Rocky to get the film made, and that he was able to springboard from that early success into an impressive five-decade career that still has muscular legs.

The actor, who’s most recently starred as a displaced Mafia heavy on Paramount+’s Tulsa King and is the subject of Sly, a new documentary on Netflix, has appeared in over 50 films that have raked in more than $3 billion at theaters, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

His on- and off-screen charms have even helped him win over some formidable famous foes. “We tried to derail each other,” Arnold Schwarzenegger once admitted on a British talk show, speaking about the ’80s, when his Terminator was battling Sly’s Rambo for fans. “We were movie rivals, but we took the competitiveness to the extreme,” Schwarzenegger shared. “We each had to have the best body, we had to kill more people in our films, and we had to have the biggest guns.… Then, when we both invested in [the] Planet Hollywood [restaurants], we started flying around the world together to promote it and we became fantastic friends.”

Sylvester and Arnold
Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger dancing together in 1990Eric Robert/Sygma/Sygma

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In 2016, Stallone also wore down another elusive foe — the acting award circuit — by winning his first ever Golden Globe trophy for Best Supporting Actor for Creed, one of Rocky’s eight sequels. “I’m gonna try not to get emotional,” he said upon accepting the award, reflecting upon his long journey in the business.

In addition to thanking his wife, daughters and others, he gave a special shout-out to Rocky producers Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff, noting that Chartoff “actually mortgaged his house to take a chance on a mumbling actor and give me the shot of a lifetime.” He wrapped up his thanks with an emotional message to the character that first gave him wings. “And most of all, I want to thank my imaginary friend Rocky Balboa for being the best friend I ever had!”

Sylvester Stallone movies

Read on to find out more about the Sylvester Stallone movies that have kept audiences cheering for more.

The Rocky Legacy

The Rocky Legacy
Sylvester Stallone in Rocky (1976)

If you’ve ever been to Philadelphia, odds are you’ve likely run up the steps to that city’s Museum of Art in honor of Stallone’s underdog boxing champ that stole moviegoers’ hearts in 1976. (And there’s even higher odds you’ve got Rocky’s memorable theme song, “Gonna Fly Now,” in your head right now!)

“I wanted to write a movie about a guy who says ‘I’m not great at all, never will be. I fight great fighters. But I just want the opportunity to go the distance,’” Stallone said of the titular hero, and go the distance he did.

(Original Caption) Actor Sylvester Stallone, described as looking like Rock Hudson sculpted from mashed potatoes, wrote the script to "Rocky" and then got the title role. Film tells of an unknown Philadelphia boxer who, with the help of trainer (Burgess Meredith), R, takes a crack at the World Heavyweight Boxing championship. Scene from the movie. Movie still, 1976.
Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa and Burgess Meredith as his trainer Mickey, in Rocky, 1976Bettmann/Getty

The franchise introduced us to such memorable characters as Rocky’s wife Adrian (Talia Shire), brother-in-law Paulie (Burt Young), devoted trainer Mickey (Burgess Meredith) and formidable foe Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), among others, who set the stage for the initial film’s eight sequels: Rocky II (1979), Rocky III (1982), Rocky IV (1985), Rocky V (1990), Rocky Balboa (2006), Creed (2015), Creed II (2018) and Creed III (2023). 

The success of the character and his core films still brings tremendous pride to Stallone. Upon the 40th anniversary of Rocky II in 2019, the actor posted a special message to the franchise’s fans. “A heartfelt thank you for accepting these characters and their stories into your lives!! It seems like only yesterday when Adrian was telling me to ‘WIN! And Mickey [was] pushing me to be an ‘Italian Tank! [and] go through him!’”

Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa and Talia Shire as Adrian in Rocky, 1976

As co-star Shire said when introducing Rocky at the American Film Institute, “We didn’t have any money, not very much, but what we had an abundant amount of was Sylvester Stallone’s belief in this movie and his passion, and it charged the air we all breathed,” she shared, noting that along with being a great boxing flick, “It was also a love story.” And Adrian, she added, was “forever in [Rocky’s] corner,” just like all of the film’s fans. Romance, hanging meat and a thrilling underdog victory — this film truly had it all!

Rambo to the Rescue

Rambo to the Rescue
Sylvester Stallone in First Blood (1982)

The other big iconic character on Stallone’s resume, of course, is John J. Rambo, who made his debut in 1982’s First Blood, based on the David Morrell novel. The rugged, testosterone fueled hero bravely takes on everything from bad cops to drug cartels in four other explosive blockbusters that have brought in more than $819 million at theaters: Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985), Rambo III (1988), Rambo (2008) and Rambo: Last Blood (2019).

In the book, Rambo was a savage — a complete sociopath and psychopath [who] had to be put down,” Stallone shared of his U.S. Army Special Forces soldier and Vietnam vet character during a live An Experience With interview series session in 2019. “And I thought, that’s really not the right portrayal of our servicemen. I thought, can we sort of just make him one foot in society and one foot as an outcast? He could hurt you, he could kill you, but he doesn’t. He chooses just to go to the edge. That way, other soldiers who are suffering from [PTSD] wouldn’t feel like, Oh, God, the only hope is that someone kills me. They deserve better than that. Much better.”

Sylvester Stallone movies in the 1970s and 1980s

The future Fonz told Entertainment Tonight that under Stallone’s tough exterior lay “an articulate writer who was so funny and dry. He was amazing!” After Rocky hit it big in 1976, Stallone then took on the role of Johnny Kovak, a Jimmy Hoffa-inspired character in 1978’s labor union drama F.I.S.T., for which he co-wrote the screenplay.

After getting his film career off on a shaky (and naked!) foot in the soft-core adult film The Party at Kitty and Stud’s (1970), Stallone’s career thankfully rebounded. In 1974, he appeared as a tough ’50s teen in The Lords of Flatbush alongside Henry Winkler.

Other Highlights
Paul Mace, Sylvester Stallone, Henry Winkler and Perry King in The Lords of Flatbush (1974)

In 1981, the actor took flight in the crime drama Nighthawks opposite Billy Dee Williams, Lindsay Wagner and Rutger Hauer. And in a departure from the successful Rambo franchise that started in 1982 and its violent, action-packed explosions, Stallone teamed up with Nashville queen Dolly Parton for the lighthearted comedy Rhinestone in 1984, in which her character tries to turn Stallone’s — a New York cabbie — into a country singer.

I thought he was so pretty,” Parton said of meeting the big-screen hero, describing their chemistry as “a real magical thing.”

Sylvester Stallone points to Dolly Parton in a scene from the film 'Rhinestone', 1984. (Photo by 20th Century-Fox/Getty Images)
Sylvester Stallone and Dolly Parton in a scene from Rhinestone, 198420th Century Fox

Stallone then paired with Kurt Russell on the buddy cop film Tango & Cash in 1989. The two would both have parts in 2017’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, and while they didn’t appear onscreen together, the behind-the-scenes reunion was lots of fun. “He always puts a smile on my face, and we share lots of laughs,” Russell told Total Film. “He’s a great hang. This was just fun, being in the same sandbox.”

MUST-READ: Kurt Russell Has the Same Hunky Charm He Did in the 70s and 80s — Check Out His Best Movies & TV Shows Over the Years

Sylvester Stallone movies in 1990s and early 2000s

One of the oddest titles in Stallone’s canon is 1992’s Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot, co-starring “the nicest woman in Hollywood, [The Golden Girls’] Estelle Getty,” according to Sly, who said he took the role in the flop in part because he’d heard that Arnold Schwarzenegger wanted it.

Surprise! The Terminator admitted to The Hollywood Reporter that his interest was just a fake out. “In those days we did all kinds of crazy things to get ahead in our rivalry,” Schwarzenegger shared. “Luckily for us and everyone else, today, we root for each other. Thank God, because we sure don’t ever need another Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot.”

Stallone continued to co-star with a cavalry of A-list actors throughout the’90s, including Wesley Snipes in Demolition Man (1993), Antonio Banderas in Assassins (1995) and Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel in Cop Land (1997). He even gave voice to Weaver, a soldier insect, Antz (1998), alongside Woody Allen, Sharon Stone, Anne Bancroft, Jennifer Lopez and more.

Los Angeles - CIRCA 1993:  Actors Sylvester Stallone and Wesley Snipes stars of the movie Demolition Man pose for a portrait circa 1993 in Los Angeles, California  (Photo by Aaron Rapoport/Corbis/Getty Images)
Sylvester Stallone and Wesley Snipes in Demolition Man, 1993

The following decade brought 2000’s Get Carter, which “was really underrated,” Stallone told The Hollywood Reporter about the film in which he plays a Vegas mobster out for vengeance after his brother’s mysterious death.

Gathering the Expendables

In 2010, Stallone directed, co-wrote and starred with a bevy of heavyweight action heroes (Jason Statham, Jet Li, Steve Austin, Terry Crews, Dolph Lundgren, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger) in The Expendables, an ensemble franchise that’s carried on through three other installments, the most recent being 2023’s Expend4bles. Along the way, other big names have tagged in to the films, including Chuck Norris, Liam Hemsworth, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford, Ronda Rousey, 50 Cent and Megan Fox, just to name a few.

The Expendables
Jet Li, Jason Statham, Sylvester Stallone, Randy Couture and Terry Crews, The Expendables, 2010MoviestillsDB/LionsGate/CBS

“What I like,” Statham told Entertainment Weekly of the franchise’s appeal, “is that Sly doesn’t want characters who are superhuman heroes. He wants characters who are weak on the inside, but when the s— gets going, they can deal with the situation.”

Stallone will soon again push himself to his limits, as he’s signed on to revive his Ranger Gabriel “Gabe” Walker for a reboot of his 1993 action-thriller Cliffhanger. “To be at the helm of the next chapter, scaling the Italian Alps with the legend himself, Sylvester Stallone, is a dream come true,” director Ric Roman Waugh said in a statement.

Lead Photo
Sylvester StalloneAndreas Rentz / Staff

We are thrilled to see what Stallone does next!

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