Highlights: Sylvester Stallone

By Jason Barney

November 2, 2009

I am the law! I mean, I win!

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As we watch careers rise and fall, it is always fun to measure which films are memorable and earned respect within the body of work of a particular actor or actress. As time passes and more films enter a performer's resume, it's interesting to see how certain films stack up against others. Such discussions are totally based on point of view, but every so often Box Office Prophets will be taking a look at an actor/actress and providing a list of their top five movies.

There is no secret formula. Money earned in the theaters isn't added to critical reception and then divided by how many times people have seen these films. The square root of how many quotable lines a film is not multiplied by how many people own a flick on DVD.

A number of factors are taken into account for each Career Highlights list. First, limited or small roles naturally hold down a film's chances of making anyone's top five. The screen time of a role that merely lasts a few minutes is difficult to weigh against a film where they appeared as the star. In addition, box office success is not major factor. There have been some really awful movies that have made mountains of money. Perhaps the best way to define how a movie makes the Career Highlights list is by acknowledging the"Enjoyment Factor. Please feel free to agree, disagree, and offer a comment or two... and if you disagree, let us know which films should have been included!

Today's discussion involves the filmography of Sylvester Stallone.

1) Rocky II (1979)

With no disrespect meant to the original, Rocky II is one of those rare instances where the sequel surpasses the first of a franchise. Both films are really good, but the energy of Rocky II establishes it as the best in the series and pushes it into the top spot of all the Stallone films. Stallone reprises his role as Rocky Balboa, the south paw fighter who nearly upset the boxing world champion Apollo Creed, (Carl Weathers) at the end of Rocky I. Stallone is superb as a boxer who has to deal with his newfound stardom, starting a family, and the boxing champion who wants a rematch. In the opening scene, viewers are reminded of the Italian Stallion's defeat and punishment by Apollo Creed in the first film.

We sympathize with Balboa as he comes to terms with his own illiteracy, and we feel for him when he tries to move away from boxing and start a different life. When Adrian (Talya Shire), his pregnant wife, goes into labor early and falls into a coma, we see and understand the circumstances yanking a huge opportunity away from our hero. It's impossible to mention the quality of Rocky II as a movie and not touch on the inspirational training scenes. There probably isn't a man in America who saw Rocky II as a kid and hasn't thought of Rocky training in the Phillidelphia streets. Finally, the fight scene between Balboa and Creed at the end of Rocky II is better than Rocky I. It is impossible to forget the beating Rocky took but it is also impossible to ignore how inspiring a performance Stallone gives.




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2) First Blood (1982)

This is a movie for those old enough to remember or for those compassionate enough to understand that the Vietnam War is something that will exist in America's psyche well into the future. In First Blood, Stallone took on the role of portraying a Vietnam War veteran who has some major difficulties integrating back into American life. It ranks as Stallone's second best film. He plays John Rambo, who is harassed and intimidated by local police when he moves through a quiet and forgettable American town while looking for a buddy from his wartime unit. Not wanting him around, the cops push a little too hard, and Rambo's training (along with some horrible flashbacks from Vietnam) takes over. Audiences are left watching an unlikely scenario but enjoying one hell of a film. Brian Dennehey plays Will Teasle, the sheriff responsible for pushing Rambo too far. Perhaps one of the most interesting things about First Blood is that it differs so much from its own sequels and many of Stallone's later action films. The violence is not overdone and the action does not focus on unrealistic explosions. First Blood is a fine movie that should not be mixed in with typical or generic action films.

3) Cliffhanger (1993)

Coming in at number three is Cliffhanger. Stallone made quite a few of films in the late 1980s and early 1990s where he played a cop and there is more action than story. While Cliffhanger does not fit into the category of typical action film for him, it still made an awful lot of money. Rather than the typical character and setting, Stallone plays a mountain climber in some remote but beautiful areas. Perhaps audiences were struck by the unlikely start of Cliffhanger, where Stallone's character Gabe Walker fails to save his buddy's girlfriend during a rock climbing accident. The fallout of that incident has implications later in the movie, especially when he becomes involved in what he and his companions believe is a rescue effort. There are a couple of irritating plot twists and John Lithgow's performance as the main villain is pretty weak, but the film has some remarkable moments. There is no doubt it successfully plays upon people's fear of falling, and as Stallone grips rock edges, hangs on for his life, and strains to avoid fatal plunges, audiences are on the edge of their seats. Cliffhanger was pretty well received by critics and audiences loved it. It made over $250 million worldwide.


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