UAMC ranks the best and greatest of Sylvester Stallone’s Ultimate Action Movie career!
Now, we also know that @TheSlyStallone has also been a busy man and is simply not letting up as far as his action career goes. Not only is Sylvester Stallone still turning out mentorship opportunities in his Rocky-spinoff Creed series, he’s also brought back Rambo for Last Blood – as well as reportedly working on reboots/sequels for Demolition Man, Cobra, Cliffhanger (and maybe even more Rocky).
But before all is said and done, we want to offer UAMC fans a chance to bask in Stallone’s ultimate action movie glory by looking back at his greatest action classics. While this list may be different from yours (and we do encourage you to share yours in the comments!) It’s based on a few ground-rules:
- Stallone must be the star (or at least clear co-star)
- It must be an ACTION movie (but can be split with other genres, like sports, etc…)
- It’s ranked on its ULTIMATE-NESS (i.e. the enjoyment from watching it with friends on a Saturday night). NOT on commercial or critical success.
So, for your action movie appreciating pleasure, here are our TOP 10 Sylvester Stallone Ultimate Action Movies!
10) Cliffhanger (1993)
Ah, the Sylvester Stallone action movie that just keeps hanging on! Cliffhanger (1993) comes in at number 10 but is definitely our number mountain climbing Stallone feature. But seriously, Cliffhanger is peak Stallone and showcases not just his hard hitting side, but also his serious acting chops.
It also puts Stallone in a great position against the criminally under-appreciated bad guy Qualen – played by John Lightgow. Overall the cast is superb, the plot well developed and fun and the action earned and unleashed on ice.
For our full UAMC review of Cliffhanger, you can check it out here! But before we go on, one small bit of UAMC trivia about Cliffhanger. Because the film was such a success, they named the “Rocky” Mountains in which Cliffhanger was filmed after Stallone’s famous character.
9) The Expendables (2010)
To be fair, this is really a toss-up between The Expendables (2010) and The Expendables 2 (2012) as both movies deliver the ultimate action movie goods for a nostalgic fanbase just looking for some old fashioned action fun! (We won’t get into everything wrong with The Expendables 3 (2014) – we’ll leave that for this in-depth article about the entire franchise here!
We will say that The Expendables – however you feel about it – is worthy of appreciation based on Stallone’s bold vision of a modern dream-team action movie. It’s perhaps not exactly what we at the UAMC would envision for it, but the idea is pretty damn UAMC-worthy to begin with.
Hats off to Stallone (and of course screenwriter David Callaham for his initial script idea) to bringing an entirely new and fresh yet-nostalgic franchise to fruition in the non-ultimate action movie era of the 2010s, and for getting an all-star gang of action movie stars together!
8) Tango & Cash (1989)
In what will undoubtedly be its own article one day, we dare anyone to make an argument for a more ultimate buddy cop duo than Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell. Although it’s well noted that Tango & Cash (1989) may have its own problems (it was off to a rocky start from the beginning with Kurt Russell being a last minute replacement for Patrick Swayze – and man would THAT have been an ultimate action movie!)
However Tango & Cash has aged surprisingly well and is still a smash-em up action movie banger that gives Stallone in particular plenty of room to hit all the action movie marks which made him a multi-decade star.
From just the opening scene alone (which you can watch in its entirety here), Stallone just oozes action movie legacy in a way which – after 1989 and into the 90s – just wasn’t possible for the genre anymore. It’s just classic action greatness for 104 ultimate minutes!
7) First Blood (1982)
Now to the good stuff. First Blood (1982) might be the most important movie in the history of action movies. Period! While Rocky threw Stallone into the limelight and gave him his movie legacy, First Blood and Rambo gave Stallone his ACTION movie legacy. Who would have thought that the misunderstood Vietnam-vet drifter would go on to become a certified action movie icon – the likes of which simply doesn’t exist for any other action movie star. Not even close!
And while First Blood is certainly not the most action-packed installment of the eventual Rambo franchise (more on that below), it is certainly the most important. So much about who Stallone’s John Rambo is comes from this first introduction. His grimace-y face, is brooding inner rage, even his weapons of choice make their debuts.
Plus, there might not be a more despicable villain (or group of villains) than Brian Dennehy as Sheriff Will Teasle and his band of misfit local police who are pretty much solely responsible for now 5 movies worth of Rambo carnage.
6) Rocky (1976)
Similarly to First Blood above, it’s hard to imagine what went through a young Sylvester Stallone’s head when Rocky (1976) won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1977. Did the young man from Hell’s Kitchen in New York picture an action movie career spanning forty plus years of starting franchise after franchise and boundless amounts of money, awards and esteem?
The story of Stallone is very much the story of Rocky Balbao, and as ultimate fans of his it’s hard not to see his Rocky franchise as a look into the growth, development and challenges of the great action movie star which he quickly became.
If for no other reason than what it means to Stallone’s introduction to the world, and the birth of his first (and perhaps greatest franchise), Rocky stands out as a very fine film – with just enough “action” elements – to be included on any list of Stallone’s greatest action movies.
5) Demolition Man (1993)
And from the original Rocky, we have a very odd segue to 1993’s Demolition Man. While certainly not the same class as movies as Rocky, from an ultimate action movie club enjoyableness perspective, Demolition Man is in a league of its own. This movie is 100% sci-fi action entertainment from start to finish!
Plus, unlike the much lampooned Judge Dredd, as wacky of an actioner as it is, it’s actually a pretty damn good movie that people still remember, talk about, and watch to this day. Stallone got a big paycheck and another box office hit, Sandra Bullock went on to become a huge star, and the world largely decided to forget that Rob Schneider ever existed (and much less was apparently a go-to Stallone funny man sidekick).
There are better movies on this list, but Demolition Man still stands out as a sure-fire hit to smash into a VCR or stream online at any time. Plus – after years of research and discussion – UAMC scientists have finally confirmed how the 3 Seashells actually work!
4) Over the Top (1987)
Released in the golden age of action movies (read more about that here) Over the Top (1987) is perhaps the greatest living will and testament to the tragically gone-but-not-forgotten Cannon Films. Billed as the next great Stallone action movie franchise, Over the Top was the greatest action movie flame-out ever – and man do we love it for it!
Everything about Over the Top is, well, over the top! To its odd estranged father-son relationship plot, to Stallone’s “lotsa truckers do it” lovable character, to the random arm-wrestling tournament to win-it-all casually introduced in the film’s third act for no reason, it truly is the action movie which keeps on giving.
Cannon would even go on to promote the film with the crazies nation-wide arm wrestling tournament campaign ever (please, please watch the video here. You’ll thank us!) If you’re ever with a group of friends and the prospects of watching Over the Top come up, any card-carrying UAMC member contractually has to drop whatever he or she is doing and watch Over the Top from start to finish then arm-wrestle each other after. It’s the UAMC law!
3) Rambo II (1985)
Oh buddy, now this is where things get choppy for any greatest Stallone action movie debates. Trust us, it’s hard enough to rank Stallone’s Rambo movies by themselves, much less up against the rest of the man’s awesome action movie legacy.
That being said, we stand by our guns and (for the purposes of this list) have to say that Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985) is Stallone’s greatest Rambo movie, and his 3rd most ultimate action movie of all time! Why? Because we say so!
Just kidding, but we’ll let UAMC writer (and resident Rambo-expert) John Acquavita lay it out for you as to why Rambo II is the most ultimate action movie ever. Period! If you have concerns, be sure to @ him, not the UAMC directly.
2) Rocky IV (1985)
And for them ultimate fighting words, we present that the greatest Rocky movie of all time is the UAMC-legendary Rocky IV (to much dismay of Rocky III fans). It’s a tough call, and it’s hard not to include more Rocky’s on this Top 10 list (and more Rambo’s for that matter too). But to us at the UAMC, Rocky IV stands tall as the most ultimate.
Here’s why. It’s the most 80s, coming out squarely in 1985 and sandwiched between Rocky III (1982) and Rocky V (1990). It has the most ultimate training montage of all time. And it hands down has the most ultimate bad guy in Rocky movie history (and perhaps in just any movie history ever)!
We love Dolph Lundgren as Ivan Drago. Drago’s decisive (and eventually killing blow) on Carl Weather’s Apollo Creed was perhaps the most devastating blow to the United States in the 21st century. And we love that after a decades, Rocky Balboa, our hero Sylvester Stallone, was able to effectively end the Cold War. Rocky wins. Stallone wins. America wins!
1) Cobra (1986)
And with that, we have our number one to unveil. Better than Rocky. Better than Rambo. Better than Tango, Spartan or the awfully named… Barney Ross. We present that Sylvester Stallone’s greatest role is portraying Marion “Cobra” Cobretti and Cobra (1986) as Stallone’s most ultimate action movie of all time!
If Stallone did win the Cold War for America in 1985 with Rocky IV, well he followed it up with an chiseled vision of what an American action movie star’s world would look like for the rest of the golden age of action movie ultimate-ness.
Stallone not only taps into the vein of what makes an action movie star – tight leather jacket, dark aviators, ripped muscles, matchstick toothpick, 0-remorse bad guy wasting, scissor pizza cutting dinners – he becomes the literal representation of an idealized action movie star.
Cobra isn’t a perfect movie by most standards, but by UAMC standards, it’s damn near it. The bad guy (The Night Slasher) is one of our greatest bad guys of all time. Stallone’s demeanor never wavers from slightly pissed off and 100% on cleaning up the scum off the streets. It’d be hard to argue that after Cobra, Stallone’s hero archetype was copied in damn near every action movie after – heck Chuck Norris, Steven Seagal and even later era-Van Damme made whole careers off of it.
Doubt if you want. Offer you’re lists if you dare! But if you’re looking for an ultimate Sylvester Stallone action flick to watch, your first choice should always be Cobra. And if you still don’t believe, check out these 7 Reasons Stallone’s Cobra is his TRUE Cinematic Masterpiece here!
Sylvester Stallone’s Honorable Mentions:
As always, we have to toss in several more names into the fight. Sylvester Stallone’s career has ranged from the early 70s to today and is still going strong. Even his action movie career is much more than the 10 films mentioned above, and we have to shout-out some of his other strong contenders:
- Death Race 2000 (1975)
- F.I.S.T. (1978)
- Paradise Alley (1978)
- Nighthawks (1981)
- Lock Up (1989)
- The Specialist (1994)
- Judge Dredd (1995)
- Assassins (1995)
- Daylight (1996)
- Cop Land (1997)
- Get Carter (2000)
- Eye See You (2002)
- Avenging Angelo (2002)
- Bullet to the Head (2012)
- Escape Plan (2013)
As well as the other installments from his notable Rambo, Rocky and Expendable franchises:
- Rambo franchise: Rambo III, Rambo, (and Rambo: Last Blood)
- Rocky Franchise: Rocky II, Rocky III, Rocky V, Rocky Balboa, Creed I, Creed II
- Expendables Franchise: Expendables 2, Expendables 3, (Possibly Expendables 4)
See how our lists ranks up with some others here:
- Readers’ Poll: The 10 Best Sylvester Stallone Movies
- IMDB Sylvester Stallone Movies
- Rotten Tomatoes Sylvester Stallone Movies
If anything on this list rubs you the wrong way, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE let us know your top 10 in the comments below. Sylvester Stallone very well could read this article and will want to know your feedback!
Also, if you’d like to see how the other action movie star’s action movie legacy’s stack up, here are some more Top 10 lists to check out!