Top 10 Sly Stallone Films (not including Rambo or Rocky)

What is the best Stallone movie – Rambo or Rocky? In this top 10 we put those two classics (and their franchises) aside for a moment and look at the best of the rest…

Sylvester Stallone is a legend. His story is well known. He wrote Rocky in three days, was offered $100,000 for the script on the condition that he give up all the rights and not star in it. He refused and the studio finally gave in but cut the budget down to a million dollars instead of the 6 million they were originally willing to invest in it. The film went on to make more than 200 million dollars world wide, was nominated for 10 Oscars, won three including best picture and the rest is history. Then, he defied all odds and in 1982, he made First Blood where John Rambo was born. In 1985, Rambo First Blood 2 was so popular that it was ubiquitous, even making it into speeches by Ronald Reagan.

Here we look at Stallone’s ten best films outside of Rocky and Rambo. I am leaving these two off because they would easily be number one and two, instead, let’s take a look at some of his other career highlights.

10. Nighthawks (Malmuth, 1981)

nighthawks-1981_sly-stalloneA gritty police drama that came out between Rocky II and First Blood, this was a change of pace for Stallone. Rutger Hauer, Billy Dee Williams and Lyndsay Wagner gave the film some different flavour to it. This is the first film in which Stallone plays a cop. He also openly criticized the films biggest stunt calling it unrealistic.

9. Cobra (Cosmatos, 1986)

stallone-cobra-1986Marion Cobretti is a member of the Zombie Squad. He is assigned to cases that normal cops want no part of. Stallone adds some humour to an otherwise dark character. And he has some terrific and memorable lines. Most famous of course is “You’re the disease, I’m the cure.” Notable about the film is the veteran cast. Both Reni Santoni and Andrew Robinson were in Dirty Harry together.

8. Get Carter (Kay, 2000)

get-carter_stallone-Caine_2000This is the remake of the Michael Caine film of the same name. An interesting story of loyalty started with Mickey Rourke in this film. Rourke was down on his luck in the year 2000. He was not getting roles and he was basically struggling to even eat and pay rent. Stallone wanted him in this movie and when the producers balked at Rourke’s asking price (which was next to nothing) Stallone took the money from his own pay, gave it to Rourke and he did the movie. Years later when Stallone was casting for Expendables, straight off blistering performance in The Wrestler, Rourke did the film as a favour to Stallone because of his generosity on Get Carter.

7. Oscar (Landis, 1991)

Oscar_john-landis_sly-stallone_1991Stallone’s box office disaster Oscar, is actually one of the funnier films of the decade in my opinion. He plays a mobster who made a promise to his dying father that he would get out of the “business”. Blessed with another strong cast that includes Marisa Tomei and Chazz Palminteri, this was a swift and abrupt change of pace. Audiences stayed away but it has developed a bit of a following over the years.

6. Over The Top (Golan, 1987)

over-the-top-1987_sly-stalloneOk, even I admit that this is a cheesy film but that doesn’t mean it is not enjoyable. Stallone plays an arm wrestler who eventually knocks Terry Funk through a wall, tells Robert Loggia to take his money and shove and beats world arm wrestling champ Rick Zumwalt, even though he is outweighed by about 100 pounds. Ignore all of that and just enjoy the film for what it is. Kenny Loggins is even on the soundtrack.

5. Demolition Man (Brambilla, 1993)

demolition-man_sly-stallone-1993Cryogenically frozen and then thawed out decades later when he has to capture Simon Phoenix, played by Wesley Snipes, this is perhaps Stallone’s most recognizable film outside of the big three. Blessed with a fantastic cast that includes Sandra Bullock, Benjamin Bratt, Bob Gunton, Dennis Leary and even a quick appearance by Jack Black, this is perhaps one of the better action films of the 90’s.

4. Cliffhanger (Harlin, 1993)

Cliffhanger_sylvester-stallone_filmDemolition Man may be considered one of the best action films of the 90’s but in my opinion, next to Terminator 2, THIS IS THE BEST ACTION FILM OF THE 90’S. It is truly breathtaking. If you have any predilection to vertigo, this is definitely a film to stay away from. Stallone and Michael Rooker play veteran mountain climbers who have to outwit some murderous thieves. Directed by Renny Harlin, this stunts in this are truly pulse pounding. The setting is real, the mountains are real and the air exchange is real. Stallone looks like he has negative body fat for the role.

3. Tango and Cash (Konchalovsky/Magnoli, 1989)

tango-and-cash_1989_stallone_kurt-russellStallone’s first real foray into action/comedy. And his first film where he actually shares the screen with another “star”. In this, Stallone and Kurt Russel are two diametric police officers. Stallone is the snappy dresser and the by the book guy and Russell is the slob who bends the rules. It works really well as they have some great scenes together, especially when Russell goes off in the courtroom after Stallone has said his saccharine speech about the law and upholding it. Also, look for a small role by Ron Howard’s brother. Quite funny.

2. The Expendables (Stallone, 2010)

expendables_sly-stallone_2010Stallone is directly responsible for three different franchises that span 5 decades and 13 movies. To have one massive franchise is amazing, to have three is simply incredible. With the Expendables, he tapped into a market that was all but forgotten, that being a throw back to the macho, one liner, 80’s kind of action where men were chiseled and full of brawn. He felt that a lot of the action heroes today were a little effeminate and he wanted to give us something retro. The Expendables has an all star cast from today and yesterday and with the third one coming out in 2014, the total box office for the three films will likely exceed 800 million dollars.

1. Copland (Mangold, 1997)


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Stallone gained 40 pounds to add to the realism of the police officer. He was also paid the SAG minimum. This was an all star cast that included the likes of Robert DeNiro, Ray Liotta and Harvey Keitel just to name a few. This is a film that many thought would garner Stallone his second best actor nomination. It didn’t but it doesn’t take away from the subdued brilliance of his interpretation of Freddy Heflin. This film easily has his best performance outside of the original Rocky. His range in this film goes from tender, to shameful to verbose and strong willed. He really nailed the character and it’s a shame he was not recognized by the academy for this realistic and fantastic performance.

Written and compiled by Dan Grant.

About the Author
Dan Grant is an author and horror film fan from Canada. His first novel Terrified and Defenseless is now available for e-download from Amazon. Follow Dan on Twitter @baumer72.

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  1. Avatar
    Mark Reply

    Interesting list ….

    My attitude towards the man is probably ambivalent at best, so if I was going to cobble together something similar, I’d probably include some of his more seriously intended, yet middle of the road stuff like FIST (where he more or less plays Jimmy Hoffa), Escape to Victory (where he plays an Italian version of Steve McQueen in The Great Escape), Paradise Alley and Stop or My Mom Will Shoot.

    He didn’t win me over in Copland either – aside from the fact I thought the movie was too full of its own self importance, Ray Liotta really ended up stealing the show.

    If anything, Sly should now relax and do a few cameos for directors like the Coens, George Clooney and Sean Penn.

    • Avatar
      Dan Reply

      …Love the inclusion of Stop or My Mom Will Shout, Mark – a guilty pleasure of mine. However, I’ve never really liked Escape To Victory – the football sequences are as bad as some of the acting!

      Copland, on the other hand, is right up there with Stallone’s best. I agree with Dan G that it is one of Stallone’s finest performance’s outside of Rambo/Rocky. I like the fact it is understated and while there is a grand finale (a la Rocky), this one is far different (and really well put together – I do like the stylistic touches Mangold uses with the sound).

  2. Avatar
    Dan Grant Reply

    Stallone, imo, has nothing left to prove. His legacy is cemented. He will go down as one of the biggest draws in the history of film. I’ve enjoyed his work since I was about 8 years old.

    I thought Copland was quite brilliant. And even many of his films that have not been well received are still quite a lot of fun.

    • Avatar
      Dan Reply

      Watched Copland again quite recently and still think it is a terrific piece of work. Of course, the cast they’ve assembled is a major plus, and like Mark says above, Ray Liotta steals the show, but I love Stallone’s understated, slightly overweight and bumbling sheriff. It is a far cry from the lean, mean Stallone we see in The Expendables (a role he can play in his sleep), or the emotionally charged Stallone we come across in Rocky and Rambo.

  3. Avatar
    Dan Reply

    Outside of Rocky and Rambo, of which I’d include Rocky II in Stallone’s top 10 too (maybe even Rocky Balboa), I think you’ve nailed it with Copland. It’s a terrific film and we see a Stallone we’re not used to.

    I don’t for a second think he’s a great actor. Far from it. But he has certainly prospered in the action-man role and featured in many of my favourite films in the 1980s such as Tango & Cash, Lock Up and Cobra.

    I’m not fond of his recent work – The Expendables, for instance, has the odd moment of joy for fans but otherwise offers very little, and, as a big fan of Get Carter, I can’t abide that remake. But I do quite like some of his 1990s work – Assassins, Cliffhanger, Daylight and Oscar. The Specialist and Judge Dredd are passable entertainment but ultimately failures despite some good moments.

    As an alternative top 10, I think I’d go for:

    10. Nighthawks
    9. Stop Or My Mom Will Shoot
    8. Assassins
    7. Cliffhanger
    6. Over The Top
    5. Lock Up
    4. Cobra
    3. Oscar
    2. Tango & Cash
    1. Copland

  4. Avatar
    Neal Damiano Reply

    I agree either Dan (the editor) Lock Up should be on this list and high up on it too. Stallone is quite great in Lock Up! Otherwise, nice list Dan glad to see Nighthawks here, although would like to of seen it farther down.

  5. Avatar
    Dan Grant Reply

    I love Lock Up as well. I’m a big Sonny Landham fan and Lawrence Gordon has produced some great films, so I’m very fond of the film, but it just missed my list. But if you want my opinion, I like about 99% of Stallone’s films and ask me in a year to make another top 10 and it might be different. All of the films mentioned here are very enjoyable.

  6. Avatar
    Pete Turner (@ilovethatfilm) Reply

    Ooooh controversial! I’d have to put Tango and Cash, Demolition Man and Cliffhanger above The Expendables! And I’d throw Daylight in to round out the top 5.

  7. Avatar
    Mark Reply

    “Stallone, imo, has nothing left to prove. His legacy is cemented. He will go down as one of the biggest draws in the history of film.”

    Whatever my gripes and prejudices, truer words have never been written (the part about the negative body fat for Cliffhanger was pretty spot on too).

    Actually, what I found really funny about this list was the fact the editor found a moment in Cobra when Sly DOESN’T have a matchstick dangling from his mouth ….

    • Avatar
      Dan Reply

      “Actually, what I found really funny about this list was the fact the editor found a moment in Cobra when Sly DOESN’T have a matchstick dangling from his mouth…”

      …probably just stowed it behind the unseen ear while he opens the door to the bad guys… 😉

  8. Avatar
    Dan Grant Reply

    I love Cobra for the script. There are so many great one liners in it. Remember the part where he walks up to the homeless guy living in his car in front of his apartment? He says to the guy, “You know, that’s bad for your health.” And the guy says, “What is? Pinche?” Probably referring to the cigarette he has in hsi mouth, and then Cobretti says, “No, me.”

    • Avatar
      Dan Reply

      The film didn’t sit very well with critics at the time it was released and it has received little love since. I think it has grown a cult following and rightfully so. Yes, you can criticise it for being derivative or Stallone’s character having little depth but that’s the reason I’m a fan of it. It gives me what I want. Cobretti might not have much depth but he’s hard as nails – the sort of 1980s action-hero we grew to love in films that featured the likes of Van Damme, Schwarzenegger, Willis etc. I also love the fact it is so damn dark – there’s some truly frightening scenes thanks largely to Brian Thompson’s Night Slasher!

  9. Avatar
    Dan Grant Reply

    If Brian Thompson hadn’t of gotten The Terminator’s fist shoved into his stomach, you could even say that his character in Cobra is what his character in Terminator grew up to be. 🙂

  10. Avatar
    Ted S. Reply

    Love me some Sly Stallone. Nice to see Nighthawks getting some love, not a great film but I think had they chose to make it into a full out action/adventure instead of a thriller, it would’ve been awesome and probably a box office hit. I also love Cliffhanger, one of the last films I saw at a real 70mm theater back in the early 90s, too bad Renny Harlin’s career went down hill after this movie. I can’t agree on Oscar though, that was brutal to sit through. 🙂 I would put Lock Up on my list instead of that movie.

  11. Avatar
    Dan Grant Reply

    Lots of love for Lock Up. Good to see. I also love that film.

  12. Avatar
    Evan Crean Reply

    Some of the films on this list are pretty silly like Cobra and Demolition Man. Cobra is funny because it was a consolation prize Stallone got because they gave Beverly Hills Cop to Eddie Murphy. I think the studio gave him free reign over Cobra in a bad way. Demolition Man is a total junk food movie, but I still love it anyway. Haven’t seen some of the others or even heard of them (Oscar), but I agree about Cliffhanger being an awesome action film. I couldn’t get into the first Expendables and still haven’t watched the second one, however a recent Stallone movie worth honorable mention is Bullet to the Head. That one was pretty funny and enjoyable.

  13. Avatar
    Dan Grant Reply

    Just a small note, in an interview Stallone gave with Arsenion Hall in 1989 or 1990, he said that Beverly Hills Cop was pitched to him and he didn’t feel it was right for him and he said he recommended Eddie Murphy for BHC. BHC was also a Paramount film, I’m not sure that Stallone has ever worked for Paramount.

  14. Avatar
    Sky Cassidy Reply

    Would like to see ‘Death Race 2000’ or ‘The Party at Kitty and Stud’s’ on the list.

  15. Avatar
    Dan Grant Reply

    I’ve never actually seen the Stallone porno lol.

  16. Avatar
    Dan Grant Reply

    Just a really quick sidenote, it’s really too bad that Expendables 3 leaked and it’s even worse that the movie didn’t live up to what it should have been.

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