Sylvester Stallone is an artist, in every sense of the word. He’s a painter, actor, writer and director. Due to the popularity of his social media profiles, fans around the world are slowly becoming accustomed to the fact that he’s been painting canvasses ever since his youth. Filmgoers and movie lovers alike, inadvertently neglect to comprehend that Stallone is a screenwriter – he’s written the entire Rocky franchise, which consists of six installments, and even penned the script for Creed II (2018). Stallone has worked behind the camera, as a director, on eight feature films throughout his career. The man is an artist, a filmmaker. Once we have granted him that title, we can consider him arguably the biggest action movie star of all time. But his acting stardom is merely a supplement to his artistic repertoire. The living legend, Sylvester Stallone, has worked as an actor on over sixty feature films throughout his career spanning almost seven decades. It’s incredibly difficult to pin-point five essential titles from his filmography that are considered essential gems for viewing pleasures, considering the wide variety of classic films he’s portrayed different characters in. But it does make it easier if we exclude the films that portray his two most popular characters – Rocky Balboa and John Rambo. For obvious reasons, Rocky and Rambo are separate discussions in worlds of their own, and everyone has their favorite installment of each franchise, totaling 13 pictures – if we include the Creed spinoffs. Having said that, here’s what I consider to be the five essential films of Stallone’s career as an actor. These are gems that must be seen and/or revisited.
Stallone plays a bearded undercover street cop named Deke Da Silva who’s initially disinclined to prepare himself in the takedown of an International terrorist named Wulfgar (Rutger Hauer) who requests global media coverage of his antics. This is truly an underrated film that was well-made and considering its pre-9/11 status, the screenplay hits too close to home with hauntingly familiar warnings about counter terrorism. Nighthawks has a jaw-dropping ending that’s sure to make your eyes bugout. The film was directed by Bruce Malmuth, who is also known for directing Hard to Kill, an essential gem starring Steven Seagal.
This is a cult-classic that every Stallone fan is familiar with, but it deserves to be revisited every other year due to its sheer madness. There are multiple reasons why this film is an essential gem. There is a gravely serious tone the film manages to execute throughout its plot, from beginning to end, without becoming a joke. Though some parts of the film are laughable, but only because the situation at hand is outrageous. Any outbursts a viewer may have won’t come as comedy, but out of shock. This is owed to the film’s director, George P. Cosmatos (Rambo: First Blood Part II) who managed to capture the different genre elements of action and crime while adding a layer of a sub-genre from Horror – the slasher film. The credit for the horror element is due to Brian Thompson, who plays the disgraceful Night Slasher who wears pantyhose as masks when he preys upon women. Stallone plays Marion Cobretti, another street cop except completely different than the character of Deke DaSilva. Cobretti is a part of the Zombie Squad – an Elite force of cops considered the last line of defense. Cobretti is assigned the task of taking Ingrid (Brigitte Nielsen) into a witness protection program when she’s the only survivor that can identify the Night Slasher and his murderous cult. Where Deke DaSilva was conservative, Marion Cobretti is a warrior. Two very different street cops performed with outstanding range by Stallone.
Over the Top (1987)
This is another film that most Stallone fans are acquainted with and some love dearly. This film has incredible heart and viewing it only tugs and strokes the heart in bittersweet ways. Whether it’s the father/son element, the maternal grandfather/grandson element, an ailing mother or the quarrels between a father-in-law and his son-in-law, Over the Top has a lot of heart behind its arm-wrestling competitions. This film is not about arm-wrestling; it’s about family. Sylvester Stallone portrays Lincoln Hawk, a strong-minded and strong-armed trucker who’s determined to rekindle his relationship with his son having been absent from his entire youth, while seeking victory at the World Arm Wrestling Championships. If this is one of your favorite Stallone movies, it says a lot more about you than you may realize. This is a film about love and empathy. It’s about strength and triumph. It’s about gratitude and forgiveness. Over the Top was directed by Menahem Golan (The Delta Force, Cobra).
In the early nineties, this was considered a ‘comeback’ film for Stallone. As one of his fans, I find that comment offensive. ‘Comeback’ from what? From already being the best? Sure, this film came out amid his intense rivalry with the great Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Stallone has publicly admitted his regret for making Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot! (1991) because he was fooled by a talent agent, and the Governator, that it was a good script to work on. Nevertheless, after Stallone’s stint in the comedy genre, he wrote and starred in a film unlike anything he’s ever done. Though the story takes place in the Rocky Mountains of North America, the majority of the film was photographed in the snowy alps of Cortina d’Ampezzo, Dolomites. Italy. Cliffhanger is a mesmerizing masterpiece and on my top 20 list of best movies ever made. The film’s scenery and stunts are daring and strike a perpetual state of awe throughout the plot. Stallone plays Gabe Walker, a Rescue Ranger who gets duped into the involvement of a heist gone wrong after suitcases filled with cash are spread sporadically throughout the mountains from a plane crash. Cliffhanger was directed by Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2: Die Harder, Driven) and co-stars John Lithgow and Michael Rooker.
Get Carter (2000)
Even though it’s a remake of the original Get Carter (1971) starring Michael Caine and directed by Mike Hodges, it’s important to note that both films were based on the novel “Jack’s Return Home” by Ted Lewis. Stephen Kay’s Get Carter (2000) wasn’t based on the 1971 film. Kay used innovative filmmaking techniques with epic montage sequences supported by a provocative musical score and an opening scene at a funeral with Moby’s “Memory Gospel” playing on the soundtrack that solidified this film as a landmark in scope, with Sylvester Stallone playing Jack Carter, a debt collecting enforcer from Las Vegas who visits his hometown in Seattle to investigate the inexplicable death of his brother, while digging deep, to uncover those responsible and rekindling the relationship he has with his niece, Doreen (Rachel Leigh Cook). Stallone showed incredible acting range throughout this film, from strong-armed anger to emotional outpouring of guilt and sorrow, displaying genuine tears and sadness, all the while seeking revenge in the rain swept streets of Seattle for his family’s honor. Get Carter co-stars John C. McGinley, Alan Cumming, Mickey Rourke, and of course Michael Caine, in a nice touch and shout-out to the 1971 original. The street fight between Mickey Rourke and Sylvester Stallone is savage, considering Stallone loses. But, he gains revenge upon the film’s climax, beating Rourke nearly to death in a street fight rematch, inside the nightclub.