Love him or hate him, there’s no doubt the impact that Sylvester Stallone has had on the film industry. Whether it be his acting, his writing or his directing, Sylvester Stallone is an undeniable talent. He got his start in an old pornographic film (which years later would be retitled “The Italian Stallion”). After that, he’d appear in smaller movies like Capone, Cannonball! & Death Race 2000. However, it was with the starring role of Rocky Balboa in the 1976 film Rocky where Sylvester Stallone got his big break. The role was so iconic the movie garnered six sequels and, surprisingly, only one of them was actually bad. Even Sylvester Stallone admits Rocky V was awful. The rest were actually pretty awesome. Some of them were retreads to be sure, but advancing the stories and characters as good sequels should do.
Anyway, Rocky is undoubtedly the role that Sylvester Stallone is best known for. That being said, he has played in so many enjoyable movies and roles over the years. We obviously know that Rocky, Rocky Balboa & Creed are great but what are some of his other great films. Well, in honor of Sylvester Stallone’s birthday, we’re gonna take a look back at some of this actor’s best work. That is his best work outside of the Rocky series. These are The Top 5 Sylvester Stallone Films That Aren’t Rocky Related. Happy Birthday, Sly!
5. THE EXPENDABLES II
When one of their own is killed by a vicious mercenary, The Expendables band together to take him down and avenge their comrade. The Expendables 2 is a perfect example of how to make an old-school action movie in the modern day. We have an over the top villain (whose name is actually “Vilain”… subtle). There’s a group of gruff military types, a bunch of guys dying gruesome deaths, a great sense of humor and almost no story at all. This movie has everything! That isn’t to say it doesn’t have emotional moments but they mostly take a backseat to the action. In this case, that’s not a bad thing as the action and even the actors are entirely badass the whole way through.
Now, if you were to ask me which of The Expendables films had the better story, I would say the first one has this beat. However, if you want to see an adrenaline rush with some of the greatest action stars of all time, The Expendables 2 is definitely your go-to film. The Expendables 2 put more emphasis on its action and giving fans of these actors what they wanted. We wanted to see our favorite, old-school and new-school action heroes wreaking havoc on the big screen together. The Expendables 2 delivers on this ten-fold. Hell, the opening is gory and action-packed, you’d be doing yourself a disservice not to see this movie. One scene has Stallone, Schwarzenegger, and Willis in a side-by-side shootout. The dream has come true!
Believe it or not, before he was forced into making crap like The Covenant and The Legend Of Hercules, Renny Harlin was actually a pretty substantial action director. One of his earlier films was Cliffhanger. A lesser known Stallone vehicle, Cliffhanger showed Stallone as expert climber, Gabe Walker, as he suffers a tragedy. When one of his fellow climbers dies due to one of his decisions, Gabe blames himself. However, staying off the mountain proves to be difficult when his friends end up on the mountain with terrorists. Now, Gabe must overcome his doubts and get back on the mountain to stop the terrorists from succeeding at all costs.
Back in the day, Harlin knew how to get good performances from his actors. Cliffhanger was certainly no exception as Stallone and Michael Rooker clearly show in the leading roles. But perhaps the standout role of this film was John Lithgow as the main villain, Qualen. He is sadistic, he is manipulative, he is funny and he is so enjoyable over the top. Seriously, if you ever want to see Lithgow play a villain (Pre-Dexter of course), give this a watch. But aside from the performances, the film makes wonderful use of the environment. Those suffering from Vertigo should avoid this movie. There are several moments where you actually believe you are on the mountain with these characters. With rousing action sequences and a sense of dread throughout, Cliffhanger is a Stallone film you won’t want to skip.
3. COP LAND
Set in the 1970’s, Stallone plays sheriff Freddy Heflin, who wanted to be NYPD but couldn’t due to minor hearing loss. When Murray Babitch (Michael Rapaport) mistakingly shoots and kills two teenagers, his friends come in to help him. But things begin coming to light when Moe Tilden (Robert De Niro) from Internal Affairs begins his investigation. From here, things only get worse as Freddy finds himself stuck in the middle of the whole ordeal. With actors like Rapaport, De Niro, and Liotta, you’s think Stallone would get lost in the shuffle among them. However, this is not the case, with Stallone giving the best performance in the entire film.
He perfectly plays a cop with crushed dreams and aspirations, faced with a problem he has no idea how to solve. Cop Land was that one movie that reminded everyone after many cliched action pictures that Stallone can act. He can demand a strong presence and he’s certainly not devoid of emotion. Cop Land demonstrates this perfectly and the role of Freddy Heflin remains one of Stallone’s best performances to date. With a gripping story, towering emotions and well-written characters, Cop Land represents one of Stallone’s absolute best films.
2. RAMBO IV
When loner Army Veteran John Rambo escorts a team of missionaries to a war-torn land, he soon finds himself being the only one who can save them. Joined by a rag-tag team of mercenaries, Rambo comes out of retirement to be the weapon he was born to be. Okay, I definitely have to give a shout out to First Blood. It was the Rambo movie that started it all. It was a fantastic film then, it’s a fantastic film now and I highly recommend watching it. However, Rambo IV had more action and a sense of closure for the character. It also had the advantage of being directed by Stallone himself, like Rocky Balboa and The Expendables.
The action in this film is absolutely insane. Just the climax alone was worth seeing this film three times in the theater (and I did). I lost count of how many bodies were dropped in this film. Is there a number past infinity? But it’s not just the action that steals the show here. There is a ton of depth put into John Rambo’s character. You see him as an aged warrior. He’s someone who has never gone home to the states despite his duty being over for years. You see his struggle, you see his pain and Stallone’s performance is pitch perfect. If you want a First Blood sequel that gives closure to both the series and the character in an endearing way, Rambo IV is the film for you.
So what’s at the number one spot? Oh please, like you even have to ask…
1. Demolition Man
C’mon, you knew this was coming and if you didn’t, you should be ashamed of yourself. Demolition Man is a perfect science fiction film, with great acting, humorous performances and even some incredible social commentary to boot. After John Spartan (Stallone) is framed for killing hostages in an explosion, he is frozen for 40 years in cryogenic suspension. Joining him in the “fridge” is the sadistic madman he apprehended, Simon Phoenix (Wesley Snipes). Cut to 40 years later and the world has become a supposed paradise. Swearing, fatty foods, violence and un-educational television has been outlawed. However, this paradise is in for a rude awakening when Phoenix escapes from his parole hearing and Spartan is unfrozen to apprehend him once again.
For a movie that was once seen as just a standard, cliche’ action flick, it is remarkable how well this film holds up. Like a fine wine, it only got better with time. It’s better when you realize that the idea of the future in this movie is actually quite close to our world today. Everyone in the future setting of this movie might as well be a representation of the wussies on social media who are constantly offended by everything. But what works about this film is that it shows the pros and cons of both sides. Both sides have their villains and both have their heroes. The writing and the ideas in this movie are spectacular and the chemistry between Stallone and Snipes is absolutely perfect. There is not a bad moment between them. From the acting to the writing to the action, Demolition Man delivers.
So what are your favorite Sylvester Stallone films outside of the Rocky series? Please let me know in the comments and be sure to stay tuned for more articles at TheNerdStash.com.
A graduate of Full Sail University with a Bachelors Degree in Creative Writing, Adam is a Writer and Film Critic, looking to make his mark on the world. When he isn’t at the movies, writing for The Nerd Stash, playing Duck Hunt (respect the classics) or delivering pizzas to his neighbors, he is back at school earning his Masters Degree in Film Production.