It’s hard to put into words how much I idolized Sly Stallone through my childhood and teenage years. Stallone epitomizes the machismo of an action star, and was revered by fans for the heroic roles he played through the years. I asked our resident Bollywood expert Rashmi for some comparisons and she said the best examples would be Dharmendra in the 80’s or Akshay Kumar in the 90’s.
Then you have to factor in the Italian connection (his full name is Michael Sylvester Gardenzio Stallone). For many young Italian-Americans like myself, Stallone as ‘The Italian Stallion’ was the definition of cool. Long story short, Sly is the man. So much so that I even enjoy (and own) his bad movies. There’s a lot to cover in this tribute, so let’s start with Rocky and go from there.
1970’s – Rags to Riches
Before Sly got his first few roles he was struggling to pay the bills, and did some things he’s not particularly proud of (more on that later). He eventually got noticed and played mostly small roles in the early 70’s. I haven’t seen all of these early films, but I did catch Capone, where Stallone plays the ambitious bodyguard of Al Capone. Stallone also wrote his first film during this time called Lords of Flatbush, where he co-starred with Henry Winkler (The Fonz).
Then in 1975 he wrote the screenplay for Rocky which attracted a lot of attention. He held out on offers until the studio finally agreed to let him play the lead role. The film was a critical success and was the highest grossing film of 1976. Rocky was nominated for 10 Academy Awards and won Best Picture.
The first sequel came out in 1979, which Stallone wrote, directed, and of course starred in. The critics weren’t raving about Rocky II, but it was another commercial success, and fans the world over loved seeing the Italian Stallion fight to the finish and win the title!
1980’s – Bring on the Sequels
In addition to 2 more Rocky flicks, this decade spawned the Rambo series and several other memorable action films. In 1982 (I assume in celebration of my birth) Rocky III & First Blood came out. In the 3rd Rocky installment Stallone first wins an exhibition match against professional wrestler Thunderlips (played by Hulk Hogan), and then comes back to reclaim the Heavyweight Championship with an underdog win over the ferocious Clubber Lang (played by Mr. T), who he lost to earlier in the movie.
In First Blood Stallone plays a tormented veteran of the Vietnam War who gets into a spat with the local police of a Northern hick town. Long story short, they picked the wrong guy to mess with. To give you an idea of how dangerous John Rambo is, check out this clip of his commanding officer & mentor’s description of him to the cops.
That was followed by Rambo II a few years later where John Rambo goes back to Vietnam to free American prisoners of war and annihilate the enemy with his patented exploding arrows.
A year after that Rocky IV came out, featuring a ripped Dolph Lundgren as his Russian foe. One of my personal favorites, and definitely the best training montage of all time… DRAGOOOOO DRAGOOOOO!
Followed by the epic East vs West showdown between Rocky and the gigantic Ivan Drago in Moscow. In the end Rocky shows the Russians what American determination is all about, even winning over the initially hostile Russian audience. During the fight Drago says about Rocky, “He’s not human. He’s like a piece of iron.” That’s right Drago… better recognize.
In the middle of all these sequels came the arm wrestling movie (yes a movie entirely about arm wrestling), Over The Top. This clip should give you a good idea of what this movie is about.
And in 1988 the original Rambo trilogy was concluded with Rambo III, where he again fights the Russians… this time in Afghanistan. (Random Fact – with the backdrop of the Cold War during the 80’s between the U.S. & the USSR, many American films portrayed Russians as the bad guys and contributed a bit to the general propaganda).
Here’s the fan favorite stick fighting scene from the beginning of Rambo III for your viewing pleasure.
1990’s – Commercial Domination
Stallone’s films in the 90’s brought in about $1.2 billion at the box office. Most of these films were not good by conventional standards, but the fans kept coming. We’ll start with Rocky V, which almost all Rocky fans wish never happened. Despite the general awfulness of this one, I still enjoy the final fight scene… gotta take him to the street!
Two Stallone films I did enjoy in the mid-90’s were the rock climbing thriller Cliffhanger (which made me take up rock climbing), and the futuristic crime film Demolition Man (which made me lose a $100 bet that Arnold Schwarzenegger would one day be president of the United States).
Other films from the 90’s include Oscar, Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot, The Specialist, Judge Dredd, Assassins, Daylight, Cop Land, and he was even outed as an alien in Men in Black (uncredited).
2000’s – Once More to the Well
After a string of particularly bad films, Stallone decided to get back in the Director’s chair after more then 20 years (first time since Cobra in 1985). Rocky Balboa was released in 2006 in hopes of restoring fans’ faith after the disappointing Rocky V. Critical reception was generally good and it was very successful financially. I for one enjoyed seeing Rocky back in the ring, and people were pretty impressed with Stallone’s physique at age 60.
And I liked that he didn’t win his last fight, but still went out on a high note. Favorite quote: “…it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward…” Here’s a clip followed by a nice Rocky compilation.
And in 2008 Stallone released Rambo, the 4th film in the series. This one did not get great reviews, but you have to respect the pure unrivaled carnage. It was the bloodiest Rambo film yet as detailed in this chart that shows the escalating violence and kill count in each successive Rambo movie. This clip below from the final scene proves the point.
In 2009 Stallone paid India some love with a cameo in Kambakkht Ishq. He and Kareena Kapoor look a little flirty on the set together… no woman can resist old Sly.
Lastly, it’s worth mentioning Sly’s most recent box office smash, The Expendables, in 2010 (which he wrote, directed, and starred in). Any American boy who grew up in the 80’s and 90’s has to appreciate the all-star ensemble cast of Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Mickey Rourke, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Bruce Willis, and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
And to wrap things up here are 5 facts about the Italian Stallion that you probably don’t know.
1. Stallone’s first film was actually a soft core porn flick called The Party at Kitty and Stud’s.
2. His decision to do the porn film was completely financial because he was broke and temporarily homeless, sleeping in the New York Port Authority for 3 weeks. When asked about it Stallone said “It was either do that movie or rob someone, because I was at the end – the very end – of my rope.”
3. Stallone’s trademark ‘snarling’ look, and slightly slurred speech, are actually result of birth difficulties which left the lower left side of his face paralyzed.
4. Stallone has done many of his own stunts over the years and suffered many injuries. Most notably he landed himself in the hospital under intensive care when he asked Dolph Lundgren to punch him as hard as he could in the chest during the filming of Rocky IV… not the wisest challenge.
5. The Italian Stallion himself is only half Italian. His mother is half Russian-Jewish and half French.