The Best and Worst Sylvester Stallone Movies

The Highs and Lows of the 'Rocky' and 'Rambo' Star

In 1977, Sylvester Stallone celebrated Rocky’s Oscar win for Best Picture. He might’ve seemed like an overnight success story, but Stallone had been toiling in supporting roles for years before writing and starring in Rocky. Born in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen, his tough New York upbringing has served him well both in creating memorable characters and in helping him survive in Hollywood.

However, not all of Stallone's films reached the peak of Rocky. In fact, by the late 1990s Stallone was better known for a series of bombs -- he has been nominated for over a dozen "Worst Actor" awards in the Golden Raspberry Awards -- until a career resurgence in the 2000s.

Here are the best as well as worst films he’s made as an actor and/or director.

The Lords of Flatbush (1974)

The Lords of Flatbush
Columbia Pictures

Still a skinny-looking kid, Stallone scored his first memorable screen role as Stanley Rosiello. Even back then he knew how to draw on his New York roots and was allowed to rewrite and improvise some of his character's dialogue. Perry King and Henry Winkler co-starred.

Death Race 2000 (1975)

Death Race 2000
New World Pictures

Stallone starred as Machine Gun Joe Viterbo opposite David Carradine in this Roger Corman B-movie about a brutal cross-country race. The tag line states: “In the year 2000 hit and run driving is no longer a felony. It's the national sport!” Both Stallone and Carradine claim to have done much of their own driving, and at this low budget they probably did. When the film was re-released years later, Stallone was given top billing with Carradine.

Rocky (1976)

United Artists

Stallone bashed out the first draft of the script for Rocky in three days. The script turned out to be his ticket to Hollywood stardom. This tale of a down-on-his luck boxer who goes the distance with the Champ won over both audiences and critics. It also launched a lucrative franchise with Rocky "The Italian Stallion" Balboa fighting everyone from Mr. T to a Soviet boxer to his own inner demons. Surprisingly the 2006 installment in the series, , revealed a sweet maturity on the part of both Rocky and Stallone, and the 2016 spinoff, Creed, led to an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor for Stallone.

F.I.S.T. (1978)

United Artists

As Johnny Kovak, Stallone played a Jimmy Hoffa-like teamster and made a strong attempt to be taken seriously as an actor. If Rocky represented the American Dream, then F.I.S.T. was the flip side, the American Nightmare. It was about how good people and dreams could be corrupted. It didn’t quite succeed in its ambitions, but it was nice to see Stallone break out from his brawny mold and try something more challenging.

Paradise Alley (1978)

Paradise Alley
Universal Pictures

While this film is cheesy, it marked the first film Stallone had the chance to direct so for that it’s worth noting. The story focuses on three Italian American brothers in the 1940s. Stallone had wanted to call the film Hell’s Kitchen after his birthplace.

First Blood (1982)

First Blood
Orion Pictures

Stallone launched another franchise with his performance as drifter Vietnam veteran John Rambo. Rambo enters a small town, gets harassed by the local cops, and then wages a one-man war on the police force. This first film in the four-film franchise is by far the best with Rambo actually trying not to kill anyone.

Lean, mean, and muscular, this is classic Stallone. Although Stallone has screenwriting credit, he was not the first actor offered the role. Among the diverse performers considered were Al Pacino, Jeff Bridges, Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, Steve McQueen, and Clint Eastwood.

Cobra (1986)

Canon Film Distributors

“Crime is the disease. Meet the Cure.” How can you resist a tagline like that?! Stallone plays Lieutenant Marion "Cobra" Cobretti and dispenses lines like, “This is where the law stops and I start – sucker” and “I don't deal with psychos. I put 'em away.” Though Cobra has no real redeeming features,it's silly action fun of the first order.

Tango & Cash (1989)

Tango & Cash
Warner Bros. Pictures

Though this film is a run of the mill police actioner, the pairing of Stallone and Kurt Russell is great fun. The posters proclaim: “Two of L.A.'s top rival cops are going to have to work together... Even if it kills them.” That pretty much sums it up.

Cop Land (1997)

Cop Land

As with F.I.S.T., Cop Land was Stallone’s attempt to be taken seriously as an actor. As Freddy Heflin, Stallone plays the sheriff of a suburban New Jersey town where a bunch of crooked cops provide him with a moral dilemma. Stallone got to go toe-to-toe with Harvey Keitel, Robert De Niro, and Ray Liotta, and he did a good job of holding his own. For the privilege of working on the film, Stallone took a mere $60,000 (he got $15 million for Rocky V and $20 million for Driven).

The Expendables (2010)

The Expendables
The Expendables. © Lionsgate Films

You can feel the testosterone ooze off the screen as Stallone lines up as much muscle as he can for this ass-kicking action film. Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Steve Austin, and Mickey Rourke star with cameos by Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Big, dumb, and fun with lots of stuff blowing up. What more can you ask for from an action film? The Expendables was followed by two sequels, and a fourth film has been rumored.

And Now for the Worst of Sylvester Stallone...

Stop or My Mom Will Shoot
Universal Pictures

At the opposite end of the spectrum here’s a quick list of Stallone’s most embarrassing screen moments:

  • The Party at Kitty and Stud's (1970)
    Stallone got $200 to appear in this soft-core porn film. He looks pretty darn skinny and unattractive.
  • Staying Alive (1983)
    Who thought that Stallone could direct a musical? An embarrassment all the way round with this misguided sequel to Saturday Night Fever.
  • Rhinestone (1984)
    Dolly Parton’s costumes may have glittered, but nothing else did in this leaden romantic comedy. To think Stallone turned down Romancing the Stone to make this. Can you say do over?
  • Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot' (1992)
    Stallone himself considers this his worst movie, once calling it "maybe one of the worst films in the entire solar system, including alien productions we’ve never seen."
  • 'Get Carter' (2000)
    This remake of a bleak, British 1970s Michael Caine gangster film is simply a total miscalculation.