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I guess I just like liking things

From the "How Not To Hold An RPG Launcher" series of instructional films

From the “How Not To Hold An RPG Launcher” series of instructional films

I’ve been a Stallone fan since before I could watch some of his most famous movies.  I remember as an eighth grader sketching the picture from First Blood: Part II (shown here) during school, and that’s still the drawing I’ll use if I ever get “Rambo” as a suggestion in Draw Something. I think there are two reasons I was a Stallone fan early on: 1) He guest-starred on The Muppet Show (in 1979!), and 2) Rocky III was one of the first movies I ever saw on VHS.

So here, as promised, are my top twelve Stallone movies – you get two extra to make up for there only being eight last week.

12. Assassins (1995) – Who even remembers this movie with Antonio Banderas and Julianne Moore?  It’s rare that you’ll even find it randomly playing on TV, but I remember enjoying the interplay amongst the three of them. It’s been a while since I saw it.

11. Antz (1998) – Sly’s second Woody Allen movie. His  first was Bananas, where he played “Subway Thug #1.” At the time, I liked this animated movie about ants better than Pixar’s A Bug’s Life, and I still think it’s good, but I think I’ve come around on A Bug’s Life now.

10. Judge Dredd (1995) – Listen, this movie isn’t very good. I know it. You know it. Rob Schneider’s in this one (in one of his two least annoying roles ever), but so is Diane Lane. Last year’s Dredd completely overshadows this one in terms of quality, but chances are that any time anyone mentions Judge Dredd, this is the movie you’ll first think of.

9. Cop Land (1997) – This movie was seen as a possible turning point in Sly’s career.  He gained a lot of weight for the role, did some Actual Acting (TM), and held his own against the likes of Harvey Keitel and Robert De Niro. Really! And did you remember that Janeane Garofalo was in this movie? Because I sure didn’t.

8. Tango & Cash (1989) – “Let’s put Stallone and Kurt Russell in a movie together and see what happens!” This movie is mostly fun.

7. Oscar (1991) – There for a while, Sly tried to reinvent himself as a comedic actor. I haven’t seen many of them, and I hear they’re mostly terrible, but I’ve always enjoyed this one. His character’s last name is “Provolone,” people!

6. The Expendables (2010)/The Expendables 2 (2012) – The only thing that would make these movies more enjoyable is if they had happened 20 years ago with mostly the same actors. I love these movies unabashedly, and I’ll keep seeing them as long as they keep making them.

5. Daylight (1996) – I’m not generally one for disaster movies, so I can’t adequately explain why I like this one so much. Stallone plays the improbably-named “Kit Latura” as an expert in just exactly the sort of thing that happens in this movie, and he takes in on himself to rescue as many folks as he can. Spoiler: it isn’t as many as you think it will be.  Aragorn himself is in this movie.

4. Cliffhanger (1993) – This movie has a lot of great action sequences and also John Lithgow at his scenery-chewing best as the villain. One other thing it has: a spoof of its opening minutes in the opening minutes of Ace Ventura 2.

3. Demolition Man (1993) – One thing this movie has that a lot of Stallone’s action flicks lack is a sense of humor. Wesley Snipes is so over the top (a movie you’ll notice is not on this list, by the way) that it kind of oozes through the rest of the movie.  Sandra Bullock is adorable in this movie, and for those keeping track at home, this is officially Rob Schneider’s least annoying role. Add in Otho and the warden from Shawshank and Denis Leary, and how can this movie not be near the top of anyone’s list? And any movie that can leave you pondering what bathroom procedures might look like in the future is a movie that has succeeded, I feel.

2. First Blood (1982)/Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985)/Rambo III (1988)/Rambo (2008) – Around the time of the second entry in this series, “Rambo” became standard reference shorthand for “dumb action movie,” a practice that I think is ill-suited to the second entry. Funnily enough, that label certainly applied to the third entry – a self-fulfilling prophecy, perhaps? I’ve always viewed the Rambo series as more of an action-based character study, myself, and I’m sure at least some of that is rooted in how many books I read about the Vietnam War back in the day. Go back and watch First Blood again and be surprised at how it touches on the themes of isolation and rootlessness so many of our vets had when they returned. Then see how Rambo gets an opportunity in the second one to do something about that hopelessness. In the third, once you get past the stick fighting, see how he sides with freedom fighters as he seeks to rescue his father figure (though the less said about those freedom fighters becoming al-Qaeda later on, the better, I guess). In the last, see how a man who has known nothing but war even in the midst of his search for peace takes it upon himself to protect those who cannot protect themselves. I find it fascinating, I really do. The fact that stuff blows up real nice in and around the story is just icing.

1. Rocky (1976)/Rocky II (1979)/Rocky III (1982)/Rocky IV (1985)/Rocky V (1990)/Rocky Balboa (2006) – Rocky put Stallone on the map, and deservedly so. It’s hard now to imagine that the “Underdog triumphs!” storyline wasn’t always a part of the culture until Rocky hit, and that’s even though Rocky didn’t win in the first movie!  (Uh… spoiler alert, I guess.) Should that first movie have taken home the Best Picture that year, against the likes of network and Taxi Driver? Most would say no, but I’d argue that none of the other movies in the category made the impact Rocky did. Sure, the series has had its ups and downs (hey, Stallone doesn’t even like to talk about Rocky V these days), but it’s another character study with a great arc. The last movie in the series is a fantastic wrap-up to the series, full of touching moments and heart that will surprise you.

I’d love Stallone to choose more Rocky Balboa (the movie) and Cop Land-type roles as he gets older.  Yes, I love the Expendables movies, but I think more thoughtful roles would suit him.  I’d also like to see him lighten up – Bullet to the Head tried to be so completely serious, and it doesn’t play well.  Have some fun, Sly!  We’d enjoy it, I promise!

Bonus list – Stallone movies I haven’t seen:

  • Zookeeper
  • Kambakkht Ishq – He apparently plays himself?
  • Shade
  • Taxi 3
  • Avenging Angelo
  • Eye See You
  • Driven
  • Get Carter – I started this one once, but didn’t make it very far
  • An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn
  • The Good Life
  • Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot – I really feel like I need to see this one. I just feel compelled.
  • Rhinestone
  • Staying Alive – This one is usually at or near the top of most “Worst Sequels Ever” lists, and Sly directed it!
  • Victory
  • F.I.S.T
  • And anything else before 1978

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