Unlike many actors, Sylvester Stallone has been fortunate enough in his career to have not just one or two characters appear in more than one movie, but several. And even though some of his roles may have only appeared in one film, you can totally see how they could have future adventures.
Consider this article a purely unscientific study of my ten favorite Stallone characters. You may feel differently and I totally encourage you to comment and share your thoughts.
1. Robert “Rocky” Balboa: Across six of his own films and appearances in the two Creed films, Rocky is the ultimate Stallone character. He’s autobiographical, with a life that mirrors the struggles, challenges and successes of the man who wrote and played him down to the fact that Stallone’s dog played Rocky’s dog.
In Rocky, he’s a down on his luck fighter who somehow ends up in a match with the champ. Rocky 2 — the rematch. In the third film, he’s lost the eye of the tiger and must recover it before winning back his title. By four and five, he’s battling Russia and retirement before Rocky Balboa features him in one last fight.
He’s one of the rare characters in American cinema that we’ve seen grow old and go through changes in each successive movie. Stallone even sees one more story in Rocky, saying that he has a new movie idea where “Rocky meets a young, angry person who got stuck in this country when he comes to see his sister. He takes him into his life, and unbelievable adventures begin, and they wind up south of the border. It’s very, very timely.”
2. John Rambo: Rambo may have appeared in less films than Rocky — the fifth installment arrives at the end of this summer — but he’s no less popular a hero. Starting with First Blood, a film that Rambo was originally intended to not survive, this is another character that has changed along with the political climate.
In his first appearance, Rambo is an outsider, a veteran who returned home to a country that didn’t want him. By the second film, the Reagan era is in full effect, with our hero returning to Vietnam to win the war this time. And in the third, well, he’s working with the Taliban. Look — they were our allies at the time. Global political peacekeeping is tricky business. By the fourth film, Rambo is just trying to live peacefully in Thailand and sell snakes. Of course, that doesn’t last. What’s surprising is just how gory and brutal the carnage becomes.
Rambo is more than a character. He’s become an archetype, a touchstone where people are referred to as going in like Rambo. So many action movies that follow in the wake of the Rambo series owe a tremendous debt to the first two films.
3. Barney Ross: The leader of The Expendables, a team of highly trained mercenaries, Barney has appeared in three different movies. Beyond his ability to draw his signature 1911 Kimber Gold Combat II faster than anyone on any battlefield, Barney is known for his loyalty to his men and how he strives to protect people. Not usually qualities that you’d apply to a mercenary, but he’s a different breed. He’s got a list of allies — and enemies — longer than most, but that’s because he’s survived the game way longer than anyone. Here’s hoping that the fourth movie in this series happens soon.
4. Ray Breslin: Across three Escape Room movies, Ray uses all of the skills that he has learned as a former prosecutor, businessman, structural engineer and escape artist to run his firm, Breslin Security. After escaping from the prison called the Tomb — along with Arnold Schwarzenegger — in the first film and the Hades prison in the second, Breslin returned for Escape Plan: The Extractors along with his operatives Trent DeRosa (Dave Bautista), Hush (Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson) and Abigail Ross (Jamie King). While not as celebrated a character as Rambo or Rocky, Breslin is one that Stallone keeps returning to, as these films do great business worldwide (if not domestically).
5. Joe “Machine Gun” Viterbo: Always coming in second to Death Race 2000 superstar Frankenstein has driven Joe a bit crazy. How else can you explain someone who dresses like 1940’s mafia hitman and drives a car with a gigantic switchblade mounted on the hood? While not one of Stallone’s best known roles, this was one of his first and shows that he had plenty of charisma. He also rewrote several of his lines — he was writing Rocky while this movie was filming — such as when he tells Myra, his navigator, “Some people might think you’re cute. But me, I think you’re one very large baked potato.” and “I’ve got two words to say to that: bull shit.”
6. Lincoln Hawk: I may be the only person in the world that wishes that there had been more than one Over the Top movie, but when you run your own web site obsessing about movies, you can make outrageous claims too. If I were to spitball my take on the sequel, it would involve Hawk and former enemy Bull Hurley being set up to haul an illegal load of radioactive material for terrorists who have kidnapped Hawk’s son Michael. At the film’s climax, Hawk and Bull would have killed most of the terrorists — played by George Eastman, Rober Z’Dar, Vernon Wells, Clint Howard and Al Leong — before tearing the arms off the man behind it all — Alexander Rasputin, long lost brother of the evil mystic and the man who wants to eliminate American and arm wrestling, who is played by Klaus Kinski, who was nearly killed several times by Stallone during filming. Also Cameron Mitchell would play Jesse Cutler, the brother of Robert Loggia’s Jason Cutler.
7. Marion Cobretti: A member of the LAPD Zombie Squad, the man known as Cobra battle the New World for one movie and that was it. Again, like Over the Top, I’ve debated a sequel in my head for years, as well as the hope that a high quality copy of the two hour plus unedited cut of the film — with way more mayhem and gore — would see the light of day. Thanks to Stallone’s official Instagram, it looks like I’m not alone.
8. Sgt. John Spartan: Yet another one and done Stallone character, the hero of Demolition Man starts the film by jumping out of a helicopter and goes on to basically maim, murder and explode every single thing in his way. There were plans of trying to bring in Jackie Chan as a villain for the follow-up, but Jackie doesn’t play villains. It’s a shame — I’d watch every single movie that had John Spartan in it, even if the movie was just about him eating Taco Bell and using those three seashells.
8. Lieutenant Raymond Tango: I think the fact that a sequel to Tango & Cash was never made is the reason why no one seems to get along any longer. Movies where machine gun loaded trucks chase down old cowboy actors like Jack Palance are the great uniter, never a divider. Kurt Russell and Stallone in one film? It’s like putting more butter on your peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Seriously. You should try that sometime.
9. Stakar “Starhawk” Osborg: What was missing in the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Sylvester Stallone. His quick role as this high ranking member of the Ravagers in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was completely awesome. According to writer and director James Gunn, Starhawk is “very important to the Marvel Universe” and “it’s our plan to see more of Stallone” in future MCU films. I’m intrigued to see if they’ll play into the comic canon and have both Stallone and Michelle Yeoh, who played his adoptive sister/lover Aleta in another cameo at the end of the film, be both parts of Starhawk. Yes, all I did in my teenage years was read comic books.
10. The Toymaker: A rare role for Stallone as a bad guy, the main enemy of Spy Kids 3D is the reason why their grandfather Valentin Avellan (Ricardo Montalbán) is in a wheelchair. He was once an OSS agent that turned his back on his Valentin, his partner, and has been imprisoned in cyberspace. From the video realm, he and his three duplicates plan on taking over the minds of the children of the world. If I were to make a crossover film with every single Stallone good guy teaming up — the ultra-Expendables — he would be the big bad.
Whew! What a list! Did I miss one of your favorites? Let me know! Or send me your own list!