The Evolution of Sylvester Stallone

Bananas (1971)

While Stallone's career was in its infancy, he took tiny roles in a few movies. There was soft-core porno The Party at Kitty and Stud's (later re-released as Italian Stallion to cash in on Stallone's burgeoning fame), as well as No Place to Hide and Klute .

Sly had an uncredited cameo in Woody Allen's South American dictatorship comedy Bananas , as a thug on the subway. The pair would later appear together in Antz .

Tough Guy? In Bananas , Stallone was required to intimidate Woody Allen (which probably isn't the most difficult task in the world).

The Lord's of Flatbush (1974)

Despite the fact he remains best-known as a movie star, Stallone often gets involved behind the camera, and The Lord's of Flatbush gave Stallone the opportunity to script some dialogue.

Flatbush is the story of four rebellious Brooklyn teenagers in the 50s. Sly played Stanley Rosiello, who gets his girlfriend up the duff, and Henry 'the Fonz' Winkler played Butchey. Winkler apparently based his performance as Fonzie on Sly's work in this.

Tough Guy? The gang's toughness was reflected in their flagrant disregard for grammatical rules…

Capone (1975)

Ben Gazzara (Brad Wesley in Road House ) played the titular gangster in this biopic from producer Roger Corman.

Stallone plays Frank Nitti, Capone's right-hand man who sells out his boss for a chance to sit in the big guy's chair. The film wasn't entirely accurate with the facts, and featured the Corman staples of gratuitous nudity and violence.

Tough Guy? Stallone holds his own within the cast of prohibition era bad boys.

Death Race 2000 (1975)

Stallone played a hood for producer Roger Corman again in this culty B-movie classic. Much like a real-life Wacky Races , the film imagines a dystopian American society under the leadership of a fascist police state. One of the most popular forms of entertainment is a three-day cross-country race in which the drivers earn bonus points for mowing down pedestrians.

David Carradine plays reigning champ Frankenstein, and Stallone is 'Machine Gun' Joe Viterbo, his principal rival, showcasing a taste for the ludicrous that would return throughout his career.

Tough Guy? Hell yeah!

Farewell, My Lovely (1975)

Robert Mitchum was Philip Marlowe in this adaptation of the Raymond Chandler novel (Mitchum also played the private dick in a re-do of The Big Sleep which was unable to better Howard Hawks' 1946 adap).

Stallone made little impact in a background role, and he followed Farewell with a couple of TV appearances, and an uncredited role in Cannonball (which shared a great deal of DNA with Death Race 2000 ), before he'd get the first of his career-defining roles.

Tough Guy? His character Jonnie, was a bit of a hoodlum, but he was no match for the incandescent machismo of Mitchum's Marlowe.

Rocky (1976)

Rocky Balboa remains Stallone's most important role, and his first outing as the plucky pugilist saw his stock rise dramatically. Stallone was instrumental in creating Rocky , as he penned the script as well as bringing his own unique brand of brawny charm to the downtrodden boxer who gets one shot at glory in a championship bout.

The film received 10 Oscar nods (with Sly recognised for acting and writing) and took home three, including Picture and Director.

Tough Guy? He proves his mettle by pummelling meat carcasses and going 15 rounds with Apollo Creed, before revealing a soft centre by declaring his love for Adrian.

F.I.S.T (1978)

F.I.S.T had a lot in common with Rocky . It starred Stallone (who also put in some script work) as a put-upon working-class hero, who struggles and scraps to improve his life. This one was all about trade unions, rather than boxing, though.

Johnny Kovac (Stallone) is fired from a job at a loading dock, and ends up joining the unfortunately acronymed Federation of Interstate Truckers. Things begin to get heavy when Kovac rises through the ranks and starts to acquire the services of gangsters as muscle. Norman Jewison directed this political fable.

Tough Guy? Kovac ain't afraid of a riot…

Paradise Alley (1978)

Paradise Alley revisited familiar themes for Stallone: a period piece, the New York City setting, professional fighting, a tough but sensitive role for Sly…

Set in Hell's Kitchen in the 40s, Cosmo Carboni (Sly) encourages Victor, his lunk of a brother, to become a wrestler in the hope of earning a quick buck, and third brother Lenny (Armand Assante) also gets involved. Paradise was ambitious Sly's directorial debut. He also wrote the script, sung the theme tune and scribbled the novel on which it was based.

Tough Guy? He's more of a hustler than a wrestler here.

Rocky II (1979)

Stallone returned as the sporting underdog in this sequel, which was a huge hit at the box office. Rocky's coaxed into a rematch against a disgruntled Apollo Creed with the promise of earning a bit of cash, and he dons the silky yellow robe once more despite medical concerns that he could lose his sight.

After going another 15 rounds with Apollo, Rocky manages to win and take the championship title, completing the character transition from realistic underdog to franchise hero.

Tough Guy? He manages to stand after going the distance (again) with The Master of Disaster.

Nighthawks (1981)

The first outing of another staple character type from Stallone's career: the bad-ass cop. Sporting one of his more garish NYC outfits, Stallone is NYPD detective Deke DaSilva, and he is after international terrorist Heymar 'Wulfgar' Reinhart (Rutger Hauer).

The film was initially devised as a third French Connection movie, but was reworked after getting snubbed by Gene Hackman. Nighthawks didn't receive great reviews, and wasn't a huge hit financially.

Tough Guy? Yes, though not afraid to dress as a woman if a case calls for it.

Matt Maytum
Editor, Total Film

I'm the Editor at Total Film magazine, overseeing the running of the mag, and generally obsessing over all things Nolan, Kubrick and Pixar. Over the past decade I've worked in various roles for TF online and in print, including at GamesRadar+, and you can often hear me nattering on the Inside Total Film podcast. Bucket-list-ticking career highlights have included reporting from the set of Tenet and Avengers: Infinity War, as well as covering Comic-Con, TIFF and the Sundance Film Festival.