The Evolution of Sylvester Stallone

Escape to Victory (1981)

Stallone played goalie for the POW team in John Huston's WWII football drama.

Comprising a mixture of actual footballers (Pele, Ossie Ardiles, Bobby Moore) and actors (Sly, Michael Caine), the film is an affectionately remembered Bank Holiday classic, even if it does deviate somewhat from the horrifying truth of the events on which it is based.

Tough Guy? He's certainly got spirit, even if he is a little unconvincing in goal.

Rocky III (1982)

Writer-director-star Stallone was on multiple duties in the third installment of the boxing series.

This is the one where Mickey (Burgess Meredith) dies, Clubber Lang (Mr T) is the main opponent, and Rocky gets trained by former rival Apollo Creed. It's also the one where the series took a distinct step in the direction of silliness. Rocky III introduced Survivor's 'Eye of the Tiger' theme song, which became synonymous with the series.

Tough Guy? Manages to overcome the pressures of fame to once again prove his prowess in the ring.

First Blood (1982)

The second iconic Stallone series (after Rocky ) got off to a surprisingly high-quality start here. Sly (who co-scripted) is John Rambo, the Vietnam vet who goes postal after sadistic treatment at the hands of the police force. He uses his survival training to disappear into the woods, and fend off his pursuers.

The original ending (in which Rambo blew his own brains out) was changed for something less gloomy. A number of actors were considered for the role, but it's now impossible to imagine anyone other than Sly in the lead.

Tough Guy? "Don't push it or I'll give you a war you won't believe".

Staying Alive (1983)

Stallone limited the acting to a mere cameo in this, staying behind the camera as writer-director-producer of this sequel to Saturday Night Fever .

Travolta returned as disco dancer Tony Manero, who is working various jobs while waiting for his big break on Broadway. Manero gets torn between old flame Jackie and stage star Laura in this uninspiring dance flick, which lacks the grit of the original.

Tough Guy? Prancing about with Broadway musicals? This is as girlie as Sly gets.

Rhinestone (1984)

Stallone apparently turned down the lead roles in Beverly Hills Cop and Romancing the Stone to star in this turkey.

Singer Jake Farris (Dolly Parton) makes a high-stakes bet that she can turn anybody into a country music star. She has her work cut out transforming New York cabbie Nick Martinelli (Sly) into a stageworthy act. Stallone also did his seemingly-obligatory bit of tinkering with the script.

Tough Guy? Stallone is devoid of testosterone here.

Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985)

Jettisoning the subtlety that made First Blood (Part I) a decent thriller with thought-provoking Vietnam overtones, Rambo totally metamorphoses into an action hero of cartoonish proportions (and politics).

Sly was one of many contributors to the script (alongside Mr James Cameron), which sees Rambo on a mission to save some remaining POWs and win the Vietnam war virtually singlehandedly.

Tough Guy? All brawn, no brain.

Rocky IV (1985)

Continuing his run of besmirching his beloved characters, Sly wrote and directed the fourth installment of the Rocky franchise, which can be enjoyed, but only ironically.

Dolph Lundgren is Ivan Drago, the latest in the line of Rocky's improbably-named opponents, who favours drugs and high-tech training equipment in contrast with Rocky's old-fashioned, snow-bound techniques. Rocky defeats Drago and settles Cold War tensions in one gruelling bout.

Tough Guy? He brings down the 'Siberian Express', who previously killed Apollo Creed in the ring.

Cobra (1985)

Stallone plays 'bad-ass cop' again, as Marion 'Cobra' Cobretti in this none-more-80s thriller.

Cobra has to take down a gang of supremacists intent on murdering the weak in society, but this movie can't hold a candle to the best cheesy action flicks, largely because screenwriter Stallone fails to invest his character with any life.

Cobra 's biggest contribution to cinema was its superlative taglines: 'Crime is a disease. Meet the cure' and 'The strong arm of the law'.

Tough Guy? Of the one man army variety.

Over the Top (1987)

Possibly the only film in history to focus on the dramatic world of competitive arm-wrestling.

Stallone is Lincoln Hawk, a trucker who heads to a Las Vegas arm-wrestling showdown to hopefully win a prize that could see him with his own business and, more importantly, the respect of his alienated son.

Hawk feels like a lifeless clone of earlier sensitive brutes portrayed by Stallone, so it's unsurprising he had a hand in the screenplay.

Tough Guy? He proves it by winning said arm-wrestling competition.

Rambo III (1988)

Stallone takes the vibe of First Blood: Part II and runs with it, taking the character even further away from his respectable origins.

Rambo is coaxed out of his life at a Buddhist temple in Thailand to help his beloved mentor Col Trautman (a returning Richard Crenna) out of a sticky situation: he's been kidnapped by Soviets. Rambo mounts a rescue mission of ever-more-unbelievable proportions.

Tough Guy? Team America levels of ass-kicking. The 1990 Guinness Book of World Records called it the most violent film ever made.

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.