The Evolution of Sylvester Stallone

Lock Up (1989)

Churning out the traditional Stallone template in a new setting: prison.

Frank Leone (Stallone) has been wrongfully imprisoned, but at the end of his exemplarily well-behaved stretch, he's transferred to a hellish joint by sadistic warden-with-a-grudge Donald Sutherland. The plotting is ludicrous, but Stallone get to train, wear a vest and beat people up.

Tough Guy? Of course.

Tango & Cash (1989)

The teaming of two 80s cinema icons proved to be a potent combination, and resulted in an extremely fun, brainless buddy actioner.

Stallone and Kurt Russell are the chalk and cheese detectives sent to a maximum security prison after being framed by drug lord Yves Perret (Jack Palance). The pair work together to form an escape plan, clear their names, and bring about as much destruction as possible doing so.

Tough Guy? You betcha.

Rocky V (1990)

Rocky I director John G. Avildsen returned to direct Sly's script in this truly dreadful addition to the franchise.

Rocky is poor again after brother-in-law Paulie has frittered away all his earnings. Becoming a boxing coach, Rocky trains promising young talent Tommy Gunn (the most laughable character name of the series?), who turns against his mentor and has to be taught a lesson in a street fight.

Tough Guy? Rocky can clearly throw a punch, despite his brain damage.

Oscar (1991)

Stallone plays a mobster once again in this depression-era comedy. Angelo 'Snaps' Provolone (Sly) tries to fulfil a promise to his dying father that he would go legit.

Sly proves that his gifts don't lie in comedy, and the fact that this is directed by legendary mirth-wrangler John Landis doesn't change matters. Based on a play by Claude Magnier, which became a French film in 1967.

Tough Guy? Not here.

Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot (1992)

Stallone had apparently acquired a taste for poor comedies, and starred in this effort, opposite Estelle Getty (of Golden Girls fame) as his trigger-happy mother.

Cop Joe Bomowski (Sly) finds his life falling apart when his overbearing mother moves in with him, and starts meddling with his police work. Stallone's limited acting range means he struggles to convey the irritation the viewer feels with the situation. If you were a fan of Cop and 1⁄2 this should be right up your street.

Tough Guy? He's totally neutered here.

Cliffhanger (1993)

This rockclimbing themed action film was a decent-sized hit for Stallone, who also added some words to the script.

Disillusioned mountain climber Gabe Walker is back in action when he answers a (fake) distress call in his zone. He's soon embroiled in a suitably barmy terrorist plot which serves as a backdrop for Renny Harlin to showcase some impressive rockface set pieces.

Tough Guy? This guy climbs mountains AND defeats bad guys.

Demolition Man (1993)

In this high-concept sci-fi action flick, Stallone is John Spartan, a twentieth-century cop who, after being cryogenically frozen in 1996, is defrosted in the future to help tackle escaped criminal Simon Phoenix (Wesley Snipes).

Armed with weapons taken from a museum, the two duke it out in the Aldous Huxley-inspired future, which is ill-equipped to deal with Phoenix's old-fashioned villainy.

Tough Guy? You don't get the nickname 'Demolition Man' for subtlety in combat.

The Specialist (1994)

This was a case of action-by-numbers for Stallone, who was losing the musclebound action hero contest to Arnie.

Ray Quick (Stallone) is a freelance explosive expert who takes on cases with a good cause. He's hired by Sharon Stone to bring down the man who killed her parents, along with the rest of his crime syndicate.

The sex and action quotient saw The Specialist defy bad reviews to make it one of Stallone's bigger 90s hits.

Tough Guy? Yes, but with his trademark good heart.

Judge Dredd (1995)

Judge Dredd, the star of the 2000 AD comic, is due to be returning to the big screen in 2012, with Karl Urban as the lawman and a script by Alex Garland. Hopefully they'll be able to rectify some of the damage done to the property by this universally-panned adap.

Stallone wears the iconic helmet (though not for long, much to fan's chagrin), in this futuristic thriller that was nowhere near as good as RoboCop , or even Demolition Man .

Tough Guy? Stallone must have had a thick skin to survive the abuse that was doled out by comic book fans and cinemagoers.

Assassins (1995)

Stallone, toning it down in chinos and specs, is an ageing assassin looking for a way out of the game. Antonio Banderas, hot off Desperado , is the young buck looking to take Stallone's crown. Julianne Moore gets caught in the crossfire in this thriller directed by Richard Donner, from a script by the Wachowskis.

Despite all of the above elements, the film is unfathomably boring, and creaks along with two misjudged performances at its centre.

Tough Guy? He's the best at what he does.

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.