What The Hell Happened To Sylvester Stallone?

sylvester stallone

After knocking around Hollywood for a few years, Sylvester Stallone broke through in 1976 with one of the most beloved movies of the era. It went on to win some awards and make its title character an icon. Six years later, he would move into the role of another iconic character. Stallone rode both these characters to much box office success throughout the 80s. But when he tried to move beyond those franchises the results were either disastrous or ignored. At one point, he was on the verge of being exiled to direct to video territory and the only thing that saved him was to first bring back the two franchises for one more round, then start a whole new one.

What the hell happened to Sylvester Stallone?

As I researched this article I started to suspect that if Stallone could be compared to any other actor or director covered in the What The Hell Happened series it would be Eddie Murphy. The pattern is similar: Massive success followed by a downturn, comeback followed by another downturn. And so on.

Once I started to look closely I realized how accurate that comparison is.

Sylvester Stallone was born on July 6 1946 in New York City. His father was a hairdresser, a profession young Sly once considered (“Yo Adrian! Where’s the trimmer and shampoo?”). According to rumor, his father once told him that he wasn’t that smart and needed to rely on his physique and toughness as a way to succeed.

Here’s an interesting fact from Wikipedia:

Complications his mother suffered during labor forced her obstetricians to use two pairs of forceps during his birth; misuse of these accidentally severed a nerve and caused paralysis in parts of Stallone’s face

That explains his perpetual scowl and mush-mouthed dialogue delivery.

After graduating from high school, he attended College at Miami-Dade College and The University Of Miami before dropping out.

Stallone’s first acting role was in a 1970 porno movie called The Party At Kitty And Stud’s. Stallone played Stud. The film was later re-released under the title The Italian Stallion after the success of Rocky.

Note: The following trailer is not safe for work viewing.

I’ve never actually seen it. But considering that it was a porno film released in what was the golden age of porno films according to the brilliant film Boogie Nights, it might be worthwhile. Seeing as Mark Wahlberg was in Boogie Nights, it might be worthwhile to see Stallone with his own Funky Bunch that is.

stallone - bananas

In 1971, Stallone had a small, non-speaking role in Woody Allen’s revolutionary comedy, Bananas.  Stallone played a thug on a subway.  The entire scene is silent-movie style comedy.

stallone - no place to hide

In 1972, Stallone landed a lead role in a thriller called No Place To Hide. I had not heard of this film prior to researching this article and I doubt many readers have either.  The only trailer I could find had no sound.

According to Wikipedia:

The film is about New York in the late 1960s; a politically motivated group of students plans bombings of company offices who do business with dictators in Central American countries. But when they contact a known terrorist and bombing specialist, the FBI gets on their track.

stallone - lords of flatbush

Next up for Stallone was 1974′s The Lords Of Flatbush. This film was a look back at Brooklyn Teenagers in 1959, a sort of harder, grittier American Graffiti if you will. Stallone co-starred with Perry King and the man we would soon know as Arthur “Fonz” Fonzarelli, aka Henry Winkler. Lords Of Flatbush also marked Stallone’s first go at screenwriting; reportedly he did a dialogue polish on it. In a fnal note of trivia, Richard Gere was originally also cast in the movie. But according to Wikipedia, after he nearly came to blows with Stallone, he was sent packing.

You can watch the whole movie here:

stallone - capone

In 1975, Stallone would go on to play Frank Nitti in the Roger Corman produced Capone. This movie was of course about the real life Prohibition-era gangster.  Having not seen it I can’t vouch for how Stallone’s Nitti stood up to the one in Brian De Palma’s 1987 classic The Untouchables.

stallone - death race 2000

Stallone would take on a couple more supporting roles in the Raymond Chandler adaptation Farewell My Lovely and the 1975 exploitation classic of sorts Death Race 2000.

Death Race 2000 was another Corman flick.  The film’s dystopian future (set in the far-off year 2000, naturally) involves a murderous Transcontinental Road Race which is broadcast to entertain the masses.   David Carradine starred as the lead racer, Frankenstein.  Stallone played a gangster (sensing a theme here?) named  “Machine Gun” Joe Viterbo.  His car had a giant knife and mounted machine guns.

Despite negative reviews (Roger Ebert gave it zero out of four stars), Death Race 2000 was a hit at the box office.  It has grown a cult following over the years.  Eventually, even Ebert came to respect the movie calling it a “great tradition of summer drive-in movies.”

In 2008, Death Race 2000 was remade as Death Race starring  Jason Statham.  The remake was not well-received, but it did inspire two direct-to-video sequels.

Next: Rocky

Posted on February 12, 2014, in Movies, What the Hell Happened?, WTHH Actor, WTHH Director and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 49 Comments.

  1. cinemarchaeologist

    Another way in which FIRST BLOOD is different from the book is that Rambo was a lot more screwed up in the book. It was set in rural Arkansas, rather than the Pacific Northwest, and took place while the Vietnam war was ongoing. Rambo, in the book, is the war the U.S. has unleashed abroad coming back home to haunt it. Whereas in the film, Rambo takes great pains not to kill anyone, he freely and gruesomely slaughters his pursuers in the book. The movie replicates the book in nearly every other respect, but this change makes it a very different take on the subject. In the book, Rambo flattens the town at the end in much the same way as he does in the movie, but it isn’t an evacuated town–he probably kills 200 people in the process. By the end, Rambo is dying from the accumulation of injuries he’s suffered and Trautman, who is a much more sinister figure than in the film, shoots him in the back of the head at the end. It’s a very good book that I’ve always thought deserved a remake. The problem is that nearly everything else in the existing film is replicated so closely and pulled off so well that any new screen version would inevitably seem inferior.

    (Another change is that Rambo escaped the police station in the book right after his “shower,” and he’s buck naked–he bashes some cops, grabs up his knife and charges out the door, the idea being to illustrate his resourcefulness–he’s almost like a force of nature. Another bit of trivia: the film was originally developed for Steve McQueen before he died.)

    • Great stuff. I remember my brother owned the novelization of Rambo: First Blood Part 2. He was a huge fan of Stallone. I don’t think he ever read the original First Blood though.

  2. Wonderful write-up of Stallone, Jeff. You certainly hit all the key spots of his career. Rocky, of course, is the magnum opus of his career, and it rightfully (in my opinion) deserved the Oscar for Best Picture. One thing worth mentioning that you might want to add to the article is that Stallone was actually nominated for Best Actor for Rocky, a worthy accomplishment in anyone’s career. Moving ahead a few years, 1985 is definately, at least career wise, his biggest year. I think many people tend to forget how much of a cultural phenomenon Rambo 2 was at the time. It’s interesting that Rocky IV was the third highest grossing film of 1985, and Rambo 2 was the second, with Back To The Future at #1, giving Stallone two of the top 3 hit films of the year. Not many actors ever have that level of success in one year. With such a long article, there’s too much to comment on in one post, but again very good job Jeff.

    • Great points. I’m getting ready to read/edit this article myself. So I’ll incorporate the Best Actor nom as I do so. There’s also one key credit most people forget about (a non-speaking pre-rocky role for a major director) that I plan to add in. There is no denying that in the mid-80′s, Stallone was huge. It wasn’t until the last 80s that he was eclipsed by Ah-nold.

  3. cinemarchaeologist

    I don’t know if the Murphy comparison really works in the case of Stallone. After Murphy’s initial star waned, he never had another period of superstardom that could remotely compete with it. Stallone has scattered hits after his prime years, but mostly made a lot of rubbish, and he was at that direct-to-video level of output well before he almost fell into it literally. He has reinvented himself in a major way in the last few years and has become genuinely interesting–more interesting, in fact, than he’s ever been. So add old action stars to politicians, ugly buildings, and whores for things that become respectable if they last long enough. I’ll take your word for it on the DeNiro boxing picture–it looked pretty awful–but just about everything else he’s done since ROCKY BALBOA (a very good and almost great little movie) has been miles ahead of the stuff he was doing for so many years. He matured as a filmmaker at a time when action pictures had become pathetically weak PG-13 tea; here he comes, an old-school classic, bringing back the pain just when it was needed. RAMBO wasn’t just a great gore-fest; it was an utterly nihilistic reinvention of the character. No more flag-waving and “do we get to win this time” bullshit–Rambo frankly admits to himself that he’s a killer whose past pretentions of patriotic fervor were just that. You do that flick a great injustice when you compare it to an over-the-top-of-the-top Reaganite shitfest like RAMBO III (which is only interesting now because of its political content–after a paradigm shift, it’s heroes and helpless victims are now the enemy). It more closely resembles some Ruggero Deodato jungle movie or Rambo in the Coppola’s version of the heart of darkness. Stallone has taken to doing commentaries on his movies, and I strongly recommend those on ROCKY BALBOA, RAMBO, and THE EXPENDABLES; they gave me an all-new respect for the man and his work.

    • I have to admit, I have never been a Stallone fan. But you can’t help but respect the guy. He’s a self-made movie star who has hung in there much longer than seems possible through sheer tenacity and reinvention. I haven’t seen much of Stallone’s recent output. But Rocky Balboa was an extremely pleasant surprise. After that travesty of Rocky V, it was great to see the Italian Stallion get a proper send-off.

      Now you have me wanting to sit down and watch Rambo – a movie I have skipped countless times.

      • I 100% agree. You (generally speaking) may not like his movies or think he’s talented, but you have to respect the way he came onto the scene in a BIG, big way (his fight to get Rocky made was like his own little, real life Rocky), and how he’s managed to stay relevant (for the most part) in the industry for as long as he has. Neither of those things is any small feat and are both admirable. I’m more a fan of the man than his work (though Rocky is one of my all-time favorite movies and is one of those gems that really stands up through repeated watchings), but he’s definitely earned all that he’s reaped.
        For me, Rocky is enough to cement Stallone’s status. He did an amazing thing with that movie, not only creating an iconic character that everyone who hasn’t been living under a rock since 1976 is familiar with but really capitalizing on, popularizing and owning the underdog story. He made movie history, in more ways than one, and, while he’s had a successful career, it’s a shame nothing he did ever came close to the magic he created in that movie.
        Though, I do agree that Rocky Balboa was a fitting, fantastic end to the Rocky story, and, really, should’ve been the fifth installation in that franchise. Rocky V was such an abomination. I REALLY loved the reality and grittiness that he brought to the story, showing the “after” and the flip side of his athletic bouts. It had SUCH great potential, and I really appreciate what he tried to do with it. It just took so many wrong turns, both with the script and casting. Rocky Balboa is what Rocky V COULD have and SHOULD have been, and I was really pleasantly surprised with it. The depth and poignancy of both those movies makes Stallone’s other movies/the rest of his career so frustrating sometimes. He’s clearly capable of writing amazing movies that illicit a great response from audiences which makes me wonder why he doesn’t do it more often. I understand that his bread and butter is with his action movies, but he’s had great success with his more “human” movies, as well.
        Regardless, I’ve found most of Stallone’s movies to be entertaining, and I’m, for the most part, always game to watch something he’s been in. I still get excited when he does something new, and I look forward to the rest of his cinematic offerings. :)

  4. Wow, Jeff, that was EPIC! I mentioned before you wrote the article that I was personally intimidated by Stallone’s massive filmography. But you handled it exceptionally well. You even cracked me up quite a few times.

    I did add a few tweaks here and there. Like Stallone, I can’t help putting my stamp on things – at least when it comes to WTHH (my own personal Rocky and Rambo). All in all, you’ve done the series proud.

  5. I will love Demolition Man to the end of my days, no matter how many times I realize how horrible it truly is. It has gone beyond guilty pleasure for me. I still own my VHS copy and I refuse to listen to the mocking when it’s noticed on my shelf.

    • Whenever I think about Demolition Man, I think about the time I ate at Planet Hollywood and was seated under this:

      • Wow, that looks incredibly life-like! Did Planet Hollywood actually capture Stallone and lock him in a glass case to hang above patrons, or what?

        • No. At the time, I think Stallone was bussing tables. ;)

          I completely lost my appetite worrying that Stallone’s ass would come crashing down on my buffalo wings.

          • LOL I was going to ask how you ATE with that over your HEAD. Just the picture is disconcerting; I couldn’t imagine that hanging above me as I tried to get a meal down. Yikes!

    • It’s one of my guilty pleasure faves. There are a lot of goofy movies that I love ranging from Smoky And The Bandit to the aforementioned Demolition Man to Rat Race to Sahara. To me, these are more enjoyable than big budget nothings like Judge Dredd or Battlefield Earth.

      • Anything is better than Judge Dredd and Battlefield Earth.

        The first time I saw Demo Man, I had unreasonably high expectations. I had heard the script was very clever. But it was more of a Stallone movie than I was expecting. Like you said in the article, when you hire the Itallian Stallion,you’re in the Stallone business. I recently rewatched Demo Man and enjoyed it as a relic of a bygone era. It has aged poorly, which ironically makes it more enjoyable. Funny given that is kind of a theme of the movie.

  6. I’ve always been a fan of Stallone. If you’re a fan of the action genre, as I am, then you just automatically wind up a Stallone fan, since he sure made his fair share of enjoyable action filcks. During his peak in the 80′s, he really was one of the biggest movie stars on the planet, and I don’t think that’s an exageration. After the excellent Cliffhanger and Demolition Man films in ’93, a series of mediocre films throughout the mid-to-late 90′s gradually ruined his career to the point where he was relegated to direct-to-video land, and honestly I presumed that was permanent, career over. Really, who ever comes back from that? When I heard rumblings of Stallone wanting to do one final Rocky, even I rolled my eyes and thought to myself, “Oh, please, give it a rest already”. What Rocky Balboa turned out to be was a film that was far better than I could’ve anticipated. It was a very warm, touching film, reminescent of the first two Rocky films, and the film (you could say Stallone himself) had something important to say. It served as a great capper to the Rocky series, and I was pleased to see the film become a hit.

    With that film, along with Rambo and the Expendables series, Stallone has given himself one hell of a comeback, matter of fact it’s one of the more impressive comebacks I’ve seen in my lifetime. Ok, it may not be as impressive as John Travolta’s comeback after Pulp Fiction (I still consider that the greatest comeback ever), but still I look at it this way: Stallone was already 60 when he made Rocky Balboa, and how often do actors of that age ever have a big comeback, let alone become a leading man again? Travolta’s comeback was bigger, but in a certain way Stallone’s was a bit more impressive: Travolta’s comeback happened when he was 40, whereas Stallone was 60. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of another actor that had a sustained comeback as a leading man in their 60′s.

    • I was never a Stallone fan. But the oldest of my younger brothers was the biggest Stallone fan in the world. He used to watch Rocky III and Over the Top on VHS every day after school. Who watches Over the Top more than once? Stallone’s biggest fan, that’s who. I remember falling asleep in Rambo III. I didn’t want to see it, but my brother didn’t want to go alone so he bought my ticket.

      But even I have to admit, Stallone’s comeback is amazing. Any kind of comeback in your 60s is impressive. But Stallone was so far gone. No one thought he could do it. It was a real underdog story. Story of his life.

  7. how are you lebeau? I’ve been checking out your Stallone article and you’re right. Stallone has done great and worse movies over the years but he never ceases to amaze me same with Schwarzenegger as well. I like that Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren, Mel Gibson, etc., take pride in their work as an action star and aren’t greedy with money or hypocritical of nostalgic franchises like Bruce Willis and Kurt Russell. Bruce Willis is so greedy that his last die hard didn’t do so well and that he was more of a sidekick in that than the hero in the rest of them. He wanted a bigger salary for the third expendables film like 4 million dollars instead of three million which shows that Willis has lost his mind, mojo and edge and that he is arrogant and not fun to be around with on set despite all the rumors from directors and actors who refuse to work with him. Kurt Russell, he is such a hypocrite he would rather do fast and furious 7 than do expendables 3 or 4. the Expendables movies were made for 80s and 90s action stars like him who made it big. the man worked with Stallone on Tango and Cash and Mel Gibson on Tequila Sunrise and even Stallone and Gibson are having a ball doing Expendables 3 together. he prefers fast 7 than ex 3 because it is a saga than a series now that Paul walker’s character is gone. Bottom line is that Kurt Russell has lost it as well as Bruce Willis. I’m glad Stallone and Schwarzenegger are working together now even though it’s too bad we didn’t see something like this from them in the 80s despite all the rumors and film schedules the had over the years. you forgot to mention that Mickey Rourke was in the first Expendables and Get Carter and that he and Stallone were considered to play Axel Foley in Beverly Hills Cop, Butch Coolidge in Pulp Fiction and Stuntman mike in Death Proof.

    • Hey Andy,

      Long time no see. With Robocop opening, I was thinking about you. I wondered whether or not you enjoyed it. I assume you saw it since you’re such a big Michael Keaton fan. I have been surprised by how little Keaton is being used in the film’s marketing. I know he’s not as big of a draw as he used to be, but still, I expected him to be on the poster.

      Credit where credit is due, I didn’t write the article on Stallone. This article was written by jeffthewildman. I think he did an excellent job. At some point in the not too distant future, I will probably do a write up on the roles Stallone turned down. It’s a new series I am working on called What Might Have Been.

      Take care!

    • 12 Movies So Bad That They Are Actually Funny:

      The Expendables

      The promise of the greatest action movie star cast ever was a great concept, but “The Expendables” failed on several levels. The lack of a cohesive plot is one of the movie’s greatest downfalls, but the apparent boredom of the actors is what really kills it.

      Sylvester Stallone appears to give it his best shot, but the likes of Jason Statham and Jet Li look as if they know they’re there just to make up the numbers.

      Even the addition of Mickey Rourke and Dolph Lundgren were not enough to save this testosterone-heavy disaster.

      Inevitably, The Expendables is packed with guns and explosions, but the lack of a real explanation for what’s happening means you don’t really care if the characters live or die.

      The incredibly complicated plot involves just about every action movie cliché imaginable including pirates, mercenaries, corrupt CIA officers and even a reference to the war in Bosnia.

      The sequel was considered to be an improvement over its predecessor possibly due to the fact that Stallone was ousted from the director’s chair. The addition of Jean-Claude Van Damme as a slightly camp villain also helped to improve the second offering. Chuck Norris even cashes in on his recent internet popularity by showing up and telling one of his own jokes.

  8. I’ll be honest, I was surprised t see Stallone featured here, as he’s never really stopped being a major star and respectable box office draw (unlike Ahnold).

    I like Stallone. He’s always come across as more human and relatable and likable than Ahnold.

    I’ll be even more brutally frank: I liked “Oscar” and “Lock-Up” “Daylight”. And, yes, even “Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot”; it didn’t take itself too seriously, and unlike Ahnold’s comedy endeavours, Stallone doesn’t just rely on the old “Look, a big muscular guy is twins with a short guy/pregnant/teaching kindergarten!”.

    I for one hope Stallone keeps doing films, while I Ahnold’s future no longer interests me as much.

    I must disagree with the”Pulp Fiction” part. I don’t think it was such a major game changer. It did birth an avalanche of clones (usually in the dialogue area), but had little impact on the kind of plotting and acting and genres made.

    A real game changer was probably 1998′s “Blade”, which not only launched (now 15 years of) the comic book blockbuster, but also probably the vampire craze as well.

    • Ideally, this article would have come out when Stallone was languishing in direct-to-video limbo. Not so long ago, everyone had written him off as washed-up. He had decades of being a big name movie star. But he was over. Knocked out. So did he stop being “a major movie star and a respectable box office draw”? Most definitely. Is he a major movie star today? No. A respectable box office draw? Only if the movie has the word “Expendables” in the title. Maybe “Rambo”. Stallone has had an incredibly surprising against-all-odds comeback. I don’t want to discount that at all. But I feel like he is a reasonable candidate for inclusion in the series.

      I have never been a big fan of any of the 80s action stars. I guess Bruce Willis, but I never considered him to be just an action star. I became a fan while he was still primarily known for Moonlighting. If I had to pick, I sided more with Arnold who at least worked with better directors. I don’t think Stallone made a single movie I liked between Rocky III and Rocky Balboa. Although I did kind of enjoy Oscar. I like screwball comedy.

      I’m going to disagree with you about Pulp Fiction and Blade. Pulp Fiction changed the landscape. Yeah, there were a lot of copycats most of which didn’t do much. But it had a subtle impact on everything. All the sudden, you had movies like Crimson Tide with pop culture references (thanks to a rewrite by Tarantino). Pulp Fiction made studios more receptive to edgier, non-traditional storytelling.

      I think Blade had an impact. It’s impact is probably overlooked. But I don’t think you can give Blade much credit for the current super hero or vampire crazes. Blade was a comic book movie, but not a super hero movie. Its success probably helped get X-Men made. But X-Men is really the movie that launched this generation of super hero movies. Since then, several movies have jump started the genre. Without Spider-man, I think the popularity of super hero movies would have died out. Batman Begins and especially The Dark Knight introduced the “realistic” super hero movie. Iron Man ushered in the mega Avengers franchise. I don’t think you can give Blade much credit for any of that.

      The current vampire craze is based around the idea of romantic vampire stories. I think you have to go back to Anne Rice and Buffy the Vampire Slayer for that.

      • But to what extent did “Pulp Fiction” change the actually way and style and genre of films? Yes the script was influential, but aside form Tarantino, and maybe Rodriguez, who else is really influenced by “low budget 70′s drive-in” movies?

        I don’t know, maybe by dislike of Tarantino blinds me to his influence.

        • By bringing a certain sense of irony and self-awareness to it and by showing the mainstream that movies did not have to follow the three act A to B structure. Tarantino wasn’t the only filmmaker to do that in that era. But he was the most high profile. After Pulp, the action tropes of Stallone and Schwarzenegger were no longer a guarantee of success. Much like once Nevermind by Nirvana took off, the likes of Warrant and Winger were relegated to the state fair circuit.

          • “By bringing a certain sense of irony and self-awareness to it and by showing the mainstream that movies did not have to follow the three act A to B structure.”

            I understand.

            I’m just not sure if that lasted beyond a few years. Certainly for quite some time now movies tend to take themselves too seriously. “Dark and gritty” has long been the norm.

            I think it’s the same with Nirvana. They launched a “grunge” wave that hasn’t survived the 90′s. Nirvana was as much a product of the 90′s as Motley Cru of the 80′s.

            But I don’t know, maybe my dislike of Nirvana (also) blinds me to their influence.

            I guess I just didn’t get the 90′s.

            • Everyone is going to have their own taste.
              I was more than happy to shoo away Whitesnake and Stallone and get Nirvana and Tarantino in return. Mainstream art of the late 80s was mostly very tiresome for me.

            • To an extent that’s true. What happened in that era in terms of both music and film was an aberration of sorts. Nevermind opened the door and set the stage for some great music to get noticed. But it also opened the door for a lot of rip off acts. And despite what some myths may claim, it was not the end of corporate pop. The likes of Michael Bolthead and Saline Dion continued to have hits throughout the decade.

              Likewise, Pulp opened the door for edgier films to get noticed. But it didn’t necessarily lead to mainstream theaters playing Jim Jarmusch films. Likewise, Nevermind didn’t exactly lead to mainstream radio stations playing My Bloody Valentine. It lead to them playing Candlebox and Bush.

              From an essay I wrote for another site about the 90s:

              “In hindsight I always felt that the 90s were a sort of cross between the lost generation 1920s and the inward looking 1970s. Unlike our parents those of us who grew up in the 90s didn’t grow up in the shadow of Vietnam and unlike the following generation we didn’t grow up in the shadow of war, terrorism, economic decay, reality TV and Infomercial culture and a society dominated by crass materialism. But there always seemed to be a sense that things could erupt in chaos at any moment. Indeed the attitude many seemed to have in that era was embrace the chaos. Enjoy it while you can. Parents and teachers often say that. But in that era it seemed true even without knowing what lay around the corner.

              And of course one of the main things that kept us teenagers of the 90s going was the music. Yeah, the decade did start with New Kids On The Block and Milli Vanilli being considered legitimate musical acts and ended with the Backstreet Boys being thought of the same way and there was a large amount of crud throughout the decade (The Macarena, Barbie Girl). But the best of the era can stand with any era. There’s something to the point about a lot of it. It doesn’t get much more universal than “Here we are now, entertain us”.

              Lots of great rock, great rap, some pretty good R&B. Even some of the pop from that era sounds better than a lot of what passes for pop these days. Hell, Aerosmith had only just started to go downhill.”

              So the influence may not have been quite as wide as many initially thought. But it’s there.

              • Here’s a response that I got when I took this argument that “Pulp Fiction” was the cinematic equivalent to Nirvana’s “It Smells Like Teen Spirit” on the CineFiles’ Facebook group:

                Stallone and Schwarzenegger, were a sure thing, but if you keep doing the same thing over and over again, it gets stale. Stallone thought he was smarter than any screenwriter, and no one would tell him no. Schwarzenegger was only as good as his director, if he had someone like Verhoeven or Cameron with their hands on the reigns he was good.

                In those same years where they were on the down-slope, what happened, and this is just my opinion but I think it has legs, from 94-98, we had Pulp Fiction, Trainspotting, Boogie Nights, Rushmore, etc. What happened is that it was the first time where young film goers and old timers could agree on something. It was a movement of freshness with directors that were taught with video tape and laser-disc. The directors got smarter, and the public liked it and the producers made money.

                What happened as it did with the grunge movement was that everyone had to get their beak wet. Product placement went up, budgets went up, and then when the studios lost, they lost big. They thought it was the talent, and they started making safe bets, it is why we get nothing but comic book movies and the young adult audience.

                The same thing happened with grunge music, it was a movement by a bunch of young guys that grew up with the who, Sabbath, Zeppelin and the punk guys and the prog guys, and they made their own stew. It was probably easy because of the hair bands, that were eating themselves and had gotten stale.

                Like anything successful, people had to get their beaks wet, and those grunge guys weren’t going to put up with any s***, Soundgarden split, STP split, Pearl Jam went the way of Phish and Grateful Dead. Also like anything successful, the money men, were like f*** it, we can’t get Pearl Jam, we will make another, that is why we got creed. it is why we got limp biscuit. It is also why we get music for 13 year olds now at days.

                So i think that your smells like teen spirit/pulp fiction thing has legs.

          • This sort of reminds me of a special that MTV did in I think, June 1999 for their “Ultra Sound” series. The special was called “9 Movie Moments that Made the 90′s”. In a nuthsell, the program listed what they considered the nine most culturally important films from the 1990s. Looking back, I wish that I had taped it:

          • The irony about the whole thing about “Pulp Fiction” bringing in a new sense of irony and self-awareness that weren’t seen in Stallone and Schwarzenegger’s leading up to that point, is that it seemed like Arnold Schwarzenegger himself released films (i.e. “The Last Action Hero” and “True Lies”) around this period which came off as more or less, self-aware and/or tongue-in-cheek parody of the action genre.


      • To me, I would like to equate the modern day superhero film genre w/ the start of the modern day summer blockbuster. I think it’s pretty safe to say that the three most important films in terms of launching the concept of the summer blockbuster as we know it today were “Jaws” (the trope maker), “Star Wars” (the trope namer), and “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (the trope codifier).

        Likewise, after “Batman & Robin” (and to a lesser extent, “Steel”) seemed to make the idea of making big budgeted movies about comic book superheroes movies “uncool”, we got “Blade”, “X-Men”, and finally Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man” as the codifier.

  9. 2013 Razzie Nominations:

    I get why Stallone keeps getting hate from the Razzies in some ways. He’s still trying to play the same kinds of roles he would have played in the ’80s or ’90s. You know, the near invincible, usually one dimensional action hero. That’s bad enough itself, usually, but it’s hard to suspend disbelief and take a 67 year old man seriously in that sort of role, at least for me it is. Stallone’s someone who can genuinely act, the first two Rocky movies and the first Rambo movie proved that, but he keeps picking these s***y action roles that follow the outdated formula that made him & Arnold such major stars in the ’80s.

  10. The CineFiles – RAMBO!!!

    Get out and get your vote in! Then after you’ve made a trip to your local polling center, come right back and watch our latest episode on that most patriot of all patriotic patriots JOHN RAMBO!!! We review the entire series. But, uh, what means “ex-pen-da-ble?”

  11. Great article. But too many references to the Razzies. We kind of got the idea after the 2nd or 3rd time.

    • Hey, if Stallone was nominated for that many Oscars, I’d reference them too. Although I will be the first to admit the Razzies picked on him quite a bit.

      • I caught Escape Plan recently, it was actually a solid enjoyable action flick. The movie flopped in the U.S. with a miserable $25M take, but overseas box office helped it ultimately become a decent hit, earning $137M on a $50M budget. The thing is, I swear if this same movie had been made back in the late 80′s or early 90′s, when both Stallone and Schwarzenegger were two of the biggest movie stars in the world, I would bet my bottom dollar that Escape Plan would’ve been one of the biggest blockbusters of the year back then.

        • I haven’t seen the movie. But if Stallone and Schwarzenegger had teamed up in the 80s or 90s it would have been huge. Now, we’ve already seen them together at Planet Hollywood openings and Expendables movies. The novelty has worn off. And neither star is at the peak of their career any more. Also, that style of action movie is no longer en vogue. It’s no wonder the movie didn’t find an audience.

  12. Re: What The Hell Happened To Sylvester Stallone?


    Stallone has never been fully appreciated or his talent recognised within the industry. Sadly for many involved with casting he will always be seen as a meathead who drawls his lines. Hence he has been firmly ensconced in the action movie genre most of his career apart from a few enjoyable comedy roles that were slated. Despite this he hasn’t become bitter and has embraced what he is best at and what the audiences love and become one of the greatest action stars of all time. As for career dips, it’s true he’s had his ups and downs but still, there’s a very loyal core audience and its to his credit he has worked hard through the lows and never been bitter or too full of himself to go back to popular characters whenever his career needs a boost. He is just like Rocky, he keeps getting up and dusting himself off when he’s been knocked down but I truly believe hes an excellent actor when given the chance, COPLAND is proof of that. Hes worked damned hard throughout his career, made his own breaks and kept fighting….definitely a guy to admire and an inspiration.

  13. Superhero Rewind: Judge Dredd Review:

    This version is audio only. Watch the full-video review at:

    • Re-Upload: Retrospective / Review: Judge Dredd (1995):

      Retrospective / Review: DEMOLITION MAN (1993):

      Retrospective / Review – CLIFFHANGER (1993) in HD:

      • Nice review of Cliffhanger. I just watched it again for the first time in many years, and I’m impressed with how well the movie still holds up. As an action film, it’s still highly enjoyable and engrossing. I would say Cliffhanger is Stallone’s best standalone action film, it gave his career a boost when he needed it after a few lame-duck flops like Oscar, Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot and such. If it weren’t for Cliffhanger’s success (along with Demolition Man later in ’93) Stallone wouldn’t have been bumped up into the $20 Million-per-picture club in the mid-to-late-90′s. Cliffhanger proved he’s still got it.

        Good point also about 1993 being Stallone’s best year in the 90′s, Cliffhanger and Demolition Man were both hits, unfortunately it would more or less be his last good year for a very long time as the rest of the decade saw subpar films like Judge Dredd, The Specialist, Daylight, Assassins, etc. Honestly, after 1993, Copland in ’97 was the only worthwhile film he would make until his comeback in 2006 with Rocky Balboa.

        Cliffhanger represents the end of an era for Stallone in a way, and the film also was made in the last days before CGI took over. There’s something thrilling about watching a film knowing that all of the hair raising stunts are done by real people, and not some CGI creation. The sequence where a man transfers between two planes on a rope, flying 15,000 feet in the air, was done by a real stuntman putting his life on the line, and paid $1 Million dollars for the trouble, nowdays you know that action sequence would be done on a computer instead. It’s funny to think, that stuntman was paid more for that one brief sequence than probably anybody else in the cast, except for Stallone himself.

    • Looking back at Judge Dredd:

      The classic 2000AD character Judge Dredd was first adapted for the big screen in 1995, and the results were flawed, to say the least. Phil takes a look back…

      First, let me put my cards on the table. For the best part of thirty years, I have been a huge fan of the character Judge Dredd, and the British comic 2000AD in which he appears.

      I state this at the outset just so that you can appreciate the effort it has taken for me not to revert to tedious and predictable whinging about Stallone removing the helmet, Rob Schneider being cast as Fergee, and Dredd exchanging a kiss with Judge Hershey at the film’s conclusion.

      Not for me the polemic of the immovable fan-boy, but rather the dispassionate objectivity of a reasonable film critic, someone who can see that compromises have to be made, and that comic book movie franchises are adapted for a wider audience than just the readers of the strips themselves.

      Indeed, only a grexnix could fail to understand how…Gargh. I can’t do it, drokk it! Each and every one of those decisions was wrong I tell you! Wrong, wrong, wrong!

      He should have kept the helmet on! Rob Schneider should never have been cast as Fergee! And Judges should never, ever kiss!

      There. I feel so much better for getting that out of my system.

      Since its release in 1995, the intervening sixteen years have not been kind to Judge Dredd, although the cause of its failings run much deeper than any issues to do with headgear, casting, or how Judges should or should not behave.

      In that time, the comic book sub-genre has risen to lofty new heights, with stunning adaptations such as Christopher Nolan’s Batman, Bryan Singer’s X-Men, and Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films, against which Judge Dredd now looks very old hat indeed. But even if you ignore such retrospective comparisons, the main reason the film looks decidedly average now is because it was decidedly average then.

      It took a concept that, at its best, was intelligent and thought-provoking, was liberally laced with violence and oodles of humor, and which frequently served up a big dollop of social satire, and then went and made a movie that included none of these things.

      Its failure, both commercially and critically, is something that still seems to rankle with its star, Sylvester Stallone, who has always looked back at the movie as a wasted opportunity. Speaking at a press conference to promote Rambo in 2008, Stallone said “The biggest mistake I ever made was with the sloppy handling of Judge Dredd”. It’s an interesting statement, revealing more than is apparent at first glance about what went wrong with the film.

      For starters, it implies that Stallone had a degree of autonomy and control that was never really exercised until it was too late; that somehow, he could have ensured Judge Dredd became the film that fans had desperately wanted it to be, rather than the half-arsed compromise it became. It’s also revealing because it’s the sort of comment you’d expect to see from a film’s producer or director, rather than its leading man, and therein lay one of this troubled production’s numerous problems.

      Because regardless of who was precisely to blame for the resultant film and to what extent, Judge Dredd is the perfect example of what can happen when an inexperienced but promising director clashes with a highly influential actor over a concept that everybody loves, but nobody seems able to agree on how best to bring to life on the big screen.

      In the weeks and months leading up to the start of production on the film, things all looked so promising. Back in the days before widespread use of the Internet, 2000AD devotees relied on The Mighty Tharg, the comic’s Betelgeusian editor, to feed us regular scraps of information concerning the impending shoot.

      Now, of course, fans of a particular character will always have their own ideas about those actors they feel are best suited to the role. My naive little mind couldn’t see beyond Clint Eastwood at the time, so when it was announced that Stallone had been cast I was a tad disappointed.

      However, on reflection, I thought things could have been a lot worse had Arnold Schwarzenegger decided to make the film his next role. I love Arnie when he’s at his best (The Terminator, Conan The Barbarian, Jingle All the Way) but as Judge Dredd? Shudder.

      Also, there was some consolation in the fact that Stallone was finally getting back to making half way decent action movies such as Cliffhanger and Demolition Man (I’ll let The Specialist slide), following a disastrous spell in the early 90s when he’d convinced himself he was a comedian (but failed to convince the rest of us), with the light-hearted gangster romp Oscar and the frankly atrocious Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot.

      Meanwhile, the film’s director, Danny Cannon, was being sold as the next big thing to emerge from a burgeoning crop of exciting and talented young British directors and, in what seemed like a crucial attribute at the time, was a long time fan and reader of 2000AD.

      In fact, he’d designed his own poster for a Dredd film many years earlier, which had then been featured in the pages of the galaxy’s greatest comic. If he knew Dredd (fans reasoned), then surely he would deliver the subversive humor, explosive action and savage social satire that made the best Dredd stories so compelling.

      What’s more, there were mutterings that the creators of the Judge Dredd strip, (writer John Wagner and artist Carlos Ezquerra) were to be consulted throughout script development by screenwriters William Wisher and Steven de Souza, further ensuring that the essence of Dredd and his world would be retained in a film that was to be shot in the UK with a largely British crew (additional proof that those crazy Americans weren’t going to be allowed to sabotage a British comics institution). As Tom Baker might have said had he been there at the time “Britain, Britain, Britain!”

      So it all looked set to be a thoroughly zarjaz blockbuster (or at the very least a fairly scrotnig one) that would do full justice to Mega-City One’s most feared lawman, and the chaotic world to which he daily attempted to bring the word of ‘The Law’. What could possibly go wrong?

      Well, not everything – at least, that’s the impression you’re left with if you take the opening moments of on screen action as any sort of indication. For all the problems that were later revealed to have existed off screen, the opening fifteen minutes of the film serve as a perfectly realized introduction to Dredd, the Judges, and the chaos of the nightmare city where they strive to maintain order.

      Introducing a phenomena that is indicative of the sheer boredom that mass unemployment brings in Mega-City One (with about ninety-eight per cent of the 400 million population out of work), Judge Dredd opens with a block war taking place in the apartment building that has been assigned to recently released convict, Fergee (Rob Schneider), who arrives at his new abode just as trouble is kicking off.

      Putting his technical wizardry to good use, he sabotages a municipal cleaning droid so that he can hide in it and avoid the carnage. Then, as the two blocks open fire on each other, enter Stallone’s Dredd, who steps imperiously into the fray as bullets and explosions ricochet around him and his Judge colleagues dive for cover.

      Delivering the line “I am the law!” while working the Joe Dredd chin in a most pleasing fashion, he then grimly sets about bringing the trouble makers to justice with a mixture of severe sentencing and instant executions, before condemning a distraught and disbelieving Fergee to five more years in prison for interfering with city property (the cleaning droid).

      It’s exactly the sort of thing that would appear as a one-off story in the 2000AD strip, told over six to eight pages and concluding with the perfect punch line, as Dredd sentences a man fresh out of jail to another stint inside, simply for saving his own life. In addition, Dredd is the hard-hearted, implacable bastard we all know and love, Mega-City One has been introduced (and quite frankly looks incredible), and we’ve been given a crash course in how the Judge system is used to implement justice. Plus, we seem to have got rid of Rob Schneider early as well. All in all, it’s a very pleasing opening.

      And then things start to go down hill at a quite alarming rate.

      One of the main bones of contention for Stallone appears to have been the wasted potential of the comic’s vision of a world and society gone mad, with very little of this vision actually finding its way onto the big screen. Think of films like Blade Runner, Alien and Brazil, and you’ll recall worlds as distinctive and memorable as the people within them. Unfortunately, in Judge Dredd, Mega City One was rarely seen other than in that opening sequence, and then once more during a slightly ropey special FX sequence towards the end, featuring a chase on hover bikes across the city.

      Apart from that, it’s all generic interiors, be they courtrooms, locker rooms or prison cells, each as mundane, bland and unmemorable as the last. The same approach was taken to the radioactive wastelands known as the Cursed Earth, where all we really got to see was a few seconds of bog standard desert, a prison shuttle interior and the inside of a cave.

      To miss the importance of the environment is to miss one of the key reasons why the Dredd strip and 2000AD have been so popular and well loved, which is that Judge Dredd has never really been about the man himself, but rather the time and the place in which he exists. Had John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra had the level of involvement first mooted, it’s inconceivable that such a crucial aspect of what makes the character and strip work would have been overlooked.

      However, in a recent Empire interview, Wagner talked of how ambivalent the film’s makers seemed to receiving any meaningful input from him, their lack of serious interest epitomized by what he refers to as their desire for “involvement with no remuneration”. If the makers of Judge Dredd were not prepared to pay Wagner and Ezquerra as design consultants on their movie, how could anyone expect Dredd’s creators to have had any significant involvement?

      Another problem that was never resolved, and one alluded to by Stallone, was the movie’s tone. Gritty vision of a nightmare dystopia, or bright and colorful comic book romp? At times, it appears to be attempting both, and succeeding at neither. It’s possible that Stallone had more to do with this than he’s willing to let on, due to his eagerness for the film to obtain a PG-13 rating, and avoid the R rating that would alienate what he saw as a huge part of the film’s core audience (it got an R anyway).

      If Stallone really was toning things down at the last minute for the sake of a more teen-friendly rating, it’s no wonder that Cannon would have felt his vision for the film was being compromised. Either way, Stallone now talks about how ‘balls to the wall’ the film should have been, and he’s right, it should have. To do the comic strip justice, it should have been violent, fast paced, cynical and satirical, featuring a lead character who is single minded in his determination to enforce the will of the law and bring order to the streets. But then, how do you make a film with a protagonist who seems like nothing more than an indoctrinated automaton, enforcing the will of a brutal and oppressive regime, and still make people care about him?

      Well, you make RoboCop (which also features a lead character who spends the majority of the movie with his face concealed I’ll have you note). In many ways, Paul Verhoeven’s film, made eight years earlier, was the perfect Judge Dredd movie in all but name, featuring as it does a darkly humorous vision of life in the big city where crime is running amok, and radical new solutions are required in order to address the problem.

      Admittedly, although the characters of RoboCop and Dredd may have much in common in their approach to dealing with crime, they are very different in terms of their motivation. However, the worlds in which they operate are remarkably similar.

      Had Judge Dredd followed the RoboCop template, it could have delivered a story that was more in keeping with the vision of the comic strip itself, while still providing something that was dramatic and entertaining for filmgoers who were unfamiliar with the world of Dredd. But given how successfully Verhoeven depicted such a world, it’s perhaps understandable that, mindful of producing something that appeared RoboCop-lite, the makers of Judge Dredd avoided ploughing that particular furrow again, and instead attempted something different.

      Unfortunately, their view of something different was an attempt to humanise Judge Dredd and, in doing so, demystify him. As long term fans will know, over the years the character has developed into a more complex individual than the quasi-fascist he started out as. He’s a man who has wrestled with his fair share of moral dilemmas, disagreeing with his superiors, challenging his country’s laws, and never really exhibiting any sense of what you could call enjoyment when dishing out much of the death and destruction that comes with the job.

      But for all that, his appeal lies in the fact that he is essentially unknowable, and is the ultimate depiction of the last man standing. However, De Souza and Wisher went with the simplest of plots and most hackneyed of character development in a story where Dredd is framed for a crime he did not commit and, in the process of clearing his name, has to learn that perhaps he’s been treating folk a tad harshly up till now (excuse me while I have a stiff brandy and a quick lie down after typing that).

      Such an approach was inevitably bound to pick loose the threads that colored the rich tapestry of Dredd’s life and his world. In the process of unravelling, the film veers from a prison escape drama to a buddy comedy, after Dredd is forced to team up with Fergee to prevent his evil brother Rico (Armand Assante) from corrupting the Judge system with his army of clones, and unleashing chaos on the streets of the Big Meg.

      None of which is to say that the plot couldn’t have been made to work. It’s just that as it progresses, the tone becomes progressively muddled, the script clichéd and banal, but most importantly, throughout all of this, the character of Dredd is gradually diluted until he no longer exists.

      Take the scene where Fergee mocks Dredd’s mantra “I am the Law!” This was an ad lib that was apparently so funny that it was then included in the film. The problem is, it’s Rob Schneider doing an impression of Sylvester Stallone and not Dredd, at a point in the movie when the character of Dredd is still just about hanging on for dear life. It’s symptomatic of the feeling that the essence of who Dredd is supposed to be is being diminished with every passing minute and, unfortunately, after this little bon mot, he’s gone for good, replaced by just another in a long line of Sly Stallone action heroes.

      “But these are all concerns of the Judge Dredd fan, surely!” I hear non-Dredd fans groan. “The average moviegoer who has never read any Dredd probably couldn’t care less about the helmet, the romance and Rob Schneider”. And you’d be right. However, such filmgoers were still left with an action movie that lacked both pace and spectacle, and was at times depressingly formulaic.

      Plus, when adapting a book or comic, those filmmakers who recognize and include all of the things that work about the source material often go on to create movies that are deeper, richer and more believable, and are therefore easier for an audience to emotionally invest in and enjoy.

      Since 1995, Stallone has never been short of a word or two on the experience of working with Danny Cannon, for whom Judge Dredd provided a golden opportunity to make a name for himself, it being only his second major studio feature. When answering fans questions on the website Ain’t it Cool News five years ago, Stallone was particularly critical of the lack of consultation from the director as to just what sort of film they were planning to make.

      “I think, from what I recall, the whole project was troubled from the beginning. The philosophy of the film was not set in stone – by that I mean, ‘Is this going to be a serious drama or with comic overtones’, like other science fiction films that were successful? So a lotta pieces just didn’t fit smoothly. It was sort of like a feathered fish. Some of the design work on it was fantastic, and the sets were incredibly real, even standing two feet away, but there was just no communication.”

      As for Cannon, he has remained comparatively tight lipped about his time working with Stallone, although their relationship deteriorated to such an extent that he subsequently made it known he would never work with another big name Hollywood actor again. He also made no secret of his opinion that the film suffered due to the changes in the script wrought by his leading man.

      But do you know what? Despite all this I still have a soft spot for it. Admittedly I like the idea of it more than the reality, but it’s the idea of those moments that first gave me goosebumps sixteen years ago that still manages to persuade me to pull the DVD down from the shelf and give it a watch every now and again.

      Moments like Chief Judge Fargo (Max Von Sydow) taking the long walk into the Cursed Earth after resigning from his post. Hammerstein of the ABC Warriors appearing as Rico’s lethal bodyguard. Mean Machine Angel being brought to glorious, colorful head-butting life, better than any other character in the entire film.

      And of course, it has that wonderful opening quarter of an hour, featuring an awe-inspiring Mega-City One and a decent first impression from Stallone. All of these things tell me Judge Dredd could have been great. It had the potential to deliver something memorable and unique, and provide Stallone with a character to whom he could return as successfully as both Rocky Balboa and John Rambo had he wished. But it seems that egos, inexperience and a collective failure to realize the possibilities of the source material were destined to thwart such ambitions.

      So now we look forward to Dredd, due out next year, with Karl Urban in the lead role. This time around I’m not going to expect too much, in the hope that I’ll be pleasantly surprised, and finally see a big screen adaptation of Old Stoney Face’s adventures that will go some way to living up to the peerless standards of the very best Judge Dredd stories.

      Perhaps Mega-City One will be featured more heavily, and that tricky balancing act of maintaining the sense of humour with the utter nihilism of Dredd’s world will be achieved. And as for Dredd himself, maybe director Pete Travis and screenwriter Alex Garland will deliver a Dredd that is recognizable to those of us who have loved the character and comic strip over the last twenty-four years.

      Urban was a surprising but interesting choice for the lead, but as with Heath Ledger’s Joker, Tom Cruise’s Lestat, and Keanu Reeves’ Jonathan Harker, he may well end up delivering a performance that defines the character for a generation. So, unlike other fans, I’ll not judge that particular piece of casting until I’ve seen the film.

      No siree, my lips are sealed, so you’ll hear zip from me on that score. Nothing at all.



      …but you know, they really should have cast Ron Perlman.

  14. I don’t know if this is a fair comparison, but Sylvester Stallone’s career somewhat reminds me of a more “commercial” and variant of Edward Norton’s. What I mean is that both Stallone and Norton you can say, peaked really early in their careers (e.g. “Rocky” and “Primal Fear”). However, both arguably did themselves no favors in the long run w/ their apparent need to have to take control over the productions of their films.

    Obviously, Stallone has proven that he can be a solid screenwriter. Unfortunately, as previously addressed in this article, he tends to (when he, himself isn’t directing of course) rely on “puppet directors” like Renny Harlin or George P. Cosmatos.

    Stallone also seems to not want to hear different opinions in regards to his screenplays. It’s almost as if because he received such early praise for “Rocky”, that he could never fully understand that sometimes, he can have as many “bad” ideas as “good”. I guess my point is that, that’s probably in part why (and please note, that I’m not accusing him of “striking lightning in a bottle” w/ “Rocky”) Stallone was/is always a serious contender for Razzies (assuming of course, you like to see those things as legitimate).

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