What The Hell Happened To Sylvester Stallone?

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 obstetrician 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 - no place to hide

Sylvester Stallone – No Place to Hide

In 1970, 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 - bananas

Sylvester Stallone – Bananas – 1971

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 - lords of flatbush

Sylvester Stallone – The Lord’s of Flatbush – 1974

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.

Richard Gere was originally also cast in the movie. But after he nearly came to blows with Stallone, he was sent packing.

Next: Rocky


Posted on February 12, 2014, in Movies, What the Hell Happened?, WTHH Actor, WTHH Director and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 161 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.


        • VERSUS: Schwarzengger Or Stallone – This Is Infamous:

          Eddie Scarito debates who has had the superior career–Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone, in this week’s edition of…


        • 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. 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.


      • 15 Things You Didn’t Know About The Disastrous Judge Dredd

        If you’re making a list of the worst comic book-based movies of all time, Judge Dredd probably isn’t in the #1 slot, but it’s almost certainly very close to the top.

        Upon its release in June of 1995, the movie received critical reviews that could charitably be described as poor. Reaction from longtime Dredd fans wasn’t any better. The film even churned up a bit of controversy, due to the fact that the titular character removes his helmet during the course of the story — something he’d almost never do on the page. It was widely believed that the studio, the Disney-owned Hollywood Pictures, didn’t want to pay star Sylvester Stallone millions of dollars for a role that obscured his face from the audience.

        Despite a general lack of quality, Judge Dredd proves to be an interesting case study in how the screen version of a popular comic book character can go off-track. We’ve gathered some intriguing trivia about the making of the movie. Some of these tidbits help to explain what went wrong. Others provide a glimpse of what Judge Dredd might have been like, for better or worse, if different creative choices had been made. All of them will help you understand this notorious misfire more fully.


    • 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.


    • Cobra gave 1986 the Dirty Harry knockoff it deserved:

      by Nathan Rabin

      Forgotbusters re-examines movies that were among the top 25 grossing films the year of their release, but have receded culturally, in order to explore what originally attracted audiences to them, and why they failed to endure.

      If I had all the time and money in the world, I would write a book about how the combination of Paula Gosling’s 1974 debut novel A Running Duck (also published as Fair Game) and various drafts of a screenplay once called Beverly Drive somehow resulted in three completely different movies: Beverly Hills Cop, Cobra, and Fair Game. As I briefly touched upon in my earlier Forgotbusters on Tango & Cash, Cobra’s strange path to theaters began when Sylvester Stallone signed on to star in Beverly Hills Cop and re-wrote the screenplay so extensively, and with such a determined eye toward removing its comic aspects entirely, that the plug was reportedly pulled two weeks before filming was to begin, and Stallone was replaced by Eddie Murphy.

      As Stallone told Ain’t It Cool News in 2006:

      When I read the script for Beverly Hills Cop, I thought they’d sent it to the wrong house. Somehow, me trying to comically terrorize Beverly Hills is not the stuff that great yuk-festivals are made from. So I re-wrote the script to suit what I do best, and by the time I was done, it looked like the opening scene from Saving Private Ryan on the beaches of Normandy. Believe it or not, the finale was me in a stolen Lamborghini playing chicken with an oncoming freight train being driven by the ultra-slimy bad guy. Needless to say, they dropkicked me and my script out of the office, and the rest is history.

      Beverly Hills Cop became a great yuk-festival with a slightly more gifted comedian in the lead role, and that script Stallone found so deficient and unconscionably joke-heavy was ultimately nominated for an Academy Award (a rarity for an action-comedy), and became one of the top-grossing comedies of all time.

      Stallone had a bit of a consolation prize, however, in that he was now free to make 1986’s Cobra out of all the wonderful ideas he had for removing the comedy from the 1980s’ most beloved action-comedy. To muddy the waters even further, Stallone integrated his leftover ideas from his unmade Beverly Hills Cop draft with elements from Gosling’s novel to the point where Cobra was officially an adaptation of A Running Duck, as well as a semi-adaptation of an unused rewrite of a hit film. Judging from a summary of the novel, however, it’s hard to see what in Gosling’s novel made it into the film, except that they both focus on human beings who reside on planet Earth, and both involve strong, stoic men protecting women, a somewhat common premise for film and literature alike.

      Gosling’s thriller received a slightly more faithful, less Beverly Hills Cop-derived adaptation in 1995 when it became the basis for everyone’s favorite Cindy Crawford vehicle, Fair Game. But even that deviated tremendously from the novel, particularly after the film was heavily re-edited following disastrous test screenings. Cobra was similarly re-edited and re-shaped after poor test screenings, and the daunting prospect of competing against the box-office juggernaut Top Gun caused a jittery studio to trim more than half an hour from the film’s two-hour-plus running time. There was also the unfortunate matter of the X-rating Cobra initially received, which also required further cuts to make the film less stomach-churningly gory.

      As befits a movie whose villains use axes and knives instead of guns, Cobra got slashed to ribbons. The results sometimes feel borderline avant-garde. The most pronounced way in which this drastic reshaping affects the film is in its depiction of its villainous murder-gang New Order, whose members are first seen clanking their beloved axes together in rhythm, as part of some crazed half-Satanic, half-fascist ritual. This murder-crazed collection of axe-wielding maniacs includes a balding, middle-aged man in a suit who wouldn’t look out of place at a convention for life-insurance agents. What is this milquetoast fellow doing in this cult? Do his colleagues in middle management know he moonlights as part of an axe-murder-gang in his spare time? How does he keep these two lives distinct?

      We never learn the answer to these questions, because Cobra is perversely uninterested in its villainous gang of insane axe-murderers. They apparently believe some vaguely Hitlery horseshit about the future and hunting the weak, but apart from that, the response to questions about their credo is a resounding, “Who the fuck cares? They’re all crazy scumbuckets who need to be shot in the face.” In Cobra, the bad guys don’t seem to have families, friends, or loved ones; they might as well be the product of spontaneous generation, arising magically from sidewalk piles of dog feces as fully formed wild-eyed maniacs.

      Cobra begins with Stallone’s Marion “Cobra” Cobretti delivering the following information: “In America, there’s a burglary every 11 seconds, an armed robbery every 65 seconds, a violent crime every 25 seconds, a murder every 24 minutes, and 250 rapes a day.” The gritty determination in his voiceover narration suggests he intends to personally cut those numbers in half by the end of the week.

      Stallone slows down his voice and accentuates his raspiness in an attempt to emulate the steely, take-no-prisoners succinctness of Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry. Instead, he sounds exactly like Steven Wright, to the point where it’s easy to expect him to start delivering deadpan one-liners at any moment.

      Like Death Wish 3—which Cannon, Cobra’s production company, released around the same time—Cobra is so devoid of moral ambiguity that it plays like a parody of the fascist underpinnings of 1980s action movies. Elements throughout the film unintentionally support this alternate reading film. For example, David Rasche—star of the late-’80s sitcom Sledge Hammer!, a send-up of action-movie excess—has a prominent supporting role. The line separating Cobra’s delirious self-parody and Sledge Hammer’s brilliant, deliberate satire of sociopathic action-movie excess is pretty thin.

      Similarly, the presence of Dirty Harry villain Andrew Robinson (who played the deranged serial killer Scorpio) as Detective Monte, the weak-willed, lily-livered, criminal-coddling, by-the-books cop who keeps trying to rein in Cobra, feels like a nod to Dirty Harry. In Tango & Cash, Sylvester Stallone’s hotshot cop famously quipped, “Rambo is a pu**y.” The unspoken implication here seems to be that Cobra is such a badass, even the crazed psycho from Dirty Harry is rendered sputtering and speechless by just how awesome Cobra is at wasting scum.

      Cobra and Detective Monte illustrate their markedly different approaches to police work in their first scene, a setpiece where a maniac enters a supermarket and immediately starts blasting people. (And groceries.) Detective Monte blathers some namby-pamby bleeding-heart liberal gibberish: “All we need is a little more time, and we can get control of the situation,” and “There’s no more need for violence.” But it’s obvious that if given his druthers, Detective Monte would send in a therapist to help the killer work through his issues, followed by a masseuse to help relieve the tension in his back, a gourmet meal prepared by a world-class chef, and finally a full pardon and a helicopter to a tropical island, where he could live out the rest of his days in breezy, preferably taxpayer-funded splendor.

      Cobra has a different approach to bad guys: He kills them dead. He, and the film, are of the mindset that society would be a lot better if criminals—or folks suspected of being criminals, or people who kind of look like they might be criminals, or the potentially criminally inclined—didn’t have any rights, while cops’ rights expanded to being able to kill anyone they damn well please. Cobra has no time for Miranda rights. True, at one point he does tell a criminal, “You have the right to remain silent.” But since he then sets the man on fire, (guaranteeing his right to forever be silent, once he stops screaming in pain), that was probably more of a bad-taste gag than a sincere attempt to respect his constitutional rights.

      How little does Cobra care for The Man’s rules? He’s introduced parking in a handicapped spot en route to confronting the grocery-store maniac. While his rule-bound peers nervously ponder their options, Cobra strides into the scene and pursues a risky strategy of alternating insults and threats.

      Among the many clichés lovingly exploited here is the convention of the infallible shooter: The bad guys in Cobra waste round after round shooting at nothing, while seemingly every bullet that leaves Cobra’s Uzi goes right into a bad guy’s heart. Cobra literally can’t miss, so even when it’s him vs. an entire army of axe-murderers, he always has the clear advantage.

      Stallone takes stoic terseness and grim minimalism to absurd new levels; he’s less a tough cop with ice water in his veins than an android whose only emotion is murderous rage. Sure enough, when the psycho threatens to blow up the entire grocery store, Cobra bites part of Dirty Harry’s catchphrase with a casual quip: “Go ahead… I don’t shop here.” Dirty Harry accidentally created ubiquitous catchphrases. Cobra communicates exclusively in would-be catchphrases, most notably “You’re the disease, and I’m the cure,” which he says to the supermarket killer before throwing a knife into his heart, then shooting him. Forget the complicated socioeconomic factors that breed crime and create criminals. In Cobra, criminals are cockroaches, and Cobra is a sentient can of Raid.

      After dispatching the grocery-store murderer with extreme prejudice, Cobra winds up on the trail of the Night Slasher, a fiendish force for evil who has killed 16 people in a single month. The police, those rule-bound dopes, think they’re dealing with a single serial killer, but Cobra realizes they’re dealing with an entire army of them. As part of his investigation, Cobra becomes the protector of Ingrid Knudsen (Brigitte Nielsen, Stallone’s ex-wife to be), a witness to one of the crimes committed by New Order. Ingrid is as flummoxed by the existence of “rights” for criminals as the film is. “There’s all these crazy people out there! Why can’t the police just put them away and keep them away?” she Cobra. He retorts, “Tell it to the judge!”

      Later Cobra, now in sleepy-charmer mode, looks purposefully at a plate of french fries covered in ketchup and, in what I imagine represents flirtation on his home planet, sleepily asks Ingrid, “You have a life preserver?” Ingrid understandably looks confused and asks why. Cobra deadpans, “’Cause your french fries are drowning there.” Cobra’s slight smirk, and the fact that he doesn’t kill anyone while uttering the line, suggests he’s making what could generously be deemed a “joke.” Yet it’s hard to see exactly where the humor would lie. Is this grim, joyless super-cop with only murder in his heart and a body count to rival many small wars anthropomorphizing french fries as tiny little potato-men who need adorable little life preservers in order to avoid dying in an ugly red sea of ketchup? Or is he suggesting that if Ingrid were to shrink down to the size of a french fry, she would need a life preserver, or she would perish in a yummy red tide?

      This exchange would seem odd bordering on inexplicable in a romantic comedy. In a movie about a sociopath whose life is all about wasting scum, it feels especially bizarre. But Cobra has little time for romance or levity, because it has cop-murders to get to, and heavy-handed points to make about how society’s weak-willed reliance on “the Constitution” and “the rule of law” will destroy America, unless heroes like Cobra ignore them in the name of keeping us all safe.

      In the film’s climax, the Night Slasher—in an especially dramatic instance of someone misjudging another person’s character—taunts Cobra by suggesting he’s such an inveterately rule-bound rule-follower and handcuffed Constitution-respecter that he couldn’t possibly shoot a suspect rather than take him into custody. “Even I have rights, don’t I, pig?” he says, taunting a man whose hobbies include glowering, killing, chewing on a matchstick, and flagrantly violating criminals’ rights. He offers a number of insults in this vein before Cobra predictably answers, “This is where the law stops. And I start. Sucker.” Then he impales the guy on a dangling hook and sends him sailing into a furnace.

      Cobra never gives a moment’s thought to the notion that New Order’s philosophy of ignoring the law, fetishizing violence, and worshiping brute strength as the highest ideal society can aspire to fits snugly into Cobra’s own worldview, where violence is the answer to all the world’s ills.

      Including Cobra in a column about forgotten blockbusters is a bit of a cheat, since the film has something of a cult following, though it’s seldom mentioned in the same breath as Stallone’s iconic blockbusters. Part of Cobra’s scuzzy charm can be attributed to how perfectly it captures the sleazy excesses of its times, from its chilly electronic score to the curious preponderance of patriotic, MacGruber-style light-rock ballads to its lurid neon color scheme to its Reagan-era-friendly conception of law and order.

      Though I would recommend Cobra to bad-movie aficionados as an unintentional yuk-festival of the highest order, the best way to experience it might be through a YouTube supercut that combines all the most sublimely ridiculous moments into a five minute mash-up. Then again, that might be unnecessary, or at least redundant: at 84 minutes, it’s already a crudely stitched together Frankenstein’s monster of a movie that’s all sexy, preposterous, violent moments, with minimal attention to plot, characterization, and coherence.


  13. 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).


  14. 5 Once Great Action Heroes Who Are Ready For Retirement:

    1. Sylvester Stallone

    It is a joke which has been driven into the ground, but I am deadly serious when I say that I struggle to understand what Sylvester Stallone is saying whenever he’s on screen. This is not a fantastic trait for someone who seems intent to get the lead in all of the schlocky action films he can rattles out. The man is in fantastic shape for his age, and although he is muscle-bound and rocking a killer bod, it is becoming clearer and clearer to see the pensioner within.

    Stallone is very keen for us all to watch these throwbacks to ’80s and ’90s action glory, and for the most part they’re good to have a laugh along with. There is a problem, however: most of the films come across as straight comedy due to scenes – such as in Bullet to the Head – where he has an axe fight with Jason Mamoa. Might I remind you that this is the man that played Khal Drogo in Game of Thrones? Anyway, in this sequence, his Dothraki skills have been cast aside, as he simply dances around waiting until the moment where Stallone decides that maybe it’s time to call it a day and kill him.

    I have a lot of respect for Stallone’s early output, but in recent years he’s really starting to show his age. This is not a crime, of course, but it also doesn’t work within the confines of the genre. It’s clear he knows this as well because he cast gruff, bald super-cockney Jason Statham in The Expendables to allow for at least some fast paced hand-to-hand. I applaud the sentiment behind Stallone’s insistence on cheesy action, but maybe it’s time for him to take a step behind the camera.


    • 10 Actors Who Clearly Didn’t Learn Anything From Past Mistakes:

      1. Sylvester Stallone

      With his endless regurgitation of tired action routines and disturbing refusal to acknowledge his now advanced age, Sly Stallone is probably this list’s least surprising entry. Despite moments of affecting brilliance, Stallone’s 40+ year career has largely amounted to that of a one-trick pony, chugging out one sluggish and pedantic actioner after another – from the cartoonish Rambo sequels, to the odious Get Carter and D-Tox, right up to last year’s excruciating Bullet To The Head. Unlike his Austrian peer, Stallone has never grasped that the action star is the most interesting when viewed through a subversive lens.

      But how much can this now wizened bruiser really be blamed? After all Sly has periodically attempted to go against his action paradigm – with mixed to catastrophic results. Audiences didn’t really flock to see him in the outlandish Rhinestone, a film that has to rank as an “odd couple” pairing of the most desperate kind. Even worse were his woeful misfires Oscar and Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot, two films were so damn bad that they probably turned audiences more than a tad suicidal.

      Yet, despite all of these professional stumbles, it’s clear that Stallone can occasionally succeed when he makes unconventional choices. This is evident in his early, daring role in F.I.S.T, or in his more recent work like Antz, Shade and (most powerfully) Cop Land. Those films make Sly’s continued reliance on cliched action (Escape Plan) and gimmicky premises (The Expendables Franchise, Grudge Match) all the more disheartening. For as indelible as his Rocky and Rambo creations were, four decades of rifting on the material has given the former champ a one-way ticket to palookaville.


  15. Stallone + Russell + four directors = the truly strange Tango & Cash:

    Sylvester Stallone’s career is a triumph of feverish determination. The tale of how he came to star in Rocky became Hollywood legend precisely because it’s so implausible. According to the story, which has been embellished through the years, Stallone was a struggling actor, a mere sandwich away from starving to death, when studios started salivating over his screenplay for Rocky. The studios promised Stallone untold wealth (and with it, untold sandwiches) if he would give his script over to them as a star vehicle for someone audiences would actually pay money to see, someone like James Caan or Robert Redford, rather than a relative unknown who talked like he had marbles in his mouth and looked like his head was made of rocks covered in skin. This was a great role for a movie star, and everyone but Sylvester Stallone agreed that Sylvester Stallone was no movie star. He seemed like someone with a one-way ticket straight to Palookaville, population: Sylvester Stallone.

    But Stallone stuck to his guns. This was a package deal: If the studios wanted his script, he said, they had to agree to an untested leading man. It was a hell of a human-interest story. This lovable small-timer didn’t just create and play Rocky Balboa; he was Rocky, the passed-over underdog no one gave a chance, but who triumphed against impossible odds.

    Then, like Kanye West, Stallone left behind his lovable-underdog status and became notorious for his vanity and ego. He became the kind of guy who presided over a men’s magazine named after him (the short-lived Sly), and insisted on re-writing most of his films to better highlight his unique skill set. Stallone had so many ideas for how to subtract comedy from the screenplay for what eventually became Beverly Hills Cop that he turned those ideas into a separate movie called Cobra. (Just to add confusion: Cobra was also partially an adaptation of the novel Fair Game, which was also adapted for the Cindy Crawford vehicle and future One And Done entry Fair Game.)

    So when a newspaper headline in 1989’s gloriously excessive Tango & Cash refers to Stallone’s flashy cop Ray Tango as “Beverly Hills Wop” (as opposed to his partner, Gabriel Cash, described as “Down Town Clown”) the gag has a meta-textual element, though not one nearly as pronounced as when Ray says, “Rambo is a py.” That’s the arc Stallone traveled in the 13 years between Rocky and Tango & Cash, from playing an underdog the unwashed masses could root for, identify with, and claim as their own, to playing an Armani-suited, bespectacled super-cop who calls Rambo a py and backs up his macho bragging with action. Manly, manly action.

    Stallone became a star as a result of furious exertion. Kurt Russell, meanwhile, was seemingly born a star: His father Bing was a famous television actor on Bonanza; Russell was a child star on television and in films, and a teen star in Disney movies. At age 10, he acted opposite Elvis Presley in It Happened At The World’s Fair; then he went on to play Presley in the Elvis TV miniseries directed by Russell’s frequent collaborator John Carpenter.

    Russell makes acting seem effortless, as natural as breathing, whereas Stallone isn’t even convincing as a plausible human being, let alone whatever character he’s supposed to play. They’re natural opposites, as actors and as human beings, so it makes sense to cast them as mismatched buddies in the ultimate 1980s mismatched-buddy comedy.

    In Tango & Cash, Stallone seemingly atones for trying to turn the script for Beverly Hills Cop into a dour, humorless bloodbath by making the smirkiest possible camp-fest, in which no situation is too dire for a dryly delivered wisecrack. Tango & Cash even has a score by Beverly Hills Cop’s Harold Faltermeyer, the man behind the hit “Axel F,” whose work invariably sounds like a drum machine and a synthesizer f***ing on a tanning bed in a mall in front of a giant Nagel print. Tango & Cash goes to ridiculous extremes with the comic trope of heroes responding to insanity with deadpan under-reactions—but then, everything in Tango & Cash goes to ridiculous extremes.

    The film opens with Stallone’s bespectacled, suit-clad über-yuppie cop Ray Tango facing down a gas truck carrying a load of pure cocaine. Ray has nothing in hand except a modest handgun, but he stands in the road and shoots the truck’s windshield out, horrifying a wild-eyed bad guy, who says, “This guy’s crazy!” Even sweaty, bandanna-sporting meth-heads recognize Ray as a bad motherf***er.

    With perfect timing, the gas truck halts directly in front of Ray, and the bad guys tumble through the windshield and onto the ground. Ray quips, “Glad you could drop in,” then dangles handcuffs in front of them and asks, “Do you like jewelry?” When a minor henchmen answers, “F*** you!” Ray responds, “I prefer blondes.”

    At this point, I started imagining that Ray Tango had Bruce Vilanch lying in the backseat of his car, feeding him wisecracks and punching up his lines on the fly. It’s established that Ray Tango is independently wealthy, thanks to his wise investments, and is involved in law enforcement solely for the action. That’s communicated when Tango’s superior (played by Geoffrey Lewis, one of a handful of great, eccentric character actors in the cast, in addition to Michael J. Pollard, Michael Jeter, Brion James, and Jack Palance) asks Ray—whom he’s apparently known well for years—“I don’t understand you! You make a shit-ton of money. You dress like a banker. What are you doing this for?”

    Making perfectly timed jokes that literally add insult to injury (in the sense that he’s insulting people he’s also physically injuring) seems to be as important to Ray as fighting crime. So why not have his own personal gag-man helping him be the sassiest cop he can possibly be? I like to think of Ray asking Vilanch for some good gags for the arrest he’s about to make, and the tiny joke-smith spit-balling, “How about, ‘Metal is in this season!’ No, how about, ‘I ain’t Carmen, but these are your Miranda rights!’ No, how about, ‘Do you like jewelry?’”

    Ray’s bust enrages a local cop, who’s never seen him before, but still demands his badge, his weapon, his ass, and information regarding who the fuck Ray thinks he is. (We aren’t even five minutes in, and already someone is angrily expectorating.) “He thinks he’s Rambo,” another hick cop says in response to the presumably rhetorical identity question. So Ray shoots the truck’s gas tank, delivering his “Rambo is a p***y” quip. When cocaine pours out of the tank, he jokes “What do you know, it’s snowing!” Then he tastes some and asks, “Anybody wanna get high?” It should be noted that this one is more an invitation than a joke.

    Tango & Cash is credited to Andrei Konchalovsky, a Russian filmmaker who co-scripted Andrei Rublev with Andrei Tarkovsky, filmed an adaptation of Uncle Vanya in his native land, and directed Eric Roberts to the first of no doubt many Academy Award nominations. The nomination was for Konchalovsky’s 1985 film Runaway Train, which was based on an Akira Kurosawa screenplay. In other words, Konchalovsky was an unlikely choice to direct a macho, testosterone-poisoned buddy comedy produced by the team of Peter Guber and Jon Peters, and starring Sylvester Stallone, who has a history of taking control of projects regardless of whether he’s a credited screenwriter, producer, or director. Sure enough, Tango & Cash was a famously troubled production.

    Original cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld lost his job, reportedly for not lighting Stallone to the latter’s satisfaction. Producer Peters kept pushing for the film to be goofier and campier, whereas Konchalovsky and Stallone reportedly wanted to make it more realistic. Watching Tango & Cash, it’s mind-boggling to imagine that it could ever have been a serious film. If there’s a gritty, realistic action thriller hiding inside it somewhere, it’s really well-hidden.

    Konchalovsky ended up getting replaced toward the end of the shoot by Albert Magnoli, who elevated Prince to stardom in Purple Rain and Mitch Gaylord to super-duper-mega-stardom in American Anthem. Then, the film was heavily reshaped by editor Stuart Baird. So essentially, it had three directors—or four, counting Stallone. So there were a lot of different voices competing to be heard in the film’s making. But the ones that won out were obviously the ones screaming, “Louder! More! Sillier! Campier! Explodier!” I am glad for that. I cannot imagine a stone-faced Tango & Cash working. This is the rare instance when the philistines were right. The title alone gives the game away, as does making the cop with the last name of Cash the scraggly broke one, and putting Sylvester Stallone in a fancy suit as a cop by day, financial wizard also by day.

    The giddy excess extends to the wonderfully ridiculous conception of its villain: rat-fondler, voyeur, drug kingpin, and micro-manager Yves Perret, played by Jack Palance at his most joyously deranged. Palance delivers all his lines as if he’s in the midst of a powerful orgasm. He shows a willful, fascinating disregard for punctuation, speaking in a halting, stutter-stop rhythm that’s eerily hypnotic.

    Perret spends part of the film parked in front of a bank of television monitors, where he sees footage of Tango and Cash busting his men, and monologues: “Gabriel Cash. Ohhhhhh God! How many millions, how many? How many this time? Ohhhhhh God! Ray Tango! How he loves to dance! He waltzes in and takes all my drugs, and then tangoes back out again.” The whole point of such a setup, ostensibly, is to let Perret look like a shadowy puppet-master working furtively behind the scenes, but Perret is actually the most hands-on drug kingpin in existence. There are meth-addled smash-and-grab specialists who are less hands-on than this geriatric multimillionaire. Perret is an extremely visual man, in the sense that he apparently does not believe anything unless he witnesses it with his own eyes, and, preferably, caresses it with his own hands. So while Tango calls Rambo a p***y and asks if anyone wants to get high, Perret circles the scene in a limousine with fellow glowering heavies, fretting, “Ray. Tango. He’s done it to us again. And if it isn’t Tango, it’s Cash. Tango and Cash. Cash and Tango. These two cops are driving me crazy. We. Have. To do something about this.”

    When Perret’s flunkies propose murdering Tango and Cash as the quick and easy way of handling the situation, Perret scoffs, “Quick and easy is how you make a cake or clean a toilet bowl, or shop by mail. But quick and easy is not how you run a multi-million-dollar business such as ours.” Perret talks about how Cash has cost them more than $60 million in lost earnings from drugs, guns, and “various other enterprises.” (Math tutoring? Haberdasheries? Jell-O shots at Grateful Dead shows?) Perret makes an extravagant show of bringing two small rats out of an expensive wooden box, calling them mice for some reason, sniffing them inexplicably but deeply, and placing them back into that box, just so he can climatically place them in a maze to symbolize how lost Tango and Cash (the hero cops, not the rat-mice representing them) will be once they’re safely tucked away in prison.

    Once Tango and Cash are railroaded using doctored audio footage, they’re sent to prison, where they strip naked. At this point, the film becomes intensely homoerotic. In fact, the filmmakers seem to have deliberately set out to make the world’s most homoerotic action movie. I imagine screenwriter Randy Feldman running his ideas by a pal:

    “Of course, as quickly as possible, we’ll want to get these macho cops, Stallone and Russell, into a place where there are no women, only sweaty, musclebound men half-mad with sexual frustration. They can greet our heroes with a profane chorus of sexual threats. I know! A prison! They’ll both be in prison within the first 20 minutes. It’ll be like a women’s-prison movie, only with dudes, and a cop movie.”

    “I don’t know about that.”

    “And of course the heroes will have to strip for a shower scene, and we’ll have to get a good, long look at their bare a**es in the process.”

    “I’m not really sure that’s necessary.”

    “And then they’ll escape in the pounding rain, and they’ll be all stripped-down and soaking wet and desperate. I get chills just thinking how sexy it’s going to look.”


    “And then when they get out, Russell will have to dress up in women’s clothing to elude the cops. Yeah, that’ll be great. Russell is going to look so sexy, almost like Jessica Rabbit. You’ve probably spent a lot of time thinking about how Kurt Russell would look in a skirt, and I can assure you: hot.”

    “I think we’re kind of losing focus of what’s important in an action-movie script here.”

    “And, I don’t know, there’s a girl, I guess, that one of them wants to go on a date with or something.”

    “Good! Because for a second there, the film was sounding kind of homoerotic.”

    All this, plus… before the eponymous gentlemen escape the prison in the pounding rain, there’s even more intense homoeroticism, as Perret, once again proving he’s the most hands-on elderly kingpin in cinema history, sneaks into prison specifically to oversee the torture of Tango and Cash, Cash and Tango. Why even have henchmen when you don’t trust them to do anything right?

    Even while marching through a prison inexplicably filled with bonfires, while criminals they put away threaten them, the fellows never stop quipping, which leads me to believe that Tango managed somehow to smuggle Bruce Vilanch into prison with him. Vilanch’s snark-scripting duties clearly extended to Tango and Cash’s release from prison, because after busting out, Tango confronts a greasy meal and a traitor by saying, “From the look of your diet, it’s obvious you’re not too interested in counting calories. Could it be that you’re too busy counting the money they paid you to set us up?” (That actually sounds like the kind of thing Vin Diesel would say in XXX.)

    Tango & Cash finds an absurd pretext to put Russell in drag, but it also gives him a love interest in Tango’s sister Katherine (Teri Hatcher), one of those strippers, ubiquitous in studio movies and nonexistent in real life, who make a fortune playing to men’s depraved desire to see a woman strip down to leggings and a modest bra. Katherine also throws comically inept drumming into her act as a special attraction.

    The film ends with the predictable orgy of pyrotechnics and male bonding as the titular duo takes on Perret and his henchmen. Tango & Cash should be tonally incoherent, given its troubled production history, multiple directors, and violently competing visions about its tone. But the film is gloriously preposterous from start to finish, the kind of movie that throws a naked couple fucking and a comical Russian blathering about perestroika into an already-overloaded car chase, just for kicks.

    Since announcing Tango & Cash in the last column, I have discovered that the film isn’t anywhere near as forgotten as I had imagined, though it still has a reputation for being a commercial failure, and a failure in general, even though it was the 20th top-grossing film of 1989, just behind Field Of Dreams. That might be attributable to its troubled production history, or its huge budget, or the fact that Stallone and Russell each have a canon of movies that are considered classics. Before watching it, I didn’t think Tango & Cash belonged in either man’s canon. Now I feel differently.

    Incidentally, Patrick Swayze was originally supposed to play Cash, but pulled out to star in Road House. Would Tango & Cash had been as good with Swayze in the role? Russell seems perfectly cast, but Swayze also would have been ideal. Tango & Cash isn’t as good as Road House. (What is?) But it’s grade-A 1980s cheese that somehow manages to simultaneously feel like a flop, a hit, a half-forgotten trifle, and a cult oddity. To borrow the rating system of the wonderful bad-movie podcast The Flop House, which covered Tango & Cash for its 100th episode, it ranks somewhere between a good-bad movie, and a movie I actually really, really like. It feels like a bit of a cheat writing about cult movies like Congo, Space Jam, and now Tango & Cash for a column ostensibly about the unloved and forgotten, but I don’t want this column to be a mere matter of schadenfreude and negativity, and there is something to be said for being introduced to a transcendentally silly B-movie. The name of the column aside, Tango & Cash’s gleeful ridiculousness remains memorable.


    • Should I be ashamed to admit I own Tango & Cash on DVD? I agree totally: it is, in your words, pure grade-A 1980’s cheese, a guilty pleasure. Stallone and Russell sure seem game in it. Your comment regarding Teri Hatcher playing “one of those strippers, ubiquitious in studio movies yet nonexistent in real life, who make a fortune playing to men’s depraved desire to see a woman strip down to leggings and a modest bra”, that comment made me laugh out loud. How many times have we seen that cliche before, one that doesn’t exist in the real world? Vivica A. Fox playing the “stripper” in Independence Day comes to mind, dancing on stage stripped down to just a slightly revealing nightie, and Halle Berry in The Last Boy Scout, again a stripper who doesn’t really strip or expose very much. It’s the equivalent of running a PG-13 strip club. Such a silly cliche.


      • Gotta give credit to Jeff the Wildman for the stripper line as he is the author of this article. I agree, great bit. I watched We’re the Millers this weekend which was a great raunchy comedy. But Jennifer Aniston plays a stripper who is always wearing a bra and panties. On this one, Demi Moore got it right. Strip or don’t play a stripper.

        I don’t think liking Tango and Cash is anything to be ashamed of. Any more than liking Velveeta. It’s not high cuisine. It’s not good for you in any way. But sometimes, it hits the spot.


  16. Sylvester Stallone’s career tells a story of going the distance:

    by Matt Singer


    The entrance to the Philadelphia Museum Of Art sits atop 72 of the most famous stone steps in the world. They were immortalized by director John G. Avildsen and writer-star Sylvester Stallone in the 1976 movie Rocky. In the film’s signature scene, Stallone’s eponymous hero, a club fighter preparing for an unlikely bout with the heavyweight champion of the world, finishes a grueling training regimen by leaping up the Art Museum stairs, raising his arms in triumph as Bill Conti’s memorable score crescendos.

    It’s a beautiful, inspiring moment. But the steps didn’t become iconic simply because they were featured in Rocky. They became iconic because they were featured in the movie twice.

    Everyone remembers Rocky’s oft-imitated training montage, with its freeze-frame finale on the so-called “Rocky Steps.” But no one talks about the first time through, when Rocky barely makes it to the top. He’s out of shape, and he’s gasping for breath when he reaches the summit. But he perseveres, and eventually, he runs the steps with ease. That’s why the Art Museum is the perfect symbol for Rocky’s ambitions in his fight with the champ. He knows he can’t beat him, so he just wants to “go the distance”—last all 15 rounds without getting knocked out. That’s why it’s also the perfect symbol for all six Rocky movies; time and again, no matter how badly the odds are stacked against him, Rocky just won’t quit. For him, survival is just as good a victory as a knockout.

    The same goes for Stallone. When he appeared on The Late Show With David Letterman in October to promote his recent film Escape Plan, Sly was introduced with an astounding statistic: He’s the only man alive who’s had a No. 1 box-office hit in each of five consecutive decades. It hasn’t always been easy; after his remarkable early success and a long run as one of the most bankable stars in Hollywood, he bottomed out in the dregs of direct-to-video thrillers. But years after his action-hero peak, Stallone returned to his roots and sparked one of the most remarkable comebacks in movie history. When things looked their bleakest, he rallied for one more climb up the Art Museum steps. This is the story of how Sylvester Stallone went the distance.

    Round 1: First Blood (1970-1975)
    CAPONE (1975)
    DEATH RACE 2000 (1975)
    Stallone needed to call on his reserves of endurance almost immediately upon entering the film business in a disastrous softcore porno called The Party At Kitty And Stud’s (later recut and retitled Italian Stallion in a blatant post-Rocky cash-grab by the movie’s rights holders). Stallone plays Stud, a man who walks around in the snow, punches mirrors, and makes frequent, scrotum-baring love to his girlfriend Kitty. Their bizarre, nightmarish embraces are the cinematic equivalent of an ice-cold shower; so grotesquely unsexy, they could drive a nymphomaniac to become a born-again Christian. Under any title, the movie should be avoided at all costs.

    Appearing in something as horrifically terrible as The Party At Kitty And Stud’s might have crushed a weaker-willed young actor. Stallone pressed on. It wasn’t easy for a while; he went years between jobs, and the roles he did get were small and one-dimensional. Initially, Hollywood was only interested in him as a physical presence. Most of his pre-Rocky roles were cameos or one-scene supporting performances as thugs or hired muscle. In Farewell, My Lovely, he beats up Robert Mitchum, sleeps with a prostitute, and shoots her madam without a single meaningful line of dialogue. In The Prisoner Of Second Avenue, he plays a mugger who can’t outrun 50-year-old Jack Lemmon after stealing his wallet. For a fitness freak like Stallone, who had been obsessed with bodybuilding and exercise since he saw his first Steve Reeves Hercules movie as a child, that must have been almost as embarrassing as The Party At Kitty And Stud’s.

    Even his meatier roles came in exploitation films. Roger Corman cast him as the cartoonish “Machine Gun” Joe Viterbo in Death Race 2000, where he drove a car mounted with guns and knives. In 1975, Stallone was cast as Frank Nitti opposite Ben Gazzara in a tawdry biopic of Al Capone. When Capone gets reckless, Nitti swoops in and assumes command of his Chicago mob. It was the first of many movies in which Stallone enacted a twisted, unhealthy mentor-protégé relationship, although the rest came later with the roles reversed, after Stallone was established in Hollywood.

    At 28, Sly was already way too old to play the role of high-school troublemaker, but his ear for authentic working-class conversations was an asset to 1974’s The Lords Of Flatbush, a Brooklyn-centric variation on the nostalgic teen dramedy that became a subgenre in the wake of 1973’s American Graffiti. Stallone played Stanley Rosiello, a member of a crew of greasers, and even convinced the film’s directors to let him write his own dialogue. True to early-career form, Stallone is the meathead of the group, but he also has several scenes with his girlfriend Frannie (Maria Smith), who demands he marry her after she gets pregnant. Stanley looks and sounds like Rocky Balboa, but he’s missing one key ingredient: his sweetness. He’s a tragic figure in some ways, but not a likable guy. When it was time to write a part for himself, Stallone made that one key change. Left to his own devices, he didn’t play a heavy. He played a heavy with heart.

    Round 2: Getting Strong Now (1976-1979)
    ROCKY (ALSO WRITER) (1976)
    F.I.S.T. (ALSO CO-WRITER) (1978)
    The first draft of Stallone’s Rocky screenplay, written in a three-day, caffeine-fueled marathon, grafted Stallone’s own anxieties and frustrations about his career—he, like Rocky, was underestimated and pigeonholed as a brainless goon—onto the real story of boxer Chuck Wepner, who was plucked from obscurity to fight Muhammad Ali in 1975. Physically outmatched but blessed with an iron jaw and fierce determination, Wepner managed to knock Ali down, and survived until the final seconds of the 15th and final round, when Ali finally scored a technical knockout.

    As the legend goes, the finished screenplay for Rocky was one of the hottest scripts in Hollywood, but Stallone refused to sell it to anyone who wouldn’t let him play the lead role. When Robert Redford wanted to star in the film, producers offered Stallone $360,000 for his screenplay, the equivalent of almost $1.5 million today. He wouldn’t budge. At the time, he had $106 in his bank account. Later in his career, Sly happily took big paydays to make bad movies, but when it mattered most, he held on to his artistic integrity.

    What Rocky became after five increasingly outlandish sequels has largely overshadowed what Rocky originally was. The later movies were formulaic sports films about an underdog American hero; the first Rocky is more like an Italian neorealist character study with a brief boxing match at the end. Stallone’s screenplay and Avildsen’s direction focus much more on the bleak realities of day-to-day-life in dead-end Philadelphia: collecting debts for a low-level mob boss (Joe Spinell), fighting to keep a locker at the local gym, trying to coax the shy Adrian (Talia Shire) out of her shell. We forget how the film underplays all its “biggest” moments; you can barely hear the judges’ decision after the match because Rocky and Adrian are professing their love for each other.

    “True to form, the king still refuses to give up his throne. It simply isn’t in his nature.”
    More than an hour of the film passes before the champ, Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), sets the fight with Rocky. Before that, Rocky’s battle, like Stallone’s, is for respect. The film’s first line, spoken by Rocky’s corner man, is “You’re waltzing. Give the sucker some action. You’re fighting like a bum.” Even after emerging victorious in that opening fight (which nets him a pathetic $40.55), a lady in the crowd still calls him a bum. After Rocky goes home, he takes a long hard look at himself in the mirror, focusing intensely on a photo hanging nearby of himself as a child, as if he’s trying to convince himself that she’s wrong. Going the distance would prove he’s somebody.

    Rocky went the distance, too, winning Best Picture and Best Director at the 1977 Academy Awards. Stallone lost the Best Actor prize to Network’s Howard Beale, but he gave a fantastic performance. He became famous for “Yo Adrian!” but he shines in the subtleties as well; his wry smile at his own corny jokes, and his constant sniffling in the harsh Philadelphia weather. Looking only at Stallone’s recent work, it’s easy to dismiss him as a one-dimensional cartoon giving the suckers some action. Looking back at the original Rocky, it’s easy to see why it made him a star.

    Riding high on critical accolades and commercial success, Stallone chose to follow Rocky with a pair of ambitious movies: F.I.S.T., the decades-long saga of a Cleveland labor union, and Paradise Alley, the story of three brothers in Depression-era Hell’s Kitchen who get into the wrestling business. Stallone co-wrote the former (from an original screenplay by Joe Eszterhas) and wrote and directed the latter; both films are about poor underdog strivers in the Rocky mold, but both films go further than Rocky, which ended precisely at the moment of the character’s triumph, to consider the hazardous ramifications of success. In F.I.S.T., after Stallone’s idealistic labor leader Johnny Kovak rises through the ranks of the Federation of Interstate Truckers, the film leaps forward 20 years, to show the character as older man of compromised morals. In Paradise Alley, a pair of brothers, Cosmo (Stallone) and Lenny (Armand Assante), convince a third brother to become a wrestler at a club called Paradise Alley. He’s a great grappler, but the dirty, violent racket threatens to tear the family apart.

    In both films, Stallone showcases an easy charisma worthy of his nickname—Sly—but neither movie came close to replicating Rocky’s astronomical success with critics and audiences. It quickly became clear that Stallone was so identified with Rocky that many viewers didn’t want to see him as anything else. In a feature written during this period, Roger Ebert describes crowds of fans following Stallone around Philadelphia and chanting his name—“Rocky!” not “Stallone!” So Stallone gave the fans what they wanted and wrote, directed, and starred in Rocky II, but he incorporated themes from F.I.S.T. and Paradise Alley, about his uneasiness with winning while he did.

    Rocky II picks up its hero’s story minutes after the first film’s conclusion and quickly chips away at its happy ending. Rocky wants to retire (just as Stallone wanted to make other kinds of movies), but he fails at a career as a television pitchman and is forced to step back into the ring for a rematch with Apollo (just as Stallone was forced to step back into the role). The film introduces a lot of the weird obsessions that would work their way through much of Stallone’s career—tigers, headbands—and reworks the original movie on a bigger, glossier scale. There are two training montages instead of one, and the final fight ends in wildly dramatic fashion, with a double knockdown at the end of the 15th round and both fighters racing to get back to their feet before the bell.

    But for all its bluster, like its predecessor, Rocky II’s—and Stallone’s—best moments remain quiet ones, like Sly’s moving breakdown at Adrian’s bedside after complications during childbirth. The sequel was another massive hit, the third highest-grossing movie of 1979 behind Kramer Vs. Kramer and The Amityville Horror. Stallone had overcome the first true test of his stardom. Rocky II’s last line was prescient: “Yo Adrian! I did it!”

    Round 3: Far From Over (1981-1984)
    NIGHTHAWKS (1981)
    VICTORY (1981)
    RHINESTONE (1984)
    This is the tragedy of Sylvester Stallone: Success ruined his career. His greatest gift was his knack for gritty gutter stories heavy with autobiographical content. With every hit, he moved further from the world where he was most comfortable and insightful.

    Audiences loved him as the tough-but-kindhearted underdog. But as the 1980s began, Stallone started focusing more and more intensely on action, and his own body. As he grew into a bigger star, he literally grew as well, working out even more obsessively, growing even more muscular. His chiseled physique was impressive—and completely contradictory to his initial appeal. Fans loved him as Rocky. More and more, he looked and acted like Apollo. Deliberately or not, he seemed to completely misunderstand his talents.

    An emotional hardness began to creep into Stallone’s movies, to match his physical hardness. 1981’s Nighthawks is an effectively bleak thriller about New York City cops chasing an international terrorist named Wulfgar (Rutger Hauer). There’s a funny introduction where Stallone dresses in drag to catch some muggers, but mostly it’s a lean, straightforward picture with an emphasis on big stunts (Stallone hangs on a cable hundreds of feet above the East River) and brutal action. (Wulfgar blows up a department store by hitting on a clerk while he plants a bomb under her feet.) The same year, Stallone expanded from combat sports to soccer with Victory, playing the lone American member of an international team of POWs assembled to play a team of Nazis in the waning days of World War II. His character has a brief romantic subplot with a member of the French Resistance, but otherwise, the film features few women and dwells entirely on the action on and off the pitch.

    The difference physically and emotionally between Stallone circa 1976 and Stallone circa 1982 was brought to the foreground by the third Rocky, which had the unenviable task of trying to turn one of the biggest movie stars on the planet back into an underdog. In short order, the movie kills off Rocky’s beloved trainer Mickey (Burgess Meredith) and introduces a ferocious new challenger, Clubber Lang (Mr. T), who defeats the unprepared champ. Back at square one, Rocky needs to overcome his guilt about Mickey’s death and his fear that he’s never been a true champion in order to secure yet another improbable victory.

    Although this Rocky is barely recognizable as the guy from the first movie (even his thick accent seems to have mostly vanished), Stallone at least maintains the series’ autobiographical bent. Young Rocky’s desire for success has now been replaced by Old Rocky’s pathological fear of losing it. Young Stallone was so intent on starring in the first Rocky that he preferred destitution to wealthy anonymity. Old Stallone was so wracked by insecurity that he wrote himself the soul-baring speech that serves as Rocky III’s emotional climax. “The truth is,” he tells Adrian, “I don’t want to lose what I got. In the beginning I didn’t care about what I had. I’d go in the ring, I’d get busted up, I didn’t care! But now there’s you, there’s the kid. I don’t want to lose what I got!”

    Of course, Rocky didn’t lose; Rocky III was another popular hit. Stallone’s transformation from underdog to ubermensch was cemented by his next film, First Blood. Based on a novel by David Morrell, it follows a combat-shocked Vietnam vet who wages a private war against a small-town sheriff who mistreats him. The vet was named John Rambo.

    Rambo is an underdog insofar as he’s alone against an entire police force, but that’s where the similarities between Stallone’s two signature characters end. Rocky is a nurturer with a large support group of loved ones. He fills the spaces in conversations with dopey jokes and stream-of-consciousness musings about life. Rambo is a cold-blooded killer who almost never speaks; he has no family or friends. Although he acts in self-defense, he terminates with extreme prejudice.

    The desensitization of Stallone would continue in First Blood’s even more violent, even less emotional sequels. But before he got there, Stallone indulged his softer side one last time—with disastrous consequences. Stallone had evidenced a passion for music before, even warbling the theme song to Paradise Alley, so it wasn’t completely unprecedented that he might try to make a musical like Staying Alive, the 1983 sequel to Saturday Night Fever he co-wrote and directed. Its hero, Tony Manero (John Travolta), had a lot in common with Rocky, another working-class city dweller with big dreams. On paper, the combination made sense.

    On screen, the combination was a disaster. Travolta, buffed out to Stallonian levels, looks lost in this hilariously clueless backstage drama about Tony’s attempt to make it in the high-pressure, heavily Spandexed world of Broadway musicals. In its final moments, when Tony gets his Rocky-esque shot at the big time in a new musical called Satan’s Alley (located, presumably, just down the block from Paradise Alley), the film achieves something like the Platonic ideal of camp. Wearing just a loincloth, boots, and a headband, Travolta karate kicks and hip-swivels his way through a “musical” that involves no singing and no story, but does involve guys dressed like leather daddies whipping him while scantily clad women writhe in the background. Had Stallone ever even seen a Broadway show before he made the movie? It doesn’t look like it.

    If Stallone seemed clueless about Broadway, he was clueless about and terrible at country music in 1984’s Rhinestone, which pairs him with Dolly Parton for a woeful farce about a country singer (Parton) who bets her boss (Ron Leibman) that she can turn anyone into a musician. If she wins, he tears up her contract. If he wins, she has to sleep with him.

    To his credit, Stallone gave it his all, and evinced an impressive willingness to humiliate himself in the name of entertainment. But the entire plot hinged on Parton turning him into a credible country star, a notion that is even more absurd than the idea of basing a romantic comedy around the looming threat of rape. Parton and Stallone actually have some chemistry together, but Stallone’s comedic talents, like his dramatic ones, are suited to small observations rather than broad physical humor, and the songs, like the ode to alcohol abuse “Drinkenstein,” are thoroughly terrible. It couldn’t get any worse than this (until about 15 years later when it somehow did).

    Round 4: First Blood (Part II) (1985-1990)
    COBRA (ALSO WRITER) (1986)
    LOCK UP (1989)
    TANGO & CASH (1989)
    ROCKY V (ALSO WRITER) (1990)
    Stallone’s continuing fascination with underdogs and his continuing expansion of his musculature began to produce some truly bizarre films. The only way to maintain this he-man’s status as a scrappy David was to cast him opposite increasingly imposing Goliaths. In 1985’s Rambo: First Blood Part II, Rambo returned to Southeast Asia to rescue prisoners of war, his mental trauma conveniently healed after a few years on a chain gang. But his superiors deliberately abandon him behind enemy lines, which means he has to rescue the men and fight his way back to safety, killing hundreds of men all by himself.

    Later that same year in Rocky IV, the champ’s new opponent was steroid-enhanced Russian super-boxer Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), whose punches are so strong they kill Apollo Creed. Rocky swears revenge, but his climactic bout with Drago does more than avenge his friend’s death: His stirring refusal to lose actually inspires the hometown Soviet crowd to root for the American. After his victory, Rocky delivers a speech commending the Soviets for their hospitality and encouraging an end to hostilities between the U.S. and Russia; the audience (and Mikhail Gorbachev!) applaud in agreement. In other words, in the span of two films and six months, Sylvester Stallone effectively won and ended both the Vietnam and Cold Wars singlehandedly. (A few years later, he’d give Afghan freedom fighters—including, unavoidably, future Taliban members—a well-toned leg up in their fight with the Soviets in 1988’s Rambo III.)

    Through the 1980s, Stallone’s characters grew less nuanced and more focused on violence and death. When they have loved ones at all, they often exist only to die and fuel Stallone’s quests for vengeance—like Apollo in Rocky IV or Rambo’s Vietnamese guide and love interest Co-Bao (Julia Nickson) in First Blood Part II, who sacrifices herself so that Rambo can make a headband out of her dress and get pumped up to kill the Vietnamese. These men are less human beings than living weapons—like Marion Cobretti from 1986’s Cobra, who’s apparently the only cop in the LAPD tough enough to take down a cult of ax murderers.

    “Left to his own devices, he would not play a heavy. He would play a heavy with heart.”
    Then again, it’s difficult to blame Stallone for his narrowing focus on action; audiences loved those movies and hated the ones where he tried something different. Amid some of the most violent films of his career, he made 1987’s Over The Top, the allegedly heartwarming story of a truck driver fighting for custody of his son while competing in an arm-wrestling tournament. Stallone’s hard-driving, soft-spoken Lincoln Hawk is clearly Rocky-esque, but the awkward mix of domestic drama and sports movie clichés sank the film.

    As the 1980s drew to a close, Sylvester Stallone entered his mid-40s, too old to play a world-champion boxer. So he decided to retire his signature franchise with 1990’s Rocky V, the first since the 1976 original directed by Avildsen. Almost instantly, the returning director deflated Rocky’s image of invincibility. In the aftermath of his fight with Drago, Rocky is diagnosed with brain damage, loses his fortune, and is forced to retire to his old neighborhood in Philadelphia, where he reopens Mickey’s gym and starts training young boxers like Tommy “The Machine” Gunn (Tommy Morrison).

    Throughout the film, Rocky weighs the pros and cons of one last fight, spurred out of retirement by a sleazy promoter named George Washington Duke (Richard Gant), who tells Rocky he represents “the dreams of the long shots, the little people, the never-wills that identify with you” and suggests he “sell it while there’s still buyers! It ain’t gonna last forever. You say you’re a fighter? Then fight!” Duke, the villain of the film, actually seems to understand Stallone’s appeal better than Stallone himself during this period.

    Rocky dispenses some inspirational slogans—“The only difference between a hero and a coward is the hero is willing to go for it”—and delivers a performance that’s truest, out of any of the sequels, to the lovable but flawed original Rocky. But even with some notable flops, Stallone himself was still riding high as one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, and the franchise always was best at its most autobiographical; Rocky V is, in some ways, its least personal entry. Its ending might have been poignant had Stallone actually retired. But quitters don’t go the distance.

    Round 5: Cut Me, Mick (1991-1996)
    OSCAR (1991)
    JUDGE DREDD (1995)
    ASSASSINS (1995)
    DAYLIGHT (1996)
    With Rocky put out to pasture, Stallone entered the 1990s looking for his next franchise. He spent much of the decade trying out different genres and sub-genres. He experimented with screwball comedy (1991’s Oscar), science fiction (1993’s Demolition Man), erotic thrillers (1994’s The Specialist), comic-book (1995’s Judge Dredd) and disaster movies (1996’s Daylight). But his biggest hit of the period was his most traditional action film, a rock-climbing adventure called Cliffhanger about another typically Stallonian loner searching for redemption after the untimely death of a friend. The plot is totally by-the-numbers, but the high-altitude cinematography is spectacular, and Stallone’s stoic physicality is a good match for the film’s frenetic villain, played by John Lithgow.

    Although he’d retired Rocky (at least temporarily), Stallone pushed hard to maintain his credibility as an action hero—and a sex symbol. He started baring his butt onscreen almost as often as his chest and arms. (Curious parties can examine it in 1989’s Tango & Cash, 1992’s Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot, and particularly The Specialist, which features a long sex scene with co-star Sharon Stone.) Pushing 50, Stallone was still reluctant to ease himself into more mature roles.

    It would be inaccurate to say Sly was mellowing during the early and mid-1990s, but his action movies definitely got less graphic, and began commenting on their own relatively low body counts. 1993’s Demolition Man is about a brutal, Cobra-esque cop from the 1990s who’s cryogenically frozen and thawed out in a sanitized future, where his penchant for mayhem is the only thing that can stop the evil Simon Phoenix (Wesley Snipes). In The Specialist, Stallone plays a bomb expert who quits the CIA after he inadvertently kills an innocent girl, in order to become a mercenary hitman who makes bombs that leave no collateral damage. In 1995’s Assassins, Stallone’s a principled sniper who wants to get out of the contract-killer business.

    These movies are still consistently (and sometimes brutally) violent, but they exhibit more effort to contextualize or mitigate that violence, or to argue on a thematic level for its necessity. Stallone is a heroic killer who does the dirty jobs needed to maintain an orderly society. Maybe that’s how he saw himself as he made one bad movie after another: a martyr on the altar of crappy action films, sating our collective bloodlust so that others didn’t have to.

    Round 6: I Didn’t Hear No Bell (1997)
    COP LAND (1997)
    Even as Stallone tested out new genres, he stayed away from the thing that made him a star in the first place: low-budget movies about down-and-out characters looking for their one chance to make good. He finally returned to his roots and showed off his rarely utilized range in 1997’s Cop Land, written and directed by James Mangold. Stallone plays Freddy Heflin, a small-town sheriff in a Northern New Jersey town that’s just over the river from Manhattan, and home to some of New York’s City’s least-finest cops. Meek, lonely, and chubby, Freddy is a Rocky figure who never got his title shot; after losing most of his hearing as a young man, he was deemed unfit for the NYPD and settled down as a Garden State lawman instead. But when his town’s dirtiest residents cover up a crime, Freddy gets his chance at redemption.

    Gaining or dropping weight is one of the oldest tricks in the book for movie stars looking to prove their “seriousness.” For a fitness nut like Stallone, putting on 40 pounds of flab to play Freddy was an even larger gesture. But Sly still delivers more than a dramatically bloated waistline. Going toe-to-toe with some of the most respected actors of his generation—including Harvey Keitel, Ray Liotta, and Robert De Niro—he not only matches them, but exceeds them. His is the most nuanced and believable performance in a movie full of cop-movie stereotypes and caricatures. It’s arguably his best work since the first Rocky.

    Cop Land was the sort of movie designed to win awards—or at least a little credibility, something important for the man who was once so desperate to prove he was no bum. But despite decent reviews and an okay box-office take, it never really broke away from the pack of Quentin Tarantino-inspired mid-’90s Miramax crime thrillers. According to its IMDb page, the film won a single award; a Best Actor trophy for Stallone at the 1997 Stockholm Film Festival. Stung by the film’s failure, Stallone returned to action and genre movies. He hasn’t made another bid for respectability.

    Round 7: Low Blows (1997-2003)
    ANTZ (1998)
    GET CARTER (2000)
    EYE SEE YOU (2002)
    SHADE (2003)
    SPY KIDS 3-D: GAME OVER (2003)
    When Stallone hosted the 1997 season première of Saturday Night Live, his reputation for stinkers had grown so large the writers built an entire sketch around it. Sly plays himself as a bystander who comes to the rescue of a man (Norm MacDonald) who’s been in a car accident. He tries to free the victim from the wreckage, but Norm can’t stop complaining about his crappy films. “Stop! Stop!” he moans. “Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot sucked!” Even Stallone had to admit: His career had seen better days.

    It was going to get worse before it got better. His movies of the late 1990s and early 2000s were, at best, unmemorable, like the 1998 animated comedy Antz, in which his voice co-starred with Woody Allen’s, and 2000’s Get Carter, a gloomy Seattle-set remake of the classic British crime film about a man who returns to his hometown to investigate his brother’s death. The character’s catchphrase—“I’m Jack Carter and you really don’t want to know me”—pretty much says it all.

    Now well into his 50s, Stallone seemed to acknowledge that he was getting, in the parlance of the genre he’d come to define, too old for this shit. But he also refused to yield the spotlight to younger actors. Increasingly, his films were filled with unworthy protégés, men who look to learn from Stallone but are ultimately deemed unworthy of his knowledge and experience. Call it massive ego or impressive honesty, but his movies of this period reflect the anxieties of a man who realized his time was running short but refused to go down quietly. (There’s that iron jaw again.) Stories that should be about one generation passing its skills on to the next become opportunities for Stallone to upstage his youthful co-stars.

    “This is the tragedy of Sylvester Stallone: Success ruined his career.”
    Unworthy pretenders to Stallone started to appear in his movies as early as Rocky V—where Tommy Gunn utilizes Rocky’s teaching to become champ, then turns his back on him—and pop up again in Assassins, about an upstart hitman, played by Antonio Banderas, who has studied Stallone’s techniques but refuses to live by his moral code. Stallone educates these men, then schools them when they get out of line and start to believe they can actually replace him. No one in a Sylvester Stallone movie can replace Sylvester Stallone.

    The most interesting of these “no-tégés” is Kip Pardue’s Jimmy Bly from 2001’s open-wheel racing movie Driven, which is both deeply autobiographical and intensely terrible. Stallone plays Joe Tanto, a disgraced driver coaxed out of retirement by his old boss (Burt Reynolds) to help instruct and guide Bly, his old team’s new young star. Tanto may be there to make Bly look good, but Pardue and his complete absence of charisma are there to do the exact opposite; to show just how appealing Stallone can still be in the right vehicle.

    The movie oscillates between painfully silly race/chase scenes and moments of surprising candor. After Tanto follows Bly through the streets of Chicago in an experimental F1 car, he gives him an inspirational speech to rival the greatest hits of Burgess Meredith: “I don’t have your gift,” Tanto tells Bly, “but I do have a couple things you don’t have: I got will and I got faith. I believe you can will yourself into anything. And faith, that’s like believing in something, man that’s like having a good disease, it’s contagious. If you hang around with people who have it, you’re gonna catch it. And that’s gonna change your attitude. And winning, it’s an attitude.”

    The meta-narrative around Tanto recalls Stallone’s own career arc from greatness to the butt of SNL sketches; Tanto’s return to glory by believing in himself is meant to mirror Stallone’s own return to greatness with Driven. Unfortunately, the movie wasn’t quite the comeback Stallone had in mind; overly long and often laughably absurd (as in the scene where several drivers leave a race to help a fellow driver out of a car that’s simultaneously submerged under water and on fire) it failed to connect with audiences and critics and was another expensive flop. Apparently you can’t will yourself into anything.

    Somehow, Stallone still hadn’t reached bottom. Driven’s meager box-office finally drove Stallone into the world of direct-to-video. 2002’s terribly titled Eye See You (also known by the almost-as-terrible title D-Tox) offers some clear reasons why Stallone’s star had fallen so far. The film is actually set in an interesting locale with the potential for compelling themes: a rehab facility for police officers who’ve suffered life-shattering trauma. But rather that focusing on Stallone’s broken FBI agent character (and his convincingly melancholy performance), the film quickly devolves into an Agatha Christie-style slasher. What could be an unusual, emotional movie becomes a very rote, sterile experience.

    At his lowest ebb, Stallone appeared in a supporting role in a tiny indie called Shade, a con-man picture about a bunch of grifters all trying to hustle each other out of a score at a high-stakes poker game. Stallone plays “The Dean,” the greatest card mechanic on the planet, on the verge of retirement. In one scene, he tells an old flame (Melanie Griffith) he’s growing weary with his lifestyle. “I used to love it, everybody wanting a piece of me,” he says. “But these last couple of years, I’m just going through the motions. Getting lazy, not caring, losing my edge. So I say to myself, maybe I ought to retire, go out gracefully before some kid comes along and just rips me apart.”

    In classic Stallone fashion, The Dean contemplates retirement—and then rooks all the younger sharps nipping at his heals. “I guess I knew this day would always come,” he says right as it looks like he’s about to bust for good, before adding “But not today!” as he turns over a winning hand. As a man who subscribed so strongly to the idea of going the distance and victory through endurance, retirement just wasn’t in the cards. The old gambler had one more trick up his sleeve. He might quit some day. But not today.

    Round 8: Going The Distance (2006-2013)
    ZOOKEEPER (2011)
    ESCAPE PLAN (2013)
    On the cusp of 60, Stallone resurrected his beloved heavyweight for a final requiem, a surprisingly moving story of a retired Rocky losing one last fight: with loneliness. Unwilling to go quietly into the night, even after his beloved Adrian dies of cancer, he decides to try to try his hand at boxing again just as the current heavyweight champ, Mason “The Line” Dixon (Antonio Tarver), is so desperate to buff his negative public image that he challenges the Italian Stallion to a fight. Aware he has little shot of winning but desperate to prove he can still compete—a clever mirror of the first film—Rocky agrees.

    The idea of a 60-year-old retired boxer-turned-restauranteur holding his own for 10 rounds with the current heavyweight champ is laughable, as was the idea of Stallone playing this character at that age. Stallone simply shrugged off the skeptics and worked that idea into the script, having his son (Milo Ventimiglia) remark during the final battle, “Everybody thought this was a joke, including me! Now, nobody’s laughing!” As usual, what happened to Stallone inevitably happened to Rocky.

    Rocky Jr. was right. The concept of Rocky Balboa is silly, but the execution is anything but laughable. As outlandish as its final outcome might be, this is a deeply personal film from a man in a desperate psychological struggle with his own mortality, hungry to prove to himself as much as viewers that he can still do something meaningful. Rocky Balboa isn’t a great movie—the plot is burdened with coincidence and subplots, and, like Rocky V, it would be much more poignant if Stallone had actually retired after making it—but it’s not an embarrassment. And that was Stallone’s great achievement: not to win, but simply to go the distance. He’d climbed the steps one more time. And he did it without even losing his breath.

    The victory lap continues. Nearing 70, he’s riding high on several recent hits, most notably The Expendables franchise, which pairs Stallone with fellow fading action stars (Bruce Willis, Chuck Norris) and young up-and-comers (Jason Statham, Terry Crews). Once again, the point is less about passing the baton than proving he can still carry it; as mercenary Barney Ross, Stallone shoots his revolver faster than most men fire machine guns, and never seems to miss, or get tired, or fail to save the day.

    Last year, Stallone squared off with yet another no-tégé in Walter Hill’s Bullet To The Head, playing yet another principled hitman on a quest for revenge. (No one outside of Charles Bronson has ever made more movies about angry middle-aged men seeking revenge than Sylvester Stallone.) Poor Sung Kang is his comic foil, a tech-savvy Washington D.C. cop who’s repeatedly shown how incompetent he is by the older, wiser, tougher, grittier Stallone. True to form, the king still refuses to give up his throne. It simply isn’t in his nature. Like he says at the end of Rocky V, “I didn’t hear no bell.”

    Stallone’s most recent work, Escape Plan, returned him to a minor theme that runs through his career: paranoia about incarceration, a subject he’s addressed explicitly or implicitly in everything from Victory to Lock Up to Demolition Man. Sly is Ray Breslin, a master designer of maximum-security prisons who’s duped into getting tossed into an inescapable jail, where he finds an ally in an inmate played by Stallone’s old 1980s-action rival, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Together the two hatch an escape plan—and the most entertaining movie either has made in well over a decade. Yet again, Stallone plays a man pitted against an unstoppable force and long odds in an impossible situation. Does he prevail? What do you think?


  17. Actors turning down roles (that ended up being big mistakes)?


    05-25-03, 01:18 PM

    Sylvester Stallone turned down several roles which would have been perfect for him, a few rolese Sly turned down that I can name: 1) He was originally signed to play the role of Max Cherry in “Jackie Brown”. Tarantino really wanted him as Max Cherry but for some reason Sly didn’t like the role, I think Sly being in a Tarantino film would HAVE helped his career 2) Sly was asked to play the lead role (Eddie Murphy’s main character) in “Beverly Hills Cop”, Sly was asking the writer/directors to make “Beverly Hills Cop” series an action thriller but the film makers disagreed with Sly and still wanted the films to be an action comedy, so Sly decided it was a no go for “Beverly Hills Cop” 3) Sly was also asked to play the role of James Dolan in “Stephen King’s Dolan’s Caddillac” and he turned that down as well but instead, Kevin Bacon was confirmed to sign to play the lead role instead….

    After all the mistakes Sly made in the past, he should’ve chosen better movies, him being in “Spy Kids 3-D” was actually a great decision, I’m happy he didn’t turn that role down as that film would help his career.


  18. after rocky stallone was dubbed by ebert as the next brando. He could have been a serious actor but instead decided to became an action star. I feel with the right dramatic role he can be a serious oscar contender


    • The problem is, no one is interested in Stallone as a dramatic actor. He tried with Copland which got good reviews. But it bombed at the box office and Stallone claims it nearly killed his career. He’s not going to go down that career path again and he won’t be getting any offers to do so.


      • “he’s not going to go down that career path again and he won’t be getting any offers to do so.” That is true. Part of what makes Stallone’s comeback so impressive is that when no one wanted to hire him anymore and everyone counted him out, he made his own comeback. He built his comeback around familiarity (Rocky Balboa, Rambo) and a new action franchise (Expendables). At this point Stallone knows he’s in a box, even during his career peak when he attempted different things (serious drama, comedy, etc.) people tuned out. He simply won’t be getting any outside offers to do serious dramatic work anymore, and he’s aware enough of the box he’s in that he would never attempt to write himself a serious dramatic role at this point, let alone if he could even get one made now. Whatever remaining films he can get made at this point will be more action-oriented films (another Rambo, etc.) I really think Rocky Balboa was, and will probably remain, his last personal film.


      • 10 Incredible Against-All-Odds Hollywood Comebacks:

        Sylvester Stallone

        Sylvester Stallone demonstrated incredible willpower when he refused to sell the Rocky script to United Artists unless he was allowed to play the title character himself. It was a shrewd move by Stallone, as the film was a box-office smash and it shot the once-struggling actor to superstardom.

        The Downfall: After the overwhelming success of Rocky and First Blood, Stallone became a franchise man. In between directing, writing and starring in the Rambo and Rocky films, he made other action films like Cobra and Over The Top to varying degrees of success.

        Not content with just being an action star, Stallone tried his hand at musical comedy with the Dolly Parton vehicle Rhinestone. It was not a success. Not learning from this experience, Stallone appeared in the seriously unfunny Oscar and Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot in 1991 and ’92 respectively. They were disasters for the quickly-fading Stallone. His performances were panned and the box-office numbers were painful.

        What Brought Him Back: Stallone tried to get things back on track with yet more action fare but critics began to ask the question: just what had happened to Sylvester Stallone the actor? While the big budget action films made him money, Stallone was a frequent Razzie nominee.

        He reminded everyone that he did still have acting talent when he appeared in James Mangold’s modest 1997 crime drama Cop Land. Stallone didn’t look out of place next to respected thespians Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel and Ray Liotta. In fact, most of the positive reviews centred around Stallone’s understated performance and he won a Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actor.

        Did It Last: After gaining forty pounds and shedding his stardom for Cop Land, it was back to business as usual for Sly. He returned to the big budget action films and thrillers that he had made his name in and eventually revived the Rocky and Rambo franchises once again.


  19. he needs a strong supporting role in a film by a top directior. I so wish he got a offer in that hateful eight movie it would done wonders


  20. robert redford is a good candidate his choice last ten years haven’t been the best


  21. bruce career isnt so hot now i want to see his smug face on there. hes an asshole not really any range either he does a few facial expressions smirks thats it. Sixth sense was good despite him not cause of him


  22. lebeau would u say jack nicholson is rare in Hollywood over 70 yet still considered a list his last lead role bucket grossed a lot of money. plus he will never be on this site he never had long period of flops never needed a comeback most consistent actor i know from 60s to 2000s had a bunch of hits he needs an a list resume hes in my top ten fav actor he needs an a list article about him would u say his career is more successful then deniro and pacino he has better resume then those 2


  23. how wrong u r he has a dramatic role coming up gangster film plus he has enoguh clout to write himself dramatic role. he can do it. sucess of expendables gave him clout . plus he reaching 70 he cant do action forever


  24. one movie flopped out of 3 there will be a 4th he wants to milk this franchise as much as he can he is the mike myers of action films milking 3 franchise


  25. Copland is an interesting film. I just finished watching it on Netflix. Stallone has had a long career, yet he turns in one of his most nuanced performances ever here. The film has heavy hitters in the acting industry with Robert DeNiro, Harvey Keitel and Ray Liotta who all put in strong performances, yet Stallone puts in arguably the best performance in the film. It’s a good, solid crime drama. Having said that, the film was never going to set the world on fire. The director James Mangold commented that Miramax, with the big cast, expected Copland to break out like the way Pulp Fiction did. That was never going to happen. It’s a good film, but not a truly great one, or a groundbreaking one. Second, it’s a serious crime drama, it’s compelling but not exactly a mainstream crowdpleaser. It was never going to be a $100M blockbuster. It made $45M on a $15m budget in 1997, and that’s about as much as it was ever going to earn. The film didn’t flop, it did respectable business for the type of film it was. If anything Miramax and Stallone may have had unrealistic expectations box office wise. The film received solid reviews, certainly some of the best of Stallone’s career when it comes to his acting, but it wasn’t the type of showy film that would rake in the nominations at the Oscars. When all is said and done, I’m glad Stallone did the film. As a Stallone fan it provides a rare glimpse into what a capable actor he is with more serious, mature material.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. true stallone performance was amazing but the movie was good not great. but stallone performance is oscar worthy copland is no pulp fiction but he got alot of acclaim for it. copland proved stallone can rise above any script miramax should have campained more for stallone to get a nom it was good it wasnt the type to get best picture nom but u cant tell stallone was not oscar worthy in it


  27. Sylvester Stallone Will Direct, Star In Rambo: Last Blood:

    Never say “die” when it comes to Sylvester Stallone and his signature film franchises. The dreadful Rocky V led to a more definitive conclusion, Rocky Balboa. The Expendables series appears like it could extend indefinitely (despite diminishing returns at the box office). And now Stallone seems ready to reprise his John Rambo character, even though that hero got a proper sendoff in 2008’s Rambo

    ComingSoon now reports that Sylvester Stallone will direct and star in Rambo: Last Blood. They refer to it as “one last fight,” though we all know that’s likely not true. What’s unclear is the possible plot of this final Rambo movie. There were rumors, a while back, that the next Rambo movie could see thi bloodthirsty war veteran going after a Mexican cartel, though why remains the biggest mystery. Or even if that story remains in play. At the time, Stallone was calling this his No Country for Old Men of Rambo movies. I’m not even sure what that means, because this NSFW insanity does not look like a Coen brothers movie:

    Here’s the biggest question tied to a final Rambo movie: Why? And I mean that as no disrespect to Stallone or his character, who has been part of two good movies (and two that we didn’t need). But the final scene of Rambo was a proper finale for the character. Stop reading if you haven’t seen Rambo and still want to be surprised by it, years later.


    • Stallone will not play Rambo again

      Despite saying for years that he was working on a script for “Rambo V,” Sylvester Stallone revealed in a new interview with Variety that he has no intention of reprising his role as the iconic military war hero.

      “The heart’s willing, but the body says, ‘Stay home!,’” Stallone, 69, explained in this week’s cover story. “It’s like fighters that go back for one last round and get clobbered. Leave it to someone else.”

      Stallone noted that he was content with where 2008’s “Rambo IV” left the character, which he first played in 1982. “You know when you realize there’s nothing more to pull out?” Stallone says. “As an action film, I was very satisfied that it dealt with the Burmese situation. It had one foot in a current event, the longest civil war in history, 65 years at that time. It was so brutal, which civil war is, I was shocked they even gave me an R-rating. I didn’t want to compromise. I said, ‘This is probably going to be the last decent film of this genre that I’m going to do as a solo act.’ When that was accomplished, I never felt the same willingness to do it again.”

      He added: “There’s nothing left. When they asked me to do another ‘Rambo,’ I said, ‘If I can’t do better than I did last time, and I can’t, then why’?”

      He’s also not involved in the “Rambo” TV series, which is in development at Fox and focuses on the character’s son. “I don’t want to cast aspersions,” Stallone said, “but it’s delicate to try to replace a character with his son. I’ve seen the son of Flicka, the son of Tarzan, the son of King Kong, the son of Godzilla. It’s a very difficult premise.”


  28. hes gonna reprise his rocky character again there making a movie about apollos gradnson


  29. lebeau would my friend and i are having this debate but its offtopic but he claims the amazing movie like woodsmen did more for bacons career then crappy box office hit hollow man yes woodsmen was better got good reviews but it did ok in the box office went unnoticed in terms of awards isnt talked about much hollwman raised his bankablity a bit being lead in it give him a bit more drawing power


  30. Stallone needs to just hang it up. The Expendables was an okay film, part two was just goofy. Didn’t really have much of a plot. I’m not even gonna bother with part three, why on Earth is Kelsey Grammar in that movie? He was never an action star. That prison movie with Him and Arnold didnt make one bit of since. He is long passed his days of fame.


  31. Sylvester Stallone: PG-13 Expendables 3 was “horrible miscalculation”

    The Expendables 4 will go back to being R-rated, as Sylvester Stallone admits a PG-13 Expendables film was a mistake…


    • It really was. It was such an obvious miscalculation. The entire appeal of those movies was that they were throwbacks to old school R-rated action movies. A PG-13 Expendables completes violates the franchise.


      • Making a PG-13 Expendables was a complete miscalculation. The one thing I give Stallone credit for is that he is publicly admitting it was a big mistake, especially since Expendables 3 is just now being released to the home video market. From a business standpoint probably not the ideal time to give a public mea culpa.

        As a fan that decision just never made any sense to me. How could Stallone and co. actually think they could pick up a whole new group of younger moviegoers while at the same time not alienating the established audience with a more family-friendly PG-13 rating? I couldn’t imagine any 14 year olds saying to each other “Hey, that new Expendables movie with those old action stars is coming out! And it’s PG-13 so unlike the first two movies we can totally go see it now!” Yeah, I doubt that ever happened.


        • I think Stallone is admitting it was a mistake because Expendables 3 is being marketed as the “unrated version you didn’t see in theaters” which makes me laugh because very few people saw the PG-13 version in theaters either.

          I get the rational. It’s why Die Hard 4 went PG-13. Studios like PG-13 movies. They have a wider audience. But some movies need an R rating. The Expendables movies need to be R. They need to be as over the top as possible. Otherwise what is the point?


        • How 2001 was a film game-changer IV: Joe Lieberman and the FTC use Columbine to kill the R-rating and (by proxy) mainstream films for adults.

          This is one of a handful of essays that will be dealing with the various trends that were kicked off during the 2001 calendar year, and how they still resonate today.

          I don’t have all that much to say about Colombiana, which I saw this weekend. It’s well-acted (save for one overwrought emotional exposition moment in the third act), and the action sequences are suitably tight and intense. But the most noteworthy thing about this film is that its PG-13. Not only do we have yet another adult-themed and relatively violent action picture that has been awarded a PG-13 rating, but you can clearly see and hear the alterations that went into the original product to make it so. You can see the haphazard editing around the onscreen violence. You can hear the muffling of gun shots and other sounds of violence (screams, punching, kicking, etc). Colombiana is an adult film with adult sensibilities. Yet in this current market, it was considered unwise to release this violent action picture with an R-rating. It’s been over ten years since the Joseph Lieberman-speared committee into the marketing of R-rated pictures effectively put a clamp on the ‘for audiences 17 and over or with a parental guardian’ rating when it came to mainstream entertainment. And it’s been ten years since we saw the effective end of adult-oriented R-rated fare in mainstream cinemas.

          The Columbine school shootings in April, 1999 were the cause for these commissions. Lieberman, having ‘lost’ his Vice Presidential bid in 2000, had gone back to doing what he did best: attacking youth-centric pop culture in a manner that would make Dr. Fredric Wertham proud. The core results of the study was that R-rated films were being test-screened and marketed to audiences well-under seventeen years of age. Ironically, one of the prime examples, Judge Dredd, was a film that star Sylvester Stallone claimed back in 1995 was intended as a PG-13 in the first place. We may laugh at that notion (as well as the protests of Harrison Ford and Tim Burton, over the respective well-deserved R-ratings for Air Force One and Sleepy Hollow), but as I wrote in 2001, it was a moot point. The MPAA rating system was intended to be voluntary, and suggestive in nature. It was not intended to be ironclad law. So if New Line Cinema wanted to test and/or market Set It Off to thirteen year old kids, that was their right and privilege. With an adult in tow, children of any age could see a film, so it was plausible that studios would market to such audiences.The studies were done in late 1999 to late 2000, with the results basically being put into action the following year (with the unfortunate help of Senators Hillary Clinton and Robert Byrd). The intent was to prevent underage audiences from being exposed to R-rated material. But the result was the removal of truly adult material from nearly all mainstream pictures, while in turn forcing more and more R-rated content into PG-13 films.

          Anyway, long story short, the FTC put out a number of restrictions and regulations in regards to marketing R-rated films. To wit, you generally could not put a trailer for an R-rated film before anything other than another R-rated film. You generally could not run TV ads for R-rated films before 9pm, or during kid-friendly television shows. This by itself made it challenging to reach the teen or older teen audience that would otherwise be interested in the latest bawdy comedy or violent action thriller. Basically the industry was in a bind, not knowing when a governmental watchdog agency (or just a random politician running on a ‘social values’ campaign) would basically attempt to make a big deal over showing an ad for an R-rated movie before a PG-13 film and/or during a show like Dawson’s Creek or Felicity that targeted older teens. Slowly but surely, R-rated films of all genres dried up, with studios not wanting to spend money on big-budget genre fare that they were unable to market as they please. Why make a teen-centric R-rated picture when regulations all-but prevented you from marketing that picture to your teen audiences? But the casualties were not just in the realm of rip-offs of The Matrix or American Pie. Adult genre films and adult-themed dramas became endangered species as well, to the point where we generally only saw R-rated adult fare during the year-end awards season.

          The FTC report and the resulting legislation are not solely responsible for this. The sea change that saw big-budget fantasy films become the core tentpole of choice was also a prime factor. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, and the successful big-budget, all-ages PG-13 spectacles that followed (Spider-Man, Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, etc) went hand-in-hand with the new difficulties in marketing adult entertainment. But the result was the same. Up until just the last year or so, R-rated mainstream films more or less disappeared, while studios became desperate to fit their seemingly R-rated content into the PG-13 box. We saw a decade of severed heads flying over castle walls (Lord of the Rings: Return of the King), men having their eyes pecked-out by birds (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest), innocent civilians being executed at point-black range and blown to pieces by terrorists (Vantage Point), and Catholic Cardinals being brutally and graphically tortured to death (Angels and Demons)… all under the ‘appropriate for kids 13-and-up guise of that magical PG-13 rating. We now have a mainstream rating system that allows obviously R-rated content and sensibilities into theoretically kid-friendly films as long as there is not too much blood or ‘hard’ profanity.

          Sure, Live Free or Die Hard was every bit as violent as the previous Die Hard films, but as long as the blood was digitally erased, it was considered a more kid-friendly film. And yes Colombiana was absolutely intended as an adult action thriller, but so difficult would it have been to market the film with its intended R-rating that Sony made the choice to basically gut the film in order to get that lower rating. Thus we have an entire industry of PG-13 entertainments that are actually R-rated adult films in disguise (they made the same call earlier this year with Priest, a variation of The Searchers as a horror film that absolutely should have been R-rated). Other casualties of this problem include The Transporter, Sucker Punch, Salt (a 90s throwback that absolutely would have gone out as R in 1996), and, I would argue, the Bourne franchise. The R-rated action film is all-but nonexistent in this day and age. With the exception of occasional Jason Statham vehicles, pretty much every big-studio action picture is now whittled down to a more ‘all-audiences friendly’ PG-13. Yes, we’ve seen a resurgence of R-rated comedies over the past few years, but I’d wager that’s purely because they are relatively cheap and their R-rated content (usually limited to raunchy dialogue) can be easily looped during the foreign translations, depending on the cultural mores of a given nation. But the genre films aimed at older audiences, the dark thrillers and dramas, the kind of star vehicles that Paramount excelled at in the 1990s (Who would have thought Double Jeopardy would be an artifact of a by-gone time?), are all-but nonexistent.

          This was surely not the intent of Lieberman, his various co-sponsors, and the FTC back in 2001. But the disappearance of truly adult films with adult content and adult sensibilities is indeed what occurred. It is part of why the relative successes of The Town and The Lincoln Lawyer were so important. It is why, despite my misgivings over the project, the David Fincher remake of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is so important. It is literally the first big-budget would-be franchise to go out R-rated and aimed at adults since The Matrix trilogy back in 1999. Ironically, it was The Matrix, released just a month before Columbine and held up as everything wrong with mainstream entertainment (pundits, politicians, and moral arbitrators mistakenly believed that Klebold and Harris dressed like Neo and basically tried to emulate the film’s third-act lobby shooting spree), that paved the way for the downfall of big-budget R-rated cinema. If the Daniel Craig/Rooney Mara thriller is a big enough hit to justify sequels and/or its $90 million budget, we may see a return to a time when adult films actually come with adult ratings. Because ten years is a long time to go without such a basic concept.


      • The Expendables 4 has been confirmed for a 2017 release


        • This is good news for aging action stars everywhere. I wonder if the Hulkster is still allowed to play.


        • The Expendables 4 (2017)

          8 hours ago Corporate Lizuka/Demon Lizuka said:
          Why bother? The third one made nowhere even close to what the previous two did and did poorly review-wise as well. Sure, these probably are very cheap to make, but clearly audience interest isn’t there.

          I believe the audience is there. They just need to go back to the original formula as to what made the films a must see anyways. Go back to the over the top, cheesy one liners, insane action, and focus on the old school actors who were huge during that time period when action films in the 80’s and 90’s were the thing.

          5 hours ago via the ProBoards by Death to Analog

          The third one sucked because nobody really gave a shit about Ronda and her merry band of jobbers. In a franchise built on action stars from the ’80s/’90s, what genius thought writing out said action stars for the bulk of the movie was a good idea? At least Banderas was watchable.

          Getting Kurt Russell for the fourth film would be good. My first choice would’ve been having him play a slick government agent type, but he already does that in the Fast & Furious films. Guess he could don the eyepatch again.


  32. 12 Terrible Movies That Killed An Actor’s Winning Streak:

    1. Rhinestone – Sylvester Stallone

    The Streak: Stallone had one hell of a franchise-friendly hot streak in the 1980s, with Rocky II and III, Nighthawks, Victory (or Escape to Victory) and of course, First Blood.

    The Film That Broke It: This hilariously misguided musical comedy paired Stallone with Dolly Parton and netted the actor his first of many Razzie wins for Worst Actor, as well as a nod for Worst Screenplay. Though it has a certain car crash quality to it in retrospect, it’s little surprising that this forced fish-out-of-water comedy netted just $21.4 million of its $28 million budget in cinemas.

    Current Status: Though Stallone hasn’t had a streak of successes as impressive as this since, he’s still had fitful strings of three or four hits in a row, with his Rambo and Rocky franchises serving him well over the decades, not to mention the late-day Expendables series. With EX4, Rambo: Last Blood and Rocky spin-off Creed on the way, he’ll be just fine.


  33. Bad Movie Beatdown: Get Carter (2000)

    Stallone takes an icon of British cool and Hollywoodizes it.


  34. Rocky IV:

    This movie is bats*** crazy 80s. This is basically the film version of how Frank Stallone views the role his music has in shaping the world. From Ivan Drago being basically a Russian version of Hitler’s perfect man to Apollo Creed entering a fight dress like a pimp version of Uncle Sam with 500 different nicknames, this movie is excruciatingly laughable. While Rocky V was just out and out bad, this one at least you can laugh at and find odd enjoyment from.

    Things like reporters seeing nothing wrong with how Drago looks or fights, basically looking like steroids personified, because the Soviet propagandist says he is clean, because US reporters would so quickly believe what a Soviet said during the Cold War. Then you have Rocky training almost alone in the mountains with Soviet G-Men watching his every move, almost assuredly reporting back to Drago’s camp, beating Drago who has a training facility that rivals the hi-tech ones of today. This win of course would effectively end the Cold War obviously.This is all predicated by the fact that Creed is killed by Drago in the ring because Rocky idiotically follows Creed’s wish that he not throw in the towel.

    Yet the most unbelievable thing about this movie is that for some reason Rocky decides to give Paulie, maybe the most despicable character in movie history, a robot. In one odd seen the robot is seen to have had its role altered a bit to where it now has a female voice and brings Paulie beers. Even odder is the fact that Paulie is eye banging the shit out of this robot, leading me to believe that at some point he’s going to try and drunkenly f*** it, at one point saying he was going to get its circuits tied. That’s a real robot too, apparently, that was meant to help kids with autism as well as help doctors get a better understanding of the illness, yet when Stallone saw it he decided to add it to his movie and even cut out the scene that showed Paulie altering its circuits to make it female, because it was complaining about how dirty he was and his cigar smoke, in sort of a knock-off Odd Couple. I now almost wish there was a deleted scene where we see a couple doctors lamenting that they couldn’t get the one Sico robot available to help their various autistic patients and wondering where it could be, leading to a hard cut of Paulie in bed with it and the robot telling him “that happens to a lot of guys I hear.”


  35. Forget the “Val Kilmer curse”, I now think that there maybe a “Sylvester Stallone curse” relating to the WTHHT series also. Let’s take a look:
    *Anybody who was in the “Expendables” franchise (including his “Demolition Man” co-star, Wesley Snipes) who has received a WTHHT entry.

    *Stallone’s “Tango & Cash” co-star, Kurt Russell

    *Stallone’s “Grudge Match” co-star, Kim Basinger

    *Stallone’s “The Specialist” (and “Antz”) co-star, Sharon Stone

    *Stallone’s “Bullet in the Head” co-star, Christian Slater

    *Stallone’s “Avenging Angelo” co-star Madeleine Stowe

    I’m sure that I’m forgetting some people, so please feel free to add.


  36. Lets compare murphy to stallone. Stallone is good but he touch murphy. Murphy showed more range has much better box office rankings too. murphy has been in alot of frnachise roles too but found hit outside of it


  37. I ment lets not compare. Eddie is better actor. Is capable of more. He has some interesting dramas coming up and sequel to twins. I think eddie career will be better shape then sly. As long as eddie steers away from family friendly films.


  38. Please Sylvester Stallone, No More Expendables And Rambo Sequels:

    I heard there’s gonna be a 4th Expendables and Sylvester is supposed to be working on a 5th Rambo. When is he gonna leave these sequels alone? LOL. He acts like he can’t come up with new ideas for action movies. Remember his Bullet To The Head movie that came out about 4 years ago? That was a good movie. Why can’t he do action movies like that? He upsets me with continuing to do sequels as if he can’t do anything else. I didn’t like the last Expendables that much even though I thought it was nice to see Wesley Snipes, Antonio Banderas and Mel Gibson because I hadn’t seen them in a long time. It was also nice seeing Sylvester reunite with Wesley and Antonio because they had done movies with Sylvester which were The Demolition Man and Assassins. The last Rambo was good and very violent. Sylvester is gonna wear himself out eventually because he’s 69. He needs to retire because he should have enough money to live on for the rest of his life.
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  39. #LievSchreiber, #NaomiWatts to star in Chuck Wepner underdog ring saga ‘The Bleeder’

    Weper’s story the inspiration for Stallone’s “Rocky” (but I guess, some of you knew that already).


  40. 10 Non-Wrestlers Who Completely Changed Wrestling History:

    Sylvester Stallone

    You can thank the man in this entry for helping to facilitate the friendship that led to the Mr. T/WWE relationship. During the 1980s Sylvester Stallone was easily one of Hollywood’s biggest action stars, serving as the centerpiece of two huge franchises in Rocky and Rambo, plus standalone movies like Cobra and Over The Top. He was on the top of the world when he began work on the third installment in the Rocky series.

    And that’s when he called upon Hulk Hogan.

    Stallone reached out to Hulk Hogan to portray Thunderlips in the 1982 hit. At the time The Hulkster had not yet become a household name – as this was prior to his big run in WWE – and the exposure was huge for both he and the wrestling business. The visibility the role granted him, giving viewers a taste of his charisma and larger than life personality, also probably went a long way in helping Vince McMahon decide that Hulk would be the man he built his company around and he geared up for his big takeover attempt.

    Not only did Rocky 3 increase the profile of the mind who would become the biggest star in the business pre-Steve Austin, but it also introduced that man to his co-star Mr. T.

    As Clubber Lang, T was the main antagonist of the film, and he and Hogan forged a bond that would be used to set up the main event of WrestleMania. Sly giving that pivotal role to Hogan changed the business for the better.


  41. 9 Actors Who Haven’t Topped Their Breakout Performance

    Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa – Rocky

    Mostly because of the caliber of films it blew away at the ’76 Oscars (Taxi Driver, Network, All the President’s Men), Rocky is often sneered at; a film not worthy of mentioning in the same breath as those it beat to Best Picture glory. And while it’s true that it isn’t in the same league as those films, and also true that the sequels became increasingly worse, it remains that the original Rocky is a fine film in its own right.

    And within that fine film is Sylvester Stallone’s breakthrough performance, the one he’s yet to better in three decades and counting. Stallone – who also scripted the picture and was nominated for both acting and screenwriting Oscars to join the hallowed company of Orson Welles and Charlie Chaplin as only the third man ever to be nominated for both in the same year – is phenomenal as the eponymous pugilist, turning in a performance full of brutal, realistic physicality (not to mention iconography).

    He’s been in big franchises since – Rambo, most notably, with First Blood the closest he’s ever come to matching his turn here – but it’s his work in Rocky that serves as the best example of both Stallone the action-star, and Stallone the actor.


  42. Could Sylvester Stallone land an Oscar nomination for #Creed?


  43. Stallone can not seem to find outside 3 franchises


    • So Bad It’s Good: The Hilarious Jingoism of ‘Rocky IV’

      If Rocky IV found Stallone at his peak, it was also the beginning of the end; it was his last movie to top $100 million for nearly 20 years, as a series of box-office disappointments (Cobra, Over the Top, Rambo III, Lock Up, and Tango & Cash) did considerable damage to his stardom by the end of the decade, a nosedive that even Rocky V couldn’t slow. The series wouldn’t get its legs back until 2006, when audiences and critics embraced the back-to-basics Rocky Balboa; the new spin-off movie Creed (in which Stallone co-stars but, for the first time, doesn’t write) is getting the series’ best reviews since the first one.

      Yet Rocky IV still stands, not as a highlight of the series (certainly not that) but as a quintessential artifact of mid-‘80s studio filmmaking: soulless, flag-waving, soundtrack-blasting Product. Between the slender 90-minute running time, the montages and clips from other movies, and the written-in-a-weekend nature of the screenplay, it’s about as cynical a motion picture as was made in that grotesquely cynical era. It was a time when people would go see just about anything with the word Rocky in it — and Rocky IV proves it, over and over and over again.


  44. WatchMojo’s Top 10 Sylvester Stallone Performances


  45. Sylvester Stallone won’t be involved with the Rambo TV series

    “Contrary to reports, Sylvester Stallone has opted not to participate in the planned Rambo television series in any way at all,” says a Stallone spokesperson of Rambo: New Blood. Stallone himself added: “I wish the others well with the project.”


  46. Sylvester Stallone On ‘Rocky’, ‘Creed’ & The 40-Year Career In Between – Q&A

    It has been 40 years since Sylvester Stallone personified the Hollywood dream, that any unknown with talent and determination could write his ticket to stardom. He did that with Rocky, the underdog story that received 10 Academy Award nominations and won three awards including Best Picture, over films like All The President’s Men, Network and Taxi Driver. Stallone received his only career Oscar nominations for writing and starring in the film that launched his star. There is plenty of momentum for him to make history and get nominated for the same character, four decades later. In Creed, Stallone fits squarely into the Best Supporting Actor discussion. His Rocky Balboa doesn’t really throw a meaningful punch in the ring, but faces his most dangerous opponent in a potentially fatal disease. This, after the young progeny of his former nemesis-turned best friend Apollo Creed gives Balboa a reason to do more than wait to die. Stallone’s subdued performance already has won a slew of critics awards–director Ryan Coogler presents him with the National Board of Review prize in New York this Tuesday–and he is nominated for a Golden Globe. As Creed crosses $100 million in domestic box office and Rocky hits 40, Stallone looks back on a most unlikely career with all its twists and turns.


  47. Sly won the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor in Creed. I’m glad to see him recognized for his work as he gave one of the best performances of his career here. I think if he gets an Oscar nom for playing Rocky again that would just be the icing on the cake.

    I was thinking, is this still part of his comeback that began with Rocky Balboa 10 years ago? Or is this yet another comeback for him? His last batch of films over the past few years – Bullet To The Head, Escape Plan, Grudge Match, Expendables 3 – all flopped and his career was sliding away again. Then, Creed comes out and he’s suddenly on top again. Has anybody ever had more comebacks than this guy, ever?


  48. I like sly but he was more deserving of oscar for first rocky or even COpland . He was good not great in Creed. Keaton ,Mark ruffalo and Christian bale amazing in their roles they deserve noms for their films this year. This s coming from someone who dislikes keaton alot too .


  49. Ironic Sly could be only actor to win oscar during his time on this website. Other have been nominated during their time .


  50. 11 Actors Who Survived Career Suicide Twice

    Sylvester Stallone

    It’s no surprise Rocky’s journey to the top is a direct mirror of Stallone’s, since he’s taken plenty of knocks of his own. His filmography is an inspiring story of success against the odds, dramatic failure and then back again; only in his case it’s happened like five times.

    He broke through with Rocky but his follow-up movies – like Paradise Alley – failed, so he made Rocky II, which everyone assumed would be a failure since sequels rarely worked back then. Instead, it and the first Rambo revived his stardom, only for Rhinestone to smother it again. This pattern repeated for a while, but his career really fell on hard times after Cop Land, and he languished for a decade until Rocky Balboa.

    He’s had a steady stream of success since then, including The Expendables and Rambo. All roads lead to Rocky, however, and he’s just been Oscar nominated for playing the elderly Balboa in franchise spin-off Creed; so the odds of a belated Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot sequel are grim.


  51. Sylvester Stallone’s 15 Biggest Movies – Ranked Worst To Best

    Going the distance with the screen legend’s big hitters.


  52. Sylvester Stallone is starring in a TV series based on Mario Puzo’s Omerta

    Stallone is coming to TV in the lead role of mob boss Raymonde Aprile, the last great American Don, based on the final novel by The Godfather author Mario Puzo. According to Deadline, Antoine Fuqua is on board to direct as part of “blockbuster TV package” that The Weinstein Company is shopping to networks.


  53. He’s currently do TV advertisements in the UK for bread.


  54. Nostalgia Critic – Spy Kids 3D: Game Over

    Put on your 3D glasses…wait, you don’t have any? Well then sit back for a trip that’ll make you wanna scratch your eyes out. The Nostalgia Critic takes a look at Spy Kids 3: Game Over. Or is it Spy Kids 3D?


  55. his expnadables co star mickey rourke could use a page . He only had 3 hits post wrestler . . Most of his movies post wrestler have barely seen light of day


  56. Top 5 Sylvester Stallone Films That Aren’t “Rocky” Related


  57. Tylerdurden389

    “The plot had Stallone as a futuristic Robocop knock-off”. If you did your research, you’d know that Robocop was originally gonna be a Judge Dredd movie before they decided to make an original character/story.


  58. Musical Hell: Rhinestone (1984)


  59. Stalloned turn down coming home and witness. Problem is stallone had his choice of dramatic roles but he choose to be action star. His post rocky films where dramatic but they could not find an audeince. the success of first blood gave sly an idea he could be action star. sly could take eastwood route and just direct not act.


  60. wow ive seen stallone on chat shows and always thought what a cool guy he is ? even on his expendable interviews he comes across as humble and laid back and even funny but not arrogant,
    if these storys about him are true then i have to say ive lost respect for him cos i didnt have him down as an arrogant self absorbed asshole.


  61. I heard in 80s he was arrogant


  62. I find it odd people act like his get carter co star mickey Rourke was huge in the day. I did research and most of his film ranged from b movies to flops. his so called heyday was 80s he had a a lot of flops then the 90s where b movie route even after wrestler he went back to b movies so tell me was he reallzy that big casue it seemed like he never had a lot of hits


  63. Good Bad Flicks: Daylight (1996)


  64. I read the story of gere being fired from lord of flatbrush. I must say sly is a dick he goes crazy over chicken greased spilled on him which is accidently . gere doged a bullet . movie sucked


  65. Actually he’s ONE HELL OF AN ACTOR, it’s pretty much normal to have ups and downs, I mean c’mon people he’s not a freaking robot. When you come today at 2017 to find that a girl at her 19 like me addicted to Rocky, Rambo, Copra..etc or people from my country here young and old know everything about that’s a thing.
    He could make some movies & write some scripts that are well saved in our brains & hearts, all I need when I’m down is just a few scenes & qoutes from his movies to have more power & ambition to achieve my goal.
    Sylvester stallone has a Golden name a noticeable mark that he left through his movies, and come to remind you he could almost keep up with every generation’s needs even when he was 50 or 60 years old.
    So I think making alot of movies( either bad or good) but having a large amount of it remembered through decades is 100 time better than just making few good or average movies that can’t be remembered in a few years, ya know what I mean !!


  66. I wouldn’t compare him to Eddie.
    Sylvester stallone was on fire, he did good and bad movies but he never gave up, also he was nominated for oscar once but you know (new always wins).
    And people say he hate his acting !! No no no no and no, our generation just want young, hot actors and romantic or musical movies so you can say we’re a bit too shallow :)) but let me just say I’m only14 and I’ve never been motivated buy ANYONE than him either when it comes to his movies or real life .
    And I wouldn’t judge him cause of the boxoffice or how much money the movie gained, I’d only say that once there’s a movie for sly on TV we watch it now with the same interest and love whatever it was and we always will… Now that’s success so I think the Q. Is Wtf happened to us?! Not to sly.


  67. Sylvester Stallone sues WB for ‘fraud’ and ‘obviously intentional dishonesty’ over its accounting for his 1993 film Demolition Man


  68. Ha ha, that would be great if that story was true. I think Sly tricked Arnold into “The Last Action Hero”, but the fact that they are telling the same story, and they both got involved with Planet Hollywood, you know, wow, I think it sounds possible!


  69. Sylvester Stallone’s ‘Creed 2’ Must Not Repeat The Mistakes Of ‘Alien: Covenant’

    I have no idea what Stallone has in mind for the next chapter, for the moment I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. But just as Prometheus succeeded not because it was an Alien prequel but rather because it was something unique (a big-budget, R-rated, somewhat original sci-fi horror movie with female leads), so too did Creed breakout because it was an all too rare (and very high quality) character study/star vehicle about a young(er) black guy. The film didn’t just break out because it was set in the Rocky universe. It broke out (and had legs) because of Adonis Creed’s journey.

    If the sequel merely has Creed face off against Ivan Drago (or Ivan Drago’s kid), it will be making the same commercial mistake as Alien: Covenant. Ridley Scott and friends bet that audiences would embrace a Prometheus sequel that was even more explicitly tied into the Alien universe, but it backfired and the film made 59% of what Prometheus earned worldwide, as well as less domestically (not even adjusted for inflation) than the original Alien in 1979. Folks embraced Prometheus because it was unique, and they rejected Alien: Covenant because it was explicitly not unique.


  70. EXCLUSIVE – How Sylvester Stallone was accused of sexually assaulting a 16-year-old fan: Police report reveals girl claimed star made her give him and his bodyguard oral sex and threatened they would ‘beat her head in’ if she ever told

    Sylvester Stallone has been accused of sexually assaulting a 16-year-old fan girl when he was 40 years old while he was filming Over the Top in Las Vegas in 1986, according to a police report obtained by Stallone allegedly had sex with the unnamed girl, telling her she was ‘very tight’. Stallone’s bodyguard Michael ‘Mike’ De Luca (right top and bottom) then ‘forced’ her to give him oral sex, before penetrating her while Stallone demanded oral sex from the teen. The girl claims Stallone said she couldn’t tell anyone because both men were married and if she said anything, ‘they would have to beat her head in’, before laughing with De Luca. The alleged incident took place at the Las Vegas Hilton Hotel (inset). Police said she decided not to press charges against the men because she was scared and humiliated.


  71. First Blood (1982) Retrospective / Review

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m a “First Blood” fan; have it on DVD and everything ( I like Sly’s commentary, calling Brian Dennehy a man’s man and an actor’s actor. I agree, I love me some Brian Dennehy!). Well, looks like I’m viewing “First Blood” tonight!


  72. Nostalgia Critic Real Thoughts On: Judge Dredd (1995)

    Judge Dredd got a lot of laughs, but let’s see if Doug and Rob really enjoyed this mess as much as they let on.


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