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6 best and 6 worst Sylvester Stallone movies

Sylvester Stallone's journey to superstardom is one of the most famous in movie history. A struggling actor who, story goes, was forced to sell his beloved dog Butkus for a meager $50, Stallone wrote a part for himself just to get some work. Inspired by journeyman puncher Chuck Wepner going the distance against world champ Muhammad Ali, Stallone penned a story about another lifelong underdog — Rocky Balboa. Originally producers wanted someone more famous for the part, but Stallone refused to sell unless he starred in the title role, costing himself thousands when he badly needed it. It was a wise, long-term investment, as his own inspiring rags-to-riches story helped power Rocky to become the highest-grossing film of 1976 and win an Academy Award for Best Picture

It also made Stallone a star. But as much as he's associated with Rocky Balboa (and after 1982's First Blood, John Rambo), Stallone's career has gone far beyond the Italian Stallion or the Vietnam vet. It ranges from some of the most iconic characters in cinema to some of the worst movies of the 1980s ... and well, ever. Which Stallone movies are world champs, and which failed to go the distance? Be sly, and plan your next Stallone movie marathon — here the best and worst Sylvester Stallone movies according to Rotten Tomatoes.

Worst: Get Carter is a weak remake

One of Michael Caine's most iconic roles was as Jack Carter in Get Carter. In the 1971 film, Caine played a cold-blooded London gangster who goes on a vengeance-seeking killing spree after his brother is murdered by the mob. So, why are we talking about Michael Caine in a Sylvester Stallone list? Because while Get Carter was one of Michael Caine's most famous roles, the remake 29 years later was one of Sylvester Stallone's worst. 

We're not sure what Stallone and Caine talked about on the set of 1981's Escape to Victory, but we imagine Caine said (in a cockney accent), "Hey mate, you should remake my most famous role," and Stallone replied (in a Philly accent), "Hey yo, that's a good idea." It wasn't. While Caine's Get Carter pulled off a fresh 84% Tomatometer ranking, Stallone's remake in 2000 got an 11% critics' score and 28% audience score. It also tanked with $15 million at the domestic box office. Caine also had a supporting role in the remake, so maybe on the set the two actors asked each other, "What are we thinking?!" Honestly, we're not sure, either.

Best: Death Race 2000 is a pre-Rocky cult classic

Before there was Rocky Balboa or John Rambo, there was "Machine Gun" Joe Viterbo. While the mythology around Stallone's career is that he never had a role in anything before Rocky, that's not true, as he had a prominent part in 1975's Death Race 2000, a strange brew of a movie that can best be described as a mix between Mad Max and It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. It's the year 2000, and America is on the brink of collapse and ruled by a totalitarian regime. The most popular entertainment is the Transcontinental Road Race, a NASCAR for nihilists, where racers earn points for time ... and for mowing down innocent pedestrians. 

Stallone played Joe Viterbo, the villain to David Carradine's Frankenstein, a racer who's more machine than man. Does this sound like a movie that's so bad it's good? Well, it's actually just plain good, with an 83% critics' score and a 64% audience score. However, the film wasn't enough to make Stallone a star (that would come one year later with Rocky), nor did the movie's cult classic legacy do anything to save the 2008 remake starring Jason Statham, Death Race, from crashing and burning with a 46% score and $36 million box office gross. We're hoping Stallone ragged Statham about it on the set of The Expendables.

Worst: We'd rather forget Backtrace

Sylvester Stallone was once one of the biggest movie stars in the world. That time was not this century. Since 2000, Stallone's greatest cinematic successes have come with Rocky and Rambo sequels, the "every action star ever" franchise The Expendables, and as a value-adding supporting actor in movies like Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Meanwhile, he stays busy in movies like Backtrace, though if he's looking for something to do, we suggest taking up golf or tennis as a hobby, instead. 

In the movie, fellow '80s icon Matthew Modine plays an amnesia-stricken bank robber who escapes from prison and is now on the run from the law, including Detective Sylvester Stallone. It's an interesting premise wrapped inside a tidy 90-minute package, but sadly, as one critic put it, the movie feels like "the cinematic equivalent of a headache." Granted, Backtrace is the kind of movie that may have been a big hit in the 1990s. In 2018, however, it earned an 11% critics' score and 23% audience score, making it one of Stallone's worst movies according to Rotten Tomatoes (and pretty much everyone who suffered through it).

Best: Creed II is a successful swan song for Rocky

After Creed successfully relaunched the Rocky franchise, this time with Michael B. Jordan playing the underdog pugilist and Sylvester Stallone as the wise old mentor, a Creed II was inevitable. Given the Rocky series went from Oscar glory to star-spangled '80s excess (albeit in an awesomely cheesy way), it was no guarantee a Creed sequel would be good. But Creed II was good — really good. 

Steven Caple Jr. took the director's reigns from Creed director Ryan Coogler (who was busy making Black Panther), as well as Stallone himself, who was briefly attached to direct and who co-wrote the script with Juel Taylor. While directors playing musical chairs is usually a recipe for failure, Creed II rose above the challenge and succeeded in a big way. 

Sure, it adheres to a predictable franchise formula, with Adonis Creed fighting Viktor Drago, the son of the Rocky IV villain who killed his father, but when a movie hits the notes this well, we don't care. We're not alone, as Creed II scored an 83% critics' score and 80% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. Maybe a future Creed sequel will have Adonis taking on the son of Mr. T's Clubber Lang from Rocky III? We're so there. Alas, it may be without Balboa, as Stallone posted on Instagram (according to a Vanity Fair report) that Creed II was his last Rocky film. If so, he went out like a champ.

Worst: Stallone should escape from the Escape Plan series

Timing is everything. If an action movie starring Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger had been released anytime between 1985 and 2000, it would've made Avengers-level money. But instead of striking while the iron was hot, the two biggest action stars of the 1980s waited to release their first on-screen pairing (minus an Arnie cameo in The Expendables) until 2013. The film, Escape Plan, made $103 million worldwide on a $70 million budget, qualifying it for "box office bomb" status, but that's evidently still solid enough to justify sequels, albeit of the straight-to-DVD variety. Enter Escape Plan 2: Hades

Stallone was back, but Schwarzenegger was out, this time replaced by Dave Bautista. Stallone once again plays Ray Breslin, who's forced to assemble a team to rescue his most trusted operative from the world's most elaborate prison. Sounds like a perfectly acceptable hour-and-a-half of mindless entertainment, but Escape Plan 2 is mostly just mindless and not entertainment. The critics' score is 8%, and the audience score is 14%, while the consensus is a simple, snarky "do not enter." While Escape Plan 2 is officially one of Sly's worst, Stallone and Bautista still returned for 2019's Escape Plan 3: Extraction, but critics were over it, as there's no critics' score, though the audience rating is a pathetic 13%. With numbers like that, it's time Stallone escaped from this franchise.

Best: First Blood is first class

Having one famous character is great, but having two is rarefied territory for an actor. If nothing else, you can keep making sequels for both franchises until the audience stops showing up (and then you just wait a decade or two before making a legacy sequel for nostalgia junkies). Except for maybe Harrison Ford with Han Solo and Indiana Jones, there's no other actor whose two most famous characters are more iconic than Sylvester Stallone's — Rocky Balboa and John Rambo. 

While the Rambo franchise quickly became a living, breathing embodiment of the dumb, one-man-army action movie, it didn't start off that way. In fact, with an across-the-board 85% critics and audience score, First Blood is one of Sylvester Stallone's best movies and one of the best action movies of the 1980s. Critics were effusive in their praise, saying, "Much darker and more sensitive than the sequels it spawned, First Blood is a thrilling survival adventure that takes full advantage of Sylvester Stallone's acting skills." Yes, Stallone is a fine actor, and First Blood confirms it. Alas, every other Rambo movie confirms Stallone is also a very smart actor and would rather cash fat checks than win critical accolades. Honestly, we can't blame him.

Worst: The Specialist is especially bad

By the mid-to-late 1990s, moviegoers were starting to get over Sylvester Stallone's one-man-army schtick, though in 1993-1994 he did have an impressive run of hits – Cliffhanger, Demolition Man, and The Specialist. If Stallone thought he was unstoppable, it turned out to be his last hurrah. While the star could still draw big money overseas, The Specialist was Stallone's last big domestic box office hit in a starring role besides movies in the Rocky, Rambo, and Expendables franchises. 

The Specialist benefited big time from having Sharon Stone, fresh off box office hit Basic Instinct, as Stallone's co-star/love interest, leading to a $170 million global take on a $45 million budget. With box office receipts like that, Warner Bros. didn't sweat the film's abysmal reviews — 7% from critics and 29% from audiences. Critics didn't mince words, either, calling The Specialist "excruciatingly dumb" and "a stinker in every way." Stallone and Stone laughed all the way to the bank, but there's no denying the result. The Specialist is one of the worst movies of either actor's career.

Best: Antz bugs us now, but it was a big hit in 1998

Fresh off Pixar's groundbreaking success with Toy Story, every movie studio in Hollywood wanted to get in the CG animation business. Pixar followed up Toy Story three years later with the well-received but ultimately forgettable A Bug's Life, though that film actually came out one month after a very similar film from DreamWorks – Antz. Antz stars Woody Allen as a worker ant, Sharon Stone as his love interest, Gene Hackman as the villain, and Sylvester Stallone as his musclebound best friend. 

We know what you're thinking. Woody Allen ... in a kid's movie? What can we say? The 1990s were a weird time. While the idea of Woody Allen starring in a kids movie sounds unbelievably icky now (and honestly, it should've been considered icky then), Antz was actually a big hit, earning $152 million worldwide on a $60 million budget. Antz also received rave reviews from critics, with a 92% critic's score, though moviegoers were much less impressed, giving it a rotten 52% score. That critics' score is still enough to make Antz one of Sylvester Stallone's best movies, though that rotten audience score probably still "bugs" him (sorry, we couldn't help ourselves).

Worst: Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot is a major career misfire

We all have moments in our life we're not proud of. For Sylvester Stallone, that moment is the 1992 "comedy" Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot. In the film, Stallone plays a gruff, macho cop who, as the title implies, gets unexpected and unwanted assistance from his elderly mom on a case involving multiple brutal murders. Because that's a thing that happens. 

The titular mom is played by Estelle Getty, so perhaps the idea of pairing the wisecracking matriarch from The Golden Girls with John Rambo himself seemed like a can't miss proposition, especially after Arnold Schwarzenegger had success playing against type in the 1988 comedy Twins.  In fact, Stallone playfully said in an Instagram Q&A (reported by MovieHole) that Schwarzenegger tricked him into doing the part by making him think he was interested in it. However, the Austrian star wasn't, though Stallone actually said Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot is the movie he'd most like to remake. Go figure.

Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot (even the title makes us cringe) earned an absolutely dreadful 7% critics' score on Rotten Tomatoes and a slightly better but still very, very bad audience score of 21%. Stop! also bombed, bad, with $26.6 million, sending Stallone right back to the warm embrace of straight-up action flicks like Cliffhanger and Demolition Man. Too bad, because he's a talented actor and would've done well in any other action-comedy that wasn't Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot

Best: Rocky made Stallone a star

Here's the one that started it all. Before Rocky Balboa became world champion, found the eye of the tiger, avenged his best friend's murder in the ring, and single-handedly won the Cold War, he was just a down-on-his-luck, aging boxer from Philly whose best days were behind him ... until he caught a lucky break. If you're not humming "Gonna' Fly Now" this very second, then you don't have a pulse. Rocky made Sylvester Stallone an overnight sensation, not unlike the title character himself. 

Has an actor ever had more in common with his most famous character ... well, except for when Arnold Schwarzenegger played an emotionless robot? Stallone not only created Rocky Balboa on the silver screen — he literally created him on the page. So, it's kinda like when William Shakespeare played characters in his own plays (yes, we did just compare Stallone to Shakespeare). But there's a reason Rocky went the distance and won over critics and moviegoers in the super cynical 1970s — it's really, really good. It boasts a 94% critic's score on Rotten Tomatoes, though the audience score is an inexplicably mediocre 69% (nice), leading us to wonder what Tomatometer voters are smoking. Whatever, when your movie is so iconic that it inspires one of Philadelphia's most sought-after landmarks, you know it's something special.

Worst: Reach Me is a wretched ensemble dramedy

We know what you're thinking — "Reach Me ... what?" Yeah, this movie didn't exactly light the box office on fire during its limited release in 2014, nor has it found an audience on streaming, so we can't blame you if you've never heard of it. That's probably for the best. There are Oscar bait movies, and then there are Oscar chum movies. Oscar chum movies are wannabe message films that are made out of the cinematic scraps of better movies and want to be taken seriously very, very badly. But instead, they're just really, really terrible. We're talking movies like Collateral Beauty, Crossing Over, or, well, Reach Me

Reach Me is one of those "everything is connected" ensemble dramas, like Crash and Grand Canyon on one end and Amores Perros and Babel on the other. Tom Berenger plays a writer whose self-help book inspires multiple different people to reevaluate their lives, so given that cheesy Lifetime Original premise, we're already annoyed. Sylvester Stallone plays against type as a toxic gossip columnist modeled on Matt Drudge, so points for originality we guess, but otherwise, Reach Me is just a muddled, mawkish mess. With a 4% critic's score and a 48% audience score, Reach Me earns the dubious distinction of being Sylvester Stallone's worst movie.

Best: Creed is the champion

Sylvester Stallone thought he'd retired the Italian Stallion with 2006's Rocky Balboa, and it would've been a great way to go. But then, hot indie director Ryan Coogler, who gained attention with his somber drama Fruitvale Station, came to him with an idea — what about a Rocky movie where Rocky is the mentor, and this time, the boxer is the illegitimate son of his late best friend and greatest rival, Apollo Creed? Now that's a heckuva pitch! Stallone was in, and for the first time in the character's 40-year history, Stallone wasn't the primary creative driving force behind a Rocky movie. 

It turned out pretty well, as Creed earned a 95% critic's score and 89% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, as well as $173 million worldwide on a $37 million budget. Creed also scored Stallone a nomination for Best Supporting Actor in 2016, his first nomination since the original Rocky, making him one of only six actors who've received multiple Oscar nominations for playing the same character. This distinction placed Stallone on an illustrious list beside Paul Newman as "Fast" Eddie Felson and Al Pacino as Michael Corleone. Yeah, pretty impressive. Stallone may have come up short on Oscar night, but despite his defeat, the verdict is in — Creed is Sylvester Stallone's best movie.

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