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6 Ways Stallone Is Better Than Schwarzenegger (And 6 Ways He's Not)

Two names stand above all others in the annals of all-time action stars — Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. In one corner, there's the ultimate underdog from Hell's Kitchen, New York, whose dreams of big-screen stardom were dashed until he went the distance and wrote his most famous part for himself: the "Italian Stallion" Rocky Balboa. In the other corner, we've got the Austrian-born American Dream, a man who parlayed his unprecedented success in the sport of bodybuilding into an improbable career as a Hollywood leading man and an even more unlikely tenure as the governor (ahem, the Governator) of America's most populous state. 

Both men are icons whose careers started very differently, but they followed remarkably similar paths. For decades, fans have asked one question: Who is better — Stallone or Schwarzenegger? It's a simple question but without an easy answer. We looked at the tale of the tape to compare and contrast the two cinematic titans ... but the final decision rests with you. Here are six ways Stallone is better than Schwarzenegger and six ways he's not!

Stallone and Schwarzenegger are both alphas of action movies

This titanic battle wouldn't be so tough to call if Stallone and Schwarzenegger didn't have so much in common. For starters, each guy headlined some of the best action movies of their era (and also some of the worst). 

They also played some of the most famous characters in film. For Stallone, there's perpetual underdog pugilist Rocky Balboa and the PTSD-stricken, one-man army John Rambo. For Schwarzenegger, there's the killer robot from the future, the T-800 from The Terminator franchise, the Predator-killing Major Dutch, and the sword-wielding Cimmerian, Conan the Barbarian. With these characters came classic one-liners, such as Rocky's "Adrian, I did it!" and the Terminator's "I'll be back!" Truthfully, mentioning their most famous characters is redundant — each guy is his most famous character. Even the worst Stallone or Schwarzenegger impression is still recognizable, which just confirms each man's massive impact on pop culture. 

Given their similarities, it's no wonder then that both men had a heated public rivalry for years. From Schwarzenegger throwing shade in movies like Twins and Last Action Hero to Stallone literally throwing a giant bowl of flowers at Arnold during the Golden Globes, it's clear that during their heydays, the two couldn't stand each other. While they're friends today, you better believe their rivalry still exists low-key. Both men are rich and famous. Both men followed unique paths to success. Both men are worthy of the title "icon." But which one is better?

Stallone is a multi-time Oscar nominee

Sylvester Stallone is mostly associated with shoot-'em-up, one-man army action movies, which even at their best have never really been associated with high art. Nevertheless, Stallone does boast artistic bona fides that his action movie contemporary, Schwarzenegger, does not. In fact, Stallone has achieved the pinnacle of Hollywood's artistic accomplishments — the Academy Award ... sort of. 

Stallone has been nominated for the Academy Awards three times – for Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay for Rocky in 1977 (he was also nominated for the Golden Globes and BAFTAs) and for Best Supporting Actor for Creed in 2016 (which won him the Golden Globe). This makes him one of only six actors to be nominated more than once for playing the same character, alongside Cate Blanchett, Paul Newman, and Al Pacino. 

While Stallone lost Best Actor to Peter Finch and Best Screenplay to Paddy Chayefsky in 1977 (both for Network) and Best Supporting Actor to Mark Rylance for Bridge of Spies in 2016, his brainchild, Rocky, won the Academy Award for Best Picture. Schwarzenegger's most prestigious acting award? A Golden Globe for Best Debut for Stay Hungry in 1977. When it comes to winning gold, Stallone is the clear winner.

Schwarzenegger is a world-champion bodybuilder

With three Academy Award nominations and a Best Picture win for his most famous creation, Rocky Balboa, Stallone has Schwarzenegger beat when it comes to cinematic awards. But when it comes to non-cinematic awards, the competition isn't even close — Arnold wins hands down. Schwarzenegger is a world-class athlete who's considered one of, if not the, greatest bodybuilders of all time. In many ways, he's the Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods of his sport. While experts (and internet armchair experts) can quibble about who's the best based on this stat or that, nobody can deny that Schwarzenegger brought more attention to bodybuilding than anybody before or since. That said, Arnold's career isn't just hype — he truly was the real deal. 

From the time he first picked up a barbell back home in Austria at 13 years old to finally hanging up his speedo in 1980 at the ripe old age of 33, Schwarzenegger won over 20 bodybuilding championships, including three Mr. Universes (four if you count his amateur win) and seven Mr. Olympias. Along the way he literally wrote the book on bodybuilding, 1977's Arnold: The Education of a Bodybuilder, and today his accomplishments are commemorated with the Arnold Classic. Nobody would deny that Stallone got ripped for his movie roles, but that was only because  Schwarzenegger redefined what an action star should look like.

Stallone is a multi-talented filmmaker

Arnold Schwarzenegger can't stay still. He's conquered bodybuilding, Hollywood, and California politics. In contrast, Stallone is way more focused on succeeding on the silver screen, and it's paid off. While Arnie is a bona fide movie star, no doubt, he's not the most talented actor (hot take, right?). However, he's never needed to be, as his screen presence is powered by sheer charisma. Stallone possesses the same cinematic magnetism, but he's also a great actor. 

In addition to being nominated for the Academy Award twice for playing Rocky Balboa, he also delivered a powerful performance as a PTSD-stricken Vietnam vet in First Blood (before John Rambo descended into caricature), and he even stole the show from Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, and Ray Liotta in James Mangold's criminally underseen Cop Land. Stallone is also accomplished off-camera, having screenplay credits on more than 25 TV shows or movies, and he's directed eight movies. 

Sure, some of his creative efforts are genuinely horrible (such as 1983's Saturday Night Fever sequel Staying Alive, which earned 0% on Rotten Tomatoes), but hey, even Spielberg and Scorsese have had duds. With several Rocky, Rambo, and Expendables films in his oeuvre, Stallone is an accomplished and bankable action director, with $1.3 billion in global grosses for just eight films.

Schwarzenegger was the Governator of California

Many movie stars have stood atop the year-end box office charts, while hundreds of actors have won critical acclaim and taken home gold. Besides being one of only a few movie stars who started his career as a world-class athlete, Schwarzenegger boasts another — arguably even more impressive — accomplishment. He's one of only three actors to become governor of a state. Schwarzenegger was elected to succeed the recalled Democrat Gray Davis, serving as the Republican governor of California from 2003-2011, including winning reelection in 2006. 

Schwarzenegger served in the same seat, and for the same party, as Ronald Reagan, who was California's governor from 1967-1975 before serving two terms as president from 1981-1989. Schwarzenegger told The Hollywood Reporter he also would've run for president in 2016, but he was unable to because the Constitution forbids foreign-born people from serving as president. The only other actor-governor besides Reagan and Schwarzenegger? Schwarzenegger's The Running Man and Predator co-star Jesse Ventura, who served as governor of Minnesota from 1999-2003. While Stallone would win our vote if he ran for pretty much anything, only Schwarzenegger has served as governor of America's most populous state, "Cal-ee-fawnia."

Stallone's movies have made more money

Star power is hard to quantify or, for that matter, to even define. You could be the most talented actor, the most beautiful person, or the most charismatic performer, but that's no guarantee anybody is going to buy a ticket to watch your movie. Whatever star power is, you either have it, or you don't. Stallone and Schwarzenegger both do, in spades. But who has more? There's really only one signifier that matters in Hollywood — who's made more money at the box office. By that standard, the winner is clear: Stallone. 

Stallone's career box office total is $2.8 billion domestic and $6.3 billion worldwide, beating out Schwarzenegger's career total of $2.1 billion domestic and $5.4 billion worldwide. As massive as those numbers are, they're even more impressive when you consider they aren't adjusted for inflation, as both actor's biggest hits happened more than 25 years ago. Worth noting, Stallone has been in more movies, 62 films to Schwarzenegger's 44, and Arnold dropped out of acting while serving as California's governor from 2003-2011. However, by that point, both actors were past their primes as box office draws, so it's unlikely Schwarzenegger would've starred in a massive hit during those years. In fact, his last pre-political role was a supporting part in the Jackie Chan bomb Around the World in 80 Days.

Schwarzenegger has a higher career average

Stallone tops Schwarzenegger in total box office, with $2.8 billion domestic and $6.3 billion worldwide to Schwarzenegger's $2.1 billion domestic and $5.4 billion worldwide. But Stallone has also starred in 62 movies compared to Schwarzenegger's 44 films, a caveat that has to be acknowledged. Therefore, while Stallone has a higher total, Schwarzenegger has a higher average. Stallone's 62 films have earned an average of $54 million domestically and $112 million worldwide, while Schwarzenegger's 44 movies have brought home an average of $60 million domestically and $135 million worldwide. 

While both guys found their greatest success playing their marquee characters (Stallone with Rocky and Rambo and Schwarzenegger with T-800), they were also successful in other roles, proving neither man was a one-hit character wonder. So, which matters more — totals or averages? You'll have to ask the accountants at the movie studios about that. All we can say is that during their commercial peaks, Stallone and Schwarzenegger were money.

Stallone's characters are more iconic

You can compare Stallone and Schwarzenegger on several tangible, measurable fronts, from box office results to career accomplishments to the size of their respective pecs and biceps. But there are some metrics where you have to just go with your heart. Therefore, we can confidently say that Stallone's most famous characters, Rocky and Rambo, are more iconic than Schwarzenegger's, the T-800. This is subjective but defensible. For one, Rocky is the winner of three Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and it spearheaded an eight-film franchise, including the Creed movies, with $1.5 billion in global box office. While the Rambo films are less critically acclaimed than Rocky, the five-film franchise has still earned an impressive $817 million over five films

Yes, The Terminator franchise has earned more ($2 billion worldwide over six films), but one film, Terminator: Salvation, didn't star Schwarzenegger, while the last film, Terminator: Dark Fate, bombed big time, which no Rocky or Rambo movie ever has. To be honest, though, the franchise has been on creative life support since the 1991 masterpiece Terminator 2: Judgment Day. What about the other iconic qualities? While The Terminator series has "I'll be back" and "hasta la vista, baby," the Rocky series has more memorable quotes than we can list, and Bill Conti's "Gonna Fly Now" and Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger" easily top The Terminator theme. Besides, Rocky is so iconic that they built a freaking statue of him. Not many movie characters can claim that.

Schwarzenegger biggest hit made more than Stallone's

Schwarzenegger's biggest hit outgrossed Stallone's by a pretty substantial margin. With $204 million domestic, Terminator 2: Judgment Day was the biggest box office hit in 1991, and it wasn't even close, as it topped the second biggest hit, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, by $40 million. Stallone achieved a similar feat in 1976 when Rocky topped the box office with $117 million, and he almost did the same thing in 1985 when Rambo: First Blood Part II ($150 million) and Rocky IV ($127 million) finished #2 and #3 behind first-place finisher Back to the Future

Impressive achievements all around, but Stallone's biggest hit (not adjusted for inflation) is actually not a Rocky or Rambo movie. Excluding his cameo in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Stallone's biggest grosser is the $311 million worldwide that The Expendables 2 earned in 2012. Not bad, but still less than $200 million of what T2 earned worldwide 20 years earlier. Besides, Schwarzenegger also had a prominent role in Stallone's biggest hit, The Expendables 2. Talk about bragging rights! Both men have lots to boast about at the box office, but Schwarzenegger's biggest hit made significantly more than Stallone's.

Stallone didn't put the Batman series on ice

Part of being a successful movie star isn't just thriving during the big hits — it's surviving the big bombs. One thing we can say for Sylvester Stallone, he didn't star in one of the most significant bombs in Hollywood history, Batman & Robin. Schwarzenegger did, but we doubt he regrets that decision, as he netted a cool $25 million (about $1 million per day) for playing Mr. Freeze. We think $25 million for less than one month's work was a worthy price to pay for killing the Batman franchise, though we doubt Warner Brothers was too pleased with the investment. 

Ironically, Batman & Robin is actually not Schwarzenegger's worst movie (that would be The Villain, which earned a horrid 0% Tomatometer score), but it is his most notorious. It's also one of the most influential superhero movies of all time, and not in a good way, as it ended one of the biggest hit franchises ever, the Burton-Schumacher Batman films. Plus, it sent the Dark Knight into exile until Christopher Nolan brought him back eight years later in Batman Begins. Stallone has some stinkers, no doubt, but he's never killed a multi-billion franchise and still made millions doing it.

Schwarzenegger didn't star in Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot

As Rocky tells his son in 2006's Rocky Balboa, "It ain't about how hard you can hit. It's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward." Make no mistake, moviegoers and critics gave Stallone a stiff right hook to the jaw with the 1992 comedy Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot. With a 7% critic's score and 21% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes and $26.6 million worldwide, Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot is Stallone's biggest career misfire. Yes, with a 4% Tomatometer score, Reach Me is technically his worst movie, but that ensemble dramedy was a misguided if noble defeat that only saw limited release in 2014. Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot was supposed to be a hit! What was Stallone thinking? 

Turns out, it was Schwarzenegger. According to a Q&A on Instagram (as reported by Moviehole), Stallone claimed Schwarzenegger tricked him into doing the part by making Stallone think he was interested. He wasn't, and it's easy to see why. While Schwarzenegger had success in action-comedies like Twins, Kindergarten Cop, and Jingle All the Way, (a failure at the time that's improved with age), Stallone's biggest failure was in trying to beat Arnold at his own game. Stallone learned the hard way, you don't play politics with Schwarzenegger.

Stallone always got top billing over Schwarzenegger

It's one of the most coveted places in all of Hollywood. More than a table at Musso and Frank's or courtside seats next to Jack Nicholson at a Los Angeles Lakers home game, it's top billing. To be listed first above the movie's title is an absolute statement about star power, and so naturally, it's inspired numerous squabbles among movie stars. Perhaps the most famous is the positioning on The Towering Inferno's poster, where Steve McQueen's name was first, but Paul Newman's name was higher. There was no need for such trickery when it came to two of the biggest action movie stars of all time, for Sylvester Stallone has always gotten top billing over Arnold Schwarzenegger. 

This wasn't a surprise in The Expendables, as Arnold had an uncredited cameo, while Stallone wrote, directed, and starred in it. Stallone again got top billing in The Expendables 2 and The Expendables 3, while Arnold got an "and Schwarzenegger" credit, a respectable position given his minor supporting role. But in 2013's Escape Plan, with just Stallone and Schwarzenegger as above-the-title leads, Stallone got top billing. Sure, the movie bombed with $103 million worldwide on a $70 million budget, but that's beside the point. When it comes to billing, Stallone has always come out on top.

Let's be honest ... Arnold would probably win in a fight

We can compare Stallone and Schwarzenegger's respective career achievements, box office success, critical acclaim, Oscar gold, world titles, and even political accomplishments. But forget about the accolades, raw numbers, and personal opinions — what if the two just threw hands? Put simply, who would win in a fight? It may not be the most mature way to settle the debate, but it makes the most sense, given they're both men whose brands are built on machismo. 

If you were to take all of Stallone's movie characters and pit them against all of Arnold's, it could go either way (though all bets are off once Rocky listens to "Eye of the Tiger"). But if the actual men were to fight? If we're being honest, Schwarzenegger would win. For one, Stallone's billed height of 5'10" is well below Schwarzenegger's 6'2". And while Stallone is pretty jacked, Schwarzenegger is one of the greatest bodybuilders of all time. Additionally, Arnold was known for his size and strength. Sure, Stallone was Rocky Balboa, but convincingly playing a world-class athlete isn't the same as being one. While we'd never want to see them actually fight (it'd be like watching your two favorite uncles fight), if it ever came time to throw hands, our money's on Arnold.