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Sylvester Stallone Has Played More Comic Book Characters Than You Likely Realize

Few action icons in Hollywood have ever reached the legendary status of Sylvester Stallone. Ascending to stardom with his role as Rocky Balboa and then solidifying himself as one of Hollywood's biggest (literally) action stars with the "Rambo" franchise, Stallone has maintained a lengthy list of credits full of beloved films and characters. These iconic roles range from Marion Cobretti in the 1986 cult action classic "Cobra" to his performance as John Spartan in the 1993 sci-fi thriller "Demolition Man." In recent years, Stallone has even revived some of his bigger roles, returning to both Rocky and Rambo for new adventures on the big screen.

One interesting thing to note about Stallone's time in Hollywood is the sheer number of comic book properties he's starred in over the years. Franchises like Marvel and DC have become significant players in the world of entertainment, and Stallone appeared in adaptations on both sides of the aisle. Not only that, but he's also starred in several comic book and graphic novel adaptations from other, smaller publishers over the years. With all of that in mind, it's worth taking a look back at his career and noting some of the biggest and best comic book properties that Stallone has featured in.

He plays Judge Dredd

One of Stallone's first forays into the world of comic books also happens to be one of his most infamous. In 1995, the actor starred in the first-ever major film adaptation of the "2000 AD" comic with "Judge Dredd." Playing the titular anti-hero, the film sees Stallone playing Dredd in a fight for his life after being framed for murder by the villainous Rick (Armand Assante).

"Judge Dredd" debuted to mostly negative reviews upon its release in 1995, with many hailing it as a failure. The public distaste for the film has even been echoed by "Judge Dredd" creator John Wagner. "They told the wrong story," Wagner told Hero Complex in 2012 (via Critical Hit). "It didn't have that much to do with Dredd the character as we know him. I don't think Stallone was a bad Dredd, though it would have been better and lent him more cred if he hadn't revealed his face. He was just Dredd in the wrong story." While most would agree that 2012's "Dredd," starring Karl Urban, is a far better adaptation of the comics, Stallone's film still holds some level of cult status, even if it's mostly for his iconic line delivery.

He stars in the film version of Bullet to the Head

Sylvester Stallone didn't appear in a proper comic book movie for a number of years following the release of "Judge Dredd." When he finally returned to the genre, he ditched the futuristic superhero aesthetic for something a bit more grounded in reality. Specifically, he starred in the 2012 film "Bullet to the Head," an adaptation of the French graphic novel "Du plomb dans la tête." The film follows a hitman who partners with a cop to get revenge when his partner is murdered.

Directed by filmmaking icon Walter Hill ("48 Hrs."), "Bullet to the Head" also stars Sung Kang, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Sarah Shahi, and Jason Momoa. Stallone apparently played a major role in bringing Hill onto the project, as he'd always wanted to work with the director. "I wanted old school. I thought, Walter Hill, and they said, 'No, he hasn't worked in a while,'" Stallone explained in an interview with Heroes and Hellions. "I said, neither did I for eleven years." The result earned mixed reviews and flopped at the box office, and Stallone was nominated for a Golden Raspberry Award in part for his performance. Still, at least the film was received better than "Judge Dredd."

He appears as Stakar Ogord in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

In 2017, Sylvester Stallone joined the biggest franchise in the world when he made his way into the Marvel Cinematic Universe timeline. Partnering with James Gunn, the action icon plays the small role of Stakar Ogord in "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2." In the film, Stakar is an old Ravager associate of Yondu Udonta (Michael Rooker) who grows resentful of Yondu for taking part in the child trafficking of Peter Quill (Chris Pratt). However, he ultimately grows to respect Yondu by the end of the film, even attending his funeral along with several other Ravagers.

Though Stakar's part in "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" is relatively small, it hints at a greater role for the character in the cosmic side of the MCU. "This is something that takes place in a whole other sphere where James and the Marvel people have created their own world," Stallone said during a press tour for the film (via Geek Tyrant). "So I said, yeah, let me visit. Let me drop in here and see what's up, it's where the future's going, you know, and it was great." In the comics, Stakar Ogord becomes the superpowered character known as Starhawk, but Stallone's version mostly sticks to the background in "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2."

He voices King Shark in The Suicide Squad

In 2021, Sylvester Stallone re-teamed with James Gunn for another comic book film -– this time on the DC side. While he doesn't appear on-screen in the film, he provides the vocal performance for King Shark in "The Suicide Squad," the sequel-reboot hybrid of the 2016 film "Suicide Squad." The film follows Task Force X as they're sent to Corto Maltese on a mission to bring down a mysterious program known as "Project Starfish," which turns out to be the massive villain Starro.

The role was always originally written for Stallone, but Gunn wasn't sure if he'd be able to get him for the part. "We had one voice actor come in and do the whole movie," Gunn explained in an interview with CinemaBlend. "It didn't work. We had another voice actor come in and do the whole movie. He didn't come to life. We had an actor — a really, really famous actor who was also a friend of mine — come in and do the voice. And that didn't work!" Finally, Gunn was able to get Stallone in to record for the part, and the rest is history.

He plays Joe in Samaritan

After working on two of the biggest comic book franchises in Hollywood, Sylvester Stallone shifted to a smaller-scale project in 2022 with the release of "Samaritan." An adaptation of the Mythos Comics graphic novels, the film is directed by Julius Avery and co-stars Javon Walton and Pilou Asbæk. The film follows Stallone as a man named Joe, a mysterious garbage collector with super strength whom a young man named Sam (Walton) assumes is a presumed-dead superhero named Samaritan.

One notable element of Joe not present in Stallone's other comic book characters is how much the film leans into Stallone's age. In an interview with Syfy Wire, the actor said he was interested in playing an older hero with limited abilities who can still express immense power. "There is a point where you can't do a 29-year-old Rambo kind of a thing because you have to honor who you are at your age," Stallone said. "I thought that this guy, his trait would be in his resolve. He still has great physical power as opposed to speed and he's not jumping through the air. He can't fly, he can't see through walls, and fire doesn't come out of his mouth. He's just a unique sort of superhero." 

Multiple Stallone characters have been adapted into comics

While Sylvester Stallone has appeared in numerous adaptations of comic book properties over the years, it's also worth noting that some of his most iconic roles have made their way onto the pages of comic books after debuting on the big screen. One notable example is Barney Ross from the "Expendables" franchise. A 2010 comic book was produced to tie into the first film in the series, and in 2021, another comic titled "The Expendables Go To Hell" was released. The latter depicts a fantasy story in which the titular team is killed in action and battle against the Devil, as well as many of the other dangerous creatures of the underworld.

Another major Stallone character who's made his way into the world of comics is John Rambo. Stallone debuted as the character in 1982's "First Blood" — itself an adaptation of the novel of the same name. Following the massive success of the films, a short-lived run of comics was published in the 1980s following the various exploits and adventures of the character. That said, characters like Barney Ross and John Rambo still remain most famous for their big-screen exploits.