With Creed II and Rambo: Last Blood, it appears that Sylvester Stallone is finally ending the stories of Rocky and Rambo. Film snobs will say that this must be the end of his cinematic contributions too. After all, the Golden Raspberry Awards — aka Razzies — voted him the worst actor of the 20th century. But like those Razzie voters, who aren't required to see any of the movies before they vote, many do not understand Stallone's unique place in film history. Born in Hell's Kitchen, he overcame face paralysis from a misused set of forceps during birth to create two iconic characters, write a Best Picture Academy Award winner, act alongside both Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese, and star in a soft-core porn movie. No other actor has a story even remotely similar to his.
Now, I'm not saying he hasn't made some duds along the way because he certainly has, but it may be worth revisiting his career to give you an idea of his journey. With the exception of Animal Crackers, The Good Life, and The Square Root, which never made it to theaters or are out of print, here is every Stallone film ranked from worst to best.
65. The Sidelong Glances of a Pigeon Kicker (1970)
In this boring tale of arrested adolescence, Stallone can be seen briefly about half an hour into this movie mingling and sucking face at a party while Elaine Stritch holds court.
64. Escape Plan 2: Hades (2018)
The direct-to-DVD sequel to the 2013 buddy film with Arnold Schwarzenegger has no "Governator," about 10 minutes of Stallone, and a lot of incoherence.
63. The Party at Kitty and Stud's (1970)
Stallone made $200 for baring it all in this soft-core porn film about a man who services a trio of women at a party. He was young. He needed the work. But after the success of Rocky, the movie was repackaged and re-released as Italian Stallion and one of Hollywood's greatest urban legends was born. The reality is that this film was made before Behind the Green Door and Deep Throat forced smut peddlers to up their game and features a lot naked rolling around and dancing, including a final scene where they all play “Ring Around the Rosie.”
62. Reach Me (2014)
Stallone signed on for this movie about how a self-help book inspires a diverse group of people at the request of the director and his longtime friend John Herzfield. He's a good friend.
61. No Place to Hide (1973)
This film about 1960s radicals planning bombings in New York is so low budget that its one explosion happens off-screen. Stallone sports a mullet as he and his hippie cohorts do a lot of talking and very little bombing.
60. An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn (1997)
Alan Smithee is the pseudonym that film directors use when they want to take their name off a project so this mockumentary tells the story of a filmmaker actually named Alan Smithee (Eric Idle) who wants to disown his film starring Stallone. Now that I've told you the one joke that works in this movie, you don't need to see it.
59. Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot (1992)
If you are a Stallone fan, you know he can be pretty funny, and if you've watched 10 minutes of The Golden Girls, you know that Estelle Getty was hilarious. Unfortunately, the script pairing these two was atrocious and led to one of the biggest bombs of Sly's career. Arnold Schwarzenegger later said that he said read the script and leaked that he was interested to get Stallone, his biggest box office competition at the time, to sign on to this disaster. That's a funny story, but Jingle All the Way is further proof that karma is a bitch.
58. Paradise Alley (1978)
Paradise Alley is Stallone at his most self-indulgent. Not only did he, write, direct, and star in the film about three brothers in Hell's Kitchen who go into professional wrestling, he also sang the title song.
57. Cannonball! (1976)
This offbeat and random movie has David Carradine participating in a cross-country car race. The most bizarre scene may be with Stallone and Martin Scorsese playing a couple of mafia hoods threatening a bettor while eating a bucket of KFC.
56. Kambakkht Ishq [Incredible Love] (2009)
Stallone appears in two scenes in this Bollywood rom-com about a stuntman and medical student going from mutual hate to love. In the latter, he shows up to kick some hoodlums' asses with a parking meter. It almost makes the 130-minute run time worth the wait. Almost. Of note, Bollywood is releasing its own version of Rambo in 2020.
55. Backtrace (2018)
With the last two Escape Plan movies, Stallone appears to be adding his name to direct-to-DVD releases and appearing in them for a small amount of time. That's also the case with this flick about an amnesiac bank robber (Matthew Modine) trying to regain his memory and the money he stole.
54. Rhinestone (1984)
Stallone reportedly turned down Romancing the Stone to play a New York City cab driver that Dolly Parton bets she can turn into a country singer in two weeks. This movie is as bad as reported, but it is also fun. Just check out Stallone singing "Drinken Stein."
53. Ratchet & Clank (2016)
In this animated adaptation of the video games series, Stallone voices henchman Victor Von Ion and chews metal. It is better than the majority of video game adaptations, but that is not saying much.
52. Avenging Angelo (2002)
With Stallone playing a mob enforcer protecting Madeleine Stowe and Anthony Quinn giving his final performance, one would have expected this crime movie to be more memorable. Instead, it was quite dull and released straight to DVD.
51. Escape Plan: The Extractors (2019)
An improvement over Escape Plan 2 features more Stallone screen time and a great knife fight at the end.
50. Taxi 3 (2003)
The third installment in the French action-comedy film series opens with a dubbed Stallone playing a motorcyclist on the run from a gang of rollerbladers in a great homage to James Bond movies.
49. Eye See You (2002)
Stallone gives a top-notch performance as an FBI agent who slips into alcoholism after his girlfriend is murdered by a serial killer. Unfortunately, negative test audiences and numerous reshoots turned this film into a mess that sat on the shelf for three years before being released.
48. Over the Top (1987)
The concept of a truck driver trying to get his estranged son back by winning an arm-wrestling competition is pretty dumb and this movie does not rise above that. Still, it is never boring and is worth watching just for the cast of characters Stallone has to face at the end.
47. Capone (1975)
Stallone plays Al Capone's (Ben Gazzara) enforcer, Frank Nitti, in this Roger Corman production. For gangster movie fans, this movie and Sly's performance are serviceable, but the late Billy Drago's take on Nitti in The Untouchables is the one we all remember.
46. Judge Dredd (1995)
This adaptation of John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra's comic book series about a future dystopian world where law enforcement combines the police, judge, jury, and execution into one person missed the mark. It went for humor uncharacteristic to the original series and tried to edit the movie down from its original NC-17 rating to a PG-13 before settling on an R. Needless to say, the movie never had a chance and is best remembered for Stallone overacting and his yelling of, "I am the law!"
45. Get Carter (2006)
Stallone plays a mob enforcer out to avenge his brother's death in this remake of the 1971 classic with Michael Caine. His Jack Carter is a little more of a bruiser than Caine's knife-wielding psycho and this remake is more forgettable too.
44. Staying Alive (1983)
If you want to know why Rocky IV looks the way it does, watch this sequel to Saturday Night Fever, which has numerous montages and never stops moving. Stallone co-wrote, co-produced, and directed, along with appearing in a very brief cameo as a well-to-do businessman on the street.
43. Lock Up (1989)
Midnight Express it ain't, but this story about a model prisoner in the final months of his sentence being transferred to a maximum-security prison by a vindictive warden (Donald Sutherland) will keep your interest. Just don't think about it too much.
42. Driven (2001)
Stallone plays Joe Tanto, a CART racecar driver who comes out of retirement to mentor a rookie driver (Kip Pardue). The racing scenes deliver the goods even though they are not accurate, but this film is also downright silly at times and has plot holes that you can drive a car through.
41. Rocky V (1990)
The best thing to say about Rocky V is that it could have been worse. Stallone originally planned to have Rocky die during his fight with Tommy Gunn (Tommy Morrison) in Adrian's arms. Thank God he changed his mind before production wrapped.
40. The Prisoner of Second Avenue (1975)
Jack Lemmon and Anne Bancroft play neurotic New Yorkers dealing with unemployment and a summer heatwave in this adaptation of Neil Simon's play. Stallone has a memorable scene as a guy in Central Park that Lemmon thinks picked his pocket.
39. Tango & Cash (1989)
The last movie released in the 1980s teamed Stallone with Kurt Russell to face bad guy Jack Palance in a movie helmed by Runaway Train director Andrei Konchalovsky. Then Konchalovsky was fired over creative differences three months into filming and the final picture ended up being a hot mess. Patrick Swayze was originally signed on to play Russell's role, but left to star in Road House and the cinematic world is better for it.
38. The Expendables 2 (2012)
This sequel adds to the ensemble of action stars but devolves into '80s action movies at their worst: a bunch of guys standing still shooting guns and never being hit.
37. Cobra (1986)
Originally cast as Axel Foley in Beverly Hills Cop, Stallone walked away when his rewrite of the script was rejected. He took that version and made Cobra, the story of Marion "Cobra" Cobretti, a cop dressed in black, wearing sunglasses, and chewing on a match. Beverly Hills Cop went on to star Eddie Murphy and become a classic while Cobra was a critical flop. But man, Stallone looked so cool.
36. Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over (2003)
The third film in Robert Rodriguez's family fun series finds the Cortez family facing the Toymaker (Stallone) who has created an unwinnable virtual reality game called Game Over. This movie feels long even with its 84-minute run time, but Sly's scenes of megalomaniac ranting carry it.
35. Rambo: Last Blood (2019)
Critics have blasted this movie because of its insensitive portrayal of Mexican drug cartels (!), but Rambo: Last Blood's biggest flaw is that the good portion of time spent on family melodrama rings hollow. That being said, the "Home Alone: Rambo Style" ending delivers the goods. Apparently, the version released in Australia, Mexico, Sweden, Brazil, and Finland has a 10-minute opening that features Rambo rescuing stranded hikers. Once that cut is released on DVD, I reserve the right to rank this movie higher.
34. Assassins (1995)
Stallone plays an assassin who is stalked by another hired killer (Antonio Banderas) who wants take his place as the No. 1 hitman in the world (I'm not sure how accurate those rankings really are). In between action scenes expertly staged by director Richard Donner, Stallone plays straight man to Banderas, who constantly chews scenery and chokes on it on occasion.
33. F.I.S.T. (1978)
Cast as a Jimmy Hoffa-like union leader, Stallone showed he could play something other than athletes, soldiers, or cops, but it would be years before he took another role like this.
32. The Expendables 3 (2014)
With an unheard lineup of action stars (check out this trailer), The Expendables 3 improves on the second one by bringing in younger actors like Kellan Lutz, Victor Ortiz, and Ronda Rousey to do more of the heavy lifting in the fight scenes.
31. Oscar (1991)
After being firmly typecast as a muscle-bound action star, Stallone made a rare attempt at comedy playing a mobster trying to go straight. While the movie has its chuckles, this was not the beginning of a McConnaughsance for him.
30. Daylight (1996)
Stallone plays a fired emergency medical services chief who has to rescue a diverse group of people trapped in New York's Holland Tunnel. Like most disaster movies, it is a hodgepodge of milquetoast personal drama intercut with car wrecks and tunnel collapses. But this film is worth seeing just for Stallone's exchange with arrogant businessman Viggo Mortensen.
29. Victory (1981)
Also known as Escape to Victory, Stallone plays goalie alongside Pele and Michael Caine in this story of POWs playing an exhibition soccer game against a German team during World War II. This John Huston-directed film was inspired by the same true story that influenced The Longest Yard.
28. Zookeeper (2011)
In this pleasant live-action comedy, a group of zoo animals band together to help their keeper (Kevin James) find love. Stallone voices Joe the Lion and sings Boston's "More Than a Feeling."
27. Rambo III (1988)
With a budget of around $60 million, Rambo III was the most expensive film ever made at the time. Most of it seemed to go towards explosions as our hero teamed with the Mujahedeen to save Colonel Trautman (Richard Crenna) from the Soviet army in Afghanistan.
26. Grudge Match (2013)
Rocky meets Raging Bull (Robert De Niro) in this comedy about two aging boxers coming out of retirement to face off in a rubber match. Warner Bros. billed it as rivalry 30 years in the making... but it was probably 20 years too late.
25. The Specialist (1994)
Stallone plays an explosives expert who helps Sharon Stone take out the Miami mobster (Eric Roberts) who killed her family. Some pretty creative bombings (including the one below) bookend a sex scene between Sly and Stone that is better than anything in The Party at Kitty and Stud's.
24. Antz (1998)
Stallone lends his voice along with Woody Allen, Gene Hackman, and Christopher Walken in this cute computer-animated film about the trials and tribulations of an ant colony. This was one of the first in the genre marketed more toward adults than children, but it would not be the last.
23. Bullet to the Head (2013)
Legendary director Walter Hill helmed this action flick, which has hitman Stallone teaming up with a cop (Sung Kang) to stop a killer (Jason Momoa) from wreaking havoc in New Orleans. If this had been made in the '80s, it would have been a box office smash. And its product placement of Bulleit Bourbon may be the most blatant in the history of cinema.
22. The Lords of Flatbush (1974)
Perry King, Henry Winkler, and Stallone made this coming of age story set in 1950s Brooklyn before any of them achieved any success. Richard Gere actually had King's role, but according to Stallone, the two of them got into a fight over a greasy chicken sandwich that was dripping on Sly's thigh and Gere was fired. The two still do not get along to this day.
21. Escape Plan (2013)
If you're an action movie lover, the first film to pair Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger as co-leads came 25 years too late. Nevertheless, this movie about two guys busting out of a super-duper maximum security prison is more than a by-the-numbers flick and a treat for fans.
20. Rocky II (1979)
Unlike the third and fourth films, which embraced the slicker 1980s style of moviemaking, Rocky II follows the look and feel of the first one. It feels like more of a soap opera about boxers, but the end sports one of the best scenes in movie history. Also, if you're a hardcore Stallone fan, he wrote a novelization of this film with Rocky telling his story in first-person narrative.
19. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
Stallone's appearance as Stakar Ogord seemed a bit random, but director James Gunn has said that he plans to include him in more Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. We'll see where that goes.
18. The Expendables (2010)
When I heard that Stallone was pulling together Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Mickey Rourke, and Bruce Willis, and others for one movie about a group of mercenaries for hire, I thought that it had the potential to be epic. It wasn't, but it was a sight to behold.
17. Shade (2004)
Stallone plays "The Dean," a legendary card shark that a group of grifters tries to take down in this gem of a picture. If you think the film industry is a meritocracy, think about the wide release of some of the disasters on this list and then note that this movie only played in six theaters for five weeks.
16. Rambo (2008)
After sitting idle for 20 years, Rambo returns to rescue missionaries from the Burmese army. While the dialogue has its low-points, this movie has the character aging gracefully and the scene at the end with the .50-caliber machine gun is one of the best in the series.
15. Farewell, My Lovely (1975)
In this excellent adaptation of Raymond Chandler's novel, Stallone appears briefly as a madam's (Kate Murtagh) goon, but makes his presence known.
14. Rocky III (1983)
Rocky wrestles Hulk Hogan and gets his title taken by Mr. T before redeeming himself. Stallone originally wanted heavyweight Earnie Shavers — one of the hardest hitters in boxing history — to play Clubber Lang until he sparred with him and asked for a true body shot. When Shavers finally obliged, he decided to go with Mr. T. Oh, and if you don't get chills during the opening riff of Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger," then you have no soul.
13. Death Race 2000 (1975)
One of B-movie producer Roger Corman's best films tells the story of a futuristic race where drivers get points for killing pedestrians. The two best are black-garbed champion Frankenstein (David Carradine) and perpetual runner-up "Machine Gun" Joe Viterbo (Stallone). Viterbo is also a gangster and 14-karat asshole and Stallone has a great time playing him. Take a look.
12. Creed II (2018)
After the success of Creed, you knew a sequel pitting Adonis Creed against Ivan Drago's son (Florian Munteanu) was inevitable. With the exception of Stallone's ex-wife Brigitte Nielsen reprising her role as Ludmilla Drago, it doesn't offer any surprises but still hits hard. Now we need Creed III with Mr. T and Clubber Lang Jr. I would stand in line to hear Rocky say, "Well, he didn't kill your dad, but he hurt his feelings."
11. Cliffhanger (1993)
Stallone bounced back from a string of box-office failures with this white-knuckle heist thriller set in the Rocky Mountains. With the Italian Dolomites subbing for the Rockies, John Lithgow exuding pure evil, and gripping action sequences, this movie will have you on the edge of your seat from start to finish.
10. Rocky Balboa (2006)
Following the dismal Rocky V, Stallone resurrected the character and made things right. Using a relatively low budget, he made a film that mirrored the charm of the first one and gave Rocky an excellent swan song. If director Ryan Coogler had not come along years later with a great idea, this would have been a fitting finale for the character.
9. Nighthawks (1981)
Originally conceived as the French Connection III until Gene Hackman declined to participate, Nighthawks pairs Stallone and Billy Dee Williams as two New York Cops pursuing an international terrorist, played by the late Rutger Hauer. Despite problems in production, the final film is a great cat-and-mouse movie that was ahead of its time.
8. Demolition Man (1993)
A hard-nosed cop (Stallone) and crime boss (Wesley Snipes) are cryogenically frozen and then reanimated 35 years later to face off in a seemingly utopian world. With its satiric undercurrent, this is Stallone's best riff as a comedic actor. From the three seashells to the supreme leader (Nigel Hawthorne) inviting him to dine at Taco Bell, this is Sly at his funniest.
7. Rocky IV (1985)
Rocky IV should have been a disaster on so many levels. First, it replaced composer Bill Conti's timeless score with Vince DiCola's '80s synthesizer compositions. Then it took grounded characters in Rocky and Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) and turned them into cartoon superheroes facing off against Soviet killing machine Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren). And let's not forget its 90-minute runtime included not one, but three montages. Yet somehow this departure from the series worked beautifully and Rocky IV was the highest-grossing sports movie for 24 years before The Blind Side surpassed it.
6. Bananas (1971)
One of Woody Allen's funniest films tells the story of — what else — a bumbling New Yorker who gets involved in a revolution in a small Latin American country. Stallone makes his major film debut as a thug who tries to rob him on the subway.
5. Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985)
In the movie that launched countless action flicks, Rambo is released from prison to take photos of what may or not be American POW camps in Vietnam. Things go haywire and he spends the rest of the film shirtless rescuing POWs and wiping out Soviet and Vietnamese infantry units. Panned by some critics at the time but appreciated in the years that followed, this movie never lets up and Stallone gives a performance that is etched in the cinematic lexicon.
4. Cop Land (1997)
Stallone gained 40 pounds to play a weary New Jersey sheriff in James Mangold's crime drama. The film and his performance will leave you asking, "Why doesn't he make more movies like this?"
3. Creed (2015)
It's a movie fan's dream to have one of their favorite characters resurrected by one of the hottest directors in Hollywood. Straight off the success of 2013's Fruitvale Station, Ryan Coogler approached Stallone about a spinoff of the Rocky series that tells the story of Apollo Creed's son being trained by Rocky. Any head scratches turned to applause when the film was released and became a critical and box-office smash and earned Stallone his first Oscar nomination since Rocky.
2. First Blood (1982)
In David Morrell's novel, John Rambo is a decorated Green Beret and a psycho who stalks and takes out a number of cops and soldiers before Colonel Trautman kills him out of obligation. When Stallone signed on, Rambo went from murderer to sympathetic character and survived at the end. While critical praise has grown over the years, initial reviews were mixed and cited a lack of resolution for Rambo. I imagine when Stallone read that, he said, "Hold my beer."
1. Rocky (1976)
The story behind this classic is one of Hollywood's greatest. After watching journeyman boxer Chuck Wepner go 15 rounds with Muhammad Ali, a down-and-out Stallone went home and wrote Rocky in three and a half days. United Artists loved it and wanted to pay him $350,000 for the rights to the screenplay, but he took much much less for the opportunity to play the character himself. We all know the rest. The movie was the highest grossing of the year, won the Oscar for best picture, and made Stallone a star.
— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.