Skip to main content

Ranked: The best Sylvester Stallone movies of all time

Do you agree with this list of best Sly Stallone movies?

Actor Sylvester Stallone on the Expendables panel at the 2010 San Diego Comic Con.
Gage Skidmore

Sylvester Stallone movies immediately bring to mind some very specific memories for most movie fans throughout the last half-century. Whether it’s hanging from a cliff, jogging through the Russian winter, or fighting Wesley Snipes in a pacified future, films with Sly Stallone are almost certainly going to fulfill some primal desire for action and retribution. The desire for unbridled masculinity is certainly a part of the Stallone experience.

Sylvester Stallone may not have the same kickass power he used to have back when he was the ultimate hero of the film world, but legends never die. We’re here to make sure that you don’t forget the Italian Stallion in some of the best action flicks over the past five decades. Here they are in ascending order.

11. The Lords of Flatbush (1974)

11. The Lords of Flatbush
53 %
Genre Drama
Stars Perry King, Sylvester Stallone, Henry Winkler
Directed by Martin Davidson, Stephen Verona

While the 1950s may seem like a far-gone era in the 2020s, in the 1970s, the post-WWII boom was only 20 years passed. That interim was just long enough to gloss over some of the decade’s grimier aspects and apply a fresh sheen of nostalgia for leather-clad greasers crashing sockhops. Enter The Lords of Flatbush.

Like West Side Story (1961) before it, these duck-tailed bikers are more interested in juvenile hijinks and (eventually) falling in love than steamrolling through town and creating chaos along the way. Sly plays Stanley Rosiello, a member of a gang from the Flatbush neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York. As the boys chase girls, boost cars, shoot pool, brawl in the street fights, and loiter at the local malt shop, life presents itself, forcing these teens to grow up and face adult responsibilities. 

Though The Lords of Flatbush adds quite a bit of saccharine to the rough biker aesthetic, the feel-good, coming-of-age flick fulfills its purpose. It also not only helped to launch Stallone’s career, but it provided the template for another classic American character: The Fonz. After starring in Flatbush, actor Henry Winkler would go on to reprise the role in another 1970s 1950s reboot: Happy Days.

10. Death Race 2000 (1975)

10. Death Race 2000
58 %
Genre Action, Comedy, Science Fiction
Stars David Carradine, Simone Griffeth, Sylvester Stallone
Directed by Paul Bartel

Before Rocky hit in all its red, white, and blue glory in 1976, Sly was doing all he could to catch onto Hollywood action flicks. After appearing as a greaser in Flatbush, Stallone jumped to the “future” in this dystopian version of what was to come — a society obsessed with fast cars and running over pedestrians. 

“This is a death race,” actor David Carradine tells his passenger. 

Pretty simple wrap here: 1970s muscle cars vamped out with cheesy teeth, men in leather masks driving femme fatales, and flipping cars exploding into flames. Carradine plays Frankenstein, a man “built by the world’s finest surgeons to drive the fastest car ever designed,” while Stallone cruises in to crash the party as the tough-as-nails Joe “Machine Gun” Viterbo.

“You finish first or not at all,” the preview’s narrative asserts.

You won’t have to think too much watching this one. Just sit back and see what an apocalyptic future looked like from the cheesiest of 1970s perspectives.

9. Over the Top (1987)

9. Over the Top
40 %
Genre Action, Drama
Stars Sylvester Stallone, Robert Loggia, Susan Blakely
Directed by Menahem Golan

After a string of hits that established Stallone as a true American action hero, Sly decided it was time to bring the world Over the Top, the arm-wrestling trucker film that somehow had gone unmade until 1987.

In true underdog fashion (caution: this theme may be recurring), no one believes in the main character Lincoln Hawk (played by Stallone). His father-in-law, Jason Cutler (Robert Loggia) drives a wedge first between Hawk and his wife and then assumes guardianship of Hawk’s son Michael (David Mendenhall). As a long-haul trucker with the world against him, there’s only one way for Hawk to secure the funds to get his life and his son back: the World Armwrestling Championship in Las Vegas. The prize? $100,000 in cash and a $250,000 Volvo White Tractor Truck.

Can Hawk conquer the world via the strength of his right forearm? You’ll have to plug into this 1980s man-versus-man classic to find out. 

8. Cliffhanger (1993)

8. Cliffhanger
60 %
Genre Action, Adventure, Thriller
Stars Sylvester Stallone, John Lithgow, Michael Rooker
Directed by Renny Harlin

Stallone’s work as a certified action star in the 1990s didn’t change the main frame around his films. Despite his hallowed status, the actor still played the outsider seeking redemption. So it goes with Cliffhanger, which stars Sly as Gabe Tucker, a withdrawn mountain climber struggling with guilt after a fatal fall at his hands leads him to retreat from his work and his peers. This includes friend Hal (Michael Rooker) who blames Tucker for his girlfriend’s death. 

After returning one last time to retrieve his things, Tucker and old flame Jessie (Janine Turner) receive a distress call that embroils them in a fiery search for $100 million in uncirculated bills, strewn in suitcases across the rocky peaks after an attempted air heist goes wrong. Opposite John Lithgow as Eric Qualen, a former intelligence agent turned psychotic killer thief, Cliffhanger is pure action saccharine. Character development takes a very distant second to a high-flying, high-altitude conflict. Despite rather unbelievable stunts (like free climbing a frozen mountain face), Cliffhanger makes the list based on pure adrenaline rush.

7. Rocky IV (1985)

7. Rocky IV
40 %
Genre Drama
Stars Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young
Directed by Sylvester Stallone

Several vehicles work because they are such perfect, exaggerated reflections of their time. Rocky IV is the perfect example. While Rocky chronicled the rise of a shining light from an often forgotten, gritty, blue-collar urban America in 1976, Rocky IV infuses the longshot with pure Reagan-era American jingoism in 1985 — a scrappy, freedom-loving boxer up against the mechanical military might of a cold Soviet empire, exemplified in this case by a beefed up, sweaty, and cold Dolph Lundgren as Ivan Drago. The plot finds Rocky emerging from retirement seeking revenge on Drago after the blond giant destroys Apollo Creed.

Taken for what it is (essentially pro-American propaganda), Rocky IV is a blast, especially its montages. (There are very few training segments that can stand up to the dichotomous sequence of Lundgren surrounded by cutting-edge Soviet technology versus Stallone’s regimen in the Russian winter.)

Rocky IV’s score perfectly encapsulates the film’s controversial perspective: a 37% ranking on the critical Tomatometer and 78% audience score.

6. Demolition Man (1993)

6. Demolition Man
34 %
Genre Crime, Action, Science Fiction
Stars Sylvester Stallone, Wesley Snipes, Sandra Bullock
Directed by Marco Brambilla

Chalk this high ranking up to adolescent memories. Certainly not the most celebrated of Sly films, Demolition Man successfully adds a dose of comedy to the typical Stallone action romp. Offering odd world developments like cryptic references to three seashells, and a world full of Taco Bells, the future of Demolition Man is a perfect placid setting for a 20th-century Stallone and antagonist Wesley Snipes to blow apart.

Demolition Man - The Three Seashells

Stallone plays John Spartan, a reckless yet driven police officer who is cryogenically frozen after a failed rescue attempt takes the lives of innocents. Authorities awaken Spartan to a neutered 2032, seemingly crime-free, but with dark undertones and a tattered, unspoken-of underground. He’s there to do battle with the also unfrozen and unhinged crime lord Simon Phoenix, played by the aforementioned Snipes. Along for the ride are 1990s stalwarts Sandra Bullock and the bumbling Rob Schneider. For a weird, fun ride through the near future and the near past, Demolition Man is well worth a watch.

5. Antz (1998)

5. Antz
72 %
Genre Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Family
Stars Woody Allen, Sharon Stone, Dan Aykroyd
Directed by Eric Darnell, Tim Johnson

An oft-forgotten footnote, Stallone stepped out of his action lane to lend his voice to Weaver, an animated ant that joined a star-studded cast in the first wave of computer-animated films. Antz did not do as well at the box office as its rival, A Bug’s Life, but fares much better over the test of time, at least according to this critic.

Woody Allen voices the titular Z who falls in love with Princess Bala (Sharon Stone) and embarks on the classic hero’s journey. The anxious Z’s odyssey to return to his colony to save it from termites and inner subversion is ultimately a metaphor for questioning authority and the consequences of blind loyalty. It’s a complex brew from Dreamworks that received critical acclaim and poor scores from an audience looking for a simpler family film. Don’t take their word for it, though. Antz is an unappreciated classic.

4. Cop Land (1997)

4. Cop Land
64 %
Genre Crime, Drama, Mystery
Stars Sylvester Stallone, Harvey Keitel, Ray Liotta
Directed by James Mangold

The late 1990s found Stallone aiming for headier, more expansive roles. In addition to Antz, Stallone also took on the role of Freddy Heflin, a small-town New Jersey sheriff embedded as the hub in a situation he didn’t ask for in Cop Land.

When hotheaded New York City super-cop Murray Babitch (Michael Rapaport) reportedly commits suicide after an ugly, racially motivated incident, idealistic internal affairs officer Moe Tilden (Robert De Niro) comes knocking on Heflin’s door. Caught between helping clean up cop corruption and pressure from the crooked NYC cops who populate his small town, Heflin must either answer justice’s bell or keep his hide by keeping up the charade. Also featuring Ray Liotta and Harvey Keitel as a couple of the bad guys, Cop Land is a morality tale that remains well worth its screen time.

3. First Blood (1982)

3. First Blood
Genre Action, Adventure, Thriller, War
Stars Sylvester Stallone, Richard Crenna, Brian Dennehy
Directed by Ted Kotcheff

If Rocky is Stallone’s most famous character, Rambo isn’t far behind. This action film is one of the all-time classics of the 1980s, and it spawned several sequels that also star Stallone in the role of the iconic skilled veteran struggling with PTSD. Although the mental health and political aspects of the story are often overlooked for the blood and the excitement of film, Stallone actually adds surprising depth to an otherwise flat character.

2. Creed (2015)

2. Creed
82 %
Genre Action, Drama
Stars Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson
Directed by Ryan Coogler

Over four decades after the Rocky franchise began, Stallone and Michael B. Jordan delivered one of its best installments. The seventh film in the series finds new blood and innovative direction in returning audiences to the gritty streets where everything began. This time, instead of a small-time boxer, we find the ambitious Adonis (Jordan) whose father, Apollo Creed, died in the ring when the boy was an abandoned baby. Still, boxing is in Adonis’ blood and he seeks the best boxer he knows to train him: Rocky Balboa.

The plot follows the Rocky formula (a relative unknown eventually matched against a champion), but manages to intertwine the realistic story of an aging boxer. Balboa’s wife and trainer have now passed on and the man himself is facing health problems in addition to brain-trauma-induced neuroses. Creed manages to capture all of the lovable underdog bravery as its predecessor while weaving in the drama that many former combat athletes might face later in life.

1. Rocky (1976)

1. Rocky
70 %
Genre Drama, Romance
Stars Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young
Directed by John G. Avildsen

While Rocky has already been mentioned, no Sylvester Stallone film ranking can leave Rocky off the list. According to Forbes, the Rocky movie franchise has earned over $1.4 billion at the box office alone. Originally written by Stallone after watching Chuck Wepner give his best against Muhammed Ali, Hollywood was hyped for the script, but had no need for Stallone in the film. A little-known actor at the time, a broke Stallone turned down $360,000 for the script, insisting that it be him and not Burt Reynolds to play the titular Philadelphia boxer.

“I thought, ‘You know what? You’ve got this poverty thing down. You really don’t need much to live on,’ “ Stallone told Forbes. “This is one of those things when you just roll the dice and fly by the proverbial seat of your pants.”

When producers finally relented, giving Stallone only one million dollars to make the movie, he used family and friends to populate the cast, handheld cameras, and only one take to come in under budget. The result? An Academy Award for best picture and one of the most iconic sports films of all time. While no one is claiming this list to be definitive, these movies capture not only viewer hearts, but the true meaning of Stallone’s work over the past almost 50 years: gritty, tough, and never giving up even in the face of the direst odds. When you’re looking for inspiration, you can never go wrong popping in a Sly film.

Editors' Recommendations

Movie images and data from:
Shawn Laib
Shawn Laib is a freelance writer with publications such as Den of Geek,, Edge Media Network, diaTribe, SUPERJUMP…
HBO makes a change to John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight, aims to boost viewership on Max
John Oliver in ‘Last Week Tonight.’

For more than a decade, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver has been a staple of many comedy fans' diets. The show, which devotes one long segment each week to a specific, sometimes unexpected topic, has gotten much of its acclaim thanks in part to the fact that that meaty segment was available to an audience outside of HBO and Max. On Mondays, HBO posted that segment in full to YouTube, allowing non-subscribers to see much of what Oliver’s show contained in a given week. While there were other smaller segments that were reserved for Max and HBO subscribers, a large portion of the show was available to everyone.

Now, that policy is changing for the show’s eleventh season. Oliver made the announcement following the season 11 premiere in February of 2024. “HBO has decided they’re going to wait until Thursday to post them to YouTube from now on,” he wrote. “I hope they change their mind, but until then, you can see our piece about the Supreme Court on HBO, on MAX, and on YouTube in a few days.”

Read more
Everything we know about Shōgun, FX’s upcoming historical drama series with a perfect Rotten Tomatoes score
Shōgun is returning to TV with a perfect score on Rotten Tomatoes
The official promo art for Shogun.

The best shows on FX are about to get a new addition. Later this month, Shōgun is slated to premiere on FX as a ten-part miniseries that will adapt James Clavell's 1975 novel of the same name. This historical drama was previously adapted as a nine-hour miniseries by Paramount for NBC in 1980, and it was groundbreaking for the era. The original Shōgun is still widely regarded as one of the best TV miniseries of all time.

So far, the early reviews for FX's Shōgun indicate that the new incarnation of the story may live up to the reputation of the original miniseries. Shōgun currently has a 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes, which is a rare feat. But suppose that's not enough to get excited about. In that case, we're sharing everything we know about Shōgun so you can decide whether to watch the story that captivated television viewers over four decades ago.

Read more
Want to live in a tiny home? Here’s how much it would really cost, land and all
Tumbleweed Tiny House Company Elm House

Tiny homes have been a growing trend for years, offering a minimalist, eco-friendly, and financially savvy lifestyle. But what does it really cost to join this movement? In this deep dive, we’ll explore the pricing of Tumbleweed tiny homes, land costs, and the specifics of settling down in popular tiny home destinations like Oregon, Utah, and Colorado.

The cost of a Tumbleweed Tiny House
Tumbleweed Tiny House Company specializes in crafting tiny houses that are not only environmentally friendly but are stunning inside and out. Recognized for their superior quality, eco-consciousness, and enchanting designs, these homes are an ideal solution for those wishing to downsize without compromising on style or comfort.

Read more