By Chaz Lipp On the eve of The Expendables 2 hitting theaters, we thought we’d offer our choices for the five best movies starring the greatest action hero of all time – Sylvester Stallone! For good measure, we’ve chosen five of his films that are criminally underrated and deserving of a second look (or first, if you haven’t seen them!). Let’s start with the underrated ones, without further ado…

The Five Most UNDERRATED Sylvester Stallone Movies
1: Rocky V (1990) – Yes, you read right. We unapologetically support the much-maligned fifth entry in the Rocky series. Though many reasons have been cited for the movie’s failure, its lack of popularity can be boiled down to one thing: Rocky doesn’t have a boxing match in this one. If you look past the unsatisfying climactic street brawl, Rocky V has an awful lot going for it. Stallone really worked hard to change up the increasingly stale formula of the earlier sequels, restoring some depth to the characters that had evaporated almost entirely by Rocky IV. And in light of the recent tragic passing of Sage Stallone, who delivers a sturdy performance as Rocky’s son, the movie now possesses an additional subtext of bittersweet emotion.
2: Rhinestone (1984) – Stallone as a NYC cab driver turned country singer. Long before critics and fans alike accused him of copying Arnold Schwarzenegger in a move toward comedy with clunkers like Oscar and Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot, Stallone made this. It also had the distinction of being a musical-comedy, with none other than Dolly Parton as Sly’s leading lady. This wasn’t what most moviegoers wanted from Stallone, but if you watch with an open mind you might be surprised at how genuinely funny this fish-out-of-water oddity is. Parton’s original songs are memorable (especially the riotous “The Day My Baby Died”) and Tim Thomerson draws lots of laughs as Barnett Kale, a cowboy who likes his beer “real foamy.”
3: Driven (2001) – Something went wrong with this car racing movie. It’s easy to see what, if you watch the generous selection of deleted scenes on the DVD (or Blu-ray). The heart and soul of Stallone’s screenplay was left on the cutting room floor. We’re not saying this would have been a masterpiece had it retained all the interesting character details we see in the deleted footage. But it almost certainly would have been a better-respected movie. We’re also not basing our opinion of the movie on its deleted scenes. Driven is admittedly unremarkable in many ways, but it’s also an enjoyable (if inaccurate in its depiction of Champ Car racing) ensemble piece. Plus you won’t see Sly with the legendary Burt Reynolds anywhere else.
4: Daylight (1996) – Huge overseas, but a bomb in the U.S. Such was the case with many of Stallone’s mid-’90s actioners. This disaster film finds Stallone helping a group of people trapped in NYC’s Holland Tunnel after a terrible explosion seals it off. All the formulaic disaster-movie elements are in place and really this could have starred pretty much any action star other than Stallone. Still, that doesn’t keep Daylight from being a solidly-constructed action thriller. The late Sage Stallone co-stars with his dad in this one as well.

5: Cobra (1986) – The ONLY reason this Stallone-written, George P. Cosmatos-directed cop movie isn’t number one is that over the past quarter century it has maintained a devoted cult following that recognizes its supreme “bad movie” brilliance. After backing out of Beverly Hills Cop, Stallone reworked his ideas for the badass, take-no-prisoners LAPD cop named Marion “Cobra” Cobretti (“Catchy name…”) and the result was one of the most deliriously entertaining pieces of nonsense ever made. Brian Thompson plays the insane leader of an axe-clanging, murderous cult known as the New Order. It’s up to Cobra and his partner Gonzales (Reni Santoni) to stop him, while protecting a woman who escaped his clutches (played by then-Mrs. Stallone, Brigitte Nielsen).

After the jump, Stallone’s top five BEST!

The Five BEST Sylvester Stallone Movies

1: Rocky (1976) – Don’t tell us you were expecting something else at the top. The passing of 36 years hasn’t dulled the inspirational impact of this Best Picture-winning classic. Not only is Rocky a great sports film, it works just as well as a romance.  Sometimes the varying quality of the sequels cloud people’s memory of the original, but Stallone’s Oscar-nominated screenplay (he received a nomination for Best Actor, too) is a finely-crafted character study about a lonely man finding purpose in his life.

2: First Blood (1982) – An action classic, the cinematic maiden voyage of Vietnam vet John Rambo is a blast of adrenaline. The journey from soft-spoken loner to hysterical derangement stands among Stallone’s best performances. Just as is the case with his other signature franchise, the sequels have muddied the original’s legacy. First Blood is essentially a B-movie elevated by its A-list ambitions. Richard Crenna, as Colonel Trautman, and Brian Dennehy, as Sheriff Teasle, turn in memorable supporting work.

3: Cop Land (1997) – This thoughtful police drama (and quasi-Western) didn’t really catch fire at the box office in the summer of ’97, despite significant buzz. Too many people were expecting a Scorsese or possibly Tarantino-esque display of fireworks. That’s understandable, given the heavyweight ensemble cast including Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, Ray Liotta, Robert Patrick, Peter Berg, Cathy Moriarty, and Janeane Garofalo. Some might have expected Stallone – not often given credit for his dramatic chops – to choke amidst the sea of thespians. But he succeeds with flying colors by always underplaying against the more intense supporting players. Cop Land is only available on Blu-ray in James Mangold’s director’s cut. An out-of-print Canadian Blu-ray release is the ony 16:9-enhanced release of the theatrical verison.

4: Demolition Man (1993) – Finally Stallone gets credit for what we fans knew all along – the man is funny and can deliver a one-liner with an appropriately witty touch. This satirical depiction of a futuristic, violence-free utopia may get a little too wrapped up in the “demolition” promised by the title, but this is ultimately a smart, funny, and exciting sci-fi action movie. Wesley Snipes, as a thawed-out relic from a more violent past, makes a great opponent and Sandra Bullock steals the show in an early role. Demolition Man‘s supporting cast includes Denis Leary as the leader of the resistance movement and Rob Schneider (who would team up again with Sly in another sci-fi pic, Judge Dredd).

5: Cliffhanger (1993) – Between this and Demolition Man, ’93 marked a real comeback for Stallone. Directed by Renny Harlin and co-written by Stallone, this mountain-climbing action epic opens with a gut-wrenching tragedy. The rest of Cliffhanger never quite rises to that unforgettable start, but it remains a lot of fun, however hokey it may occasionally be (i.e Stallone emerges from a freezing cold lake and his hair is perfectly blow-dried by the next scene, etc). The stunts (including a breathtaking mid-air money transfer between two planes), not to mention the Italian Alps and Colorado Rockies scenery, still impresses to this day. And John Lithgow has a terrific time chewing the scenery as villain Eric Qualen.

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Chaz Lipp

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