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).
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.