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Top 10 Sylvester Stallone Performances

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Script Written by Matthew Thomas. This action star and his career refuse to die. Join as we count down our picks for the Top 10 Sylvester Stallone Performances. For this list, we're taking a look at those performances that show off this actor at his finest and/or most memorable. Special thanks to our users jwiking62, cliffhanger, reganlammas101, Deathmatch1959, reganlammas101, catanger24, Deathmatch1959, Vincenzo Porco, Focquer, Sergio Zavaleta, Ben Jeffrey, downhollowfication, Mohammed Al-hooti, UnkeptMoss328, Npngreen, David Mora and DVS for submitting the idea on our Suggestions Page at WatchMojo.comsuggest

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Script Written by Matthew Thomas.

Top 10 Sylvester Stallone Performances

This action star and his career refuse to die. Join as we count down our picks for the Top 10 Sylvester Stallone Performances.

For this list, we’re taking a look at those performances that show off this actor at his finest and/or most memorable.

#10: Kit Latura
“Daylight” (1996)

This disaster film features The Italian Stallion at the height of his fame, playing a shamed former New York Emergency Medical Services Chief who uses his skills to save a group of strangers. As he’s an action star of the highest order, Stallone has zero difficulty injecting this very ‘90s movie with his own personality and style, preventing it from becoming the by-the-book affair it would’ve been in the hands of a less accomplished actor. Though it received some negative reviews and Razzie nominations, Stallone’s “Daylight” is what it is: an enjoyable, big-budget action romp with explosions and cheesy lines aplenty.

#9: Lt. Marion ‘Cobra’ Cobretti
“Cobra” (1986)

After his plans to star in an extremely gritty “Beverly Hills Cop” were scrapped because his version was far too expensive, Stallone took the violence he had in mind and crafted the madman known as Cobra. An over-the-top tough guy in the most fun way possible, this is one cop we’d hate to meet, but love to watch: a sunglasses wearing, toothpick brandishing, shirt ripping badass who kills without blinking an eye. For the flick, which Stallone also wrote, he worked with established genre conventions to bring to screen the kind of loose-cannon cop film you’d expect. The result was a critical failure, but a box-office hit and a classic Stallone joint.

#8: Jack Carter
“Get Carter” (2000)

When thinking of someone to succeed Michael Caine in a remake of this 1971 flick, Sylvester Stallone probably isn’t the first name that comes to mind – especially when you consider that the original owed much of its success to Caine’s effortless charm, and Stallone was known more for his muscles than his way with words. This darker version pulled it off, though, primarily thanks to Stallone as Jack Carter, a mob enforcer who tries to solve his brother’s murder. Adept at evoking inner turmoil, he rose above a lot of people’s perception of him, making the part his own and becoming a bright spot in an otherwise unsuccessful film.

#7: Ray Breslin
“Escape Plan” (2013)

Ray Breslin has to be the best original character Stallone has brought to life since his surprise comeback. This prison escape artist from “Escape Plan” may’ve been double-crossed, but never ceases to be a formidable protagonist. Our favorite moments of the film do not derive from the typical machismo we’ve come to expect from Stallone; instead, it’s the moments of vulnerability that stand out the most, like his time in solitary confinement. Plus, you can’t go wrong when you team Stallone with Arnie: these two action titans prove they’ve still got what it takes to bring an exciting action flick to the screen as well as they could in their heyday.

#6: Lt. Ray Tango
“Tango & Cash” (1989)

Releasing another buddy cop film a mere two years after “Lethal Weapon” may’ve seemed lazy. And, if Stallone and Kurt Russell hadn’t been the ones cast in “Tango & Cash,” the movie could’ve easily been written off. They star as a pair of cops framed for murder and sent to prison to contend with the criminals they sent there. Watching a man who became a star through down and dirty roles become a buttoned up yuppie proved not only fun, but downright delightful. Throw in the chemistry Stallone enjoyed with his co-star and you get an essential entry on the actor’s resume, as well as the last classic American action film released in the ‘80s.

#5: Sgt. John Spartan
“Demolition Man” (1993)

As John Spartan, Stallone is a ballsy cop whose destructive police work could’ve been characterized as a reign of terror if not for his badge and good intentions. When he wakes up 36 years in the future after being sent to cryo-prison, things have changed, and he must roll with the punches to adapt and catch a violent out-of-time career criminal. Utilizing the heroic traits he’d cultivated over the years for their intended purpose as well as laughs, Stallone gives a layered performance in this successful sci-fi flick. We’re still dying to know how you use those three seashells, though.

#4: Sheriff Freddy Heflin
“Cop Land” (1997)

Gaining over 40 pounds and accepting the role for the lowest amount a union actor can take for a part, it’s safe to say that Stallone was passionate about this film. This commitment is proven in every frame of the finished product, as he personifies the role of an older, out of shape sheriff who’s made the decision to finally lay down the law. Hoping to use “Cop Land” to restore his reputation as an actor and not simply an action star, Stallone lived the role onscreen and off, even wearing earplugs to mimic his character’s partial deafness. If you’re only familiar with his action hero roles, you’re definitely missing out.

#3: Gabe Walker
“Cliffhanger” (1993)

One of the best moments in any of Sly’s films takes place during the opening of this mountain climbing action thriller. When the woman he is sent to save meets her untimely demise in horrible slow-motion, it sent a shock wave through fans that were programmed to believe Stallone always came out on top. Spending the rest of the film’s running time working to redeem himself and save the woman he loves, Stallone is stripped of his typical ego, but replaces it with anger and desperation. That effort was met with critical and commercial success, and one adventurous film.

#2: John Rambo
“Rambo” franchise (1982-)

It all began with one film that featured little dialogue, lots of action and one heart-wrenching speech. And with that, a quintessential action franchise was born. Co-written by Stallone himself, John Rambo is a Vietnam vet who feels betrayed by the society he comes back to and can’t seem to leave the violence or death he wrought behind. Playing the part to perfection, Sly reprised the role in several sequels, each time bringing his skill with weapons and without weapons to life. 2008’s “Rambo” in particular continued the legacy with intense gore, but most importantly, it was Stallone’s most grounded performance since the original.

Before we reveal our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions:
- CPL Weaver
“Antz” (1998)
- Johnny Kovak
“F.I.S.T.” (1978)
- Det. Sgt. Deke DaSilva
“Nighthawks” (1981)
- ‘Machine-Gun’ Joe Viterbo
“Death Race 2000” (1975)
- Capt. Ray Quick
“The Specialist” (1994)

#1: Rocky Balboa
“Rocky” franchise (1976-)

In a different world, the ultimate sports underdog would’ve been played by Robert Redford or Burt Reynolds. But, Stallone was determined to play the role he penned himself, and ultimately it was that role that earned him Academy Award nominations for both Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay. As a down-on-his-luck boxer determined to succeed regardless of the effort it takes and obstacles he must conquer, Stallone seems perfectly capable of delving into the self-doubt that defines the character. Today, Rocky stands as a symbol to many fans of the “never give up” attitude, as Stallone’s best role and as one of the most iconic film characters in history.

Do you agree with our list? What’s your favorite Sylvester Stallone performance? For more acting Top 10s published daily, be sure to subscribe to

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