Appearing in the new superhero action movie Samaritan at the age of 76, Sylvester Stallone has proven himself time and time again to be one of the most unstoppable talents in Hollywood history. Although he’s logged more than 80 acting credits since his screen debut in 1969, Stallone’s work as a writer and director often gets overlooked. After being nominated for an Oscar for writing Rocky in 1976, Stallone went on to become a credited screenwriter on over 20 other feature film scripts and has directed eight of them, to date.
What are considered to be the best Sylvester Stallone movies when it comes to directing? The scores for his directorial efforts on IMDb show that movie fans still have a lot of love for the iconic action star.
8 Staying Alive (1983) – 4.7
Available on Cinemax
The lowest-rated film Stallone directed in his career is Staying Alive, the sequel to the runaway disco hit, Saturday Night Fever. The film resumes the story of Tony Manero (John Travolta), now on a mission to prove himself on Broadway.
Tony trades his disco dancing in Brooklyn for a teaching gig in Manhattan, as he tries to climb the ranks of the Broadway theatrical circuit. He polishes his image, and plays by the rules, yet still struggles to find his footing in an ultra-competitive profession as a theatrical dancer. Staying Alive remains a standout oddity in Stallone’s history as a director and is almost completely divorced from his public image, which has perhaps hampered any kind of cult following growing around the film.
7 Paradise Alley (1978) – 5.7
Available to rent or purchase on Amazon Prime Video
Following the massive success of Rocky in 1976, Stallone used his clout to write, direct, and star in Paradise Alleya gritty drama about three Italian-American brothers struggling to make it in 1940s New York.
Stallone plays Cosmo Carboni in the film, the eldest of three siblings with different callings in life. Cosmo is a small-time hustler, Lenny works as an undertaker, and Victor sells ice on the streets for a living. As the three navigate the daily grind, Cosmo opens the underground Paradise Alley wrestling club, where he and Lenny train Victor to be the best fighter in Hell’s Kitchen. Although it was more in line with Stallone’s popular tough guy persona, Paradise Alley still maintains a reputation for being more of a vanity project as opposed to a legitimately well-made film like Rocky or Rambo.
6 The Expendables (2010) – 6.4
Available on Hulu
Stallone rounded up an all-time great action ensemble for The Expendablesa throwback action flick starring some of the biggest action movie icons of the 80s and 90s.
Stallone stars as Barney Ross, a brusque Central Intelligence Agent who recruits a team of badass mercenaries to assassinate a South American monarch and a rogue CIA veteran. When plans go awry, an all-out royal rumble ensues. Although it doesn’t break any new ground, the film successfully won over action movie fans, spawning an ongoing franchise.
5 Rocky III (1982) – 6.8
Available on fuboTV
After Rocky won Best Picture and cemented himself as one of the best Hollywood movies of the 1970s, Stallone really took the reigns of the franchise by writing, directing, and starring in the next three sequels. In Rocky III, Stallone recruited popular wrestling stars, Hulk Hogan and Mr. T to give the title character some new opponents and he crafted another hit.
The story finds Rocky complacently living a life of superstardom when he suffers an embarrassing defeat at the hands of Clubber Lang (Mr. T). This forces Rocky to turn to his former foe, Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), to train him, sowing the seeds of what the Rocky franchise would turn into over three decades later in the movie Creed.
4 Rocky IV (1985) – 6.8
Available on fuboTV
With such unforgettable quotes from Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) like “I must break you” and “If he dies, he dies”, Rocky IV has become a fan favorite entry in the long-running franchise.
Following the in-ring death of his best friend Apollo Creed, Rocky feels personally responsible for not throwing in the towel. To avenge Apollo’s death, Rocky comes out of retirement, trains in Russia, and fights the genetically-enhanced Soviet terror, Ivan Drago, on his home turf. The movie’s quintessential 80s optimism and sincere approach to Cold War tensions have helped it live on as a must-see chapter in the Rocky franchise.
3 Rambo (2008) – 7.0
Available on fuboTV and Netflix
Other than Rocky Balboa, Stallone is the most well-known for playing John Rambo, the Vietnam War veteran who was introduced in First Blood in 1982. Stallone played the character three times under someone else’s direction before helming a sequel on his own.
Rambo finds the titular character in seclusion in Thailand, where he lives a stress-free life of leisure. But when Rambo agrees to escort two missionaries into war-torn Burma, he becomes embroiled in a violent military attack that calls for him to rescue kidnapped missionaries and restore order to the region. Although not well-received by critics, the film quickly developed a loyal fanbase for drawing attention to the humanitarian crisis that was occurring in Burma at that time.
2 Rocky Balboa (2006) – 7.1
Available on fuboTV
Prior to passing the torch to Adonis Creed in the Creed films, Stallone capped off his 30-year run as his lovable boxing champ in Rocky Balboaa contemplative character piece that drew some of his highest praise as a writer, director, and actor.
Beat up and broken down, Rocky agrees to a 10-round exhibition bout with the brash Mason Dixon (Antonio Tarver), who is 30 years younger. Stallone uses his wily knowledge in the ring to overcome his physical limitations and prove once again who’s the King of the Ring.
1 Rocky II (1979) – 7.3
Available on fuboTV
The second film Stallone directed ranks as the highest in his career to date, as per IMDb. Rocky II gave fans of the original the highly-anticipated rematch between Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed after the latter won by a split decision in the first film.
Balboa’s toughest challenges are always outside of the ring, though, as he works to foster his romance with Adrian (Talia Shire) while taking a job in a meat-packing plant. When Apollo calls Rocky out for a rematch to prove his superiority, Rocky accepts the challenge and goes toe-to-toe with Creed until the final count of the 15-round bout. Rocky II was the film that proved that Stallone was neither a one-hit-wonder nor a one-trick pony, expanding on the drama and the action of the Oscar-winning original rather than just copying them.
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