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Flashback Five – Sylvester Stallone’s Best Eighties Movies

Some actors paint their portraits with a fine-edge brush. Sylvester Stallone carves his with an oversize Army knife. And in the big eighties, that made Sly the action star du jour. This weekend, you can see two of the eighties’ best movies — Rocky III and Rocky IV — as part of AMC’s Crazy About Rocky, a marathon of five Rocky movies, beginning Sat., Apr. 30, at 3PM | 2C. As great as Rocky III and IV are pics are, they’re only the beginning of Sly’s Reagan-era work. The following movie are as huge as Stallone’s arms — and the best of his eighties work.

1. Rocky III (1982)
The third movie in the saga changes the pace, and Sly deftly walks a fine line between the Oscar-worthy drama of the movie’s predecessors and straight-up action. You can’t argue with the results: Rocky III is bigger, better, and more exciting than any sports movie that came before (or after). Rocky even battles the series’s best villain, Clubber Lang, played to perfection by another eighties icon: Mr. T.

2. Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985)
In one of the great sequels, Stallone’s shell-shocked vet is sprung from federal prison and dropped into Vietnam to spring POWs still languishing in camps. He’s on orders not to engage the enemy, but when Rambo sees atrocities he’s not going to sit back and snap photos — he’s going to snap necks, which is exactly what makes the second movie one of the greatest action flicks of all time.

3. First Blood (1982)
Its sequel is such a paragon of eighties action that many forget First Blood, but the original Rambo movie is great in its own right. Despite a shockingly low body count for a Stallone movie, First Blood has a realism that is lacking from many eighties action movies. An adrift Rambo finds himself the target of small-minded cops, who learn too late that about his flaring case of post-traumatic stress disorder.

4. Cobra (1986)
The polar opposite of First Blood when it comes to realism, Cobra is all the better for it. Stallone’s Marion “Cobra” Cobretti wears black, chews matches, and will inflict millions of dollars in property damage if it means killing one criminal. His mission: exterminate a marauding gang of killers in Los Angeles. The result: Cobra is like Dirty Harry after five shots, three Red Bulls, and a trip to a military arsenal.

5. Rocky IV (1985)
The Rocky formula is taken to a whole new level with better training scenes and musical montages, bigger opponents (the truly monstrous Russian, Ivan Drago, played by Dolph Lundgren), and Cold War themes. Drago kills Apollo (Carl Weathers) in the ring (throw in the towel, Rock!), so Balboa agrees to fight him on Christmas Day, in Russia, for free. Rocky prevails of course, wins over the Russian crowd and, presumably, ends the Cold War.

Honorable Mentions

1. Tango & Cash (1989): Stallone is brilliantly cast against type as Tango: a glasses-wearing business-formal cop who constantly butts heads with carefree, casual Cash (Kurt Russell)..

2. Lock Up (1989): In the same year as Tango & Cash, Stallone tackled prison life in this truly underrated gem that pits him against a cruel warden played with zeal by Donald Sutherland.

3. Over the Top (1987): One of the most eighties movies you’ll ever find, Over the Top makes sure Sly’s legendary biceps get as much screen time as any of his co-stars, in the greatest movie ever about professional arm wrestling.

4. Victory (1981): Stallone, the perpetual underdog, plays an imprisoned WWII soldier who, under Michael Caine’s tutelage, serves as a goalie against a team of Nazi footballers. The best part is Victory‘s ending, so inspirational it nearly puts Rudy to shame.

5. Rhinestone (1984): Dolly Parton tries to turn Stallone into a country singer, and the results are magical. Stallone awkwardly sings a tune called “Drinkenstein,” in a classic scene that secures Rhinestone‘s place in the Stallone canon.


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