Arnold Schwarzenegger vs. Sylvester Stallone: 5 Of Their Best Movies

Escape Plan Arnold Schwarzenegger vs. Sylvester Stallone: 5 Of Their Best Movies

Growing up in the 80s and 90s was certainly a unique experience, and like any era, those decades offered up their fair share of heroes and heroines for the movie-going public and impressionable children, like myself, to idolize. The action movie was in its Golden Age and flourishing beautifully, and leading that parade were two men who were larger than life itself. One an Austrian Oak, the other an Italian Stallion, both of whom had successful films under their belts depicting characters who surmounted a threat to come out on top and save the day. They were in direct competition with each other, and have grown over the years to become the best of friends. Every little boy wanted to be them (including me) and every father and his son have bonded through watching them laying waste to mountains and mountains of bad guys. Of course, I am talking about none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone.

With careers spanning over eight decades between the both of them combined, and successful movie franchises that are still being continued to this day, it’s no wonder that both Sly and Arnie are widely regarded as two of the greatest action stars in cinema history. I’m sure every kid out there wished for a Rocky vs. Conan film, or a Terminator vs. Rambo movie back in the day, I know I did. But alas, for one reason or another, the Golden Age of the action movie never saw a team effort from Arnie and Sly, leaving many fans out there wondering ‘what if’.

In 2010, an awesome ensemble piece called The Expendables sought to end that drought and brought these two powerhouses together on screen for the very first time. The chemistry was natural, the banter was electric, and fans wanted more. Luckily, they got more in last year’s just as awesome follow up, The Expendables 2.

This week, Escape Plan is hitting theatres. Featuring starring roles for both action movie gods, fans are eager to see if the duo’s most recent team effort will entertain.

In honor of that film’s release, I’ve chosen 5 standout movies from each of Sly and Arnie’s filmography and compared them against each other to see which one is superior. To create a fair and equal ground, I will not be including any films from their successful Rocky, Rambo, Terminator, and Conan franchises, as these films are historically iconic in their own right and it would be impossible to rate them amongst each other.

So, without further ado, let’s begin.


5. Commando (1985) vs. Cobra (1986)

Arnie Commando Arnold Schwarzenegger vs. Sylvester Stallone: 5 Of Their Best Movies

It wouldn’t be right to start off this countdown with anything else other than the true classics. The mid 80s was a time when both Arnie and Sly were at the top of their game, and these two entries prove why.

I personally don’t think there is any action fan out there who hasn’t seen Commando, the very title itself is synonymous with the word ‘action.’ Heavily censored upon its release back in 1985, it brought about in full swing the whole one man army vs. an entire fleet situation, and boy was it a hoot! With a by-the-numbers cheesy script peppered with the most witty one-liners that only Arnie can deliver, Commando is an ultra violent action romp, but one that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Arnie plays retired black ops colonel John Matrix (best name ever!), who is asked to kill the current president of Val Verde by South American dictator Arius. With his daughter kidnapped and being used as leverage, as well as his entire unit being wiped out by one of their own gone rogue, Matrix reluctantly accepts. He plays along at first but then buys himself enough time to hatch a plan to wipe out Arius’ troops and get his daughter back in one piece.

This one has it all, the perfect balance between violence and tongue in cheek humour with enough colourful characters to boot. Arnie himself has never looked better, and was obviously having an awesome time while making this. His one-liners here are spoken in true style that would be completely and utterly useless had they been spoken from any other set of lips. There’s also a montage of him suiting up for battle that no doubt gives fans goosebumps upon each viewing. Once the finale arrives, the film hits top gear and it is an absolute blast (literally). Arnie lays waste to hoards of soldiers and I swear he uses just about nearly every weapon imaginable to achieve this.

Commando is true 80s action. It gets away with being so outrageous because it was done at a time where excess was acceptable, and that’s what makes it such a cult classic.

Cobra Arnold Schwarzenegger vs. Sylvester Stallone: 5 Of Their Best Movies

Then there’s Sly. Talk to any fan and they’ll tell you that aside from his Rocky and Rambo characters, his other most definitive character is Lieutenant Marion “Cobra” Cobretti. If they don’t, well, they ought to! Cobra was released the year after Commando and tells the story of a no nonsense cop who uses brutal force against criminals.

Say what you want about Cobra, but I firmly believe that it is a truly underrated classic that was very unfairly and harshly judged by critics at the time. Sly wrote the screenplay for this one and tailored the character of Cobra perfectly. He is suave, rugged and gets the job done, all while spitting out some absolutely classic one-liners. The rockin’ 80s soundtrack is here too, with Robert Tepper’s classic Angel Of The City playing over the obligatory montage sequence that populated nearly every movie made in this era. The one man army finale made it in here as well, but the movie surprisingly plays more like an action thriller than one might come to expect. The stunts were awesome (especially for the time), the violence was excessive, and the characters were cheesy, just the way they should be.

The winner: Commando, but only by a bit. What gave Arnie’s film the the edge was its self-awareness and perfect balance of violence and humour. Cobra on the other hand had a darker tone than what was needed. It should have been played a little lighter without taking itself too seriously, but is nonetheless still one of the greatest action movies of the 80s. A very tough call indeed.

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4. Twins (1988) vs. Tango And Cash (1989)

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This movie pairing will certainly seem odd as one is a straight up comedy and the other is an action comedy, but what I’m specifically exploring here is the ‘buddy’ aspect, as neither Arnie nor Sly have done all that many buddy pictures in their careers.

By this point, Arnie had well and truly established himself on the map as one SOB. So, he decided to do what any bonafide action star would do, he ventured into uncharted waters with the feel-good comedy Twins. Here, he is paired up with Danny DeVito as they play long lost twin brothers who are the result of a genetic experiment attempting to create the perfect child.

Arnie plays Julius, the twin who was raised on an island by one of the scientists involved in the experiment and is well educated and physically perfect in every way. DeVito plays Vincent, the other twin who was put in an orphanage but then escapes and becomes a petty criminal and conman. When Julius celebrates his 35th birthday, he is told he has a twin, which leads to him trying to find Vincent so he can piece together the family that he never had. What follows is over 90 minutes of two people who are as different as chalk and cheese trying to bond and find common ground, with a lot of mishaps and brilliant comic timing along he way.

I loved Twins as a kid, it was one of those movies I didn’t have to beg my parents to let me watch because it was family friendly and it had all the classic Arnie qualities that I could ask for. I actually watched it again recently and it still hasn’t lost its touch, it’s just one of those films that you can always rely on to give you solid entertainment.

It was nice to see Arnie play a softer character here, in the sense that he was so innocent and naive about the outside world after being raised on a beautiful island his entire life. He gets a rude awakening when he meets Vincent, who is the type of person you wouldn’t want to invite over for dinner out of fear that he’ll steal everything you own. But Julius’ love for Vincent is so unconditional that it was just what he needed to begin to open up to the possibility of being a better person after enduring a rather bitter life, and that’s where the movie finds its magic.

Arnie and DeVito made a wonderful team, their chemistry was so natural that they actually achieved the impossible of making you believe that they could in fact be fraternal twins. The movie itself is well written too, with quite the unique premise, witty dialogue, and interesting characters popping up along the way.

Who could forget Julius’ 3 Rules In A Crisis Situation?

T7 Arnold Schwarzenegger vs. Sylvester Stallone: 5 Of Their Best Movies

Before, and ever since Tango & Cash was released, the buddy cop film has seen many variations and received countless treatments, and as a result, has worn quite thin over the years. What counts these days in the genre, and what always counted from the start, is the worst University subject I ever took: chemistry. If the two leads cast in a buddy movie are compatible and have electrifying chemistry that is palpable from the audience, then shortcomings in the plot and script are more easily forgiven.

Tango And Cash is by no means a groundbreaking or even a particularly well acted film, but it never needed to be. Sly is teamed up with with Kurt Russell here as they play Lieutenants Ray Tango and Gabriel Cash, respectively, who are in constant competition with each other to be top cop. Tango is very suave, clean cut and well-spoken, as he gets around in nifty suits and takes pride in himself, whereas Cash is basically a foul-mouthed slob who will wear any shirt as long as it fits. These little character quirks pave the way for ego clashing fun as the two must work together to clear their names after they are framed for murder.

Ah the chemistry (there’s that word again). I will take the risk of being badgered and say that this would have to be my favourite buddy movie of all time. Sly and Russell were perfection, there’s really no better word I can think of to describe their teaming. I found myself having the best time watching this movie. The action sequences are first rate and the dialogue and banter almost seemed improvised at times, it came across that naturally. Then there’s obligatory 80s ridiculousness with Cash dressing in drag to disguise himself from authorities while he’s on the run. Oh, and the musical score was done by none other than Mr. Beverly Hills Cop himself, Harold Faltermeyer.

To top it all off, the ending of Tango And Cash is the reason I love cinema (minor spoiler). Sly and Kurt high five each other and as soon as their hands collide, Bad English’s Best Of What I Got starts playing. Cheesy as hell, but you just can’t be in a bad mood when you see something like that.

The winner: Tango & Cash. While the buddy aspect of Twins was very strong, Tango & Cash was just too damn fun and had all the right ingredients to make the funniest odd couple of the 80s.

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3. Cliffhanger (1993) vs. True Lies (1994)

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As we head into the 90s for our third comparison, our boys began to delve into the more intelligent and suspenseful high octane style of action films, as was the trend.

Cliffhanger was the first action movie that Sly made in the 90s and was met with critical and financial praise upon its release, and for very good reason.

Sly stars as mountain climber and rescue ranger Gabe Walker, a man wracked with guilt after failing to save his best friend Hal’s girlfriend from plunging to her death when he is dispatched to pick them up after they become stranded on a mountain peak. One year later Gabe joins Hal in responding to a distress call on the mountain. Turns out the call was bogus and the two find themselves pitted against a team of mercenaries led by Eric Qualen (a terrific villainous turn by John Lithgow), who are on the hunt for missing cases filled with $100 million in cash.

Cliffhanger certainly lives up to its title, as it works brilliantly as an edge-of-your-seat action thriller with Sly doing some of the most outrageous stunts of his career. He helped to pen the script yet again and created some truly memorable characters, most notably that of Qualen, who is just downright relentless and quite the enjoyable villain.

Sly plays Gabe with a hint of vulnerability, which lends the film a certain gravitas, and it further adds to the audience wanting to root for him to succeed and survive. The action is hard-hitting and quite violent in places, but the movie never crosses into the violence for the sake of violence territory, which keeps it nicely grounded. Director Renny Harlin, who cut his teeth with the highly enjoyable Die Hard 2, paces the action effectively and builds the tension to a mammoth of a finale.

Arnie True Lies Arnold Schwarzenegger vs. Sylvester Stallone: 5 Of Their Best Movies

One year after Cliffhanger was released, a third collaboration between Arnie and his Terminator director James Cameron took place and delivered what can only be described as an unapologetically outrageous and wacky love letter to the action genre. True Lies had a premise that, if it were in the wrong hands, could have been a complete and utter disaster. However, this is Arnie and James Cameron we’re talking about. It’s a dream team that could make anything work.

The film has Arnie starring as Harry Tasker, a seemingly mild-mannered computer salesman who has the average day at the office, or so he would have his wife Helen (Jamie Lee Curtis) and daughter Dana (a young Eliza Dushku) believe. Harry is in fact a secret government agent working for the CIA who soons finds himself up against the Crimson Jihad, led by Aziz (Art Malik), who plan to detonate stolen nuclear warheads on American soil.

True Lies has everything going for it, likeable characters from all ends, pulse-pounding action sequences that became increasingly creative as the film progressed, and laugh out loud dialogue and banter. Not a moment of this movie is without a grain of self-awareness, and it is because of this that audiences can have a lot of fun with it.

This one really speaks for itself. It’s a movie that is virtually impossible to dislike (at least from my perspective) and aside from Terminator 2: Judgment Day, True Lies could very well take the number 1 spot of best action movie of the 1990s.

The winner: True Lies, of course. Cliffhanger is a brilliant piece of filmmaking and is a worthy contender but True Lies was such a fun entry into the genre and worked on a level that just simply cannot be replicated.

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2. Cop Land (1997) vs. End Of Days (1999)

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I know, these pairings are fast becoming more ridiculous as the list goes on, but let me explain. Both Arnie and Sly are known for their action and sometimes, even comedy, and save for Rocky and First Blood, neither have really delved all that much into a dramatic role. The choices for this comparison are in completely different genres, but I will focus on exploring how effectively our boys departed from the norm.

After releasing a string of action films with varying critical success, Sly came out with this very unexpected turn in a police action/drama/thriller that boasted the greatest supporting cast this side of The Expendables. In Cop Land, Sly stars as Freddy Heflin, a sheriff in the small town of Garrison, New Jersey where the majority of the population is made up of the NYPD and their families. Freddy wants nothing more than a spot on the NYPD, but due to an accident which left him deaf in one ear, he is unable to achieve this goal. When corruption starts to surface involving cops that Freddy knows well, he begins to investigate and starts to question whether his loyalty is misplaced.

For those of you who believe that Sylvester Stallone’s genuine acting chops were a fluke in Rocky, I beg you to get a copy of this movie and bear witness to his brilliance. Freddy is an awkward, introverted, and severely vulnerable character who has no self confidence when it comes to any sort of confrontation. Sly is playing a character that is the exact opposite of any of the characters he has played in the past, and this certainly proves a very valid point.

Writer/director James Mangold recruited the best of the best to support Sly, including Harvey Keitel, Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, the T-1000 himself (Robert Patrick), Annabella Sciorra, Peter Berg, Frank Vincent, Michael Rapaport, Janeane Garofalo and Arthur J. Nascarella. It’s a fantastic ensemble film, but the real star here is Stallone, and the scenes he shares with all these heavyweights are nothing short of powerful. There’s no cheesiness here, no 80s synthesizers, no absurd action, no one-liners, just a straight-up character piece that explores the darker aspects of law enforcement officials and what they go through. A true tour de force from Sly.

end of days Arnold Schwarzenegger vs. Sylvester Stallone: 5 Of Their Best Movies

Speaking of breaking out of the mold, after Arnie played Mr. Freeze in the abysmal abomination known as Batman And Robin, he went on hiatus for 2 years and came back with what is undoubtedly his darkest movie to date, End Of Days.

The film sees him playing Jericho Cane, an ex-cop now working for a security and protection outfit who lost his wife and daughter in a home invasion and is only an inch away from committing suicide. He finds reason to live, however, when he stumbles upon a conspiracy where a young woman is targeted by church groups. Turns out she’s the chosen bride of Satan, and since it’s 1999, the devil has inhabited the body of a man and must mate with her between the hours of 11pm and midnight to open the gates of hell and end life on Earth.

Arnie has dealt with a lot in his career on screen: warlords, alien hunters, shape-shifting robots, terrorist groups, Sinbad…so I suppose that Satan was the next logical step in upping the ante. I don’t know why critics were so harsh towards this one either, as I enjoyed the film quite a bit, and Arnie’s performance in it. He played a very flawed character who is emotionally destroyed, and he played it pretty well. I put his critical bashing down to the fact that this character was stuck in a supernatural action/horror movie which detracts from ever achieving optimal raw emotional power. The film wasn’t without its problems, but it was something a bit different for the actor and I still enjoy it to this day.

A very able supporting cast including Gabriel Byrne as the devil, Kevin Pollack, the wonderful late Rod Steiger, and Robin Tunney helped move the film along as well. There were a few moments where Arnie was able to let fly with his emotions, most notably when he literally has to relive his wife and daughter’s murder. Until this movie, I’ve never seen Arnie so close to being on the verge of crying, and as horrible as this may sound, it was really nice to see him play vulnerable for a change.

End Of Days is a worthy part of the Schwarzenegger filmography, and while the trademark qualities such as the one-liners and bantering were present, this one was mainly a departure as the tone was very much that of horror and the character allowed Arnie to flex his acting muscles a little more than usual.

The winner: Cop Land. This victory is not based on the calibre of the film but the calibre of the performance, and Sly edged Arnie out here as he was just that much more removed from his action persona.

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1. The Last Stand (2013) vs. Bullet To The Head (2012)

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Coming in at the number one spot is the first solo effort the boys have made in years, following on from the success of The Expendables and The Expendables 2. Well and truly past their heyday, I wasn’t too sure what to expect from these films prior to them being released, but I was still excited to see them nonetheless.

The Last Stand was always going to be epic because it was the first time that Arnie has headlined a movie since completing his term as Governor, and I’m sure that fans were just as eager to see this as I was.

In the film, Arnie is Ray Owens, a small town sheriff who must spring into action when a notorious drug cartel boss makes a run for the Mexican border after he eludes capture from the FBI. Proving that he hasn’t lost his touch, the Governator slipped back into the action mold as if he never left.

What makes The Last Stand so brilliant is that it is well aware of Arnie’s age and it never attempts to ignore that fact by putting him in impossible action sequences that he might’ve been able to pull of 15 years earlier. In saying that, the action never lets up, with scorching car chases, shootouts and fight scenes. The seriousness comes in from the ever reliable Forest Whitaker as a determined FBI agent and Spanish export Eduardo Noriega as the edgy and dangerous drug cartel leader Gabriel Cortez. Throw in Luis Guzman and Johnny Knoxville and you’ll find yourself laughing out loud during moments of extreme violence, what a interesting paradox that creates. The film was met with a modest box office take and mostly positive reviews from critics and fans, but I still maintain that it deserved a far greater reception than it saw.

Welcome back Arnie, we missed you!

BULLET TO HEAD 481x360 Arnold Schwarzenegger vs. Sylvester Stallone: 5 Of Their Best Movies

Around the same time as The Last Stand was released, Sly brought out his solo effort: Bullet To The Head. Unfortunately, it was met with complete financial failure and mixed reviews from critics. Veteran action director Walter Hill was at the helm of this one (his first feature in 10 years) and without a doubt, teaming him up with Stallone was the main drawing card for the film.

Sly plays hitman Jimmy Bobo, who is out for blood when his partner is brutally murdered by mercenary Keegan (modern-day Conan himself Jason Momoa). After realizing that they are looking to bring down a common enemy, Jimmy reluctantly teams with Detective Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang) and their investigation eventually leads them to shady businessman named Morel (Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje).

Bullet To The Head is certainly a much darker film than The Last Stand, and while it certainly delivered on the action front, the chemistry between Bobo and Kwon just didn’t hit the high notes I was hoping for. The banter was clever at times, but these moments were few and far between. The plot itself moved things along nicely Sly definitely brings it here. When he isn’t insulting Kwon or brooding, he is bashing the living life out of nearly everyone who appears on screen. He is in incredible shape for someone who is 67, and pairing him with 32 year old Jason Momoa only further brewed the adrenaline for this action junkie.

My suspicion is that had Bullet To The Head been made anywhere between 10-20 years ago, it may have reached a larger demographic. Unfortunately, because of the evolution that action cinema has experienced up until now, unless the movie is an ensemble piece populated with the action legends of yesteryear, audiences just don’t seem to be interested in the traditional old school action formula anymore, and that’s exactly what this film presented.

The winner: The Last Stand. Arnie’s first post-governor effort injected loads of fun and interesting characters into a familiar formula. Bullet To The Head had lots of unfulfilled potential, but it just wasn’t what fans wanted. While it was still good to see Walter Hill back in the director’s chair and Sly carry a film on his own, it just didn’t match up to The Last Stand.

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Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger at the Los Angeles premiere 490x360 Arnold Schwarzenegger vs. Sylvester Stallone: 5 Of Their Best Movies

There’s an unmatched quality that is experienced when watching an Arnold Schwarzenegger film or a Sylvester Stallone film, whether it’s awesome or a dud. Fans will have their preference over who they believe is better, or if you’re inclined the way I am, you love them both individually for what they have brought to the table for so many years now.

Give me an Arnie or Sly movie any day over an Academy Award winning drama that is 2 hours too long. These two guys are the true embodiment of entertainment and I will watch any film that they put out.

So, tell us, are you an Arnie fan or a Sly fan? Let us know in the comments below.

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  • Kenneth Serenyi

    I’m surprised there wasn’t a “Jungle Action” movie showdown between Predator and Rambo. I’ve simply seen more Arnold action movies and I enjoy his more sci-fi leanings so I’m biased towards him.

    • Matt Schembari

      Predator would’ve been an awesome entry here, and believe me I pondered it for a while. I just couldn’t find something from Sly that could go up against it, and I’m like you in the sense that until recently, I had seen more of Arnold’s movies than I had Sly’s

  • Dr_Marvel

    Or Terminator vs Rambo. Could have done Jingle all the way or Kindergarten cop vs Stop or my mom will shoot

    • Matt Schembari

      It was a very close call between Kindergarten Cop and Twins, but I decided on Twins to explore the buddy aspect against Tango And Cash. And because it was a ‘best’ compilation, I couldn’t in good conscience include Stop Or My Mom Will Shoot.

  • Pronk

    End of days was one of armie’s worst. While he was decent in it, it was poorly directed and distractingly edited, and isn’t a true action movie like the rest of his history

    • Matt Schembari

      I understand where you’re coming from, but I loved it nonetheless. I guess I just have a soft spot for End Of Days because I saw it when I was quite young. You have to give him props for trying something new

      • Pronk

        I guess. But then again the other times he tried something new included junior and batman & robin, so perhaps he truly is best sticking with what works.

        • Matt Schembari

          I definitely agree with you there, Batman & Robin and Junior just didn’t work for me

          • Pronk

            Now that I think of it, I think Twins is his critical/commercial darling when he wasn’t in an R rated action flick.

  • superultraboy

    yes…very surprised Rambo vs Predator wasn’t included. Although they’re five years apart, they still warrant a comparison. Even Rocky and Terminator could have worked based upon their breakout roles.

    • Matt Schembari

      Again I wanted to steer clear of the major franchises, but you’re right, they would’ve made an interesting comparison

  • Matt Schembari

    Thanks everyone for your thoughts and feedback. I just want to reiterate that I did state in the intro why I would be steering clear of the Rambo, Terminator, Conan and Rocky franchises, maybe I’ll save that for another article perhaps.

  • Spongebob Squarepants

    Predator vs Expendables. Arnie only
    Had a cameo one liner. Coulda pitted them against each other on bad ask ensemble
    Action flick.