Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Stallone v. Schwarzenegger

It’s funny how perceptions change. In the 1980s, there was this huge competition between Stallone and Schwarzenegger for the title of biggest action star in the world. It was pretty close at the time, but it seemed like Schwarzenegger was just a hair better than Stallone. His films had more buzz, they were more consistently hits, and he just seemed to have an edge in the culture... everyone quoted his dialog and thought of Aaaanold when they thought of action heroes. Stallone, not so much. So presumably, Schwarzenegger would be better remembered than Stallone by future generations too, right? Well, no. Not really.

Schwarzenegger hit it big in 1981 with the amazing Conan the Barbarian. Then in 1984, he struck gold again with The Terminator. This was followed by a string of hits: Predator, The Running Man, Twins, and Total Recall. By the time Kindergarten Cop and Terminator 2 came around, he was a bankable star who could do no wrong, even though he had -- Raw Deal and Red Heat weren’t great. But in 1993, he had his first huge bomb, Last Action Hero. And his career slipped after that.

Stallone, on the other hand, hit it big with Rocky in 1979, though he appeared in some cult films before that (like Death Race 2000). He rocketed to the top a few years later when he did Rocky II & III and the First Blood series (1982). Outside of those two franchises however, his 80’s films were questionable... Rhinestone, Cobra, Over the Top. It wasn't until the 1990s that he started having hits like Demolition Man and Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot and Judge Dredd.

When you compare the two, you see that Stallone had the longer career - Schwarzenegger faded after 10 years, whereas Stallone seemed to improve for about two decades. On the other hand, Schwarzenegger had more big hits and fewer bad films. And unlike Stallone, he didn’t rely on two franchises to support his fame. I think this contributed to Schwarzenegger seeming like the bigger star because you really were going to see an Aaaanold film, not see his characters; whereas Stallone films were seen as “the latest Rocky movie” or “Rambo film.” But you know, this may ultimately be Schwarzenegger’s undoing, at least as far as film history is concerned.

Indeed, I’ve been watching their old movies lately and I’ve come to realize that Stallone movies are just better. His films hold up very well, Schwarzenegger's don't. Most of Schwarzenegger's films feel dated. They feel like "Aaaanold films" from the era of the 1980's action hero. The only exceptions to this really are Conan and two Cameron films, Terminator 2 and True Lies. Stallone’s films, by comparison, all have different feels to them. Sure, they can be dated by wardrobe or whatnot, but they don't feel dated. I think this is because Stallone is the better actor, and whereas Aaaanold films were about Schwarzenegger hamming it up, Stallone actually tried to play the character. Stallone's films also played to timeless themes, whereas Aaaaanold's films were just about this weightlifter who gets wronged and seeks revenge.

And I don't think I'm alone in this judgment. I've noticed that a lot more of Stallone's films still get play on television, whereas Schwarzenegger's films are slowly vanishing. All that seem to be left for Schwarzenegger are his Cameron films, which became franchises, Predator and Conan. For Stallone, you still regularly see the Rocky films, Night Hawks, First Blood, Demolition Man, Judge Dredd and more. I find this interesting because it suggests that films based around the personality or star power of the actor may not have much longevity, even if they were huge when they were hot. This could be bad news for much of the careers of people like Tom Cruise and Al Pacino. Interesting.

Thoughts?

43 comments:

tryanmax said...

I think much of it comes down to the fact that, in spite of his persona, Stallone has always been a hard-grind actor--he works and works and never quits--whereas Schwarzenegger was just kind of a novelty.

A couple other hard-grind actors who's careers have turned out better than anyone could've anticipated are John Travolta and Robert Downey Jr. Even in the acting biz, it's the hard work that pays off best.

AndrewPrice said...

Excellent way to put it. What's interesting was that being in the era, you didn't see that. Both Stallone and Schwarzenegger were sold as larger-than-life action heroes... not actors. That probably hid Stallone's acting chops, which really are good. In his early films in particular, I'd say he's as good as anything we've seen from De Niro. It's just the 1980's persona which obscured that. And now that we are past the age where that sells tickets, it's his acting ability that has given him a serious leg up.

AndrewPrice said...

Also, I agree about Travolta and Downey Jr. Both seemed like one-hit wonders who kept having hits, had downfalls, and then kept on working and have since turned out a solid body of work based on their acting rather than their names.

Dave Olson said...

Neither of them are what you would call "great actors" in the sense that we've come to know the term. Olivier, Brando, DeNiro, Pacino; that's who most people think of when asked to name one. Stallone is the one who actually trained to be an actor, whereas Arnold (I don't even want to try spelling his name) is an entertainer.

That's what it boils down to, isn't it? To quote Peter O'Toole in My Favorite Year, "I am not an actor, I am a MOVIE STAR!" In Conan, he told John Milius to direct him the way an animal trainer directs a horse. He's not acting in movies to explore the human condition, he's there to entertain you for a couple of hours. And sure, he may get dinged and scratched a little here and there, but he's such a big, powerful force that you know he's going to come out on top in the end. That's why he was rejected for Die Hard. Try to imagine Arnold as John McClane in that bathroom, feet bleeding, facing his possible demise and asking Al Powell over the radio to say goodbye to his estranged wife. Can't do it, can you? That scene only works if the hero is vulnerable. But more to the point, it only works if the hero acknowledges his vulnerability and makes you believe it too. Mere mortals like Bruce Willis could do it. Maybe Stallone could do it. But there's just no way you can accept that Conan The Terminator has any weaknesses.

K said...

Stallone did two films which embarrassed me as a conservative with their crude in yer face right wing messaging.

Cobra - in an attempt to do a "Dirty Harry" number the film features a sniveling liberal district attorney (or whatever he was) in granny glasses (intellectual = jerk) who was more concerned with a suspect's constitutional rights than getting his man. At one point, as I recall, Cobra basically grabs him like a rat to shake some sense into him. I was thinking in the theater - maybe the radicals have a point about American fascism.

Rocky 4: E-vil giant Soviet boxer who with Soviet government help cheats by using steroids. He also kills Apollo Creed in the ring. Hoo boy.

I've often wondered if the writers and producers doing the equally inane lowest common denominator left wing dreck over the last 10 years were influenced in their formative years
by these movies.

Anthony said...

Both guys have some classics under their belts, but both have a lot more turkeys. Speaking as a guy who watched Stop! Or my Mom Will Shoot multiple times because I knew two very hot twins who loved it I can testify with complete assurance that there aren't many worse movies than out there (Mystery Science has featured better movies).

Both of the S's are relics of times when you could be a bodybuilder or a martial artist and hope to be a superstar. Those days are now done. Liam Neeson is a bigger action movie star than all of the weightlifters and martial artists in the world combined (judging by the box office of Taken vs that of The Expendables).

If I had to pick an actor between the two, I'd say Stallone just for the Rambos (all of them are fun to watch and the last Rambo really delivered on the red stuff in a way few modern movies do).

KRS said...

I think the difference between the two is that Stallone is an actor and Schwartzenegger is not. In the late 70's and early 80's, when I took a date to a Stallone movie, we'd talk about it weeks later. In fact, it was my date who wanted to see Rocky. On the other hand, after seeing an Arnold movie, we'd chat about the spectacle afterwards and that was about it.

I remember in the 80's reading more than one reviewer who lamented that Stallone had given up his serious acting chops for big action movies.
But I always thought he delivered more even in these roles than his contemporaries.

I was especially delighted by Demolition Man for being a brilliant yet oddly respectful lampoon of just about everything - popular music, fast food, utopianism, environmentalism, government, the self esteem craze, his action hero competition with Arnold and even 80s action movies themselves. Seriously, his fights with Wesley were wonderfully choreographed satires of the originals.

Both men were worth the price of admission, but Stallone was the actor.

Copland proves my point.

shawn said...

Stallone certainly has a wider range as an actor and has shown to have better longevity.

Schwartzenegger on the other hand, has generally played the quipping action hero for most of his career. Taking a break from acting to be governor of California certainly did him no favors.

That said, I would currently give the edge to Arnold even though Stallone's star is back on the rise with the Expendables movies.

But for me, Conan the Barbarian, , Predator, The Running Man, Terminator 2, Total Recall and True Lies outweigh Rocky 1-3, First Blood and .

Your milage may vary.

shawn said...

Ooops, somehow the first Terminator got dropped from the above list and I have two commas instead.

djskit said...

I think the proof is in the present.

I enjoyed the last Rambo Movie (2008), Rocky Balboa (2006) and both Expendables movies.

That's 4 solid, entertaining, movies in the last 8 year.

Arnold was included in The Expendables as a supporting cameo/gag vs Stallone the star.

AndrewPrice said...

Dave, Stallone can act. Yes, some of his movies are just action-fluff, but he has the ability to be a really solid actor and he's done that at time. Nigh Hawks, First Blood, Rocky, Copland and a few more. He's not just muscle.

Arnold on the other hand, really can't act.

That said, I don't think either could do John McClane because their muscle prevent them from doing the "everyman" role.

AndrewPrice said...

K, Those were horrible movies, that is true. They were very ham-fisted too in their messages. Whether or not they were influential, that I don't know.

AndrewPrice said...

Anthony, Liam Neeson is a bigger action movie star than all of the weightlifters and martial artists in the world combined (judging by the box office of Taken vs that of The Expendables).

Bravo!

I agree that the age of weightlifters as action heroes is over and that's probably a good thing. While I enjoyed their films and some are definitely classic, it was getting a little old.

That said, I do think Stallone is more than just a weightlifter and I actually expect that his career will continue for some time because he can be a solid actor.

AndrewPrice said...

KRS, Copland is fantastic and I thought Demolition Man was a great film -- still holds up today too and gets a lot of play. I agree about the distinction. Stallone was an actor first, an action hero later, and now a kind of both. Arnold was just an action hero.

And while I do enjoy the films of both and I enjoyed Arnold's more at the time, in hindsight, Stallone's films are stronger and have more staying power. They definitely have more impact on you.

AndrewPrice said...

Shawn, Opinions certainly differ. And I enjoy the heck out of all those movies you mention. That said, I do suspect that Stallone will be remember longer than Arnold. It will be interesting to see how this plays out over the next 20-30 years, especially now that both are back in film.

AndrewPrice said...

djskit, And don't forget that Arnold had another film bomb recently... something about him being a sheriff. Don't get me wrong, I like both a lot, but I think Stallone is proving to be the better of the two in terms of having a longer career and being remembered long term.

shawn said...

Dang, I'm losing it. Also just notice that Demolition Man got dropped from my Stallone portion of the list.

Joe Basic Instinct Eszterhas has a pretty good story about giving Stallone a little grief when Stallone was complaining about not writing anymore:
"I used to love writing," said Stallone. "I don't know what happened."
I replied, "I do. You became a movie star. You've had your head in pussy all these years."
Sly said, "You're probably right.
"

I agree that Stallone will have the longer career.

KRS said...

Merging this with another thread ...

Fire Affleck and cast Arnold and Sly for the title characters in Batman vs Superman!

C'mon, it's kismet!

Only, who should play which character?

AndrewPrice said...

Shawn, LOL! I've never heard that before. It's funny to think of Stallone as a writer though, especially as the characters he played in the 80s were largely one-syllable types.

AndrewPrice said...

KRS, That film would sell HUUUUUUGE! What an idea! You could already see the critics slamming it, but the public would eat it up!

KRS said...

Andrew, and a bonus for the studio is that either man could wear either suit without, shall we say, "silicon-based enhancements."

That'll save on production costs. I should be a network exec.

I think I like Arnold for Batman, since the cowl eliminates the need for animated expressions. Also, I'd like to give him the opportunity to say, "I'll be black."

Since I've argued Sly is the actor, let him loose as Superman. Best part would be to have him constantly confusing Lois with Adrian.

AndrewPrice said...

KRS, LOL! I honestly have no idea which one would work better in which role. I could honestly see either actor as either character.

"Yo! Looooois!" LOL!

K said...

That film would sell HUUUUUUGE!

Don't be too sure. My wife, along with a lot of Californian's is on a permanent boycott of Arnold after his craven pussy act when faced with a few public employee union demonstrations. It's tough to buy him as a macho hero when he has the backbone of a jellyfish.

Anonymous said...

I'd have to agree with the general idea that Arnie was the superstar while Sly was the more talented actor.

You just have to look at how they both got their first big movie hit. Arnie got into movies from him bodybuilding, his body got him the role, not his talent. Sly actually wrote the role himself to get ahead and made his own way, his talent took him there.

People forgot how talented he is when he became a superstar like Arnie and started making crappy sequels to Rocky and other crappy movies.

Arnie made less crappy movies and only started to suck in the mid to late 90s with not many good movies since. I really enjoyed The Last Stand, it was kind of a throw back like The Expendables and my complete lack of any positive expectations for it certainly helped.

Sly made a lot of crap, but also made a lot of great movies and is still making them, writing them and even directing them. Demolition Man is a brilliant movie that more people should respect.

Both of them were in classic movies that will last for ages.

Scott.

AndrewPrice said...

K, I think the novelty would pull everyone in.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Excellent diagnosis! :)

They were definitely in some classics. I'll just be curious to see how it all shakes out over time.

Floyd R. Turbo said...

I like Cliffhanger a lot too. The plot is pat but the mountain climber against professional criminals vibe is always a good one for me.

He can act and Arnold can't plain and simple. Rocky I and II, First Blood and Copland prove that.

I also agree that Arnold's political career tainted his legacy a bit. True Lies holds up pretty well though I cringed at the Jamie Lee Curtis striptease scene... that was creepy as a plot point and just a desperate move by an aging actress to create buzz. Tom Arnold's part is the best thing in it though.

ScottDS said...

As someone who came of age in the late 80s/early 90s, both guys seemed to be in the same category, though looking at them now, Stallone is the better actor whereas Arnold is just a larger than life... being. Stallone also seemed to have more creative input, writing and directing many of his own movies whereas Arnold partnered with expert action guys (Cameron, McTiernan, etc.).

Andrew, you might be the only person to refer to Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot as a hit. :-)

Last Action Hero was saddled with a bad release date (a week after Jurassic Park) and a hellish production but I maintain it was ahead of its time. If there's such a thing as a loyal fanbase, I'm definitely a part of it.

AndrewPrice said...

Floyd, True Lies almost has to be considered a miracle because it made Tom Arnold likable!

I also think Arnold's political career has tainted his legacy. His thing was being larger than life and he time as government really shattered that image.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, LOL! Yeah. I put that in there by mistake. Probably should have removed it, but you know... lazy.

Arnold was due for a flop and that film wasn't like his others. The humor was too cerebral in some ways and the film itself was too uneven. It also made the mistake of feeling "tired." It felt like this was Arnold saying, "Man, I've been doing some stupid films and I'm sick of it." That message rarely sells well.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

I concur, Stallone is a better actor and, dare I say, brilliant whenhe's firing on all cylinders.

AlthoughI don't consider Arnold to be a great actor, he does have more range thanI ever thought he would reach.
For example, his comedies, such as Kindergarten Cop, still are a lot of fun, so he has the ability to do action and comedy.

OTOH, Stallone can be funny too (Oscar was hilarious!), can do action, and he can do serious, dramatic roles.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

BTW, has anyone seen the new Stallone/Arnie prison flick?
The trailer looks interesting.

AndrewPrice said...

Ben, I haven't seen it.

I agree about Stallone, he can be brilliant, though only sometimes.

Agreed about Arnold too. I was surprised he had the range to do comedy.

Dave Olson said...

Something else that I don't think has been brought up: Sly was brilliant in Rocky Balboa. (Or as I call it, Rocky 37, after one of the few funny sight gags in Airplane 2.) Can anyone say they weren't moved when he was talking to Paulie about "The Beast"? He was still depressed and angry over the loss of Adrian. His dressing-down of his son was magnificent as well. At first I thought Rocky was going to slap him upside the head, but his monologue was even more devastating.

AndrewPrice said...

Dave, He definitely was. I thought he was great in that.

Individualist said...

When we compare the acting skills of Stallone to Arnold I think the thing that is lost is the language barrier. Although he has done a lot of work on it his Austrian accent will always be there and that has got to be a negative if you want to emote to an English speaking public. I would say that True Lies has some of the best "acting" done by Arnold.

I think that you are all right about Stallone being the better actor but I don't think it is a lack of dedication on Arnold's part as it is a language barrier but I could be wrong.

As to the age of muscle bound movie starts being the action hero being over tell that to the Rock or Vind Desiel. Personally I find movies where the Bad@$$ is a 5'6" 140 lb weakkling to be offputting. As much as I like Tom Cruise's movies it is hard to see him as real in his roles in MI and Matt Damon in the Bourne series... gag me.... but opinion's vary

Anonymous said...

Stallon'es 'Judge Dredd' WAS NOT A HIT. IT WAS A BOMB. It deserved to be. Textbook case of how not to do a strip that was great because of its rules.

Both of 'em are washed up, big-mouthed, Left-leaning losers. And I loved them dearly once upon a time.

Anonymous said...

Stallon'es 'Judge Dredd' WAS NOT A HIT. IT WAS A BOMB. It deserved to be. Textbook case of how not to do a strip that was great because of its rules.

Both of 'em are washed up, big-mouthed, Left-leaning losers. And I loved them dearly once upon a time.

John Johnson said...

Oh wow, I totally didn't realize 'Last Action Hero' was a bomb! I liked that movie. I especially appreciated that it looked like the crew, producers, execs, were really trying to build a good product. But so be it. I should obtain this movie. Don't have it in my collection. I'll do it in after this reply.

I'm by no means a fan of Sly, but I have no qualms admitting that Sly is the better actor. He sure is more complete and showed throughout his career more emotions. Heck, he even had to guts to emote more than many high profile actors. Take for example Kevin Spacey. He always has the same expression in every movie every moment, aside form minor changes. In fact his relative few attempts to emote are frankly plain ridiculous. If I cold post pictures here, I'd post a screenshot from 'Margin Call', where he attempts to cry because his dog died.

But observe Sly for example in Rambo I. Emoting to the max. Name me one high profile actor who emoted as much and intensely as Sly. And 'Copland'! Not many muscled men with an established record of violence could pull off to be a convincing wuss cop. Didn't he even try to sing once? He shouldn't do that again, but A for effort all things considered.

Schwarzenegger, DeNiro, van Damme, Clint Eastwood, Matt Damon, Kurt Russel (my fav), Charles Bronson, Wesley Snipes, and so forth, they have nothing on Sly when it comes to putting effort into emoting. Sly is so much more of a complete actor.

The reason for his bigger movie successes, compared to Arnold, is unknown to me. But I sure think he deserves it.

AndrewPrice said...

John, Yeah, it was a bomb. I still remember people predicting it would be a bomb too just because "It's about time he had a bomb." I don't think it's a bad film at all, but the public disagreed.

Copland is fantastic. I've actually reviewed it. Stallone does a great job in that.

John Johnson said...

Andrew, I watched Copland because of your review. I forgot, but there it is haha.

AndrewPrice said...

John, I hope you liked it.

John Johnson said...

Yes, big time. Thanks. You reviewed and then I watched 'The Woman in Black', which wasn't a success for me. Copland was though.

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