Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone had a very real rivalry in the 1980s - and it continues (in tongue-in-cheek fashion) today. The two iconic action heroes defined a generation of muscular, gun-toting, violent flicks, but in their heyday three decades ago, Arnold and Sly were as much at war with each other as Stallone's John Rambo and Schwarzenegger's John Matrix were at war with scores of enemy soldiers.
Today, Stallone and Schwarzenegger are in their early 70s (Sly is 73, a year older than Arnold) but four decades ago, their career trajectories began to rise simultaneously before they intersected and sparked a mutual dislike and feud. Both Arnold and Sly's movie careers started to catch fire in the late 1970s; Stallone's origin story is famous for his writing Rocky, featuring a starring role for himself as boxer Rocky Balboa, which catapulted him to stardom and earned him Oscar nominations for Best Actor and Best Screenplay (Rocky itself won Best Picture in 1976). Schwarzenegger was a world-famous Mr. Olympia bodybuilder who moved to Hollywood to get into movies. Though his breakthrough role didn't come until he starred in 1982's Conan The Barbarian, Arnold enjoyed a string of box office hits after James Cameron cast him as the iconic killing machine in 1984's The Terminator.
By the mid-1980s, Schwarzenegger and Stallone were the top two action movie stars in Hollywood and they were at war, constantly trying to outdo each other with their testosterone-fueled, explosion-packed extravaganzas. Schwarzenegger had a literal size advantage over the more diminutive Stallone and he worked with some of the top action directors of the era, like James Cameron and John McTiernan, but Stallone had the pedigree of being a writer and director who often crafted his own material. Later in the decade, both expanded their range and ventured into comedies, a field Schwarzenegger had a clear advantage in thanks to starring opposite Danny DeVito in Ivan Reitman's Twins (1988). Meanwhile, Stallone's attempts to top Arnold in comedies failed miserably and Arnold even infamously bamboozled Sly into starring in one of the worst comedies of the era: 1992's Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot!
Today, Arnold and Sly have buried the hatchet, have worked together in several films like The Expendables and Escape Plan, and they have become good friends - albeit friends who still tease each other mercilessly. But back in the 1980s, Stallone and Schwarzenegger were downright combustible and their real-life hatred for one another is the stuff of Hollywood legend.
The Origin Of The Stallone/Schwarzenegger Feud
The "violent hatred" (in Stallone's words) between Sly and Arnold began in the 1970s as both their stars were on the rise. Schwarzenegger and Stallone were already very much aware of each other when they met face-to-face for the first time at the 1977 Golden Globes, where Rocky was up for several awards. Stallone bristled as Schwarzenegger bragged about his own future greatness and, after Rocky lost at the Globes, Arnold smugly mocked Stallone's failures to win his prized accolades. In a rage, Sly then picked up a vase full of flowers and hurled it across the room at Schwarzenegger. With that, the war was on.
According to Stallone, who would publicly tell these stories many years later, he and Schwarzenegger had such animosity that "even our DNA hated each other". Sly admitted his resentment that "Schwarzenegger was even on the same planet". Throughout the 1980s, both action stars were keenly aware of each other's career moves and they made many decisions based on outdoing the other. As Stallone told David Letterman in 2013, "After a while, I started to like this competition, this one-upmanship. He’d get a bigger gun. I’d shoot more people. He’d shoot more people."
Who Won The Stallone v Schwarzenegger Feud In The 1980s?
While fans of either superstar could argue that their favorite was the dominant action hero of the 1980s, the edge overall leans towards Schwarzenegger, especially when it comes to outsmarting his rival Stallone. In the late 1980s, both stars were trying their hands at comedies and Arnold took advantage of Sly's loathing for him to pull off a tremendous prank: After Schwarzenegger scored with Twins, Stallone decided he needed to be funny and starred in the mob comedy dud Oscar!. But when a script for Stop Or My Mom Will Shoot! - which Arnold called "a piece of sh*t" - was offered to him, he contacted Stallone and falsely bragged that he wanted to do it. Eager to undermine his enemy, Stallone made sure that he starred in the disastrous comedy that co-starred Estelle Getty, a decision Sly regrets to this day.
However, the Schwarzenegger/Stallone arms race ended up benefiting their careers. In Arnold's words, having the competition "really pushed you to accelerate". While he had misfires like Rhinestone, Stallone's output in the 1980s was his glory period as he starred in Rocky III, Rocky IV, First Blood, Rambo: First Blood Part II, Cobra, and Tango & Cash, which were hits with fans if not with critics. Arguably, however, Arnold's 1980s films were even bigger; besides The Terminator, Arnold scored with Commando, The Running Man, Predator, and Twins. Both musclebound heroes created iconic characters in the Eighties that still endure and they continue to play those roles; in 2019, Stallone resurrected John Rambo in Rambo: Last Blood while Arnold once again played the Terminator in Terminator: Dark Fate.
While it's hard to definitively say who won the Eighties, both Stallone and Schwarzenegger struggled in the 1990s. After Arnold's apex with Total Recall, Terminator 2: Judgment Day and True Lies, he stumbled with Last Action Hero and then began a career decline. Similarly, Stallone entered the '90s with two hits, Demolition Man and Cliffhanger, before his box office power started to fade. By the end of the 1990s, Stallone and Schwarzenegger's reign as the Action Kings of Hollywood was definitely over.
The Stallone/Schwarzenegger Feud Today
Today, Stallone and Schwarzenegger look back fondly at their heated rivalry and both seem content with how their fortunes turned favorably in the 21st century. Of course, from 2003-2011, Arnold Schwarzenegger served as Governor of California (AKA The Governator) and he stopped acting during his term in office. Meanwhile, Stallone slowly mounted a career comeback: Sly returned to his best-loved role in the well-received Rocky Balboa in 2006 before continuing the Rocky saga with the Creed films, for which Sly scored a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination. Stallone also masterminded bringing together his fellow 1980s action hero icons in The Expendables franchise - which includes Arnold Schwarzenegger. Arnold and Sly teamed up again in 2013's Escape Plan, proving they had finally settled their youthful differences.
Nowadays, Arnold and Sly treat their old rivalry as a joke and they mainly tease each other over their past successes and failures. Stallone can always hold the fact that he's a writer and director who has won Academy Awards over Schwarzenegger, who has accomplished none of those things. But in the field of politics, Arnold terminates Stallone as a former Governor who knows Presidents of the United States. Either way, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone are inarguably the two biggest action stars of the Eighties who thrilled and inspired generations of fans. Their rivalry is now a thing of the past and a source of endless amusement but they can still count on their fans to argue in their stead over which 1980s action heroes are better: Rocky Balboa and John Rambo or the Terminator?
- Terminator: Dark Fate (2019) release date: Nov 01, 2019