Sylvester Stallone is still lighting up the big screen with explosive characters to this day. From a career that famously started out with softcore adult movie work, Stallone built himself up as a formidable writer, director, and blockbuster action star. In both their primes, the only actor who truly rivaled him was his eventual business partner, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Over the decades, Stallone’s stolen the show as a good guy, a bad guy, a rock climber, a boxer, several trigger happy cops, and maybe the most famous fictional war veteran of all time. Here’s our picks for Sylvester Stallone’s 10 most badass characters.
10 Machine Gun Joe Viterbo
“The roughest tough guy of them all,” Machine Gun Joe Viterbo is a famously lethal racer from perhaps the most Cormany Roger Corman movie of all time, Death Race 2000. The movie is set in a fictionalized version of America in the near future—or the near future of 1975—where a colorful group of Wacky Races-style drivers competes in a road race deathmatch.
Machine Gun Joe is recognizable for his merciless style and his over the top car. It features a giant Bowie knife on the hood and two classic gangster Tommy guns for headlights. “Loved by thousands, hated by millions,” Joe is a one of a kind bad guy role for the usually heroic Stallone and it’s hopefully a side of him we’ll see more of one day.
9 Stakar Ogord
Stakar Ogord is a leader in the Ravager factions from the Guardians of the Galaxy movies and an intergalactic badass. Though he’s not on screen for very long, it’s easy to feel how big a presence he is in that universe. His respect is coveted by some of the most dastardly cutthroats from across the stars and he’s always surrounded by a wide array of fascinating pirates and thieves.
Known in Marvel comics as Starhawk, Stallone’s interpretation is a little more toned down to be in line with the movie’s overall biker aesthetic but it works better than a more flashy look. Like a lot of Stallone’s more recent roles, Stakar has a distinct paternalistic vibe to him and that makes him more powerful than any super suit could.
8 Barney Ross
Leader of The Expendables, Barney Ross is the most peak-Stallone character that Stallone still plays. He’s a one-liner spouting, sixgun shooting, old school kind of badass that takes the fans of those movies all the way back to the machismo boom of the 1980s.
Barney’s seen it all and done it all. If they were big in the '80s and they look kind of villain-ish then you can bet Barney’s killed ‘em and said something stupidly cool after he did it. So far, he’s squared off against Eric Roberts, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Mel Gibson. We hope he has a long future fighting an increasingly ridiculous roster of Hollywood tough guys.
7 Gabe Walker
Gabe Walker is a fearless mountain ranger in the Colorado Rockies who gets caught up in a calamitous heist lead by John Lithgow’s excellent bad guy. (Think Stewie Griffin but adult sized and real.) Though scarred by a failed rescue attempt, Gabe gets his groove back and goes John McClane on the bad guys.
Gabe’s most badass quality has to be his climbing skills. Cliffhanger may mostly take place on indoor sets made to look like the outdoors but it’s got some pretty impressive stunts on some real mountains and, even when it’s just make-believe, you can get vertigo looking at Gabe’s death-defying feats.
6 Marion Cobretti
As the tagline so eloquently put it, crime is a disease and he’s the cure. A member of the LAPD’s elite ‘Zombie Squad,’ Lieutenant Marion Cobretti is a walking genre cliche and audiences have been loving him ever since he started blasting bad guys at the beginning of the movie. So much so that we may be seeing him back on our screens soon.
Cobra is one of those beautiful movies that feels like a parody but it’s taking itself dead seriously – and that only makes it, and the lead character, so much more fun to watch. It doesn’t matter how bright or dark it is outside, you’ve always got good odds of seeing Marion in his aviator shades. It’s a kind of badass that has little to no regard for logic or the laws of physics because, when you’re that badass, who needs them?
5 Judge Dredd
Stallone’s take on the classic comic book character may not have been as faithful–or good–as Karl Urban’s 2012 outing but it’s a lot of fun. Paired against the great Armand Assante, chewing more scenery than has ever been chewed before, Stallone’s Judge Dredd is one of his biggest, shoutiest, performances to date.
Tricked out head-to-toe in Versace body armor, Stallone takes Marion Cobretti into the 22nd century. Dredd doesn’t enforce the law, he is the law. He fights robots, rides a flying motorcycle, wastes cyborg cannibal hillbillies in his downtime, talks to his gun and his gun talks back... Just one of those things usually qualifies people for the badass hall of fame.
4 John Spartan
John Spartan, nicknamed ‘The Demolition Man,’ is the quintessential machismo movie tough guy. There’s nothing he won’t blow up, crash, punch, or shoot in order to save the innocent and get the bad guys. Frozen in a cryogenic prison for a frame job, John awakens in a future where humanity has shrugged off all violence and unpleasantness. So it’s up to him to show society how to break the rules again.
Paired up against Wesley Snipes’ unforgettably animated villain, as well as a score from Batman Forever and Batman & Robin composer Elliot Goldenthal, John Spartan is kind of the closest audiences ever got to seeing Stallone play Batman. The results do not disappoint.
3 Kit Latura
Kit Latura is the disgraced former chief of the New York Emergency Medical Services. When an explosion collapses sections of the Holland tunnel underneath the Hudson River, Kit is the only person with the guts to go on a one-man suicide mission to try and rescue the people trapped down there.
What made Kit Latura such a badass wasn’t just how brave he was, it was that he was also a huge departure from the conventional action roles that stars like Stallone or Schwarzenegger would play in that era. Daylight is a solidly tense thriller but nobody ever holds a gun on anybody. Kit’s a man of action but that action is all about saving people’s lives. Latura doesn’t take on bad guys, he takes on nature and death itself.
2 John Rambo
He’s taken on the American National Guard, he re-fought the Vietnam War by himself (and won), he beat the Russians in Afghanistan, obliterated about half of the Burmese army (again, by himself), and he’s not even done yet. Rambo has been a byword for unstoppably badass action since the '80s, even in other movies that Stallone starred in. He debatably defined the decade in terms of American popular culture.
With his trusty bow and bandana, the special forces veteran has surprised and entertained generations of people with his lethal ingenuity and unashamed emotion. It was almost not to be, too. In the original novel and original cut of the first movie, Rambo didn’t make it. Stallone changed that, shooting the new ending right after the original one, and nobody can say he made a bad call.
1 Robert 'Rocky' Balboa
For over forty years, Rocky Balboa (aka The Italian Stallion) has been an international symbol of never giving up. He’s more beloved than most real sports figures throughout history and he reached that level by earning the audience’s respect. Rocky isn’t just a badass in victory, Rocky is the king of badasses even in defeat.
Rocky’s inspired millions. He’s risen from nothing, conquered the world, lost it all, got it back and passed the gauntlet. He arguably even single-handedly ended the Cold War by punching a giant repeatedly in the face to avenge his best friend’s death. Can you think of a more badass legacy than that? Do you want to?