10 Sylvester Stallone Characters, Ranked Villainous To Heroic
Sylvester Stallone has recently received some of the best reviews of his career for his turn as a mobster banished to Oklahoma in the Paramount+ series Tulsa King. Like most A-list action movie stars, Stallone usually plays stoic, daring heroes who swoop in to save the day from diabolical villains. But he’s been challenging those perceptions with his recent work. On top of his antihero role in Tulsa King, Stallone has given a dual performance as Samaritan and Nemesis, twin brothers who grew up to become a superhero and a supervillain, respectively.
While Stallone typically plays heroes like Rocky Balboa and John J. Rambo, he occasionally takes on a villainous role like the Toymaker in Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over.
10/10 The Toymaker
The most straightforward villain played by Stallone is “The Toymaker,” who terrorizes the titular young secret agents in Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over. The Toymaker is the creator of the eponymous virtual reality where Carmen gets trapped.
Since he usually plays the hero, Stallone seized the opportunity to ham it up and leaned into the pure villainous evil of the Toymaker.
9/10 Judge Dredd
There’s a confusing tone in the ‘90s Judge Dredd movie. Director Danny Cannon wanted to make a dark, satirical, ultraviolent piece in the vein of the 2000 A.D. source material, but Stallone and his on-screen sidekick Rob Schneider act like they’re in a broad action comedy.
Judge Dredd is a classic example of an action hero that the reboot made better. Karl Urban’s Dredd better reflected the complicated totalitarian antihero seen in the comics than the Stallone version.
8/10 Lieutenant Marion “Cobra” Cobretti
According to Film School Rejects, Stallone redeveloped the Cobra script from his original concept for Beverly Hills Cop. Based on the movie that Cobra became, in Stallone’s hands, the Eddie Murphy vehicle would’ve been a much darker movie. Cobra’s titular antihero, Lieutenant Marion “Cobra” Cobretti, is a tough-as-nails vigilante cop in the mold of Dirty Harry.
Cobretti exists in a moral gray area; he pursues noble causes, but he doesn’t always achieve his goals through ethical means.
7/10 Jack Carter
Stallone inherited the title character in Get Carter from Michael Caine in a Hollywood remake of the classic British gangster movie of the same name. In the reimagining, Jack Carter is a Las Vegas mafia enforcer who returns to his hometown to investigate the circumstances surrounding his brother’s death.
Jack is an unscrupulous mafioso who makes a living with violence, but his driving motivation in the movie is getting justice for his brother, which makes him the hero.
6/10 Sergeant John Spartan
The Stallone character in the high-octane sci-fi actioner Demolition Man is another renegade cop in the mold of Cobra. After failing to save some hostages from crime lord Simon Phoenix, Sergeant John Spartan is sentenced to be cryogenically frozen alongside his arch-nemesis.
What makes Spartan the hero is that he’s the only man who can bring down Simon Phoenix. When Phoenix escapes into a dystopian future, Spartan is thawed out and his risk-taking approach to law enforcement is embraced.
5/10 King Shark
No one in The Suicide Squad is a hero. The whole premise revolves around a secret branch of the government recruiting imprisoned supervillains to carry out dangerous missions in exchange for years off their sentence. But out of all the antiheroes in the movie, Stallone’s King Shark is arguably the most wholesome.
James Gunn dug into King Shark’s humanity, exploring the loneliness of a beast and outcast who just wants to belong. In the finale, he gives his life to save his fellow Task Force X reprobates.
4/10 John J. Rambo
The headlining star of one of Stallone’s biggest franchises, grizzled Vietnam War vet John J. Rambo, is the ultimate reluctant hero. Rambo is not a killing machine because he’s a fearless jingoistic warrior in the mold of John Wayne; he’s a killing machine because his government exploited what he did best for its own warmongering purposes.
The sequels never lived up to First Blood because the original movie offered the most poignant exploration of these themes. Rambo doesn’t bother anybody; he gets pushed to his breaking point by crooked small-town cops.
3/10 Sheriff Freddy Heflin
Stallone gave one of his most nuanced dramatic performances as a small-town New Jersey sheriff who comes up against crooked New York cops in the neo-noir gem Cop Land. Freddy is one of the only heroic cops in the movie; most of the others are corrupt.
It takes Freddy a long time to become a hero. He initially protects the dirty NYPD cops from the Internal Affairs division, but does the right thing soon enough.
2/10 Gabe Walker
Aptly described as “Die Hard on a mountain,” Cliffhanger stars Stallone as Ranger Gabe Walker, a former mountain climber and current rescue ranger. Gabe is classically heroic; he’s dedicated his life to saving others from certain death. He doesn’t have a spotless track record; he’s haunted by his failure to save his best friend’s girlfriend’s life.
As he strives to move on from the worst mistake of his career, the central action of the movie gives Gabe a chance at redemption.
1/10 Rocky Balboa
Stallone established and perfected the formula for sports movies with the Rocky franchise. Rocky Balboa is the ultimate underdog, constantly going up against boxing opponents who are thought to be out of his league. In the first movie, he fights a world-renowned champion as part of a publicity stunt, and puts in the work to do the best he can in the ring.
Rocky might not be a hero in the same way that badass warriors like John Rambo and Judge Dredd are, but he is a character that audiences everywhere can look up to.
NEXT: 10 Reasons The Rocky Sequels Could Never Top The Original