This weekend, as you search for a movie to watch, you can either go see eighties action stars Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger team up in Escape Plan or stay home and pick one of approximately 14 billion options available on streaming over a variety of services, be it Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, On Demand, or other sites. Every Friday, Vulture tries to make life easier by narrowing it down to a handful of heartily recommended options. This week, we dig into the gems of Stallone’s career (though not Copland), including his seventies crime flick, a claustrophobic thriller, and an inspirational WWII sports movie.
If you listen to the way Expendables-era Stallone spins his own myth, the actor spent a majority of his career making Rocky movies, Rambo movies, and blockbuster action movies that cemented him as Hollywood’s biggest brute. That’s certainly part of the story, but Stallone does a disservice to his own colorful past. In Nighthawks, he plays a cop who avoids pulling the trigger, bent on bringing men to justice in the cleanest way possible. Though the script was originally designed as a third French Connection movie, Stallone’s brooding persona and authentic New York City scowl fit right into the gritty, race-against-time crime scenario. He’s chasing Wulfgar (Rutger Hauer), a sociopath terrorist who would have made a great Die Hard baddie, with his partner Matthew Fox (played by Billy Dee Williams … not the actual Matthew Fox), who adds flavor to the generic “we’ve got street smarts” attitude of all movie cops from the late seventies. Nighthawks is a slight piece of crime fiction, but refreshing with Stallone in a part that’s not overtly driven. Though he does get to dangle from Roosevelt Island’s iconic gondola lift — a stunning bit of practical stunt work. (Available on Netflix)
Only a director like John Huston, with the clout of fifteen Oscar nominations, could bring together a cast that included Sylvester Stallone, Michael Caine, Max von Sydow, and football superstar Pelé for a Nazi version of The Longest Yard. That’s the boiled-down pitch for Victory (released as Escape to Victory overseas), a WWII sports drama that shows off the dramatic potential of Stallone’s arsenal of grunts. The elegance of Caine and Stallone’s physicality clash as the two try to turn a team of misfits into soccer players while planning a scheme worthy of The Great Escape. Surprisingly, Huston has an eye for both distinct portions of the film — he convinces us that a hulking guy like Stallone could hold his own against the cast of World Cup players, though Pelé’s play design, integrated into the game choreography, didn’t hurt either. (Available on Amazon Prime)
If Stallone had hit his prime in 1996, maybe he would have been a Will Smith type, opening Fourth of July spectacles instead of down-and-dirty action flicks. But he didn’t, so the leftovers came his way. Putting aside his machine guns and headbands, Stallone scored the lead role in director Rob Cohen’s silly trapped-in-a-tunnel thriller. Running around with the likes of Viggo Mortensen, Amy Brenneman, and Dan Hedaya, Stallone felt the slap of critics when Daylight first hit theaters. Blame the “nineties disaster movie” trend — here’s a prime example of a lean movie accomplishing everything it sets out to do. Outlandish, sure, but Stallone matches brawn with heart, carrying us through a movie full of indoor tidal waves, explosions, and the type of bickering that only occurs between people when time is of the essence. Daylight is like the DisneyWorld stunt show with a guest appearance by a movie star. (Available on Netflix)
No matter how “hard R” Stallone opts to go in his later years, he’ll never touch the mayhem of Rambo: First Blood Part II director George P. Cosmatos’s hellish one-man-army picture. Originally penned by Stallone as a script for Beverly Hills Cop, the unlikeliest Hollywood writer-actor decided he wasn’t ready to sacrifice his bloody vision. So Cobra came to be, at once a laughably lackadaisical hero vehicle, worthy of every Razzie it earned back in 1986, and a violent phantasmagoria that begs to be viewed in the hazy vicinity of 3 a.m. It’s a cult of ax-wielding serial killers vs. gun-toting Stallone in a Mad Max–esque fantasy set on the all-too-real streets of Los Angeles. Bizarre, bizarre, bizarre. (Available on Amazon Prime, Redbox Instant)