Sylvester Stallone Keeps Going the Distance

The Rocky franchise is perhaps unlike any other in the American film industry. Spanning 42 years and eight films, its only real competition for longevity comes from Star Wars, a story with so many more characters, layers and planets that its nine films seem justified. Rocky, on the other hand, barely strays from Stallone’s character and only rarely takes audiences outside of Philadelphia. And while most of the films are enjoyable (and feature some of the film world’s best training montages), none of the sequels have been as well-crafted or as critically loved as the Oscar-winning original.

By all accounts, Americans don’t mind revisiting the same character so often—we even gave Stallone an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for the first Creed. Three years later, Creed II has an 82 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, earned an ‘A’ CinemaScore and grossed a more than respectable $8.9 million on Thanksgiving Day. In fact, according to projections, it will take in a whopping $60 million over the course of the five-day weekend. If that’s accurate, Creed II will have had the best live-action Thanksgiving opening of all time.  

That is, in a word, incredible. And it’s all thanks to Stallone, who didn’t let the universal panning of Rocky V in 1990 keep him from resurrecting his classic character with Rocky Balboa 16 years later.

Then again, maybe this isn’t such a shock. It’s not a huge leap to think that Stallone, the man man who plays Rocky and also wrote the original screenplay, imbued the character with many of his own values. The parallels are clear: Stallone might be one of the most powerful players in Hollywood now, but any fan of his knows he started out with nothing. And neither Stallone nor Rocky could ever be called a quitter—the man works out enough to look 20 years younger than he is and has earned 83 acting credits since he began working in 1969. Not all of his efforts have garnered the same amount of attention as Rocky or First Blood — or even Judge Dredd or Cliffhanger — but regardless, Stallone has managed to be a regular attraction at the movies for almost 50 years.

Perhaps it’s these shared qualities that makes Stallone so successful with American audiences. No matter how poorly one of his films is received (See: 2018’s Escape Plan 2: Hades, which received 9 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and performed below budget at the U.S. box office), he’s always game to do another (See: the upcoming Escape Plan 3: Devil’s Station). And while many of his stand alone projects from the past couple of decades don’t get as much buzz as they did before he made the questionable choice of playing Toymaker in 2003’s Spy Kids 3: Game Over, he manages to stay firmly in the cultural zeitgeist by coming back to his strengths, Rocky, Rambo, and now, Barney Ross (The Expendables).

For example, most people probably haven’t seen a trailer or article about Backtrace, an action-heavy crime/drama film starring a 72-year-old Stallone that will be in theaters December 14. (Yes, this December 14.) But the internet is already getting excited for plot details about Rambo 5 (2019), also featuring a senior-citizen aged Stallone as an action hero. Why do we care about one so much more than the other? Perhaps it’s because we just “can’t believe” he made another one. But if that’s the case, we should really stop being so surprised.