Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone started their acting careers in the 70s. After struggling to find roles, Stallone’s breakout role came in 1974 with The Lords of Flatbush. Meanwhile, Arnold Schwarzenegger starred in Hercules in New York (1970). However, the Austrian Oak turned his attention to bodybuilding. After winning six Mr. Olympia titles, Schwarzenegger refocused on acting. He starred in Stay Hungry (1976) and won critical acclaim. In 1976, Stallone starred in one of the most significant films of his career, Rocky. The actors earned Golden Globe nominations for their performances at the Golden Globe Awards held in 1977. However, little did the duo know that the award ceremony would ignite a rivalry for the ages.
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Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone’s first meeting was explosive. Rocky, starring Stallone, lost in all but one of the award categories. However, Arnold Schwarzenegger won the special category, New Star of the Year. It was Arnie’s only nomination, and every time Stallone lost, the bodybuilding legend laughed at him, Stallone told Variety. Since the actors shared the same table, Sly threw a bowl of flowers at the five-time Mr. Universe when he won, and the two were ready to throw hands. Thus was born a bitter rivalry that defined more than a decade of action cinema.
How did Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone’s rivalry shape Hollywood?
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After their bitter clash at the 34th Golden Globe Awards, the Austrian Oak and the Rambo actor began a battle for box office supremacy. Their rivalry would be a no-holds-barred contest of one-upmanship. After 1976, the actors locked horns once again in 1982. The continuing success of the Rocky series propelled Sly to become one of the best action heroes of his time. In 1982, Rocky 3 was a massive hit. The $17 million production earned around $125 million at the box office. His rival, Arnold Schwarzenegger, debuted as Conan the Barbarian. The $20 million John Milius film was the first of its kind and earned nearly $80 million.
While Rocky continued to be a massive franchise starring Stallone, the Austrian caught up. Schwarzenegger became the talk of the town after the immense success of The Terminator (1984) and Predator (1987). Meanwhile, Sylvester Stallone started another legendary franchise with the Rambo films. From the mid-80s, action cinema had become a personal feuding ground for these Hollywood stars. In fact, their intense rivalry shaped an entire era of action films. The pair even began comparing who killed more bad guys on screen, massively influencing how action scenes would turn out.
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An encounter from the mid-80s captured how much they contributed to what we know today as the over-the-top 80s action. “I think that on Commando, I killed more people than you did on Rambo,” Arnie told Sly. However, Stallone claimed the Austrian fell short, as he had killed 93 in Rambo. Before departing, Arnie promised he would kill over 100 in his next film. “Don’t worry, you are never gonna catch up!” responded Sylvester Stallone. Similarly, before filming Terminator 2: Judgement Day, Schwarzenegger argued his character had to kill more people on screen because he wanted to outdo the Rocky Balboa actor. While director James Cameron didn’t grant his wish, what if he had? What if the Schwarzenegger-Stallone rivalry never ended?
A never-ending feud between two action cinema icons
Could you imagine how Terminator 2: Judgement Day would have turned out if Schwarzenegger’s T-800 hadn’t used smoke grenades during the escape from Cyberdyne? The entire tone of the film would shift. The Schwarzengger-Stallone rivalry lost steam after the mid-90s. After Schwarzenegger stepped into politics, the legendary genre-defining rivalry ended. However, Arnie returned in 2013 with The Last Stand.
The same year, Arnie and Stallone shocked the world by starring side-by-side in Escape Plan. However, what would’ve happened if the two hadn’t put their differences aside? While the days of 80s action cinema are long gone, legendary movies like The Terminator, Predator, Rocky, and Rambo have stood the test of sands of time. Stallone appeared as Rocky in Creed (2015), the same year Arnie returned as the T-800 in Terminator: Genisys. These might have looked quite different had the two remained rivals.
To outdo his rival, Schwarzenegger might have altered the plot of Terminator: Genisys. His changes would’ve made 2019’s Terminator: Dark Fate a completely different film. Besides playing a more significant role, Arnie probably wouldn’t have stepped away from the Terminator franchise. Similarly, Stallone concluded the Rambo franchise in 2019 with Rambo: Last Blood. However, there is little doubt that the plot and title of his film would have been different if he had continued his competition to outdo Arnie. However, none of this happened, and maybe that is for the better.
From rooting against to rooting for one another
Continuing their box office feud would’ve been pointless for the action icons. In the 80s, the actors were young. While they are among the fittest 76- and 77-year-olds on the planet, they are now far beyond their prime. Instead, their collaboration found success. Escape Plan was a massive international hit and might’ve inspired the duo to collaborate yet again on the Expendables franchise.
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Currently, the two rivals-turned-friends continue to work with one another. Recently, Sly appeared on the Netflix docu-series Arnold. In the documentary, the stars reminisced about their rivalry and how it shaped their careers. Stallone admitted that while he didn’t show it, he felt Arnie was the bigger star. On the other side, Schwarzenegger is set to appear in Stallone’s upcoming Netflix documentary. Only time will tell what revelations Schwarzenegger provides on their legendary Hollywood feud.
While Arnie and Sly continuing their rivalry might have been interesting, it might not have been the best for the iconic action franchises they helped create. Instead, the aging stars focused on rooting for one another while bidding farewell to their iconic characters on their terms.
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