Arnold vs. Sly: King of the Action Heroes (part 1 of 4)
While there have been numerous action heroes in the history of cinema, probably the two men most closely associated with the genre are Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone. Who’s the better of the two? Well, since I have a fondness for the films of both men, to say nothing of absolutely no shame at all when it comes to ripping off ideas from ESPN’s Bill Simmons, I’ll give it a shot.
There are pros and cons to both men. Both are up there in the pantheon of action stars. If there was a Hall of Fame for that genre, they’d be first ballot inductees, along with Clint Eastwood and Bruce Lee.
My personal favorite is Arnold, mainly because I grew up on a steady diet of his movies. That being said, I dig Stallone as well, which makes naming one as better than the other a pretty hard task. I think the best way to go about this is to simply break it down into categories.
1. Early Work:
Coming out of a career in bodybuilding, Arnold’s first role was the amazingly bad Hercules in New York, in which he was dubbed over, due to his accent being about as thick as his biceps. Bit parts in various movies followed (including a Robert Altman movie [!]), and in 1976 he won a Golden Globe for his work in Stay Hungry, a dramedy starring Jeff Bridges in which Arnold stretched his acting talents to their absolute limit by… playing a bodybuilder. He also had some roles on TV, the most notable being Mickey Hartigay in a TV movie about Jayne Mansfield.
His first real exposure to the general public was the bodybuilding documentary Pumping Iron in 1977, and he followed this up with a role in one of the few Hal Needham movies that doesn’t star Burt Reynolds. The Villain is a comic western that features Arnold, Kirk Douglas, and Ann-Margret, with the usual shitty cameos one expects from a Needham project. I haven’t seen it, but I can pretty much guarantee you that it’s an absolute pile of crap.
Stallone’s early stuff is a little bit more interesting, even if you don’t count that softcore porn flick he did. In addition to the usual bit parts in films and TV, Sly did a little screenwriting (some dialogue in The Lords of Flatbush), and also had a great role in a little movie called Death Race 2000. Arguably the best thing Roger Corman has ever put his name on (though a case could be made for Piranha), Sly just about steals the show with his hilariously over the top performance as gangster Machine Gun Joe Viterbo.
It’s pretty damn hard to argue with one of the greatest B-movies of all time. Death Race 2000 is, in its own way, a rather brilliant bit of satire/exploitation, and Stallone helps things considerably with a full-throated, over the top performance. I especially love when he tells his girlfriend, “Some people might think you’re cute. But to me, you’re a very large baked potato!” I believe Stallone actually came up with that line himself.
Granted, Arnold did win a Golden Globe, but it was for “Best Debut by a Male Star”, and it wasn’t even really his debut. (Though, to be fair, it was the first time audiences were hearing his real voice in a movie—and more than likely wishing for subtitles—so I guess it slips by on a technicality.) Arnold also loses points for being in a Hal Needham movie. I don’t give a damn how much he was hurting for work, it’s Hal Needham. Nobody should ever be that goddamn desperate!