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Stallone Looks Back On His Competition with Schwarzenegger in ‘80s Action Movies

Since the arrival of Arnold Schwarzenegger as a potential action star with the 1982 sword and sorcery fantasy Conan the Barbarian, there has been a certain element of competition between the Australian body builder-turned-actor and Sylvester Stallone, the Academy Award-nominated lead and writer of the acclaimed sports drama Rocky.

Throughout the 1980s both Stallone and Schwarzenegger, who were then in their late thirties, dominated the American action scene with a slew of high concept thrillers that boasted an array of explosions, dangerous stunts and memorable one-liners.

Following Stallone’s portrayal of disturbed Vietnam vet John Rambo in 1982’s First Blood, he became typecast for his performances as no-nonsense cops or the wronged man seeking justice in pictures like Cobra, Over the Top and Tango & Cash, while Schwarzenegger’s villainous turn as a cyborg assassin from the future in The Terminator led to more heroic roles in Commando, Raw Deal and Red Heat. Having become something of an entrepreneur even before finding success as a bodybuilder, in the early 1990s Schwarzenegger was approached to participate in a new business opportunity in New York called Planet Hollywood, a movie-themed diner that took its cue from the acclaimed Hard Rock Cafe franchise that had been launched twenty years earlier.

Schwarzenegger’s business partners on the venture were Bruce Willis, then best known as the star of Die Hard, and Stallone, who had become his action rival in the media over the last decade. ‘This went back to the early Rocky and Rambo days, when he was the number one action hero, and I was always trying to catch up,’ explained Schwarzenegger in his autobiography Total Recall. ‘To energise myself, I’d envisioned Stallone as my archenemy, just like I had demonised Sergio Olivia when I was trying to take the Mr. Olympia crown. I got so into hating Sly that I started criticising him in public – his body, the way he dressed – and I was quoted as badmouthing him in the press.’

Stallone’s 1993 science fiction movie Demolition Man, in which he played a ruthless cop from the 1990s who is frozen as punishment for the supposed death of innocent civilians, only to wake up in a an overly politically correct 2032, included a playful reference to their competition with a reference to the President Schwarzenegger Library. Little did Stallone realise that a decade later, shortly after the release of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, Schwarzenegger became the Governor of California, a title he held for the next eight years. Following his retirement from politics and a return to acting, Schwarzenegger had a minor role in in Stallone’s action ensemble The Expendables, whose cast would also include fellow ’80s veteran Dolph Lundgren.

Schwarzenegger has since become a staple of the Expendables franchise, returning to the role of Trench for its sequels, the latest of which The Expendables 3, was released in August 2014. Stallone and Schwarzenegger also co-starred together in last year’s action thriller Escape Plan, in which they were both inmates of a high-tech security prison with echoes of both Fortress and Face/Off.

Cobra and Raw Deal

Cobra and Raw Deal

In a new interview with Jimmy Fallon, Stallone discussed his long-standing conflict with Schwarzenegger. ‘Well, we were very competitive. Yeah, I think hating is a good word,’ he admitted. ‘Did you ever hate someone so much you go, ‘I got to get to the gym?’ You know, a musician would go, ‘I hate this guy, I’m going to blow him away at the next audition.’

He continued, ‘There’s a thing, when people play on your insecurities and your agent goes, ‘You’ve got to do this movie because Arnold’s going to do it.’ I go, ‘Really?’ I said, ‘I don’t think Arnold could do this one, because he’s playing an American cop and they don’t have German accents.’ He goes, ‘I’m telling you, if you don’t do this, Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot, he’s in! He’s in!’ I go, ‘Oh, okay, I’ll do it.”

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