Every Sylvester Stallone Movie Franchise Ranked From Worst to Best

Sylvester Stallone is one of the most popular action stars of all time, with other notable successes in the realms of drama and comedy, but which of his franchises is truly the best, and how do they rank against one another? From the award-winning heights of Rocky to the over-the-top action of The Expendables, Stallone has led some of the most notable films of the past few decades. Of course, as is true of any star, some of his cinematic ventures have been more successful than others.

Though he’s best known for his franchise work, many of Stallone’s most notable movies never got sequels. Action classics like Tango & Cash, Cobra, Cliffhanger, The Specialist, and Demolition Man were all one-offs, with Stallone never returning to reprise iconic characters like Marion Cobretti. Stallone accrued a massive fanbase in large part because of his many different movies and characters, but he’s still perhaps best remembered for the films that begat sequels and eventually spawned franchises.

Related: Every Time Sylvester Stallone Was Tricked Into Making A Movie

Hollywood stars are often made on the merits of the series they lead. It’s a trend that’s still seen in the modern era, like with Vin Diesel in Fast and Furious and The Chronicles of Riddick, or Robert Downey Jr. with Sherlock Holmes and the MCU. No matter how many one-off films Stallone makes, his fame is similarly still due to his most prolific characters. With that in mind, here’s every Sylvester Stallone franchise ranked from worst to best.

4. Escape Plan

Escape Plan 3 Sylvester Stallone Dave Bautista

The Escape Plan franchise started off well enough, with a 2013 film that saw Stallone team up on screen with long time friend and cinematic rival Arnold Schwarzenegger. The story of a security expert, played by Stallone, having to escape from a prison of near impenetrability was compelling, and while the first Escape Plan didn’t do anything new in the genre, it was fun enough to find significant box office success abroad. Escape Plan currently holds a 50% rating on Rotten Tomatoes – a testament to its overall mediocrity but occasional moments of action-packed excitement.

Unfortunately, rather than build on that initial premise, the two following films plummeted in overall quality. Escape Plan 2: Hades was produced on a budget of just $20 million – less than half of the previous film – and only released theatrically in select international markets, going straight to video in the U.S. That may have been the right call, as the film ended up being brutally panned by critics, earning an 8% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a description from Stallone himself as being the “most horribly produced film I have ever had the misfortune to be in.” Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson and Dave Bautista, a repeat movie co-star with Stallone, do their best to help carry the load in both Escape Plan 2 and the third film, Escape Plan: The Extractors, which was produced for just $3.6 million, but to no avail. While it’s not entirely devoid of entertainment value, the Escape Plan franchise is little more than a shadow of the films that first made Stallone famous.

3. Rambo

Based off the merits of First Blood alone and the occasional highpoint in the series afterwards, there’s an argument to be made that Rambo deserves to be higher on this list. After all, the character of John Rambo is one of the most famous action heroes of all time, and the original trilogy has been extremely influential for all sorts of subsequent movies, TV shows, video games, and other media. The headband is iconic, as are the bow and arrow and the character’s persistently grim expression. There’s no doubt that First Blood is a great film, combining visceral action with a taut, emotional story about loneliness, trauma, and abuses of power.

Related: The Perfect Character For Stallone In Tarantino’s First Blood (Not Rambo)

As an overall franchise, it’s hard not to see Rambo as somewhat disappointing. There have certainly been good entries since the first film – most notably Rambo III, which is the most lighthearted and absurd entry in the franchise, and 2008’s Rambo, which has received praise for its brutal action sequences and effective dark tone. Yet, even those two films are loaded with problems. Rambo (2008) has as many critics as it does fans, with many bashing the film upon its release for glorifying the kind of gratuitous violence that First Blood handled so deftly. Rambo III, while fun, is more of a venue for Stallone to drive tanks into helicopters than it is an actually compelling story.

That doesn’t even cover Rambo: First Blood Part II and Last Blood, both of which were critically panned upon release and have received extensive criticism for poor writing, bad acting, culturally insensitive narratives, and an overall lack of direction. John Rambo is a great character, and he has at times been at the center of great stories and spectacular action scenes. However, the Rambo franchise – despite its influence – has consistently fallen short of its potential, tainting its good moments more often than it’s amplified them.

2. The Expendables

Expendables 4 theory Sylvester Stallone Barney Ross killed off

Like Escape Plan, The Expendables franchise doesn’t bring much new to the action movie genre. However, unlike in Escape Plan, that ends up working to its benefit. When the first Expendables came out in 2010, it was pitched as a love letter to the action movie heyday of the 1980s and 1990s. Stallone led the charge, but he was joined throughout by a staggering ensemble of other stars including Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Harrison Ford, Chuck Norris, Wesley Snipes, Antonio Banderas, and Mickey Rourke.

No Expendables film is a masterpiece, but they all execute on exactly what the set out to do: deliver fun, stylish action with their massive cast of beloved actors, harkening back to a time when action movies ruled the box office. The Expendables is a well-paced and exciting celebration of the genre, and The Expendables 2 magnifies everything about the first film with more stars, bigger explosions, and even more creative action set pieces. The Expendables 3 struggles to find any remaining uncharted territory, but it’s still a fun ride. It looks like The Expendables 4 could revitalize the franchise with some fresh talent and a different structural twist.

Related: Expendables 4: Every Character Returning For The Fourquel

Is any single film in the Expendables franchise as good as First Blood? No. Even so, as a whole, the franchise is far more successful. All three Expendables movies are reliable and exciting, and the assembly of retro action talent alone is a feat to be applauded. It might seem odd that an older star like Stallone started one of his best franchises just a decade ago, but The Expendables is a testament to his enduring audience appeal.

1. Rocky

There’s no real debate as to what Stallone’s greatest franchise is. In the pantheon of modern cinema, the Rocky series stands as one of the most beloved and iconic ever put to film, full stop. The first film is an Oscar-winning masterclass in narrative momentum and subtle character development. Rocky II, Rocky III and Rocky IV, while not as strong overall as the original, all deliver exciting stories of perseverance and overcoming the odds. Rocky Balboa is a surprisingly heartwarming late entry that pushes the eponymous character through new and compelling challenges, and the Creed films have resuscitated the entire franchise for a new generation with great success.

The only real pitfall in Rocky’s impressive cinematic history is Rocky V, and one dud in eight movies is a pretty good track record. From the music and the fights to the training montages and the stellar performances from Stallone, Talia Shire, Michael B. Jordan and the rest of the cast, the best Rocky movies hit on just about every possible note. It’s a titanic name in the history of film, and without a doubt, it’s Sylvester Stallone’s greatest franchise to date.

Next: Rocky True Story Explained: Who Was Chuck Wepner

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