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Rambo and Rocky: Sylvester Stallone's path to immortality

Jochen Kürten
July 6, 2021

He punched and shot his way to film history as one of the best paid actors of his time: Sylvester Stallone turns 75 on July 6.

Filmstill Rocky Sylvester Stallone
Image: Imago/EntertainmentPictures

Born on July 6, 1946, Sylvester Stallone, the man who brought Rocky to life in 1976 is celebrating his 75th birthday.

It's a film that still gives viewers goose bumps — as do his later roles in the "Rambo" series, which have many thought-provoking scenes that dig deep into the American psyche.

Sylvester Stallone, left, star of "Rocky," poses with Eletha Finch, widow of actor Peter Finch, and actress Faye Dunaway, at the Academy Awards in Los Angeles, March 28, 1977.
As the screenwriter and star of 'Rocky,' Sylvester Stallone celebrated the film's three Oscars in 1977, including best pictureImage: AP

The American Dream, personified

Rocky was the underdog. Born into poverty, he boxed his way to the top — and in doing so, personified the American Dream.

Rambo, on the other hand, is a former soldier suffering from post traumatic stress disorder who tries to get his feet on the ground in a society that isn't all that interested in knowing about the horrors of the past.

In his later years, while working as both director and as actor, Sylvester Stallone often put action on the back burner, instead promoting many-faceted characters, unpredictable plots, and quiet moments.

He was for example cast against his type in the crime drama Cop Land (1997), taking on the role of an overweight sheriff, and demonstrating that his acting talent went beyond his bodybuilding skills.

Many of his films were flops at the box office. Yet the New Yorker was able to repeatedly pull himself back up again and celebrate his comeback.

Sylvester Stallone Rocky Balboa in "Creed"
Reprising his role as Rocky Balboa in 'Creed,' Sylvester Stallone also won the Golden Globe for best supporting actor in 2015Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures/B. Wetcher

And sequels to his classics remain part of his repertoire: The eighth film in the Rocky franchise, Creed II, came out in 2018, while Rambo: Last Blood, the fifth installment in the reckless warrior series, was released in 2019.

In that respect, he's just like the character of Rocky. And that's no easy thing: Getting up again in a boxing match that can go over 12 rounds is quite a feat. But at 75, Stallone can still say he hasn't been on the receiving end of a KO. 


A previous version of this article was published in 2016 and was updated in July 2021.