Decades Later, Sylvester Stallone Says ‘Superior’ Arnold Schwarzenegger One-Upped Him As An Action Star

 Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Terminator and Sylvester Stallone in Cobra, pictured side by side and wearing sunglasses.
Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Terminator and Sylvester Stallone in Cobra, pictured side by side and wearing sunglasses.

Between the competing careers of movie stars Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone, the world saw some of the best action movies crafted and released into theaters. The ‘80s and ‘90s heyday of both men made for a fascinating case of competing filmographies, giving the world franchises like The Terminator and Rambo. It led to some pretty intense rivalry between these action heroes too. However, decades later they’ve both given each other some pretty complimentary credit, and Stallone even admits to being one-upped by the “superior” Schwarzenegger.

Arnold Schwarzenegger in Commando
Arnold Schwarzenegger in Commando

Why Arnold Schwarzenegger Was The “Superior” Action Star, According To Sylvester Stallone

In a section of the Netflix documentary Arnold, the story of the Austrian actor’s rise as an action star obviously includes the tale of how he and Sly were rivals in Hollywood. With Sylvester Stallone roughly on the rise at the same time as fellow newcomer Arnold Schwarzenegger, their competition wouldn’t kick into gear until the 1980s. And when it got started, the Rocky star apparently knew his strengths and weaknesses pretty quickly, admitting so in an interview for the documentary with the following remarks:

Arnold started to come on strong. We became incredibly competitive, like Ali and Frazer or great warriors that are traveling the same course. There was only room for one of us. We had a different style of acting, completely. He was superior. He just had all the answers. He had the body. He had the strength. That was his character. I would try to be the kind of guy that’s not overly gifted. I had to get my ass kicked constantly, whereas Arnold, he never got hurt much, and I’m going, ‘Arnold, you could go out and fight a dragon, and you’d come back with a Band-Aid.’ We were incredibly antagonistic. We couldn’t even stand to be in the same room. People had to separate us. … He wanted to be number one. Unfortunately, he got there.

Those early days in this iconic feud were pretty heated, as evidenced by Sylvester Stallone’s story of throwing a bowl of flowers at Schwarzenegger during the 1977 Golden Globes. When recalling that story for a 2019 interview, Stallone admitted that he and his competition realized they were “the same person” in the long run. But in the heat of battle, Arnold Schwarzenegger admitted that it was practically a war.

The two men were in competition in terms of everything, and they weren’t afraid to admit it. Muscle definition, gun size, and even kill counts were all up for grabs as movies like Commando, Cobra, and the like were pitted against each other in the public eye. However, just as Sylvester Stallone admitted he felt Arnold Schwarzenegger was superior, Arnold gave credit to Sly for influencing such efforts in the first place.

Sylvester Stallone in Rambo: First Blood Part II
Sylvester Stallone in Rambo: First Blood Part II

How Arnold Schwarzenegger Admitted Sylvester Stallone Influenced His Career

If you’d asked the Arnold Schwarzenegger of the ‘80s and ‘90s about how his rivalry with Sylvester Stallone pushed him, he might have given a more jocular answer that downplayed the whole scenario in his favor. The Arnold of today, however, is much more reflective, and he has obviously buried the hatchet with Sly.

Thanks to this detente between deltoids, the Terminator actor can admit Stallone’s influence on his career more easily. He said in the documentary:

Sly was ahead of me in the ‘80s, so it was for me to catch up. Every time he came out with a movie like Rambo II, I had to kind of figure out a way of outdoing that. … Without Stallone, I maybe wouldn’t have been as motivated in the ‘80s to do the kind of movies that I did, and to work as hard as I did. I’m a competitive person. My whole life was always like this.

While Sylvester Stallone would give Arnold Schwarzenegger credit for his skills, Schwarzenegger in turn cited Stallone's success as motivation. What resulted is perhaps a rivalry that contributed to both men's lives about as much as it set them back.

The Schwarzenegger/Stallone rivalry may have been one of the most macho showdowns that really didn’t need to happen. As you can see, both men had a handle on their careers, and they knew their skill sets. So maybe if there were some cooler heads present, we may not have witnessed that time Arnold tricked Sly into making Stop, Or My Mom Will Shoot! 

But then again, would we have gotten movies like Commando or Demolition Man without that constant headbutting? As with any battle of wills in Hollywood, the sweet and the sour are ever present, making for a story that deserves to be told in the first place.

You can enjoy that story for yourself in the three-part documentary Arnold, which is currently streaming for those with a Netflix subscription. And while Schwarzenegger won't be back for Expend4bles, fans will still see Sylvester Stallone in one last ride when that series returns to theaters on September 22nd.