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How Stallone & Schwarzenegger Pushed Each Other With '80s Movie Feud: "I Had To Get My Ass Kicked Constantly"
The macho poster children for bombastic '80s cinema have since buried the hatchet.
Turns out we have a heated feud between Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger to thank for the ever-increasing bombastic nature of '80s action cinema. The two poster children for slicked muscles, massive guns, and cheesy one-liners get candid about their onscreen rivalry in Netflix's Arnold, a three-episode docuseries about the life and career of the Terminator himself.
"The ‘80s [were] a very interesting time because the definitive action guy had not really been formed yet. Up until that time, action was a car chase like Bullit or French Connection, and a film all about intellect and innuendo and verbal this and verbal that," Stallone explained, going on to credit 1982's First Blood (the debut of John Rambo) as the start of the decade's action boom.
"You actually relied upon your body to tell the story," he continued. "Dialogue was not necessary. I saw that it was an opportunity because no one else was doing this." Well, no one, "except some other guy from Austria, who doesn't need to say much." When the bodybuilder-turned-actor won a Golden Globe for Best Newcomer in 1977, Stallone's reaction was one of skepticism: "Really...?"
By the time Schwarzenegger took center stage in films like Conan the Barbarian and The Terminator, Stallone already had numerous acting and directing credits to his name, as well as an Academy Award victory for Best Picture.
"Sly was ahead of me in the ‘80s, so it was for me to catch up," Arnold said. "Every time he came out with a movie like Rambo II, I had to figure out a way of outdoing that … We were competing about everything. The body being ripped and oiled up. Who is more vicious? Who is more tough? Who uses bigger knives? Who uses bigger guns?"
And thus, Hollywood found itself the epicenter of a feverish blockbuster arms race, which Stallone compared to the legendary boxing rivalry associated with Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. If Stallone killed 15 guys, Arnold had to kill 30. If Stallone carried a machine gun, Arnold had to wield a bazooka. But where Arnold opted for an invincible tough guy persona, Sly took a more vulnerable route.
"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 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."
Both actors have since buried the hatchet, working together on films like The Expendables (itself a throwback to '80s-era shoot-em-ups) and Escape Plan. At the end of the day, however, Schwarzenegger is extremely grateful for their once-tense relationship, citing it as the reason why he ended up being so successful.
"Without Stallone, maybe I 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," he concluded.