The rivalry between Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone defined Hollywood in the 1980s, as both movie stars dominated the box office with classic action movies like First Blood and The Terminator. Schwarzenegger and Stallon shed light on their bitter rivalry in the latter’s new three-part Netflix documentary, Sly.
“Sly, all of a sudden with Rambo, he stepped into my arena,” said Schwarzenegger in Sly. “All of a sudden he was ripped with muscles and everyone [was] talking about his body. So that created competition, of course…I was always trailing Sly, I was always a step behind. He was always making bigger grosses. Then a year later I made the same grosses, but by that time, he made bigger grosses again.”
The former California Governor went on to say their competition got so bad, they became like children who competed over “stupid things.”
“We were like little kids,” said the 76-year-old Schwarzenegger. “Who uses bigger knives? Who uses the biggest guns and holds them in one arm? Who has more muscles, who has more muscle definition, who has less body fat?”
Stallone reiterated Arnold’s thoughts, comparing their head-to-head box office battle to the iconic rivalry between boxers Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. “We became incredibly competitive,” Stallone said. “Like [Muhammad] Ali and [Joe] Frazier, or great warriors that are traveling the same course: There was only room for one of us.”
The feud between Stallone and Schwarzenegger can be traced back to the 1977 Golden Globes. As Sly described to Variety in a 2019 interview, the pair were seated at the same table at the awards ceremony. When Stallone’s landmark debut film, Rocky, lost five of its first six nominations, Schwarzenegger laughed and went on to win the New Star of the Year award. The tension culminated in Sly throwing a bowl of flowers at Schwarzenegger after Rocky won the award for Best Motion Picture – Drama.
There was more one-upmanship throughout the years. Schwarzenegger pulled off the ultimate troll move in 1992 that resulted in Stallone starring in Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot. As Arnold told SlashFilm in 2017, he tricked Sly into thinking he was taking the lead role in the film by leaking to the press that he was interested. Stallone’s competitive nature forced him to take the part, which Arnold never even wanted.
“I read the script. It was so bad,” Schwarzenegger explained. “You know, I’ve also done some movies that went right in the toilet, right? That were bad. But this was really bad.”
Arnold continued, “I said to myself, I’m going to leak out that I have tremendous interest. I know the way it works in Hollywood. I would then ask for a lot of money. So then they’d say, ‘Let’s go give it to Sly. Maybe we can get him for cheaper.’ So they told Sly, ‘Schwarzenegger’s interested. Here’s the press clippings. He’s talked about that. If you want to grab that one away from him, that is available.’ And he went for it! He totally went for it. A week later, I heard about it, ‘Sly is signing now to do this movie.’ And I said, [pumps fist] ‘Yes!'”
Despite the tension that defined the pair’s relationship throughout the 1980s, Schwarzenegger credited Planet Hollywood, which both he and Sly invested in during the restaurant’s launch, with bringing them closer together in an episode of The Graham Norton Show.
“Then when we both invested in Planet Hollywood, we started flying around the world together to promote it and we became fantastic friends,” Arnold explained. “He is a great human being and we are now inseparable.”
Since then, the pair went on to star together in the action movie series The Expendables.
“Now we look back and we laugh at the whole thing,” says Schwarzenegger, of the rivalry.