It’s been over five months since the Olympics ended and anyone cared about the rules of team handball, or was willing to watch kayak slaloms on television. But I have a job to do, and I must finish what I started. The Movie Star Games can not be left without a winner, so we have one matchup, and I’ll get right into it:
Tom Cruise vs. Sylvester Stallone for the title belt.
The good thing about taking four months off from writing is that it really adds perspective. In my half-dozen or so attempts at drafting this, I worked through every possible angle I could think of, weighing every variable and outcome. Through this process, I realized that, with the acceptance of a couple basic facts, this competition isn’t really so close, and this decision isn’t really that daunting. Here they are, in no particular order:
1) Ethan Hunt vs. John Rambo is (at best) a wash.
For the entirety of the tournament, Cruise has leaned heavily on the sheer volume of running he does in his films. The bulk of the running comes, as it should, from his role as Ethan Hunt in the Mission: Impossible franchise. Along with his long-distance prowess, Hunt also displays unbelievable athletic ability in latching onto, at various points in the series, a helicopter, the world’s tallest hotel, and a cargo jet. It’s impressive, sure. But Stallone has an answer.
For every display of Olympian potential that Cruise/Hunt puts on in the M:I movies, Stallone has an answer with John Rambo. Sure, Rambo trades in the high stakes, clandestine locale for war-torn Southeast Asia (and his local woods), but this competition is about athletic ability, not discretion in the field. I just can’t in good conscience give Cruise credit for his M:I antics without a nod to the running, jumping, archery, and hide-and-go-seek skills displayed by John Rambo.
2) Top Gun volleyball is more impressive as a montage than an athletic achievement.
This is painful to write. But I have a commitment to the truth, and a commitment to my readers. So I must write it.
The Top Gun montage is a near-perfect implementation of everything great that the 1980’s had to offer. Perfect soundtrack, perfect outfits, perfect banter. Just 10/10. It is for sure in my Top 5 of 1980’s sports montages, which is a much tougher list to crack than it sounds. Sometimes, though, that’s not just enough.
Yes, the montage has been good enough to help carry Cruise up until this point in the competition. But let’s face it: this is the Gold Medal Match. The Finals. The Big Kahuna. And “good enough” just won’t cut it. At the end of the day, Maverick and Goose play Iceman and Slider to a tie, they don’t get the win. And, if we want to get really into it, one could make the “who have you played lately?” argument about the Mav-Goose duo. The montage will always be one of my favorite moments in film history, but that doesn’t give Cruise enough of a leg up when facing a true legend like Stallone.
3) Remember, this is a sports competition.
This was an important reminder I had to keep telling myself. It’s so easy to get sucked into the minutiae of the competition, especially when talking about films you love. This competition isn’t about Code Reds, Rod Tidwell’s contract, or even MiG-29s. It’s about sports. And let’s face it: it’s pretty hard to imagine a world where Tom Cruise’s characters are consistently more athletic than Sylvester Stallone’s.
So, all of this is a long run up to say that really only one character matters, and has mattered in this entire competition: Rocky Balboa. Stallone could’ve made a deep run just on the back of Balboa– Rocky V and Rocky Balboa aside, there would’ve probably been few gripes. Factoring in his other work, and it’s just pushing Rock too far ahead.
For starters, Rocky’s major opponents in the first four films are a murderer’s row of boxing villains: Apollo Creed, Clubber Lang, and Ivan Drago. Sure, he takes losses to both Creed and Lang, but a 4-2 record against those world-beaters is undeniably impressive. Plus, despite Lang’s suggestions in Rocky III that he fought nobodies in order to hold onto his championship belt, Rocky wasn’t taking too many L’s off the screen. To cap off a four movie run by ending the Cold War in the boxing ring is the type of athletic accomplishment that can only be topped by the Miracle On Ice.
Beyond the ring, I mentioned before that the Top Gun volleyball montage was definitely in my top 5 sports montages of the 80’s. Do you know who else resides in that top 5? That’s right, Rocky Balboa, a whopping 3 times! (For those keeping track at home, the only montage not mentioned in this article is the “You’re The Best” montage in The Karate Kid, as Daniel LaRusso battles his way through the Under-18 All-Valley Karate Tournament.) The Rocky training sequences from Rocky II, III, and IV are all in the running for GOAT status, and all further his status as the perfect character for this competition. They have all the killer elements of the Top Gun montage: 80’s outfits, 80’s music, some homo-erotic undertones, and killer muscles. PLUS, the Rocky montages are inspirational. They are an art form, and should be celebrated as such. I have to imagine if Sylvester Stallone/Rocky was competing in the Olympics, his training would most resemble the pre-Drago fight montage from Rocky IV.
I could go for days about Rocky as the perfect athlete to represent these great United States in the Olympics. But this competition has already gone on for probably five months and 5,000 words too long, so I’ll cut it here. Based on a stellar top-to-bottom resume, and the flat-out dominant performance of Rocky Balboa, Sylvester Stallone is our champion in these Movie Star Games.