Sylvester Stallone's arm wrestling movie Over the Top is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
Sylvester Stallone’s 1987 film Over the Top, about a long-haul truck diver who competes in a worldwide arm wrestling tournament to try to repair his relationship with his son, is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video. As probably the world’s only arm-wrestling movie, the execution is about as goofy and corny as the premise sounds. Still, it appears to have been made—as the worst movies tend to be—with the most earnest of intentions.
The production of Over the Top was announced in 1984, with Sylvester Stallone set to star for a reported $12 million. Between that time and the film’s release, Stallone starred in Rhinestone, Rambo: First Blood Part II, and Rocky IV. With the exception of Rhinestone, this meant Stallone was releasing some of the biggest movies of his career, making him a very bankable star.
All the while, Canon Films (a symbol of quality that tells every ’80s kid exactly what to expect from a movie) was pre-selling Over the Top to theatres, riding the wave of Sylvester Stallone’s success. The film was shot in just nine weeks in the summer of 1986, mostly in California and Monument Valley, Utah, though the central arm-wrestling tournament is set in Las Vegas. The idea of a father fighting to be with his son is not a bad one in itself, and the film’s story was likely lifted to some degree from the boxing classic The Champ, but the execution is where this film falls down.
Critics have remarked that Sylvester Stallone’s dialogue in Over the Top can often barely be heard, as the actor seems to be trying to underplay scenes. The script, while well-intentioned, has also been derided as bland, predictable, and uninspiring. But a big complaint about the film is also the music, which seems to dominate the action rather than underscore it.
For the Sylvester Stallone vehicle, Over the Top‘s producer and director Menahem Golan hired Giorgio Moroder to serve as music supervisor, overseeing the film’s soundtrack. The Italian composer and record producer put together a compilation album of new songs, mostly written by himself and Tom Whitlock and performed by a wide array of artists. The end result is a film with a wall-to-wall ’80s rock music soundtrack instead of a proper score that sounds like someone on set just wouldn’t stop randomly playing selections from their record collection.
Over the Top was one of over 30 films for which Golan served as a producer that year, with Sylvester Stallone easily the biggest star of the bunch. Golan’s production credits that year also include other “classics” like Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, Masters of the Universe, and Death Wish 4: The Crackdown, all released through Cannon and his Golan-Globus Productions. Of them all, The Quest for Peace probably stands as the best and most well-received film, and that’s not saying much as it is widely considered the worst of the ’70s and ’80s Superman movies.
For Sylvester Stallone, Over the Top actually garnered an award nomination—at the 8th Annual Golden Raspberry Awards in 1988 for Worst Actor. While he rightfully lost to Bill Cosby’s stunningly awful performance in the brain-meltingly bad Leonard Part 6, his costar, David Mendenhall, took home two of the trophies, for Worst Supporting Actor and Worst New Star. The film currently holds a 32 percent Tomato Meter score and a 49 percent Audience Score on Rotten Tomatoes, with a score of 40 out of 100 on Metacritic.
Over the Top stands as one of the most infamous cornball movies ever to star Sylvester Stallone—and there are a few of those, so that’s saying something. For every Rocky, Rambo, and Creed in the star’s catalogue, there’s a Cobra and a Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot. This film is one that tries very hard to be a sentimental, engaging drama, but falls woefully short of the mark.
So, if you’re interested in deciding for yourself if this Sylvester Stallone film is really as bad as everyone says, you might want to catch Over the Top on Amazon Prime Video while it’s streaming. Maybe make a playlist of ’80s rock music and do some intense arm workouts to get ready. Or maybe just sit back, enjoy the corny earnestness and the patented Cannon Films quality, and think about what could have been.