The 1980s Stallone film that taught me about being a man

Sweat, muscles, Sylvester Stallone and, well, arm wrestling. The manly lessons that 1987's Over The Top teaches us...

Cannon Films’ story remains one I never tire of hearing about. Particularly in the 1980s, its fingerprints were all over a bunch of relatively cheap action films, that Cannon had a knack of turning into profitable hits. It helped make Chuck Norris a star through the likes of The Delta Force, and then there was the constant stream of Death Wish sequels, that kept Charles Bronson’s bank account bubbling over.

The key period in Cannon’s history commenced when it was sold to Yoram Globus and Menahem Golan in 1979. The pair of cousins paid a princely $500,000 for the company, and proceeded to turn anything resembling a script into a B-movie.

It worked. Profits were made, and Cannon was soon working on dozens of films simultaneously. In 1986 alone, it released 43 films. It’s easy to write them all off as trash, too, but it’d be brutally unfair. Amidst the overt commercial fare, Cannon took many gambles on edgier movies, with varying degrees of success.

But Globus and Golan also had huge ambitions, and 1987 was to be Cannon’s big year. It was putting cash into blockbusters.

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For starters, it’d picked up the rights to make Superman movies, and Superman IV: The Quest For Peace was being shot in, er, Milton Keynes, ahead of its release in the summer of ’87. It was a cast iron hit, where nothing could go wrong.

See also: A pilgramage to the filming locations of Superman IV 

See also: How a He-Man sequel became Cyborg 

And then Cannon got into the big movie star business. It gambled heavily on a major movie star vehicle, forking $12m to line the wallet of Sylvester Stallone, then at the height of his Rambo and Rocky powers (the immortal Rocky IV had proven a massive hit around the same time).

The project that Cannon and Stallone settled on was Over The Top, a film so dripping with testosterone, sweat and manliness that you can almost picture Danny Dyer trying to lick any screen it was on it to be more of a geezer. Stallone co-wrote the screenplay and took the starring role, and Golan himself would direct. With a $25m budget – astronomical, by Cannon standards – production began. Muscley men were recruited. A 1987 release date was set.

Watching the film now, Over The Top is the perfect 1980s movie. It’s Stallone, giving a life lesson in how to be a man’s man, rarely a shot of him in the movie not featuring a bulging bicep, or a liberal glazing of sweat. Oh, there are women in the film, sure, but, well, let’s just say that if they’re not scantily clad and holding up signs, they’re brutally dismissed as soon as the story doesn’t need them anymore.

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After all, this is a film about men. With men stuff in it. For men.

And lord, what lessons it teaches. The basics first. Stallone plays a man – sorry, a MAN – who drives a very manly truck. He also arm wrestles for cash, yanking off the right hand of people who dare try to grip him.

But: what’s this? He’s got a young son from whom he’s estranged? He’s not seen him in ten years? Still, no matter. e’s got a three day road trip to get to know him, and teach him the ways of the man.

Yet here’s the twist. His is a son who – get the feck out – isn’t being very manly. Panic not, men-chums, here’s where Over The Top gets down to business. For it teaches us all vital things, in its malestorm of crucial life lessons.

One more thing…

LESSON ONE: You may only transport manly things.

A man who drives a truck is clearly very manly, and this is very good. But if you want to add a layer of manliness on top of your existing man-nequin, you don’t want your truck transporting any old rubbish. No. Your truck is allowed to transport your choice from the following:

– A tractor- Brut 33 aftershave, with a tagline about being a man- Er, that’s it

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Your truck must also be old, and dirty. Probably smelly too. Deodorant is very much not welcome.

LESSON TWO: You must travel everywhere in your manly truck.

Picking up your young son from his Cadet parade? Don’t walk, or get the bus. Make sure you drive there in your manly truck. Try not to be on time, because men either come very early, or too late.

LESSON THREE: You must avoid difficult conversations.

A child asking you difficult questions about where you’ve been for the last ten years? Well, he can cut that shit out for a start. Rather than a long prolonged answer to the question of “Do you really think you can make up ten years in two to three days?”, this exact expression is the only appropriate response…

LESSON FOUR: You will eat manly food.

Around 10 minutes or so into Over The Top, young child warns his father that if he eats junk food, he’ll become a victim of cholesterol poisoning when he’s older. This gets the required sneer. Should your child ever try such nonsense, take him to a manly bar. If he persists in trying to order salad, offer a meat-centric alternative, under the watchful eye of a man with facial hair.

LESSON FIVE: You will arm wrestle for cash when you’re supposed to be looking after your son.

Do note that if you attempt to arm wrestle without sweat already in place, and without pulling a face as if you’re simultaneously trying to shit out a small boat, you lose 15% of your manliness.

LESSON SIX: You will sleep in your truck.

Real men don’t need a house or a bed. You will make your child sleep in the truck too. To teach the little shit for trying to make you have tuna salad rather than a burger.

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LESSON SEVEN: You will exercise by your truck, set to an 80s rock song.

Try and get the Brut advert in there for extra measure. It is important that your son learns to be a man in montage-form too.

LESSON EIGHT: You will teach your son how to strengthen his wrist.

Some of you may be thinking that I make some of this stuff up. But, well, look. Note that it is not manly to present a third screenshot out of sequence just to get a cheap laugh. Men would not do that… #ManLessons

LESSON NINE: You will then make your son drive a truck pulling that Brut advert around.

Never mind that the child is displaying some academic prowess. He can cut that out. Men drive trucks. And men learn to drive them in two minutes flat.


Tears are not for MEN. Tears are for LOSERS who let themselves get BEAT.

LESSON ELEVEN: Doors and gates are not to be knocked.

They are to be driven through, like men. Like men in trucks.

These lessons are all taught in the first half of the film, before Sylvester Stallone heads to Las Vegas for an arm wrestling competition. Unfortunately, as anyone who turned up to watch the film in a cinema in 1987 will have discovered, arm wrestling isn’t a particularly cinematic sport. All you have is grunting, sweating, and beards. But that’s okay. Men need little else.

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But the film – which, sadly, didn’t make the requisite cash required to get a sequel going – disappointed at the box office. In fact, had it not appeared on Netflix UK, I would have struggled to catch up with it at all, and its amazing finale that sees a young boy putting airport security to the test.

Rest assured, though, that there’s still, in the end credits, there’s still room for one last crucial lesson…


If you are attempting to make a film of all of this, ensure you have at least two people whose role in the movie is just to be Men.

That’s it for now, Men. Let us all head off somewhere to sweat and eat meat.