Carl Weathers originally made his name in college football, but when his NFL career didn’t pan out, he moved into acting. His linebacker physique made him perfect to play heavyweight champion of the world Apollo Creed in the first Rocky film, and his pop culture immortality was assured. While he was rarely a leading man, he’s a fixture in several iconic ’80s movies.
Now in his later years, he’s gladly played on his status to do the obligatory mocking comedy roles. To run with a terrible boxing metaphor, here are Weathers’ biggest hits.
10. Hurricane Smith
Despite iconic roles in a few genuine ’80s classics, Carl Weathers has rarely been given big starring roles. At least not in decent budget, mainstream action movies. Which is strange, because films like Hurricane Smith feel like the sort of thing he was put on this earth to star in.
It’s not a masterpiece or anything, but it’s a good nuts and bolts action flick that just makes you wish he made more of them. He plays an American heading to Australia to rescue his missing sister, and while it’s standard stuff, Weathers is just really charismatic and a great action hero. Highlights include him launching a speedboat into a house, and the tagline: “He’s bringing his thunder… DOWN UNDER!”
9. Bucktown and Friday Foster
It’s a bit of a cheat lumping these together, but it’s with good reason. Carl Weathers wasn’t the first American football player to move into acting in the ’70s. In particular, he followed the leads of Jim Brown and Fred Williamson, who both appeared in plenty of iconic Blaxploitation flicks. Weathers is a few years younger than those two, and therefore was a bit too late to really be a true Blaxploitation star. He did however appear in these two Pam Grier movies (Bucktown also starred Fred Williamson).
They’re both just henchmen roles, but he’s particularly fun in Friday Foster, where he plays a creepy stalker following Pam Grier, and then getting into a fist fight with Yaphet Kotto. He also wears a pretty sick checked blazer and red tie combo.
8. Force 10 From Navarone
Big epic war movies are a lost art. Films like The Guns Of Navarone, The Dirty Dozen, Where Eagles Dare, and The Eagle Has Landed took all star casts, gave them generous running times and just revelled in the Nazi-killing.
Force 10 From Navarone, the sequel to The Guns Of Navarone, is a lesser entry in the cannon, but it’s still a lot of fun. This things rely on their star power, and while Gregory Peck and David Niven didn’t return, Force 10 has a very eclectic cast, including Harrison Ford, Franco Nero, Edward Fox, Richard Kiel (Jaws from James Bond), and Carl Weathers, pretty much straight off of Rocky. It’s not the most stand-out role for Weathers, but he makes an ample part of the team, and it’s definitely a good little Sunday afternoon war film.
7. The Bermuda Depths
So this is an odd one. It’s a made-for-TV movie collaboration between Rankin-Bass, the legendary American animation studio best known for their Christmas specials like Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer, and Tsuburaya Productions, the Japanese special effects studio who gave us size-changing superheroes like Ultraman.
It’s a strange, surreal tale about the Bermuda triangle, a mysterious magical woman, and a giant sea turtle. It’s essentially a cross between a classic Japanese kaiju film, and one of the Jaws imitators that were so common in the late ’70s. Carl Weathers stars as part of a crew searching for said giant turtle, and he delivers a straight-faced, swashbuckling performance as a modern day Ahab, and does his best to anchor this weird curio.
6. Happy Gilmore
Real talk here: Adam Sandler’s early movies are pretty funny. Back when he wasn’t just a lazy millionaire, things like Billy Madison and The Waterboy had a genuine weirdness and energy to them.
And so does his golfing movie Happy Gilmore. A sports comedy is an easy win for a comedian, and the film is made exponentially better by the appearance of Weathers as the brilliantly named Chubbs Peterson, the ageing golfer who thinks he can train Sandler’s hockey player to get onto the pro tour.
It’s kind of a riff on Apollo Creed’s mentoring of Rocky Balboa in Rocky III. Well, apart from the fact that Apollo never had his hand bitten off by an alligator, and was obsessed with getting revenge. He’d later reprise the character in Little Nicky, though it’s not as much fun because, well, Little Nicky is a damn mess.
5. Toy Story Of Terror and Regular Show
In recent years, Weathers has been embraced by a new generation as a pop culture elder statesmen, most notably in animation (so I’m cheating again and squeezing these two entries together). In the actually really good Toy Story TV special Toy Story Of Terror, Weathers plays a GI Joe-a-like action figure called Combat Carl, which he voices to action hero perfection. As well as always referring to himself in the third person, he’s also accompanied by a four-inch version named Combat Carl Jr, with Weathers’ voice sped up to make it higher pitched. There’s even a traditionally animated, GI Joe-spoofing Combat Carl PSA on the DVD.
Much weirder though is Weathers’ appearance on the cult Cartoon Network animation Regular Show. When Mordecai and Rigby keep losing at basketball, they are visited by the hummer-driving, dubstep-blasting God of Basketball, voiced by Weathers. They end up trying to do slam dunks from deep space, because Regular Showis weird. And amazing.
4. Arrested Development
Of all the celebrity cameos on Arrested Development, Carl Weathers’ might be the funniest. And that’s incredibly high praise indeed. Basically, he just plays himself, hired by Tobias Funke as an acting coach, but for some reason he’s an absolute cheapskate. It’s based on absolutely nothing, but it’s just so absurdly perfect. Like getting really excited at the free refills in Burger King. Or informing people not to throw anyway their meat bones, and instead take them home, boil them up, and then “baby, you got a stew going.” (That’s probably my most quoted line from the show).
Plus, they keep introducing him with a clip of his gory death in Predator. Which just makes it even funnier.
It would be on this list for that handshake alone. The thing you forget though, is how amazing the team is in Predator. As well as Arnold Schwarzenegger leading the squad, we have perhaps the best collection of badasses assembled in one ’80s action movie. There’s wrestler-turned governor of Minnesota Jesse Ventura, there’s the great Bill Duke, there’s Cherokee powerhouse Sonny Landham, also of 48 Hrs and Action Jackson, and as the token weedy guy, it’s Shane Black, writer of Lethal Weaponand The Last Boy Scout, and future director of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.
And Carl Weathers easily stands up to all of them. His Agent Dillon is the number two badass to Arnie’s Dutch, and while he doesn’t get to go one-on-one with the Predator like Dutch does, he goes get plenty of great moments. Like his incredible, bloody death scene.
2. Rocky I – IV
Of course, this list wouldn’t be complete with Weathers’ most famous role as Rocky Balboa’s antagonist turned friend, Apollo Creed.
The development of Apollo across his four appearances in the series is actually pretty interesting. Rocky himself, at least in the first film, is inspired by Chuck Wepner, a journeyman boxer who shocked the world by going 15 rounds with Muhammad Ali in 1975 (he also fought a bizarre wrestling vs boxing match against Andre The Giant). So you might expect a thinly veiled take on Ali to be Balboa’s opponent. But Weathers makes Creed a complete original character. Instead of Ali’s politics, Weathers gives an ‘Only In America’, ‘Land Of Opportunity’ bluster that’s in some ways more like Don King than any actual real life fighter.
But it was as the sequels became more cartoony that Apollo Creed really came into his own. In Rocky III, he takes Rocky under his wing to help him defeat Mr T’s Clubber Lang, in classic training montages, including the hilariously macho, homoerotic slow-mo beach race. But the quintessential Apollo moment is in his final appearance in Rocky IV, as he enters the ring dressed as Uncle Sam, accompanies by James Brown’s “Living In America,” to face Ivan Drago.
Rest in peace, Apollo.
1. Action Jackson
His roles in Rockyand Predator might be more iconic, but they’re supporting parts. You think of Arnie or Sly first. But Action Jackson is pure Carl Weathers.
It is to Weathers what Terminator is to Schwarzenegger, what Die Hard is to Bruce Willis, what Lethal Weapon is to Mel Gibson. It’s strange that after having such memorable roles in Rocky and Predator, it took until 1988 for him to really be given the chance at an action franchise of his own. It’s possible to think that Hollywood wasn’t ready to let a non-comedian black guy headline a tent-pole move on his own yet (obviously Eddie Murphy was a star, but we were still a while away from the likes of Will Smith, Wesley Snipes and Denzel Washington carrying multi-million dollar movies doing straight heroic roles).
But whatever the case, it’s a real shame we didn’t spend the early ’90s watching Action Jackson III: Fatal Justice and Action Jackson IV: Mission To China. Action Jacksonis great, and Weathers is great in the title role of Police Detective Sergeant Jericho Jackson. He’s easily as good a man-mountain as any of your other classic ’80s action heroes, as he kicks in doors, throws one guy out of a window so hard he ends up smashing through another window and into another building, drives a sports car up the stairs of the bad guys’ mansion, and in the film’s funniest scene, leaps ten feet in the air over a speeding taxi. And he can drop one-liners with the best of them (“You almost tore that boy’s arm off!” “So? He had a spare.”).
And on top of all this, there’s a genuine grit to him. The film isn’t set in just any city, it’s set in Detroit. And it’s a plot that involves the car industry that is so synonymous with Detroit, and unions, and an evil auto magnate killing people off. Jericho Jackson is a disgraced cop, but he’s also supposed to be a home town hero, a track star who put himself through law school. Midway through the film he has to go off the grid and hide out downtown, and people recognise him. They respect him, and look out for him. It’s not the most in-depth thing, obviously, but there’s a real honesty and likeability to Carl Weathers that makes this all ring true.
The greatest action movies require you to care about the characters’ fates, and it is Weathers’ charisma that makes Action Jackson one of the most memorable and full rounded action heroes of the decade. If only we got Action Jackson II: Back In Action.
Honorable mentions: While they don’t make the final list, it’s worth giving a shout out to couple of other interesting things Weathers has done.
He had a well-received guest slot on The Shield. He headlined two seasons of a wonderfully cheesy ’80s martial arts cop show called Street Justice. He starred in a 1986 TV remake of the classic noir The Defiant Ones, about two chain gang fugitives, one white and one black, who are shackled together and forced to co-operate to stay on the lam – it looks really interesting but I couldn’t lay my hands on it.
I also love the fact that he appeared in The Asylum’s Battleship knock-off entitled American Battleship (sadly Universal’s lawyers made them change it to American Warships). And most recently, he appeared in a recent Mortal Kombat game, as a weird mash-up of steel-armed fighter Jax and Dutch from Predator (he even does the ‘Son of bitch!’ handshake with Jonny Cage).