- Gianni Russo, The Godfather, 1971..
- John Martino, The Godfather, 1971.
- Al Pacino, Serpico, 1973. Sly did his own Frank Serpico-style cop (including beard) in Nighthawks, 1981. “It’s not easy sounding intelligent when you’re being muffled... like a family of swallows decided to build a home in my mouth.”
- James Caan, Rollerball, 1975. A (rare) wise move. “Truthfully, I mumble, I wish I didn’t. It’s mainly because of an accident at birth which makes it very hard to articulate with any sense of clarity. Don’t take it personally, just ask my psychotherapist.”
- RA Dow, Squirm, 1975. Writer-director Jeff Liebermnn’s original players were to be Sly, Kim Basinger, Martin Sheen in the el cheapo horror trying to do for earthworms what Jaws did for sharks. Then, his agent called... Rocky was on! It proved to be Dow’s one and only movie. Maybe the killer earthworms got him.
- Ryan O’Neal, The Driver, 1977. When Steve McQueen proved tired of car movies, auteur Walter Hill sent his script to Sly. Wrong month. He was up to his ass in FIST.
- Keith Carradine, Pretty Baby, 1977. The subject was horrendous – a prostitute allowing her 12-year-old daughter’s virginity to be auctioned off in a brothel in the red-light district of New Orleans, circa 1917. French director Louis Malle saw 28 hopefuls and/or instant (parental) refusals for little Violet… 15 actresses for her mother… and 15 guys for for the real lif, misshapen, hydrocephallic photographer Ernest J. Bellocq, whose Storyville work of the epoch influenced the style of the surprisingly elegant film. Robert Redford was first choice, Jack Nicholson second. Before falling for Carradine, Malle saw Albert Brooks, James Caan, Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, Malcolm McDowell (the only Brit short-listed), Al Pacino, Christopher Reeve (planning to make us believe a man could fly), John Travolta (more into Grease)… plus such flat out surprises as Stallone (prepping FIST), Burt Reynolds and even the far too creepy Joe Pesci and Christopher Walken.
- Arnold Schwarzenegger, Stay Hungry, 1978. A fine, breakthrough role - if he had never made Rocky.
- Jon Voight, Coming Home, 1978. Sly was even allowed to refashion some of Luke’s dialogue... after Jack Nicholson, Al Pacino passed. “Yeah, yeah, I know - everyone has a horror story! It was between this and FIST. I was very foolish. I didn’t have the guts to do it, and at that time I really wasn’t a fleshed-out actor. I don’t know even if I am now. It just seemed so - what is the word? - naked, and it was a much more liberal point of view. Now I think I should’ve done it. Usually whenever you’re scared of something, do it. If you’re not afraid of it, don’t do it.”
- Christopher Reeve, Superman, 1978.
- Christopher Atkins, The Blue Lagoon, 1979. Rocky as a shipwrecked teen (!) - opposite an equally nude Brooke Shields. On a desert island. What was director Randal Kleiser thinking!
- Richard Gere, American Gigolo, 1979. Some producers (or their wives?) obviously believed in the Italian Stallion image...
- Richard Gere, An Officer and a Gentleman, 1981. What were they thinking?
- John Belushi, Neighbours, 1981. “The idea of working with Arnold came up twice... One was with John Hughes and it was about a pair of neighbours that were determined to destroy one another with their back-and-forth everyday vendettas. It was based on an incident that actually happened with me... The second was about a pair of undercover cops... dressing in wigs and dresses to expose a serial killer. Can you imagine us two mugs trying to pass ourselves off as even semi-attractive women?”
- Arnold Schwarzenegger, Conan The Barbarian, 1982. Sly was on standby - in case Arnie couldn’t pump his acting irons.
- Nick Apollo Forte, Broadway Danny Rose, 1983. “Woody Allen cast me as the insipid club singer, but unfortunately I didn’t do it.” So no reunion... Sly’s third film was Bananas, 1970 . “A a turning point in my life. He rejected me saying I was not intimidating enough. I was about to fold my tent and go home, but then I thought ‘OK, Sly, this is one of those serious, life-altering crossroads.’ So, I psyched myself up, dirtied my face, messed up my hair, built up a head of steam, went back to the set, tapped him on the shoulder, locked eyes with him, and through a crooked, semi-snarling expression said ‘Do I intimidate you now, pal?’ And lo and behold, the job was forthcoming.”
- Richard Gere, The Cotton Club, 1984. He was completely on board during an 1981 meeting with producer Robert Evans... “Until he said ‘I might have something that’ll interest you.’ Whereupon, he returned with a duffle bag full of X-rated Polaroids. He dumped this mess on the coffee table and burrowing through all these poor actresses that thought they were going to eventually amount to something, he came across a very X-rated Polaroid of the girl I was dating and said: ‘Hey, look, we have something in common!’ I thought blood was going to come out of my eyes and felt such loathing... What was the man thinking? Is this his idea of bonding, by showing me a salacious image of the girl I thought was beyond anything so perverse? Guess not. Without a word, I exited his house and his life... It’s amazing that he is still taken seriously as a functioning entity.”
- Eddie Murphy, Beverly Hills Cop, 1984.
“Here’s what happened.” Producer Jerry Bruckheimer tells all… “We went to Paramount and said: ‘We want Eddie for this’ They had the script, they loved it, they wanted to make the movie. They also had a pay-or-play commitment with Stallone, and they didn’t just want to pay him. So, they wanted him for this movie. We said: ‘We love Sly, but we created this script for Eddie.’ Even though Eddie didn’t know that we’d developed it for him. But we said: ‘Fine, you sign the checks, we’ll do what you want.’
Over to Sly: “ I thought they’d sent it to the wrong house. I knew me doing gay jokes and moving like an intimidating mud slide through Beverly Hills would not deliver the comic torque Paramount was looking for,. So I re-wrote it to suit what I do best, and by the time I was done, it looked like the opening scene from Saving Private Ryan on the beaches of Normandy. Needless to say, they dropkicked me... the rest is history. So when I suggested Eddie, it was one of my better moments. Of course, now everyone lays claim to discovering talent.”
Bruckheimer: “We met with Sly and he said: ‘I write my own stuff.’ We said; ‘OK, go ahead with your own thing.’ And when the project came in, it had gotten way too expensive. He had written in car chases and everything. Barry Diller said: ‘Wait a minute, we’re not spending that kind of money on this movie.’ So he turned to us and asked who we would put in this movie if Sly couldn’t do it? We said: ‘Eddie Murphy!’ But we didn’t say we’d originally given it to the studio for Eddie. Barry said: ‘Great, go make the movie!’ And he gave Sly his script back with all the things he wrote and Sly went off and used that to make Cobra… We went off and made it with Eddie. They still thought we were crazy because this was the first time an African-American had carried a studio movie. I think, ever. We were told we were nuts to spend that kind of money on Eddie, alone.” Mrs Sly was in the sequel; Brigitte Nielsen also made Sly's re-write - Cobra, 1986. As in: “If crime's a disease, Cobra’s the cure.”
- Michael Douglas, Romancing The Stone, 1984. Sly had a hard time accepting roles from outside his head. Passed Stone for Rhinestone with Dolly Parton, 1984 Another of his acknowledged major errors.
- Jack Nicholson Prizzi’s Honour, 1984. ”Do I ice her? Do I marry her?” Conundrum for Charley Partanna, hit-man for the Prizzi Family, when he falls for a fellow contractor: Kathleen Turner. John Huston had ten other Charley notions, each as mad as the other. Italians Stallone, Al Pacino, even John Travolta made more sense than, say, Hoffman, Tom Hanaks Bill Murray, Ryan O’Neal, Christopher Reeve (!), Burt Reynolds, Jon Voight. Of course, Nicholson was the unlikeliest Brooklyn Mafioso since the Corleones’ James Caan, but terrific… because Huston kept reminding him: ”Remember, he’s stupid!” (Huston had directed Sly in the most absurd POW movie ever made, Escape To Victory, 1980).
- Harrison Ford, Witness, 1985. He passed, even after being encouraged to change John Book’s lines... in what had once been an idea for an episode of US TV’s longest-running series, Gunsmoke, 1955-75. Then it had been for James Arness as Marshall Dillon to go searching for a murder witness on an Amish farm.
- Al Pacino, Revolution, UK/Norway, 1986. With Al Pacino undecided, UK director (of sorts) Hugh Hudson, thought about of Rocky the Revolutionary. “On the other hand, Stallone would probably have killed it stone dead on every level.” No, Hudson did that.
- Dolph Lundgren, Masters of the Universe, 1986. Cannon, a small company always thinking big, obviously tried to convince Sly to become He-Man. Lundgren loathed it. “Pretty much my lowest point as an actor - it was a kids' movie. How much could I do as an actor running around in swim trunks and chest armour?”Ironically, a real actor like Frank Langella adored being Skeletor. Professional surfer Laird John Hamilton was to replace Lundgren in a sequel but Cannon finally ran out of juice and chutzpah.
- Michael Douglas, Fatal Attraction, 1987.
- Bruce Willis, Die Hard, 1987. Arnold Schwarzenegger said no; obviously Stallone did likewise. That’s how they created a new rival for their action man franchises.
- Bob Hoskins, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, 1988. Chevy Chase was too nervy, Harrison Ford too pricey. Also seen for the human shamus saving a cartoon star’s reputation in Hollywood 1947 were Sly, Charles Grodin, Ed Harris, Don Lane, Bill Murray, Jack Nicholson, Joe Pantoliano, Robert Redford, Peter Renaday, Wallace Shawn. London’s Hoskins nailed Eddie Valiant in what critic Roger Ebert called “a joyous, giddy, goofy celebration of the kind of fun you can have with a movie camera.”
- Richard Gere, Pretty Woman, 1989.
- Richard Gere, Internal Affairs, 1989. UK director Mike Figgis said Paramount wanted Mel Gibson or Kurt Russell (big hits in ’88’s Tequila Sunrise) as the badass cop-cum-hit man. “If we’d hired a movie star to play Peck,” noted producer Frank Mancuso Jr, “we might not have been able to so successfully explore the darkness of the character.” Some 19 other stars - Stallone, Alec Baldwin, Tom Berenger, Jeff Bridges, Pierce Brosnan, Kevin Costner, Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Harrison Ford, , Ed Harris, William Hurt, Don Johnson, Tommy Lee Jones, Michael Keaton, Nick Nolte, Al Pacino, Christopher Reeve, Kurt Arnold Schwarzenegger, John Travolta… and four outsiders Richard Dean Anderson, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Ron Silver - all passed Peck to Gere for a double whammy comeback with Pretty Woman. “I’ve never been away,” snapped Gere. Oh, but he had. Almost to Palookaville. Where Sly would tarry awhile in the 90s.
- Brendan Fraser, The Mummy, 1989. Hero Rick O’Connell, was up between Sly, Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio, Matthew McConnaughey, Chris O’Donnell - as helmers switched from Clive Barker and Joe Dante to Stephen Sommers.
- John Heard, Home Alone, 1990. An astonishing 37 stars (Harrison Ford, Jack Nicholson, Jessica Lange, Michelle Pfeiffer, etc) were considered for the forgetful parents - nothing roles in a film written for and duly stolen by the stranded kid, Macauley Culkin.
- Franc D'Ambrosio, The Godfather: Part III, 1991.
- Michael Douglas, Basic Instinct, 1991.
- Bruce Willis, Pulp Fiction, 1993.
- Morgan Freeman Se7en, 1995. Even (again) having full liberty to change his character’s lines didn’t do it for him.
- William Baldwin, Fair Game, 1995. Sly had lately relocated to Miami, so the locale was switched from San Francisco to net him... for what? A second movie from the same cliché-ridden book behind his Cobra flop. Oh, sure, he was mega interested!
- Arnold Schwarzenegger, Batman & Robin, 1996.
- Nicolas Cage, Face/Off, 1997. The draft notion (again): Sly v Arnie! Hong Kong directing ace John Woo changed all that. "They had a hard time," laughed Woo, "trying to find someone close enough to [Arnold’s] kind of measurements to be the baddy." He then Woo-ed Travolta and Nicolas Cage.
- Robert De Niro, Jackie Brown, 1997. Like De Niro craved Max Cherry, Stallone’s people pressured Quentin Tarantino to have Sly play Louis, the ex-con. Max, the bail bondsman, was already promised to Forster and as De Niro was compensated with Louis, Sly realised he’d have to engineer his own comeback. Hey, what about a Rocky 6?
- Dennis Keiffer, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, 1997. The $20m debut of the franchise based on the video game had one solitary name - ChristopheI Lambert (!). The second also needed one. Except Sly wisely passed on Baraka.
- Samuel L Jackson, The Negotiator, 1998. Kevin Spacey refused the role opposite Stallone (“too elementary”), then decided it would be more fun with his old pal from so many Big Apple casting calls.
- Kurt Russell, Soldier, 1998. A super military man trained from birth to be a dispassionate, calculating killer Todd 3465 is “a block of muscles and popping veins, said San Francisco Chronicle critic Peter Stack. So who else would they call? However, Sly was otherwise engaged and Russell continued to be, said Stack, the only actor in Hollywood who refuses to allow either humor or irony to interfere with his sweaty game.
- Tommy Lee Jones, Rules Of Engagement, 1999. Another soldier rejected by Sly - Marine Colonel Hays “Hodge” Hodges. Sly often joked another film he refused was... And When Harry Ate Sally.
- Dennis Quaid, Frequency, 2000. In 1993, Renny Harlin and Sylvester Stallone made Cliffhanger relatively happily. Four years on, when the Finnish director called Sly to head up his firefighters’ time travel number, His Slyness, apparently, wanted too much lucre... No one would pay Sly $20m anymore. Gregory Hoblit helmed the far cheaper Quaid.
- Lucy Liu, Ballistic: Ecks vs Sever, 2002. For the Game Boy Advance game (based on an early script, not vice versa), the reluctant FBI-DIA duo was once due for Wesley Snipes-Jet Li, then Vin Diesel and Sly. Finally, a Stallone role went, for the first time to a woman. Hadda happen!
- Aaron Eckhart, Suspect Zero, 2004. In the 90s, Sly, Ben Affleck and Tom Cruise were all keen on playing the disgraced Dallas FBI Agent. Cruise even acted as producer - sans credit.
- Channing Tatum, GI Joe: Rise of Cobra, 2008. GI Sly was the 1993 plan. Long before Transformers producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura took over... the Brussels-based GIJOE. Global Integrated Joint Operating Entity.
- Eli Roth, Inglorious Basterds, 2008. Quentin Tarantino had the title since 1998 - the US title but not the story of Enzo G Casterllari’s 1978 spaghetti war saga, Quel maledetto trena blindato. The first casting (Michael Madsen, Eddie Murphy, Tim Roth, Adam Sandler) was sideswiped by first making Kill Bills, 2003/2004. Next, Cute (er, QT) failed to achieve his dream of having Arnie, Bruce and Sly in the same movie. Besides, Sly was prepping his own star-packed version, The Expendables, 2009.
- Jason Statham, Homefront, 2012. Deliverance Meets Taken. Sly adapted it years before from Chuck Logan’s novel. Indeed, it almost became a Rambo chapter. When too old for the hero, he told Statham about it during their Expendablesshoots… which is where Dolph Lundgren also got keen on it. But Sly was producing. In 2014, Sly said he'd know the time had come to retire "when you wake up in the morning and you turn around and your ass falls off." As for his Expendables gang(s)… "We are children with arthritis… We are young forever."
- Ed Harris, Westworld, TV, 2015. Back in 2004. California’s new Governor – a certain Arnold Schwarzenegger - had no time for movies. Not even the Michael Crichton futuristic thriller he first saw in 1973 “and wanted to remake it for several years.” Stallone took over the re-tread. Still nothing happened… The (second) TV series took off in 2016 (the first was canceled) with Ed Harris as the iconic, robotic gunslinger in a theme park. (Yeah, you’re right… Crichton also wrote Jurassic Park!)
- John Travolta, The Life and Death of John Gotti, 2016. While Gotti Juniors, writers, directors and the years sped by, Travolta remained literally The Teflon Don - as Gotti Sr, was known when the untouchable ruler of New York’s Gambino Mafia family. John Gotti Jr had tried to persuade Pacino or Stallone to play his Pop.