Ask Google how much box office money Sylvester Stallone has drawn and you’ll get anything from 1.7 billion to 4 billion dollars. Similarly ambiguous numbers show up when you look for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s box office drawing power.
Various issues come into play, for example domestic (American) versus global, ensemble versus leading man etc. I decided to do some crude maths using Box Office Mojo, to see which man has drawn more money over the years.
I kept a formula of sticking to leading man productions (no ensembles) and global box office takings.
First up is Sylvester Stallone. Stallone gets a head start on Arnold Schwarzenegger. Clearly, the 1980s are won by Stallone, Rambo and Rocky are incredibly lucrative properties, with Rambo III (1988) being the world’s most expensive production at the time. Stallone has a few ‘off-season’ vehicles in there like Cobra, but the two big Rs are Stallone’s main weapons.
In the books, Stallone has drawn more than one billion in the 1980s, truly a pop culture phenomenon.
Interestingly, while Stallone does not pump out as my fan favourites in the 1990s, and certainly not critical favourites (they always hate Stallone anyway), Stallone’s brand is still strong with less popular movies still performing very well internationally. The Specialist, for example, while not a red hot favourite with fans, drew a surprisingly strong $170 million at the global box office, so it wasn’t just popular vehicles like Cliffhanger ($255 million) that put Stallone back in the fight.
The 2000s saw a resurgence for Stallone, bringing back old favourites Rocky and Rambo. Beyond that, he mostly relied on ensemble drawing power, The Expendables, Grudge Match and even combining with Arnold himself in Escape Plan. These don’t count though.
FINAL NUMBER: $2.997 BILLION
Arnold too became quite popular in the 1980s, with a streak of fan classics like The Terminator, Commando and Predator. Defining movies for sure and qualitatively, probably his best work. But as good as they were, they were not the city-wreckers you might expect. Predator, just shy of $100 million (Rambo II would take three times as much). The Running Man, less than $40 million. Twins ($216 million) would actually be Arnold’s first truly monster hit.
While Schwarzenegger ‘lost’ the 1980’s, he would decisively take the 1990s. Total Recall would bust past $200 million. Terminator 2 would sail past $500 million. Even a dud like Junior managed to compete with Predator, somewhat, breaking the $100 million mark.
Arnold’s performance in the 2000s did not enjoy the resurgence that Stallone’s did. After all, he retired. But he did have one ace in the hole, returning to a (once) Golden Goose in Terminator 3. While of questionable quality, that movie drew $433 million at the box office. That pushed Arnold ahead as a clear winner.
FINAL NUMBER: $3.457 BILLION
As a leading man, Arnold Schwarzenegger seems to have drawn more money than Sylvester Stallone. This is probably emphasized by the fact that Arnold has appeared in less movies than Stallone, pushing his average up higher.
Some movies have been left out. The Expendables trilogy for both men and the newer Terminator movies for Arnold. In The Expendables, while it’s Stallone’s baby, he’s relying heavily on ensemble players (Jet Li alone commands a ton of deserved fan eyes and thus money) while coming hot off Game of Thrones popularity, Arnold was being helped strongly by the likes of Emilia Clarke in Terminator: Genisys.
Although if any of those movies would be ‘permitted’, only Arnold could reasonably be argued as a lead or co-lead in Terminator: Genisys and Terminator: Dark Fate, which would still put him ahead. Adding Creed and Creed II, which were no longer movies truly carried solely by Stallone would still keep Stallone under the $3.5 billion mark.
If Arnold gets all his Terminators (including the most recent), Stallone gets all his Creeds, only allowing The Expendables trilogy for Stallone pushes his number ahead (roughly $4.2 billion to Arnold’s $4.15 billion?).