TIFF 2023: The Genesis Of Sylvester Stallone’s Career Traced Back To Stealing Books


“Cinema is the most influential system of communication, the only thing more powerful is war,” Stallone said

Sylvester Stallone greeted a particularly enthusiastic crowd at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) on Friday, speaking about his illustrious career as an actor, writer and producer, ahead of Saturday’s world premiere of his documentary, Sly.

“Cinema is the most influential system of communication, the only thing more powerful is war,” Stallone said during his Q&A, part of TIFF’s “In Conversation With…” series.

For the Rocky, Rambo and Creed star, inspiration really struck when he was 12 years old and he saw the 1958 film, Hercules, starring Steve Reeves.

“You would have these men trying to overcome incredible odds, even at the risk of their own life,” Stallone said. “As a matter of fact, they would willfully give their life for a higher ideal.

“That kind of philosophy has followed me throughout my entire life. Actually, films to me are a throwback to ancient mythology, that every culture has these stories and they are an integral part of the tapestry of those cultures. … The original idea is still the same, heroes overcoming incredible odds to make the world a better place. Men overcoming evil, even at the cost of the hero’s life.”

Sylvester Stallone, the book thief

When it came to Stallone actually writing and crafting his own stories, that can be traced back to his job as a theatre usher as a form of education for the star. But it also goes back to stealing books in the early days of his career.

“I worked at a bookstore and I worked right next to the theatre … and I would steal books, and I mean lots of book,” Stallone revealed. “Then the police came looking for me. I said, ‘I’ve got to burn the books.’ They’re in the bathtub, nothing’s burning. … So literally they said, ‘You know what, keep the books.’

“That’s when I started to read and read and read and study, and I basically self-educated. That’s when I got very involved in Edgar Allan Poe. So if I hadn’t ‘borrowed’ the books, I never would have written those kinds of screenplays.”

As Stallone continued to write, admitting that his very early works weren’t very good, he ultimately prevailed and gave us famed stories like Rocky, First Blood and Creed.

In fact, the name Apollo Creed came from an astrology book Stallone had stolen.

“I’m going through a couple of stolen books … and in there it had different counties and cities where the stars would be aligned,” Stallone explained. “There it was, Apollo … in the county of Creed.”


When asked what character he feels most connected to, Stallone revealed that he believes some characters have more lasting power for him than others.

“I can do Rocky until I’m 100 years old, because there’s so many different stories,” Stallone said. “He doesn’t have to fight in the ring.

“Rambo, I can leave him. He’s done pretty much. Even though they want to do another one, I’m going, ‘What am I fighting? Arthritis?'”

‘I don’t know if this kind of filmmaking is going to prevail’

While being one of the biggest action stars of all time, Stallone recognized that he’s had a very different way of working, compared to how action films are often made now.

“I’ve had lots of injuries because you say, ‘Well, you want it done right, do yourself.’ Not true,” Stallone said. “But I did it and I like doing things that aren’t really CGI-based.”

Speaking about The Expendables films in particular, Stallone said the men in those movies, including Jason Statham, were the “real deal” and could take the pain and accidents.

“I don’t know if this kind of filmmaking is going to prevail or whether it’s going to go the way of the dodo bird,” Stallone said. “It’s just bothering me, it really is.

“You have to put yourself on the line and just take the bruises, take the bumps. I don’t know if that’s the smartest thing, it’s just the only way I know it. I think the audience knows the difference.”

But Stallone has stepped into that CGI world, notably in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, where he expressed that he was amazed by the size of the green screen the stars of that movie worked with.

“Truly, tremendously difficult. … It seems like it’s easy. It’s not,” Stallone said. “What we’re doing out there is much easier because it’s real. Things are blowing up, buildings are going sideways.

“So you get excited. You’re outside. You’re doing it. As opposed to pretending to do it. So I don’t look down on people that do … the Marvel-type films. It’s just a different kind of acting that requires a whole different discipline.”