Best Arm Wrestling Movie Ever: Over the Top (1987) – Retro Review

By 1987 Sylvester Stallone had won me over with his iconic characters Rocky Balboa and John Rambo.

By 1987 Cannon Films had won me over with a combination of ninjas, breakdancing and Chuck Norris.

So it only stands to reason when Cannon’s head honcho, Menahem Golan, made a big money deal with Sylvester Stallone to bring him into the Cannon fold that I would be all about it.

The result of this Cannon/Stallone partnership was the absolute best arm wrestling movie ever made in human history, Over the Top!

Sylvester Stallone plays Lincoln Hawk, an arm wrestling truck driver who has an opportunity to connect with his estranged son Michael (David Mendenhall). Lincoln left Michael and Michael’s mother shortly after Michael was born for reasons unknown… seriously anytime the subject comes up Lincoln simply states he left for “reasons” and doesn’t go into further detail.

Michael’s mother, Christina (Susan Blakely), is gravely ill and awaiting open heart surgery when she has the bright idea to have Lincoln pick up Michael from military school… a decision that does not sit well with Christina’s father, Jason Cutler (Robert Loggia). Michael isn’t wild about it either and instantly gives his father attitude.

After a rough start to their road trip, Lincoln starts to get through to Michael even teaching him how to win at arm wrestling (SPOILER ALERT: It involves flipping the switch and going over the top!) But just when father and son are starting to find some common ground, tragedy strikes. Lincoln and Michael arrive at the hospital later than expected and learn that Christina did not survive her surgery. Michael has a meltdown, runs off and takes a taxi back to his grandfather’s mansion.

At this point in the film, the movie was in desperate need of some Cannon style action. Fortunately, Director Menahem Golan must have realized this because we see Lincoln Hawk show up at Jason Cutler’s palatial estate, wanting to see his son. The security at the front gate turns Lincoln away and threatens to call the cops if Lincoln does not leave… so Lincoln backs up his truck, then floors it and crashes through the gates and right into Jason Cutler’s front door!

We then get to witness Robert Loggia do what he does best as Jason Cutler screams like a maniac, hurling threats in Lincoln’s direction. We also get to see Jason Cutler’s right hand man Ruker (played by WWE Hall of Famer Terry Funk) in action, as Lincoln is subdued until the police arrive on the scene.

After Cutler cools down he sends his personal secretary to the county jail with an offer for Lincoln Hawk, Cutler will drop all charges if Lincoln gives up custody of Michael to him. Lincoln won’t agree with it until he speaks to Michael and level headed Michael seeing his father behind bars decides it might be best that he stay with his grandfather. Lincoln reluctantly agrees to the deal and makes his way to Las Vegas for a big arm wrestling competition.

Lincoln Hawk doesn’t really care about being the world’s best arm wrestler, but the winner gets $100,000 and a new truck… prizes that would help Lincoln’s dream of starting his own trucking company reality. Lincoln even sells his old truck for $7000 and then when he arrives in Vegas, puts all $7000 on him to win… despite the 20 to 1 odds.

Over the Top does a great job making this arm wrestling competition seem like a major event. The interviews with the semi-finalists was a nice touch. The announcer for the event does a great job of letting us know that it is a double elimination competition. He hammers home the fact that you have to lose two matches before you are eliminated at least a half dozen times… this fact comes into play since Lincoln Hawk does lose a match to add to the drama and stacks the deck against underdog Lincoln Hawk.

While Lincoln was prepping for the competition in Vegas, Michael was rummaging through his mother’s room and found a bunch of letters that his father wrote him over the years. Michael then sneaks out of the mansion and takes one of his grandfather’s vehicles and drives himself to the airport… Michael has officially had a change of heart where his father is concerned.

It doesn’t take long for Jason Cutler and his entourage to make their way to Las Vegas too as Jason is looking to bring his grandson home and make Lincoln one more offer to get him out of his life forever. This means all our principal characters are present for the big arm wrestling finale between Lincoln Hawk and the reigning champion Bull Hurley (played by the imposing Rick Zumwalt) and this means they are all there for the big come from behind win by Lincoln Hawk. You didn’t think Menahem Golan was going to pay Stallone all that money and not get the Balboa-esque victory at the end did you?!

Over the Top was a big gamble for Cannon films that unfortunately did not pay off at the box office.

There were some glaring negatives. As I mentioned earlier we never really find out why Lincoln Hawk left his wife and son. We also don’t know why Christina hid the letters that Lincoln had sent to Michael. And there seemed to be some ongoing confusion if Lincoln’s last name was Hawk or Hawks.

But there were some positives too, Stallone being the biggest positive (although his salary being a big negative on the balance sheet). With the exception of his chief rival, Arnold Schwarzenegger, there was no bigger action star than Sylvester Stallone in the 1980’s.

And what about the soundtrack!?!? They got the “King of the Soundtracks” Kenny Loggins… plus Sammy Hagar, Eddie Money and Giorgio Moroder!

Bull Hurley also made for a great villain and was the alpha dog in a pack of rough and tumble, larger than life arm wrestler characters. It was no wonder Cannon licensed a line of Over the Top toys in a time when World Wrestling Federation action figures were flying off the shelves.

There’s probably no halfway where Over the Top is concerned, you either love it or hate it. Personally, I am guilty of watching Over the Top whenever I come upon it, which makes sense for a movie that many consider a guilty pleasure..

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