Although Sylvester Stallone’s most popular movie franchise will always be Rocky, Rambo is a close second. The John Rambo character is remembered for marching into battle, oiled-up and shirtless, with a bullet belt slung over his rippling shoulders and a giant machine gun in his hands. But his first on-screen outing was a sobering reflection on the effects of the Vietnam War on its veterans.
Stallone has always been heavily involved behind the scenes of the Rambo franchise, even writing and directing a few of its installments. This list has been updated to include even more fascinating facts about the making of the Rambo movies.
Updated on December 7th, 2020 by Derek Draven: There are so many fascinating factoids about the Rambo franchise that we’ve updated this list to include a few more. This long-lasting series of movies broke new ground and inspired countless waves of action films that followed, solidifying its iconic status. Read on to learn more about what went into the making of the franchise.
14 Sly Hated & Loved The Character
During an interview with Bobbie Wygant in 1988, Stallone was asked whether he disliked the fact that fans preferred he play either Rocky or Rambo. This is a common problem for many actors who get typecast, but it’s worse for others who are tied to extremely specific characters.
Stallone was quick to admit that it was frustrating at times to be so closely associated with one or two key characters, but he also saw the silver lining. Few actors get to be so fondly remembered for playing characters that touched so many lives across multiple generations. John Rambo is definitely one of those characters.
13 Stallone Suggested Rambo Not Kill Anyone
The making-of DVD documentary about First Blood mentions how the film version of the character differs so much from the original novel. There, Rambo indiscriminately killed over a dozen people after snapping due to his horrific Vietnam experiences. In an act of foresight, Sylvester Stallone realized that this probably wouldn’t go down well with fans.
It was he who suggested the Rambo not kill a single person in the film. This was to create a sympathetic anti-hero who was a complete victim of unfortunate circumstances that ended up driving him over the edge. As such, First Blood features only one death in the entire film – an accidental one.
12 Kirk Douglas Killed His Own Role
Kirk Douglas was a huge idol of Sylvester Stallone’s since his young days, and he was quite excited at the prospect of working with him on First Blood. Douglas was supposed to play Colonel Trautman, and Carolco banked heavily on his bankability to help sell the movie to audiences.
Stallone revealed in the making-of DVD documentary that Douglas “accepted a role, then rewrote the script.” The last straw came when Douglas demanded that Rambo die at the end of the movie for the purpose of artistic merit. Stallone respectfully disagreed, stating that it would send the wrong message that the only way to deal with a broken Vietnam vet was to put him down. Douglas hopped on a plane the next day, forcing a recast.
11 A Different Mujahideen
One of the biggest controversies surrounding Rambo III was the idea of the character working with the Mujahideen to repel Soviet forces in Afghanistan. This took place during the Soviet-Afghan War, which raged for 10 years before finally seeing an end just one year after Rambo III came out.
Following the end of the war, the Mujahideen descended into internecine warfare until the party broke down. The ensuing power struggles gave rise to what our generation knows as the Taliban – a completely different group than the Mujahideen portrayed in Rambo III.
10 Al Pacino Was Offered The Role Of John Rambo
When First Blood initially went into development, the producers offered the role of John Rambo to Al Pacino. Pacino wanted the script to be rewritten to make Rambo more of an eccentric madman, but the producers refused, so he turned down the part.
After the success of Convoy, the producers also considered Kris Kristofferson for the part, hoping that he might be able to persuade his friend Sam Peckinpah – one of the great revolutionary directors of ultraviolent cinema – to helm the project.
9 James Cameron Wrote The First Draft Of First Blood Part II
After Arnold Schwarzenegger’s commitment to a Conan sequel pushed back production of The Terminator, James Cameron took a writing assignment in the meantime: a sequel to First Blood, which he initially titled First Blood II: The Mission. Although the script for Rambo: First Blood Part II is credited to Cameron and Sylvester Stallone, the two never actually collaborated.
Cameron wrote a script in which Rambo had a comical sidekick, and the P.O.W.s had fleshed-out backstories. Stallone rewrote the script to remove the sidekick and the backstories, and to add the political themes.
8 Sylvester Stallone Received A Gulfstream Jet As Part Of His Payment For Rambo III
When he was negotiating his salary for Rambo III, Sylvester Stallone asked for a Gulfstream jet as part of his payment for the film. These jets cost around $12 million. Against all odds, the studio actually caved and gave him one.
With a reported budget of $63 million, Rambo III was the most expensive movie ever made at the time of its release. The record has since been broken a number of times, and it’s currently held by Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides’ $379 million price-tag.
7 Rambo’s Dialogue Was Adopted By Burmese Freedom Fighters
For obvious reasons, the fourth Rambo movie was banned in Myanmar (formerly Burma), but because it’s a scathing cinematic indictment of the State Peace and Development Council, bootlegs of the film were widely spread around the country.
Burmese Freedom Fighters even adopted some dialogue from the movie to use as battle cries. In particular, they were known to say, “Live for nothing, or die for something.” When he heard about this, Sylvester Stallone said, “That, to me, is one of the proudest moments I’ve ever had in film.”
6 The Fifth Movie Had A Ton Of Unused Scripts
While the fifth Rambo film was in development, there were a ton of completed scripts that went unused before Stallone was happy with the draft that became Last Blood. A script called Rambo 5: Savage Hunt was a horror movie in which Rambo led a Special Forces team into the Arctic Circle to track down a flesh-eating mutant creature.
Another script called Rambo 5: Last Stand pitted Rambo against a band of meth dealers who were terrorizing a small town. There were also a few drafts about Rambo saving a kidnapped girl from a Mexican cartel before the final script was written.
5 Sylvester Stallone Accidentally Broke Alf Humphreys’ Nose During First Blood Jailbreak Scene
When the First Blood team was shooting the prison escape scene, Sylvester Stallone accidentally broke Alf Humphreys’ nose by elbowing him in the face. This is why Humphreys’ character, Lester, can be seen wearing a band-aid in the rest of his scenes.
Funnily enough, in David Morrell’s source novel, Rambo breaks a police officer’s nose by elbowing him in the face in this exact same scene. So was it a coincidence, or was it just a case of the actors taking their roles to the extreme?
4 Dolph Lundgren Was Initially Cast As The Villain In First Blood Part II
The role of Russian Lieutenant Colonel Sergei Podovsky, the only villain in Rambo: First Blood Part II with any lines in English, was originally offered to Dolph Lundgren. Lundgren even accepted the part and signed a contract.
However, when Sylvester Stallone realized he’d cast the same actor to play the villains in both the second Rambo film and Rocky IV (which was due to be released the same year), he decided to buy out his contract and cast Steven Berkoff instead.
3 John Rambo’s Horse Also “Played” Indiana Jones’ Horse
Sylvester Stallone is one of the few actors who can claim to be able to ride a horse on their résumé and actually be telling the truth. He’s been riding horses since he was a kid and started playing polo competitively at the age of 11. So to say that he has a bit of experience riding is somewhat of an understatement.
The horse that John Rambo rode in 1988’s Rambo III also appeared as Indiana Jones’ horse one year later in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
2 Stallone Was Originally Going To Carry The M2 .50-Cal. Machine Gun In The Fourth Movie
In the final sequence of Rambo, the title character uses an M2 .50-cal. heavy machine gun to tear the bad guys to pieces. In the movie, the gun is mounted on the back of a jeep, but originally, Sylvester Stallone was going to carry it in his hands. Despite the gun weighing 120 lbs, the superhuman Stallone was still able to hold it and fire it. However, he couldn’t move it quick enough.
Some critics called the gore inflicted by the M2 unrealistic, but war veterans who’d used the gun in Iraq and Afghanistan said that the violence was, in fact, realistic and if anything, it was toned down from the real thing.
1 Last Blood Originally Opened During A Storm
In the original cut of Rambo: Last Blood, the movie opened during a storm in which Rambo managed to save a little girl but failed to save a couple more people. Then, he would’ve gone back home and talked about how it made him feel before retreating into his tunnels to sleep.
However, this was cut from the final film, because younger test audiences didn’t connect with it. Stallone was happy to make the cut, as he felt that opening with Rambo working on the ranch would get into the main plot quicker.
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