24 Things I Learned While Watching the Rambo Trilogy

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The original Rambo trilogy didn’t just raise the bar for all action films to come. As the quintessential ’80s action films, they set the standard and created an entire subgenre. Without Rambo, we wouldn’t have Die Hard, Commando, or Taken. Without Sylvester Stallone giving life to his ridiculously muscle-bound action hero, it’s not a stretch to say that people like Jean-Claude Van Damme or Steven Seagal may never have found a career in the movies.

Stallone and Rambo created the trope of the unstoppable, indestructible one-man army. And it’s because of these films that the word Rambo entered the lexicon and took on a life of its own.

The films—1982’s First Blood, 1985’s First Blood Part II, and 1988’s Rambo III—have recently been given the 4K Ultra HD treatment. The films themselves have been restored and have never looked better. Seriously, if you have a 4K screen and a penchant for blow-em-ups, these discs do not disappoint.

Where the new releases REALLY shine, though, is in the special features. All three films are loaded down with extras, including a brand-new “Rambo Takes the ’80s” retrospective featurette that’s spread over the three discs. Also included are a bevy of behind-the-scenes clips; alternate endings; deleted scenes; and mini-documentaries about the Vietnam War, green berets, POWs, and more.

If you’re into audio commentaries, you also won’t be disappointed. First Blood features two commentaries from Sylvester Stallone and author David Morrell, First Blood Part II has one with director George P. Cosmatos, and Rambo III sports a commentary with director Peter MacDonald.

Honestly, all three releases are LOADED with bonus features, both vintage and new. If you’re a fan of action movies, Sylvester Stallone, or the ’80s, then you’ll absolutely want to check these out.

But, without further ado, here are the top 24 things I learned while exploring these new 4K releases…

1. David Morrell, author of the original First Blood novella, sold the rights to his story for an astonishing $380,000 in early-’80s money!

2. Morrell originally wrote the story and created the character of John Rambo after talking to students of his (he was a professor) who had returned from the war in Vietnam and were exhibiting signs of PTSD.

3. Morrell took inspiration from Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces when writing the story. First Blood actually follows Campbell’s mythic structure surprisingly closely.

4. The original film (First Blood) went through 26 scripts and 5 studios before it was made. It was one of the most optioned scripts in Hollywood at the time.

5. John Rambo doesn’t actually kill anyone in the first movie. That was intentional and integral to his character (which was totally ignored in the sequels).

6. Though Richard Crenna is most well known for the role of Col. Sam Trautman, he wasn’t the original choice. The filmmakers wanted Kirk Douglas for the role.

7. Kirk Douglas actually agreed and was on set for a while, but he was adamant about rewriting huge portions of the script. Most notably, he felt it was essential for the movie to stick close to the original novella and for Rambo to die at the end of the movie.

8. An alternate ending where Rambo dies was filmed (and is included as a special feature on the disc).

9. Sylvester Stallone really didn’t want Rambo to die, which is ultimately why Kirk Douglas walked away. Stallone thought his death would send the wrong message to real Vietnam veterans—namely, that death is the only solution to their problems.

10. First Blood was one of the first films to really examine the effects of PTSD on soldiers and the reception of Vietnam vets back home. Because it was framed as a blow-em-up action movie, though, it never truly received credit for that aspect of the story.

11. Despite Rambo having become synonymous with a one-man army and the very definition of a “macho tough man,” First Blood ends with an intensely emotional scene that shows Rambo breakdown in tears and embrace Trautman. Stallone and the filmmakers felt it was essential to show his vulnerability not only to humanize the character but also to show real vets that it’s ok to feel.

12. First Blood was filmed in British Columbia in the winter. At times, the temperature reached 40 below. Despite that, Stallone still ran around in a tank top. In an interview, Sly said that was his biggest regret from the first movie. “I wish I had had Gore-Tex.”

13. Stallone performed many of his own stunts. The first major stunt he did on First Blood was falling off a cliff face through a tree. He broke a rib and ruptured his spleen in the fall. It was the first of many trips to the ER.

14. First Blood was one of David Caruso’s first film roles. His shockingly red hair steals every scene he’s in.

15. Jerry Goldsmith’s sweeping, emotional score for First Blood was meant to soften the character.

16. David Morrell, author of the original First Blood novella, finds First Blood Part II “humorous” because of how it changed the character.

17. The Rambo films played a surprisingly big role in Polish independence. The movies were forbidden, but those who were fighting for independence would smuggle them into the country, emulate Rambo by wearing his bandanna, and take to the streets. Many credited the films for inspiring the Polish people to gain their freedom from the USSR.

18. James Cameron (yes, THAT James Cameron) wrote the original screenplay for First Blood Part II.

19. First Blood Part II director George P. Cosmatos wanted to film in Thailand, and they actually went to Chiang Mai to scout locations. In the end, they filmed outside Acapulco, Mexico.

20. The filmmakers built and planted rice paddies in Mexico to make it look more like Vietnam.

21. Stallone went through 8 months of 4-hour-a-day training to prepare for First Blood Part II.

22. One of the deleted scenes from First Blood Part II elicited unintentional laughs from test audiences. As Rambo holds Co Bao (Julia Nickson) after she dies, he screams “NOOOO!!” as the camera dramatically zooms out. It was immediately cut when audiences found it hilarious. If only George Lucas had taken the same hint.

23. First Blood Part II made about $700 million in today’s dollars.

24. None of the interviewees or filmmakers included on the special features could even pretend to take Rambo III seriously.

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