A look at how the Rambo franchise films stack up against each other today.
With the Rambo saga, Stallone built himself a monument right next to his Rocky films. In the 1980s he created three ultimate classics, and the trilogy was expanded twice with more badassery and explosive action. In this article, we will honor Stallone’s ultimate achievements and give you our ranking of his Rambo movies!
5) Rambo: Last Blood (2019)
The last chapter of the franchise attempted to provide a closure for its titular character. John Rambo has retired to the family ranch in Arizona where he lives with his friend Maria and her granddaughter Gabrielle. When Gabrielle travels to Mexico, she is abducted by a Mexican gang, and it is time for one last fight of Rambo vs. Evil. If you ever asked you how Rambo is as a private citizen, Rambo: Last Blood has the answers.
The film leans heavily towards melodrama and is a slow burn for a Rambo film, that often feels more like an entry to the Taken movie series. The finale brings back the spirit of the old days, when Rambo pulls out his entire armory to fend off a small army attacking his house, which he disposes of in classic ultraviolent fashion. And yet the film can’t shake off the impression that the Rambo saga fizzles out instead of going out with a bang.
4) First Blood: Part II (1985)
Stallone’s new take on his character in the sequel to First Blood was that of a stoic killing machine which defined the Rambo brand from that point on. Rambo is released from jail in exchange for going on an undercover mission in post-war Vietnam to investigate the fate of war prisoners still held by the Vietcong. The trip turns into a private war between him and the Vietnamese and Soviet military.
First Blood: Part II defined a whole subgenre of action that was ripped off countless times, but this film is the only one that really matters. A razor-thin plot, one-dimensional characters and stilted dialogues permeate this film, but we’re only watching it for Rambo’s rampage anyway. And the movie delivers some of the best action the genre has to offer. With an M60 that has infinite ammo seemingly fused to his body, Rambo leaves an enormous trail of bodies in the jungle. First Blood: Part II is as undiluted as an action film can get and has become an essential member of the action Olympus.
3) Rambo III (1988)
Rambo III was the preliminary culmination of the one-man-army genre and became an action inferno of a gigantic scale. John Rambo is called from his retreat in Thailand to rescue his former commander Trautman from a division of Spetsnaz operatives in Soviet-occupied Afghanistan. If really you want to enjoy this film, you will need to fade out everything that happened between the US and Afghanistan since the early 1990s, as the plot really lays it on thick when portraying the Mujahideen as heroic freedom fighters who are besties with Uncle Sam.
Stallone is the ultimate action hero, doing impressive stunts and mumbling many bad-ass one-liners while firing off a megalomaniacal pyrotechnics inferno. The jaw-dropping action sequences have a scale, depth and clarity almost unsurpassed to this day. With Rambo III, Stallone created a pinnacle of blockbuster macho cinema, a perfectly choreographed ballet of destruction.
2) Rambo (2008)
Twenty years after Rambo’s last rampage, he returned with a blood-soaked bang. Once again, Rambo lives in voluntary exile in Thailand. When a band of Christian missionaries is abducted by a Burmese warlord and his sadistic soldiers, Rambo snaps out of his lethargy and crosses the border. The years have made John more cynical and monosyllabic with an ever-increasing sadness in his eyes.
But the shocking images of massacred villagers create a new enemy for Rambo that needs to be wiped from the face of the earth. The violence depicted in this film is unparalleled to this day in the action genre. Hordes of enemy soldiers are killed with bodies exploding and being ripped apart, the graphic detail rivals that of horror gore films. Rambo is one of the most intense and violent action films ever made and guaranteed to leave you in shock and awe.
1) First Blood (1982)
With First Blood, Stallone created a film that made the traumas of Vietnam veterans more approachable by casting it into an action thriller template. John Rambo returns from Vietnam, and while passing through a village gets harassed by the local Sheriff (Brian Dennehy). Their encounter escalates badly, and triggers Rambo’s PTSD as well as his killer instincts. The forest and mountains become his refuge from the state police, and soon the line between who is the hunter and the hunted becomes blurred.
The film is an allegory for the tragedy of so many soldiers who believed they were doing the right thing just to be forsaken when they returned home. This message is wrapped in a thrilling cat-and mouse game. The action sequences are flawlessly filmed and will keep you on the edge of your seat all the time. Stallone nails his role, excelling physically, but especially in the emotional moments of the film that range from melancholia to utter despair, and culminate in a heart-breaking ending. It cannot be understated what a masterpiece First Blood is, an ultimate classic not just of the action genre, but of American cinema!