The first Rambo movie almost didn’t get released. In the lengthy creative span that has been Sylvester Stallone’s career, the actor, writer and director has always faced daunting odds to accomplish his goals. First Blood proved no different.
In terms of creative output, First Blood came later in Stallone’s career, at a point when he had already struck gold with the Rocky franchise. In fact, with three Rocky films already to his credit at the time, First Blood - the tale of disgruntled Vietnam vet John Rambo’s one man battle against the police and National Guard in a small Washington state town - was the sixth feature film for Stallone as a writer. Arriving in 1982, First Blood kicked off a franchise that would see four more installments over the next 37 years, with the final entry in the series, Rambo: Last Blood, officially arriving in theatres this week. The films haven’t exactly been critical favorites, but in terms of helping to build the action movie genre into a legitimate box office contender, Stallone’s rough and rugged film franchise has certainly played a sizeable role.
This has not always been the case, however, and Stallone will be the first to tell fans and critics alike that getting Rambo to where he currently is today was no easy task. In fact, as Screen Rant found out at a recent Rambo: Last Blood press conference, First Blood - which had an initial runtime that sat somewhere in the three hour neighbourhood - came very close to not being released at all. What’s more, at one point, even Stallone didn’t want anything to do with the film. Said the star:
You know, that movie was a complete failure. That movie was so bad, I wanted to buy it back and burn it. That's not a joke. I put that in Variety magazine. It was that bad. Because it was just overblown and overlong, and I’d never seen an actor attacking his own country. It's just very odd. That's why 11 people passed on the phone. Then, once it was done, we said “Let's bring it down to about 85 minutes from about three hours. Because I think Rambo movies need to be short. There's not a lot you need to explain. You get it. Especially with each film, you need less and less time. Let's get to the meat of it.
When the film was finally done, the film that you saw, nobody wanted it. We could not get a distributor, period. Zero. My God, “Maybe they were right.” And they said, “Sly, this our last chance. We’re going to cut 20 minutes together,” which I've never seen, “And you're going to go out there in front of a room full of strangers.” Like, the bottom of the barrel, the last attempt. “People from Poland and Russia, any distributor, and just try to get someone to take this movie.”
So, I went out there. “Hurry, hurry, hurry. Welcome. Hello, folks. You're about to see 20 of the greatest minutes” – I haven't seen one second of it. Biggest bunch of crap ever. Talk about blind faith. I haven’t seen it; I just know we're all broke. Anyway, it went up, and my jaw dropped. Like, “Oh my god, this movie works. It really works.” And that was the beginning. But literally, it had such a horrible start. Which is the story of my life. Everything that’s bad turns out good. Everything that’s good is a horror.
Fortunately for Stallone, the film found an audience and went on to become a box office success. This, in turn, made room for future sequels, with Rambo: First Blood II becoming an even bigger worldwide box office smash. And while the concept of First Blood wasn’t held in the highest of regard by many, Stallone’s ability to turn such a dubious idea - that of a man attacking his own country - into a hit, proving he had a genuine talent for stories that championed the underdog.
Stallone would go on to utilize this theme throughout his career, building a significant fan base along the way. In the process of doing so, the now 73-year-old star has proven that audiences, regardless of where they are located, love an underdog story. Easily disregarded as violent and pointless rubbish by some, the Rambo films and particularly First Blood certainly have their flaws, but the effort behind them has always been based in Stallone’s own particular brand of never say die.
- Rambo 5: Last Blood (2019) release date: Sep 20, 2019