The final kill of Rambo: Last Blood pays homage to Sylvester Stallone's 1981 thriller Nighthawks. When Stallone first penned the script to iconic underdog movie Rocky, producers offered it to buy off him so a major actor from that period - like Burt Reynolds or Ryan O' Neal - could play the lead. Stallone insisted he star and the low-budget drama would eventually sweep the Oscars. While the movie wasn't intended to spawn a sequel, Stallone would return to direct and star in Rocky II after the failure of his follow-up Paradise Alley.
Stallone had trouble scoring a hit outside of the Rocky franchise until he starred in First Blood. This movie was based on the novel by author David Morrell, and a potential adaptation had been mooted for a decade, with actors like Dustin Hoffman and Steve McQueen attached to star. Stallone's take on the character was toned down from the book, where Rambo isn't afraid to kill and is ultimately shot dead in the final chapter. The actor was famously so appalled by an early 3-hour cut of First Blood he wanted to buy the negative so he could destroy it. Instead, he recommended the filmmakers cut as much of Rambo's dialogue as possible, leading to the movie becoming a hit and spawning a long-running franchise.
One of Stallone's post-Rocky projects was a thriller called Nighthawks. The script started life as The French Connection III, which was set to pair Gene Hackman's Popeye Doyle with a cop played by Richard Pryor, but Hackman's lack of interest killed the movie. Instead, the script became Nighthawks, where Stallone and Billy Dee Williams (Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker) play cops hunting down a terrorist in New York, played by the late, great Rutger Hauer. The movie went through some productions issues, with the studio drastically re-editing it to pare down the runtime - including a scene that would be re-purposed for Rambo: Last Blood.
This resulted in character development scenes being dropped, and the gory finale was greatly trimmed down. An earlier scene in Nighthawks features Stallone's cop practicing with his magnum at a firing range, strategically targeting vulnerable body parts with his first five rounds before finishing with a headshot. The ending of Nighthawks features Hauer's terrorist breaking into the house of Irene, the estranged wife of Stallone's cop DaSilva. The villain sees her in the kitchen and prepares to kill her - only to learn too late it's DaSilva wearing a wig. The original version of this scene called back to DaSilva on the firing range, as he shoots Hauer five times to draw out his demise, before ending with a headshot.
This sequence featured slow motion and ended with a prosthetic head of Hauer being blown apart. The studio behind Nighthawks later awkwardly trimmed this scene for an R rating, with Hauer only being shot twice - despite clear evidence of more bullet holes - before dying. Stallone was noted to be unhappy with Nighthawks final cut, and in Rambo: Last Blood he calls back to its finale by dispatching final villain Hugo Martinez (Sergio Peris-Mencheta, Life Itself ) in a similar fashion. In the movie, Rambo traps Martinez in his barn, strategically shooting him with arrows, pinning his arms and legs to a door.
Rambo than takes his aptly named Heartstopper knife and proceeds to cut open Martinez's chest, ripping out his heart and showing it to him before he perishes. While the execution - pun intended - is a little different, with Rambo going for the heart instead of the head, the scene is a clear nod to the death of Hauer's villain in Nighthawks. In both cases, the hero wants the bad guy to suffer before their eventual death. Thanks to audiences tolerance for more graphic violence, the final death of Rambo: Last Blood is even grislier than the uncut finale of Nighthawks.