The Rambo film franchise timeline spans 37 years, going from 1982 with First Blood and ending in September 2019 with Rambo: Last Blood. It's evolved into an iconic action franchise over the years, certifying Sylvester Stallone as a bonafide action star and introducing audiences to one of the best action anti-heroes of all time, John Rambo.
At the start of the franchise, in First Blood, Rambo is a Vietnam veteran making his way to see a friend from the war. In that first film, audiences learn Rambo is a Green Beret, trained to be a ruthless killing machine. He was taken as a prisoner of war in Vietnam and, through flashbacks, viewers come to understand the toll the war took on him mentally and emotionally. Over the course of the following films, Rambo is a man trying to heal from his past and move on but is consistently drawn back into helping those in need. It becomes clear Rambo is a man who is unable to bury his past, no matter how many years go by, and is ultimately shaped into the stoic yet ruthless soldier who becomes a reliable force time and time again. When mapping out the Rambo film franchise timeline, it's easier to see how Rambo's missions shape and evolve him through the years.
None of the Rambo films are tied to a specific date or time aside from the year, which is the present day respective of the year each film is released. Those dates are:
- 1982: First Blood
- 1985: Rambo: First Blood Part II
- 1988: Rambo III
- 2008: Rambo
When it comes to pinning down the timeline of the films, all we have to go by are the days and nights that pass in each film and even then, some approximation is required. With that in mind, what follows is the Rambo film franchise timeline - beginning with First Blood, which starts seven years after the end of the Vietnam War when Rambo is freed from a Vietnamese prison camp.
1982: First Blood
Amount of time covered: 2 days, 2 nights
- Day 1: John Rambo arrives in Hope, Washington with the intention of reuniting with a Green Beret buddy of his from the Vietnam War. Rambo learns from a family member the friend died of cancer. As Rambo makes his way into town, he's stopped by Sheriff Teasle, who immediately takes a disliking to him. Rambo is arrested after refusing to leave town at Teasle's request, despite having done nothing illegal. As Rambo is being booked at the Hope police station, the other police officers physically assault him, triggering PTSD from his time as a Vietnam War POW. Rambo fights his way out of the police station and makes it into the woods outside of Hope. A manhunt begins but Rambo quickly begins to outsmart the officers, led by Teasle. As Rambo finds shelter for the night in a cave, Teasle returns to town and sets up a base of operations. Colonel Trautman and his team arrive on the scene as Trautman explains Rambo is trained to outsmart Teasle and fight back better than Teasle and his men can fight.
- Night 1: The state police try to make contact with Rambo through a radio Rambo stole from a police officer killed during the manhunt earlier that day. Rambo ignores the calls until Trautman gets on the line to try and lure him out. Rambo explains why he is reacting the way he's reacting, telling Trautman, "They drew first blood."
- Day 2: The manhunt goes into overdrive. The state police try to track Rambo through the woods. Rambo escapes into a mine shaft which leads him back to the highway. He takes over a military truck and heads back into town. Rambo prepares his attack against Teasle, who is both confused and somewhat defeated at his inability to catch Rambo.
- Night 2: Rambo blows up the town gas station as a means of distracting a majority of the Hope police force and townsfolk. He makes his way toward the police station. Teasle prepares, grabbing a gun and going onto the station roof to fire at Rambo, who shoots at him on the roof from the street below. Rambo makes his way into the police station but is stopped by Trautman before doing any more damage. Rambo willing goes into Trautman's custody and is arrested for the destruction he's caused.
1985: Rambo - First Blood Part II
Amount of time covered: 5 days, 4 nights
- Prologue: Rambo is in prison when Trautman comes to offer him a mission in Vietnam which could get him a Presidential pardon. Rambo accepts.
- Day 1: Rambo arrives in Vietnam. He meets Murdock, who tells him he's going on a recon mission to photograph Vietnamese prison camps where the U.S. believes American POWs may still be imprisoned.
- Day 2: Rambo is parachuted into an approved drop zone near one prison camp. He meets up with his in-country contact, rebel fighter Co Bao. The pair make their way towards the first camp and have Vietnamese rebels help sneak them down river to get as close as possible.
- Night 2: Rambo and Co get to the camp. Rambo sees there are still POWs and loses it. He kills all of the guards (something he was specifically instructed not to do to avoid an American presence being made known to the Vietnamese). Rambo and Co get one POW out of the camp alive.
- Day 3: Rambo, Co, and the POW head back toward the U.S. base of operations. Murdock learns about Rambo killing the Vietnamese soldiers and orders the U.S. extraction team to leave Rambo and his team where they are. Rambo and the POW are recaptured by the Vietnamese but Co escapes. The Vietnamese soldiers give Rambo and the POW over to the Soviets.
- Day 4: Rambo is tortured for information by the Soviet camp leader.
- Night 4: The Soviet leader threatens Rambo to make contact with Murdock and Trautman back at the U.S. base so they Soviets can listen in and then go attack. Rather than get information from Murdock, Rambo threatens him by saying he's coming to get him.
- Day 5: Rambo, aided by Co (who has made it back into the camp to help free him), take out the Soviets and head back to the U.S. base in a plane they stole from the Soviet camp. They bring all U.S. POWs with them and return them safely to U.S. custody. Rambo finds Murdock and threatens him face-to-face, demanding he has a team comb the entirety of Vietnam to make sure no more American POWs are left in the country. If Murdock doesn't do as Rambo orders, Rambo further threatens to find and kill him. Rambo is granted a pardon for his work and heads for Thailand.
1988: Rambo III
Amount of time covered: approximately 8-10 days
- Prologue: Trautman finds Rambo living in Thailand. He asks Rambo to come with him to Afghanistan to help supply weapons to Afghan freedom fighters trying to stop the Soviets from taking their country. Rambo refuses and tries to say he's left that life behind. Trautman leaves him and goes on the mission solo. Trautman's mission is botched and he's captured by the Soviets. Word of Trautman's capture gets back to Rambo in Thailand and he leaves for Afghanistan.
- Day 1: Trautman meets Soviet leader Zaysen after being captured the night before on his botched mission.
- Day 2: Rambo arrives in Afghanistan. He meets Mousa, a weapons dealer who agrees to take him close enough to the Soviet base so he can retrieve Trautman. Zaysen tortures Trautman for information about where U.S. forces are sending missiles to help the Muhajideen take on the Soviets. Trautman refuses to tell.
- Day 3-6: Trautman is still imprisoned at the Soviet base. Rambo and Mousa travel by camel through the Afghan desert to the base.
- Day 6: Rambo and Mousa stop at a village. They speak with freedom fighters and one former Soviet soldier who walk them through how to infiltrate the base.
- Night 6: Rambo infiltrates the base and finds Trautman. As the two attempt to escape, they are discovered by Soviet soldiers. Rambo has to leave Trautman and promises to return the next day.
- Day 7: Rambo finds another way to get into the base and successfully gets Trautman. The two make a break for it, stealing a Soviet helicopter to get out of there as quickly as possible. The Soviet soldiers, led by Zaysen, pursue Rambo and Trautman in the helicopter across the desert.
- Night 7: Rambo and Trautman are still fighting off the Soviets when a group of freedom fighters appears to lend Rambo and Trautman a helping hand.
- Day 8: Rambo and Trautman leave Afghanistan.
Amount of time covered: approximately 24 days
- Day 1: Rambo is living in Thailand. He's approached by a group of missionaries led by Michael Burnett who want to go into Burma to provide aid to villagers affected by SPDC soldiers' destruction. Rambo initially refuses because he believes it's fruitless.
- Night 1: Sarah, part of the missionary group, goes to see Rambo and tries to convince him to take the group into Burma. He softens because she argues trying to save a life is a good use of one's own life. At the same time, the SPDC raid a Burmese village.
- Day 2: The morning after Sarah's visit, Rambo takes the missionary group up the river to Burma.
- Night 2: The group encounters a boat of Burmese pirates. The leader of the pirate group tries to forcibly coerce Rambo into giving Sarah to the group. Rambo kills the entire group of pirates in front of the missionary group.
- Day 3: Rambo lets missionaries off in Burma. Missionaries set off for the village where they will give aid. Rambo returns to Thailand.
- Day 4-7 (approximately): The missionaries go to work in the village, treating the sick and doing ministry work. Rambo resumes his daily activities in Thailand.
- Day 7: SPDC soldiers led by Major Pa Tee Tint invade the village where the missionaries are, killing and imprisoning villagers as well as the missionaries.
- Day 7-20: The missionary group are now captives of the SPDC under Major Tint.
- Night 21: Pastor Marsh, who is the head of the church which sent the missionary group Michael and Sarah are members of comes to Rambo and says it's been 10 days since the group should have returned. We have to assume the group was doing about a week's worth of missionary work but didn't get to complete their trip. Marsh asks Rambo to go with a group of mercenaries hired by the pastor to get the missionary group back safely.
- Day 22: Rambo heads up the river with the mercenary group. Sarah and the other missionaries are still in captivity.
- Day 23: Rambo and the mercenaries come across a group of SPDC soldiers forcing Burmese villagers to run through a minefield as a means of torturing them. The mercenaries prove ineffective at taking the SPDC on while Rambo is comfortable killing each soldier with his bow & arrow.
- Night 23: Rambo and the mercenaries get to the border of the SPDC camp where the missionary group is being held. The team infiltrates the camp. Two groups form: the mercenaries get all of the male missionaries in captivity. Rambo breaks off to save Sarah from being sexually assaulted by one of the SPDC soldiers.
- Day 24: The mercenary/missionary group tries to make it back to the river where their boat is moored. Progress is slowed as one of the mercenaries is revealed to have a major injury. At the same time, Rambo, Sarah, and one mercenary who has joined them make their way back to the boat. Tint and the SPDC soldiers bear down on them. Rambo sends Sarah back to the boat with the mercenary and he holds them off. Eventually, the soldiers near the river, where they find the missionaries and mercenaries have made it and are readying to leave. When it seems like all hope is lost, Rambo swoops in to save the day, killing the rest of the SPDC and Tint. Sarah thanks him for his help.
- Sometime after Thailand: Rambo returns to his father's ranch in Arizona. It's been more than 30 years since Rambo has been here. As we will find out in Rambo: Last Bood, this is where Rambo still lives after 10 years.
- Rambo 5: Last Blood (2019) release date: Sep 20, 2019