He served his country with valor, but there would be no hero’s welcome for John Rambo upon his return home. A misunderstood outcast trying to make sense of the horror he experienced in Vietnam, Rambo would soon find that society had no place for his kind. Starring Sylvester Stallone in the title role, this 1982 film would go on to become a cult classic and spawn a trio of sequels based on the violent but endearing soldier.
The story introduces the world to John Rambo, a Medal of Honor recipient turned drifter trying to cope with civilian life and the deaths of his comrades in arms. Arrested for vagrancy by small town Sheriff Teasle (Brian Dennehy), Rambo is taken to the town lockup, where several of Teasle’s deputies begin to beat him. As flashbacks take Rambo back to the tortures he endured in Vietnam, his killer instincts are unleashed on the deputies as he turns the tables and escapes into the mountains on a stolen motorcycle. Clinging to their wounded pride, a group of deputies take off after Rambo only to find themselves outmatched by an expert guerilla tactician.
With order spiraling out of control, Teasle calls in the National Guard for an all-out manhunt. In response to the call, the government also sends the man who trained Rambo, Colonel Sam Trautman (Richard Crenna), as an advisor. Despite two hundred armed men, Trautman begs the sheriff to leave Rambo alone. When their explosive efforts fail to capture him, Rambo returns to the town, reeking havoc before Trautman can finally reach him in the hopes of talking him into surrender.
Because his work outside of the Rocky films (two of which were already released) was paltry at best, Sylvester Stallone was originally bypassed in favor of John Travolta, Steve McQueen, Clint Eastwood, and Al Pacino. After landing the role and shooting the film, Stallone was reportedly so disgusted with the first cut (and in particular, his performance) that he tried to buy the footage so he could destroy it. When that failed, he begged the producers to edit as much of his character out as possible and let the other characters tell the story. The result not only created a fantastic final product, but also set a precedent for future action films.
At the box office, First Blood did surprisingly well, earning over $6 million in its first weekend alone, and earning $125 million worldwide. Not bad for a film with a $14 million budget. Critics by and large hailed the film for its surprisingly poignant depiction of a man scarred by the Vietnam war, and audiences were soon demanding more Rambo. They got their wish in a pair of sequels in the 80s, as well as another in 2008, but none managed to capture the charm of the original, which managed to change some minds regarding how we treat soldiers returning from the battlefield.