The “Rambo” franchise has produced five films and grossed almost $900 million worldwide. From the emotional storytelling of “First Blood” to the violent finale “Rambo: Last Blood,” the films have made a lasting impact on the action industry.
Ranking The Rambo Films
1A. Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985)
We have a complete cop-out from the get-go. It’s nearly impossible to properly distinguish the greatness of Rambo: First Blood Part II and the original First Blood. Of course, it’s all a matter of personal taste as Rambo II is, unequivocally, one of the greatest action films of all time. Part II is bigger, badder and more action-packed than its predecessor and made an astonishing $300 million at the box office back in 1985.
Part II plays up a very real and emotional domestic battle that occurred following the Vietnam war. It was tremendous seeing Rambo as the hero of this film as he attempted to rescue forgotten POWs that American mercenaries were trying to cover up. The action sequences are ground-breaking and Stallone delivers a stand-out performance (including a tear-jerking speech at the end about America loving us as much as we love it). Overall, this film is the gold-standard to which all combat-based movies that were made after had to compare themselves to.
1B. First Blood (1982)
Based on the 1972 book by David Morrell, First Blood exploded into theaters back in October of 1982. This film tells an emotional journey of a Vietnam veteran, forgotten by society, that is harassed by a small town sheriff and driven over the edge after memories from the war come flooding back.
This film does a tremendous job of pitting Rambo against sheriff Will Teasle and it is fairly ambiguous as to who is in the wrong in the situation. It can be argued that First Blood is the better film with tremendous acting performances and a story more grounded in reality. The finale with Rambo blowing up the town and allowing Teasle to live before having an emotional breakdown in front of his former commander Col. Trautman was riveting and torturing to watch.
3. Rambo (2008)
Sylvester Stallone was able to successfully re-ignite both the Rocky and Rambo franchises in the 2000’s. Against all odds, really, Rambo IV (why didn’t they just call it Rambo IV?) was a solid entry to the series that relied heavily on gratuitous violence to hammer the story home.
The story itself was ok, not great. I’m not all that familiar with Burma or the real-life war that goes on there. In this film, Rambo winds up rescuing a group of American missionaries that were captured by sadistic soldiers. It’s a film that has aged pretty well and justifies its existence, which is really all you can ask.
4. Rambo III (1988)
This movie finds Rambo living in Thailand and engaging in stick fighting for a living. When his beloved friend Col. Trautman is captured by Russian soldiers while assisting Afghanistan freedom fighters and Rambo is there to wreak havoc.
This film always felt a little forced. While it had tremendous action sequences, it just did not relate emotionally on the level of the first two. Its runtime of 101 minutes felt a little long in the tooth for a film like this and the story just doesn’t hold up over time
5. Rambo: Last Blood (2019)
Last Blood was released in September of 2019 to mostly negative reviews. Truthfully, it feels more like a Taken movie than it does a Rambo. Stallone (unforgivingly) has ditched the signature long hair and the story just doesn’t connect on any familiar level. The signature music is seldom used and the character gets into situations that someone with Rambo’s combat training would just never do.
The final 20 minutes feel like an over-the-top, action version of Home Alone and is wildly entertaining. Sadly, the story just doesn’t lend to the payoff being worthwhile as the antagonists are just faceless characters.