"You're always going to be tearing away at yourself until you come to terms with what you are. Until you come full circle."
— Col. Trautman
A series of action/drama films starring Sylvester Stallone
as emotionally troubled Vietnam War
veteran John Rambo, who was a former member of the United States Army Special Forces, a Green Beret, and a recipient of the Medal of Honor. First Blood
, released in 1982 and the first film in the series, was based on the 1972 David Morrell novel of the same name
. The character and franchise became very famous and a verbal shorthand
to describe a One-Man Army
type of badass.
The films in the series are:
Prior to Rambo
, however, a cute and heartwarming Gaiden
of sorts was created in 2008 by British director Garth Jennings called Son of Rambow
. The film details the misadventures of two boys in 1982 who tried to remake First Blood
with a bulky VHS-Camera and the vibrant imagination of ten year olds. Sylvester Stallone
himself is said to have loved the film.
A fifth Rambo film was planned, and details varied as to the plot of the film (one potential plot would have seen Rambo face off against some sort of supernatural/alien creature). However, that project seems to have stalled, and Rambo
will remain the final film in the franchise at least with Stallone, who has said the rights holders may make their own sequel but once he finishes a few cuts on the Blu-ray
he's done with the character.
Both the films and the character have enjoyed massive success and popularity, and - alongside the Rocky
series - catapulted Stallone to the position of a major action hero and film star. After the release of the first three Rambo
films, Morrell went on to write the novelizations of the first two Rambo
sequels because he wanted to include characterization that he felt wasn't in said sequels. There was also a 1986 animated TV series
called Rambo: The Force of Freedom
that lasted 65 episodes and spawned a line of toys; a few comic books starring the character
; soundtrack albums for all the films (but not the animated series, which mainly tracked in Jerry Goldsmith
's score for the second one); and many video games including the NES version of Rambo
and the Sega Master System versions of Rambo: First Blood Part II
and Rambo III
. Sega also released an arcade light gun "Rambo" game back in 2008, and it is perhaps a distillation of what makes the Rambo franchise awesome, though, bizarrely, had a rap soundtrack
The latest entry in the franchise was Rambo: The Video Game
, a rail shooter based on the first 3 movies of the series. It was released on the PC, Xbox 360, and the Playstation 3 in February 2014. A trailer can be seen here
Provides Examples Of:
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The four movies:
- Action Film, Quiet Drama Scene: In First Blood, Rambo's breakdown and monologue in the end. In Rambo: First Blood Part II, the scene with Rambo and Co on the boat where he tells her he's "expendable". There are several in Rambo IV between Rambo and Sarah, most notably her pointing out "Maybe you're right, maybe we won't change anything. But trying to save a life isn't wasting your life." Unfortunately, many of these were cut.
- Animated Adaptation: Rambo: The Force of Freedom, a 65-Episode Cartoon which aired in 1986 alongside a tie-in toyline which was basically a G.I. Joe clone with Rambo as the lead character.
- Artistic License – History: This film series is the primary source of the persistent Urban Legend that returning Vietnam War soldiers were universally spat on and vilified. While there was some protesting at the veterans' homecomings, these were isolated incidents, and certainly never reached the in-your-face levels Rambo declaims.
- Appropriated Title: The first movie was actually called First Blood. It wasn't until the sequel, Rambo: First Blood Part II, that the Rambo name was used at all.
- Asshole Victim: Chances are any villain will be one.
- Awesome McCoolname: Say it out loud: John. RAMBO. This name oozes pure testosterone and has been widely adapted as a synonym for raging badass. It also helps that in Japanese (乱暴, rambou) it means violent, rough, lawless.. The character was named after a breed of apple which was, in turn, named after a Swedish-American immigrant.
- Badass Bandolier: Rambo has worn a lot of them.
- Badass Boast: Every time Trautman talks about Rambo, he provides one:
First Movie: You send that many [200 men] after him, you just remember one thing: a good supply of body bags.
Second Movie: What you call 'hell' [the depths of Communist Vietnam], he calls 'home'.
Third movie: [Upon being asked by the Russians if Rambo thinks he's God]: God would have mercy. He won't.
- Badass Grandpa: Colonel Trautman in the first three movies (especially the third). Rambo himself became one in the fourth movie, since Stallone was 62 without showing it.
- Big Damn Heroes:
- Rebels save Rambo in the nick of time in parts 3 and 4.
- Likewise, Rambo saves a group of Burmese civilians (who are being forced to run through a minefield) with his bow in the fourth film when the mercenaries won't do anything.
- Black and Gray Morality: In all four movies but especially the fourth. When a missionary takes issue with Rambo killing a half dozen river pirates (because the whole reason they're there is to help stop the violence) Rambo angrily tells him that if he hadn't done anything they would have made his fiance into a sex slave and killed the rest of them.
- Bloodier and Gorier: All of the sequels, but Part 4 really ups the blood and body count.
- Bloody Hilarious: Many bad guys in 2 and 3 die this way.
- Book Ends: For the whole series. First Blood begins with Rambo walking along a lonely road to visit a friend. Rambo ends with him walking a road which will take him home.
- Broken Aesop: First Blood - two hours illustrating and condemning the dehumanization of soldiers. The sequels - two hours of gleeful carnage by a One-Man Army.
- The Cavalry: Afghan rebels in the third movie, literally; Karen rebels in the fourth.
- Chekhov's Gun: Oh, I'm sure that unexploded ordnance won't be important later.
- Cold-Blooded Torture
- Colonel Badass: Colonel Sam Trautman. He gets more play in the books, and in the first book, he's actually the man who kills Rambo — blowing his old student's head off with a shotgun.
- You'll need to wait until Rambo III to see him kick any ass in the movies, however.
- Conditioned to Accept Horror: Rambo himself. As you could probably guess from the chart, this is played for tragedy in the first movie but quickly sidelined in the rest.
- Dirty Communists: The Vietnamese in First Blood Part II and Soviets in Rambo III.
- Fighting for a Homeland/La Résistance: The Afghans in the third movie; the Karen warriors in the fourth.
- Flanderization: John Rambo killed precisely one guy in the first film, which was completely accidental and a Karmic Death. Galt, the guy who was killed, had repeatedly gone out of his way to antagonise Rambo, defy orders not to shoot at him and had attempted to murder him in cold blood several times. From II onward however, Rambo was a Badass who made mountains of bodies out of practically everyone in his way.
- However it should be noted that Rambo was intending to kill the law enforcement at the end of the first movie had Colonel Trautman not negotiated with Rambo to surrender. He had been repressing his killer nature from his days fighting in Vietnam prior to that because he didn't want to kill any of those police men, it was only when they continued to antagonize him that he was getting ready to kill them and fall back into his old ways. Later films are simply showing us what Rambo is like when he isn't holding back.
- The third film also demonstrates the lengths Rambo goes to to control and channel his violent impulses into constructive results. At the start, he's fighting in highly lucrative (and violent) prize fights...and giving the proceeds to the monks he lives among.
- Forging Scene: In the fourth film. Third movie also had it, but it was cut.
- The first one had Rambo building and setting up a bunch of traps and making arrows from freshly cut wood.
- Genre Shift: The first movie is a rather thoughtful psychological thriller. From the second movie onwards the series is action-adventure, with Rambo being recruited for highly dangerous missions.
- The Gunslinger: One of the most famous examples of the type B.
- In the fourth film, Rambo shows that he can also be a type C when he kills half a dozen pirates before they can react.
- Hot-Blooded: Rambo himself.
- Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: The cops of the first film and the Viet Cong and Dirty Communists of the second film. Averted in the third and fourth films, as the accuracy of the villains are such that Rambo gets shot at least once.
- Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: Frequently used on Rambo: by the police in the first movie, the Cong in the second, etc.
- Just Plane Wrong: The Hind gunships in the second and third movies were actually French Aérospatiale SA 330 Puma helicopters, fitted with cosmetic modifications (most obviously the stub wings with rocket pods) to a decent semblance of a Hind. This ended up being carried over to all of the video games, licensed or fan-made.
- Kick the Dog: Police Brutality directed toward Rambo in the first film triggered his rampage.
- A literal example in the first movie, when Rambo kills the three dogs the police were trying to use to track him.
- Tint is a much more horrifying example.
- The Soviets in the third film.
- Knife Nut: Rambo's serrated-edge hunting knives have become iconic of the series.
- Large Ham: Again, Rambo.
- Lighter and Softer: Parts 2 and 3 where Rambo kicks commie ass.
- The Mentor: Trautman, who is like a father to Rambo.
- Mook Horror Show: Happens in the first two sequels.
- More Dakka: Rambo practically thrives on this. You could've retitled all the shows 'Dakka: The Movie' and it would be appropriate.
- Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Rambo himself; supposedly from "Arizona" but has a thick Brooklyn accent.
- Novelization: Notable here mostly because David Morrell, who wrote the original First Blood novel, went on to pen the novelizations of the two movies that followed, specifically noting and then tossing aside the rather egregious Canon Discontinuity that emerged from the fact Rambo died in the book, but lives on in the films.
- One-Man Army: Rambo might well be the Trope Codifier, although see Flanderization.
- Even in the first movie, John Rambo is considered a one man army. Observe:
Teasle: Are you telling me that 200 of our men against your boy is a no-win situation for us?
Trautman: You send that many, don't forget one thing.
Trautman: A good supply of body bags.
- One-Liner, Name... One-Liner
- Person of Mass Destruction: Rambo again.
- Rated M for Manly: As noted with the image up top, this tends to increase with each sequel; notably, First Blood was not particularly testosterone-heavy.
- Real Award, Fictional Character:
- John Rambo is identified as a Medal of Honor recipient by Col. Trautman.
- Sheriff Teasle's office has a Silver Star, a Purple Heart, and a Distinguished Service Cross on display. Though not mentioned in the film, the novel and director's commentary explicitly state he served in Korea.
- Ripped from the Headlines: Especially the third and fourth movies (focusing on the Soviet war in Afghanistan and Burmese insurrection in Karen State, specifically) but also the second, which is based on an Urban Legend about POWs from the Vietnam War.
- Roaring Rampage of Revenge: The reason Rambo does anything, really.
- Ruthless Modern Pirates: Rambo pwns some Burmese river pirates in the fourth movie.
- He does same thing for their Vietnamese counterparts in the second movie.
- Scars Are Forever: Rambo's scar on his face, a product of torture from part 2. The scars on his back and chest obtained during his stint as a POW in Vietnam also count.
- Screaming Warrior
- Sequel Number Snarl: The films in the series are entitled First Blood, Rambo: First Blood Part II, Rambo III, and Rambo. This caused film critic Roger Ebert to wonder, in his review of Rambo III, "shouldn't this film be titled Rambo II: First Blood Part III?" Outside the US, this complication was often fixed by changing the title of the films to some variant of Rambo: (Subtitle) and having Numbered Sequels.
- Shell-Shocked Veteran / Death Seeker: Possible Trope Codifier.
- Shirtless Scene: Of course. Averted in the fourth film, though.
- Shouting Shooter
- Sole Survivor: Rambo and Delmar Barry were the only ones of their old team to come back from Vietnam. The latter died prior to the start of the first film.
- Spotlight-Stealing Title
- Stuff Blowing Up: All over the place, natch. An entire boat blows up in the river scene in Pt. II, and that's just getting starting.
- The fourth blows up two boats and a whole lot of forest, courtesy of a massive unexploded Tallboy bomb. Mines and grenades aplenty, too, though they're usually treated fairly realistically - big boom, no huge fireball.
- Super Soldier: Rambo is a deconstruction. Troutman trained him to become the best but all his abilities are useless in peacetime.
"You just don't turn it off!"
- There Is No Kill Like Overkill: That poor Burmese army jeep driver whose death kick-starts the climatic battle of part 4 comes to mind; let's not even get started on the gratuitous explosions.
- True Companions: Rambo and Trautman. Emphasized with "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother" playing over Rambo III's credits.
- Truth in Television: Unfortunately, what the Burmese are doing to the Karen is not an much of an exaggeration.
- Many Vietnam veterans were heavily traumatized, and some, sadly, reacted with violence. Stories of crowds of protesters jeering at them upon their return are an exaggeration, though, although some were betitled, and many ended up on the street because they couldn't find a job.
- Aversion: After the second movie, an Urban Legend began to spread that large numbers of American POWs remain in prison camps in Vietnam, where they are tortured and treated horribly. While this undoubtedly happened during the war, there is no evidence any remain there.
- War Is Hell: The war will never end for those who fought it.
- We Do the Impossible
Across Other Media
- But Thou Must: At the beginning of the NES version, Commander Trautman gives Rambo a mission that may be difficult. If the player chooses, "I feel safer in prison," the commander won't take no for an answer and will keep repeating that until the player chooses, "I'm not afraid of death."
- Baleful Polymorph: During the ending of the NES adaptation of First Blood: Part II, the player can throw Japanese text at Murdock, which turns him into a frog.
- Dolled-Up Installment/Spiritual Successor: Rambo: The Video Game is arguably one to Teyon's previous Light Gun Games, Heavy Fire.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: The NES version of Rambo has some mild language that includes "hell" and "damn" and "I swear to God".
- Lock and Load Montage: The cartoon included one of these in every episode, with Rambo tying his boots, tying his bandana, and putting his knife in his boot sheath.
- Multiple Endings: In the NES version you can finish the game much sooner and get a different ending if you follow Murdock's orders.
- Quick Time Event: The Rambo arcade Light Gun Game features sequences where you must press the Start button at the correct times to succeed, or swiftly "click" on marked spots on the screen à la fellow Sega game GHOST Squad to fistfight a villain. Rambo: The Video Game also includes traditional Quick Time Events, as well as a notorious "perk" that disables them entirely.
- Rated M for Manly: The SEGA arcade game, in spades.
- Spared by the Adaptation: Co's death in the NES version occurs during a conversation cutscene that sort of mirrors the events of the movie. Skipping the conversation skips her death scene. The developers actually accounted for this in the ending.
- The Dev Team Thinks of Everything: Late in the NES game, Co appears in front of a waterfall. Talking with her (as most players will do by habit) triggers a conversation in which she is shot and killed. Run past her without talking, however, and she will appear at the end, alive and well, with dialogue specific to the ending.
- Unstoppable Rage: In the Rambo arcade game, killing enemies results in Rambo's "Rage" meter going up. When it maxes out, four things happen:
- Rambo gets unlimited ammo.
- Rambo's bullets have a bigger impact radius and deal more damage.
- Rambo becomes invulnerable.
- You get a sound effect of Rambo screaming "AAAAARRRRGGGGHHHH!" at the top of his lungs while the rap soundtrack is replaced with the Jerry Goldsmith composed theme.