Sylvester Stallone‘s troubled Vietnam war hero John Rambo first hit screens in 1982’s First Blood, but it was the 1985 sequel that really established the character as we remember him today: a long-haired, bare-chested, seriously ripped killing machine who single-handedly sets out to fight the Vietnam war again – and this time, win!
Critics might not have loved it, but Rambo: First Blood Part II was the movie that really cemented Stallone’s Hollywood action hero status. Here are some facts about the film that you might not have known.
10. The film’s plot contains similarities to a real-life rescue attempt
It may seem rather far-fetched, but the plot for Rambo: First Blood Part II is surprisingly similar to a real life rescue attempt undertaken during the 1980s, when US commandos underwent preparations to rescue POWs they suspected were being held in Southeast Asia.
The mission was eventually abandoned when Vietnam veteran Colonel Bo Gritz started planning his own solo rescue raid, with a later government inquiry concluding that the whole thing was in fact an attempt to defraud families of missing service personnel, despite there being an estimated two and a half thousand Vietnam vets still missing in action at the time of the film’s shoot.
9. Rip-off movie Missing in Action managed to get released first
The first draft of the film’s script was written in 1983 by Terminator, Aliens and Titanic director James Cameron under the title First Blood II: The Mission. While Cameron has a co-writer credit in the film, Stallone heavily rewrote the script himself before cameras rolled. However, Cameron’s early treatment was seen by many in Hollywood – including producers Menahem Golan and Yoran Globus of Cannon Films.
Because of the gap between Cameron’s script being written and the film being made, Cannon Films were able to rush into production their own rip-off: Chuck Norris movie Missing in Action. This actually managed to make it to screens in November 1984, six months before Rambo: First Blood Part II.
8. Producers suggested that Sylvester Stallone should be partnered with John Travolta
The original James Cameron draft of Rambo: First Blood Part II didn’t see Rambo head out into the Vietnamese jungle in search of POWs alone. Cameron gave Rambo a younger, technology-savvy partner – and producers wanted John Travolta for the part.
Travolta had not long since worked with Stallone, when the Rambo actor directed 1983’s Saturday Night Fever sequel Staying Alive. However, Stallone was not keen on the idea of Rambo having a partner, and when he rewrote the script he removed this supporting character completely.
7. Stallone went through a “torturous” training and workout regimen
Stallone was already in great shape for the original First Blood in 1982, but he really went all-out for the sequel. According to the 2019 documentary In Search of the Last Action Hero, Stallone put himself through a “torturous” eight-month training program to get in shape for the film, as well as learning various survival, combat and archery skills.
The actor took this enhanced physique directly into his next movie, Rocky IV, which also proved to be one of his biggest hits.
6. A special effects technician was killed during the shoot
Rambo: First Blood Part II is dedicated to Clifford P. Wenger Jr., a special effects technician who tragically lost his life during the film’s shoot when an explosion was triggered prematurely.
Wenger, whose father also worked in the same profession, had previously overseen special effects on films such as The Island of Dr. Moreau, Hooper and City on Fire.
5. An emotional scene was re-edited after test screening audiences laughed
The emotional scene in which Julia Nickson’s Agent Co Phuong Bao dies in Rambo’s arms following an ambush had to be re-edited after it caused test screening audiences to laugh rather than cry.
The scene originally featured a shot where John Rambo screams an over the top “No!” that echoes three times, but the out of place audience laughter saw it edited into the far more subtle moment that you see in the finished film.
4. The film’s main song was sung by Sylvester Stallone’s brother
Rambo: First Blood Part II’s score was composed by Jerry Goldsmith, who by then had already won an Academy Award for his work on the 1976 horror film The Omen.
The film’s main song Peace In Our Life, meanwhile, was sung by Sylvester Stallone’s brother, the singer-songwriter Frank Stallone, who also performed tracks on both the Rocky and Rocky II soundtracks.
3. Stallone and Martin Kove got in a brawl at a Mexican disco during the shoot
Rambo: First Blood Part II co-stars Martin Kove (best known as Sensei John Kreese in the Karate Kid/Cobra Kai franchise) as Ericson, a fellow US soldier who winds up butting heads with Rambo. However, Kove recalls having Stallone’s back when they went to a disco in Acapulco, Mexico during production.
Because of Stallone’s fame, he was constantly declining offers to dance with women, until one woman’s boyfriend complained, “you too good to dance with my girl?” Fists soon started flying, before Stallone’s bodyguards intervened, literally picking the actor up over their shoulders and carrying him out.
2. It is the only Rambo film to have been nominated for an Academy Award
Rambo: First Blood Part II is the second of five Rambo films, having been succeeded by Rambo III in 1988, Rambo (aka John Rambo) in 2008 and Rambo: Last Blood in 2019, and it is the only film in the franchise to have been nominated for an Academy Award.
The late sound engineer Frederick Brown received a nomination in the Best Sound Editing category, but lost out to Charles Campbell and Robert Rutledge for their work on Back to the Future.
1. It’s Sylvester Stallone’s least favourite film in the franchise
When he was asked to rank the Rambo films on the UK chat show The Graham Norton Show, Sylvester Stallone surprised some fans by revealing that Rambo: First Blood Part II was his least favourite entry in the franchise. Stallone described it as being “like a cartoon.”
Critics largely agree, as Rambo: First Blood Part II carries only a 33% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes – but this is still better than the paltry 26% awarded to the final entry in the series, 2019’s Rambo: Last Blood.