Rambo Films Ranked

Megastar Sylvester Stallone has two iconic movie characters to his credit: Rocky Balboa and John Rambo. Most actors are lucky enough to fashion one classic screen character in their careers. As Vietnam veteran Rambo, Stallone has crafted a character who has transformed from PTSD-stricken soldier to 80s American action hero to old guy with tough skills. Without further ado, here’s how I stack the films up against each other in the long-running action series.

5. ‘Rambo: Last Blood’ (2019)

The latest — and supposedly, but probably not, last — entry in the franchise plays like a pretty standard post-‘Taken’ (2009) old-guy-out-for-revenge action flick for most of its run-time. Rambo is living a quiet life on an Arizona ranch before some Mexican caricatures fitting the Trump-era xenophobia bill kidnap his niece to use her for sex slavery. Big mistake. The opening is interesting as we get to see a short-haired Rambo in retirement just doing his thing and talking more than usual. Things get more routine once the niece gets kidnapped and the plot plays out like a small-scale thriller. However, the climax of ‘Rambo: Last Blood’ delivers with an explosive set piece in a tunnel system — with the added bonus of a particular rock song playing out. Stallone also shows he is still tough as hell despite his age. Grade: B-

4. ‘Rambo III’ (1988)

A Rambo for the anti-Communism Reagan era, ‘Rambo III’ sees Rambo joining with Afghan Mujaheddin warriors in order to rescue Colonel Trautman (Richard Crenna) and take down Soviet forces. This is the biggest of the Rambo stories, a B-movie blockbuster full of huge action moments replete with tanks, helicopters, horses, and big guns. In a post-9/11 world, some of the film’s stances could be seen as problematic. But taken as slick, testosterone-heavy entertainment it’s still a fun enough time. Stallone and Crenna give some more weight to the Rambo-Trautman relationship this time around too. Grade: B

3. ‘Rambo: First Blood Part II’ (1985)

The entry that made Rambo an iconic 80s action character, ‘Rambo: First Blood Part II’ ditched the small-scale, anti-war thriller mode of the first movie and instead morphed into a big, macho, jingoistic cartoon with a high body count. The story finds Rambo being released from prison and heading to Vietnam to find and save POWs. It’s sweaty and dumb and doesn’t hold up to close scrutiny, but it is also an exciting rush of 80s action. Interestingly, ‘Rambo: First Blood Part II’ was written by future mega-director James Cameron and helmed by ‘Tombstone’ (1993) director George P. Cosmatos. Grade: B

2. ‘Rambo’ (2008)

Apparently a 20-year break was just what the series needed as the title character is interesting again in the fourth installment, ‘Rambo.’ The film finds Rambo living as a snake catcher/boat driver in Thailand before getting caught up with rescuing some missionaries in Burma during the protests of the Saffron Revolution. Placing the Vietnam vet character in the crazy situations of Burma and returning to the darker tone of the original film, there’s tension and a visceral edge to ‘Rambo’ that was missing from the second and third films. The cool sniper character School Boy (Matthew Marsden) who helps Rambo is a nice addition to the mix too. ‘Rambo’ — which is the only entry directed by Stallone — is an intense ride and is definitely one of the most violent and excessively bloody films I’ve ever seen. Grade: B+

1. ‘First Blood’ (1982)

None of the overblown action sequels in the series have come close to the quality of the original film, ‘First Blood.’ Based on the 1972 novel by David Morrell, the story focuses on Vietnam veteran John Rambo’s PTSD being triggered when he is harassed by abusive police officers in a small Washington town. With a low body count and no overly violent set pieces, but still containing plenty of thrills, ‘First Blood’ is a thoughtful action drama with an emotional performance by Stallone. Grade: A- 

Written by
Daniel Rester is a writer for the We Live Film portion of We Live Entertainment. He is a Southern Oregon University alumnus and has a Bachelor of Science degree with a double major in Communication (Film, Television, and Convergent Media) and Emerging Media and Digital Arts. He has been involved with writing and directing short films for years. Rester also won 2nd place in the Feature Screenplay Competition in the 2015 Oregon Film Awards for his screenplay "Emma Was Here," which is currently in post-production and will be Rester's feature directorial debut.

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