John Rambo, with his headband and dead-eyed stare, is perhaps as iconic a character in action movies as Terminator with his leather jacket. Having made an appearance in ‘First Blood’, Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo made one thing clear. The elite Green Beret would kill first and ask questions later. Rambo has gone on to become a very successful franchise, including movies, novels, comic books, and video games.
However, if one were to examine where it all started, it would be easy to see how Hollywood fixated on the image of a shirtless Stallone, wielding weaponry and destroying America’s enemies. Over time, the movies have gotten bigger, the action more intense, and Stallone’s imagery as a warrior in the jungle, facing deadly enemies, will remain imprinted in the mind of action movie fans.
Now that John Rambo is appearing for presumably the last time, in ‘Rambo: Last Blood’, the timing is perfect to look back on the franchise and rank the movies. One thing is for certain, growing up, those who saw the Rambo movies are bound to love them for the over the top action of the hero, who is akin to a killing machine. However, some have certainly performed better than others for combining this action with valid messages. Here’s the list of all Rambo movies in order, ranked from worst to best.
5. Rambo III (1988)
As the title suggests, ‘Rambo III’ is the third part of the franchise and sees John Rambo return to the battle once more. This time, he must rescue his mentor and commanding officer, Colonel Sam Trautman. The movie is set during the Soviet-Afghan war. Rambo has to travel to Afghanistan to rescue the Colonel from the hands of a ruthless and powerful Soviet Army Colonel, whose aim is to kill both Rambo and Trautman in order to further the Soviet agenda of helping their armed forces capture Afghanistan.
Although Rambo is tired of fighting and initially turns down the Colonel’s offer to help him in a CIA mission to arm the Mujahideen, he goes when he hears of the Colonel’s capture and knows he will die inevitably. The US does not sanction an official mission for fear of being drawn into a war, so it is Rambo, alone, once again, and this time he goes up against the Soviet baddies. Armed to the teeth, Rambo carries out his infiltration of the base and finally manages to rescue the Colonel, even as the Mujahideen arrive to help him.
‘Rambo III’ is perhaps the weakest film in the franchise, accentuated by the actual fallout of the Afghan-Russian war and USA’s involvement in it. However, that being said, the movie went on to become a blockbuster entertainment hit, since it captures the essence of the franchise, that is a buffed up Rambo representing America’s dominance over the enemies. Slick as well as tightly packed, the over the top action movie remains one of the finest examples of its time and has an influence on the genre as a whole.
4. Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985)
‘Rambo: First Blood Part II’ is a direct sequel to ‘First Blood’, which started the entire franchise. The movie picks up where the previous film leaves off. We see Rambo serving a jail sentence when he is approached by Colonel Trautman. It turns out that the horrors of the Vietnam war are not quite over for John Rambo, who has to go on a solo infiltration mission to find out if there are any prisoners of war being kept, in order to appease the Americans.
Rambo’s mission almost immediately runs into trouble as he loses most of his equipment. However, he manages to find the camp with local help and despite the orders to photograph and record the POWs, allowing a future team to extract them, Rambo goes ahead and saves one of them. This leads to a chase by the Vietnamese troops. Rambo’s extraction plan also goes kaput as the person handling the mission decides that Rambo has violated orders and should be left on enemy turf. Alone but not scared, Rambo discovers Russian involvement in arming the Vietnamese.
Thus begins the action in the movie as Rambo decides to take the fight to them. He systematically kills Vietnamese and Russian soldiers, who all seem to be after him. Finally, he manages to get back and unleashes his rage on the person in charge of the mission. The effect of the war on the soldier becomes evident as he once again urges that the nation should love the soldiers like they love the nation. However, the mission is a success since he frees the POWs, and leaves, telling his friend Trautman, that he plans to take each day as it comes.
As Rambo kills America’s enemies, both domestic and foreign, it is hard to ignore the jingoistic overtones of the movie. However, as an action and survivalist movie, ‘First Blood Part II’, will remain in our minds, especially due to Rambo’s antics in the forest where he kills his enemies.
3. Rambo: Last Blood (2019)
‘Rambo: Last Blood’ or ‘Rambo V’ is the final part of the franchise, and presumably Stallone’s last appearance as John Rambo. The story picks up 11 years after the fourth film which finally saw Rambo head home to his ranch. ‘Rambo: Last Blood’ is all about Rambo, who is as much an American cowboy as an ex-soldier by this point. He takes care of the ranch and rides his horse.
However, when his niece is kidnapped by the Mexican cartel, Rambo springs back into action. He goes to Mexico to confront the members of the cartel. In the process, there are plenty of gunfights and action sequences to satisfy the lovers of the franchise. Ultimately, he rescues his niece and manages to kill one of the top men of the cartel. In retaliation, they attack his ranch. If you have seen the Rambo movies, you know how good the survivalist is with booby traps. Unfortunately for the cartel, they step right into Rambo’s trap. He decimates all of them and kills the final evil boss by ripping his heart off. Rambo vows to keep fighting and rides off into the sunset at the end.
Unfortunately, at a time when America is already in the throes of xenophobia, it is slightly irresponsible to show Stallone’s character killing almost every person of color in order to please the crowds with acts of violence. If you are going for the nostalgia, however, you will not be disappointed.
2. Rambo (2008)
Confusingly titled ‘Rambo’, the movie is also known as ‘John Rambo’ or ‘Rambo IV’. It shows Rambo in Thailand, living meagerly as a snake catcher and ferrying people in his boat, even as unrest brews in Burma, with the political protests due to Saffron Revolution. The military government tortures villagers and kills them for sport. Amidst such a situation, Rambo is approached by a group of missionaries, who want to offer aid to the villagers. Although he is initially hesitant to take them, he finally agrees. During their journey, they meet pirates, who demand the woman traveling with them, in exchange for safe passage. Rambo ends up killing them, horrifying the missionaries. Upon reaching, they let him know that his services are no longer required. Unfortunately for them, they get captured by the military.
The pastor who sent them hires a group of mercenaries to retrieve the captives and approaches Rambo once more to provide passage. Rambo takes them and offers to help the mercenaries but the leader, who is ex-SAS, refuses. Unfortunately, the mercenaries find themselves in a tough spot, which is when Rambo comes to the rescue. Eventually, the fight is taken to the military and it is every bit as brutal as a fight can be. Rambo finally helps in defeating the army and rescues the captives, before he decides to head home to his ranch.
‘Rambo’ feels like the best sequel as the action sequences are exhilarating and the severity of the bloodshed in the movie makes us take notice of the straightforward plot, which once again attempts to give us a glimpse into Rambo’s morally complicated mind. The overall experience is marked by Rambo’s solitude and the feeling that the war might never end for the veteran.
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1. First Blood (1982)
It is said that you always remember your first. That certainly holds true for ‘First Blood’, that started the entire franchise. Based on the 1972 novel of the same name, by David Morrell, the movie sees Stallone appear for the first time as John Rambo, a Vietnam war veteran who goes to meet his friend.
While the meeting never takes place since his friend appears to have died of cancer, Rambo’s troubles are far from over. He manages to stumble into a town where the local law enforcement sees him as an unwanted nuisance. As a result, the sheriff escalates the situation, which leads to confrontations with Rambo. The former Green Beret manages to disarm people tracking him in the woods, but the Sheriff keeps making matters worse for him, which ultimately results in the state police and National Guard getting involved. Rambo unleashes havoc upon the town and even manages to take down the Sheriff when the latter engages him in a firefight. Thankfully, Trautman, Rambo’s commanding officer and friend, is there to defuse the situation. He gets Rambo to give up peacefully, which results in the veteran breaking down and crying, recalling his experiences during the war.
Amongst all of the Rambo films, ‘First Blood’ has the brains and the brawn. We see the bitter character of John Rambo begin to take the form of a thrilling survivalist. In Rambo’s breakdown scene, Stallone delivers one of his finest performances as the movie expertly examines the trauma of war.
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