Ranking Every Rambo Movie, From Worst to Best

Like it or not, Sylvester Stallone is back with another round of Rambo movie — 11 years after the allegedly final chapter of the self-titled fourth movie of Rambo released back in 2008. Aptly titled as Rambo: Last Blood, the fifth and (hopefully) last movie in the franchise sees the now-retired Rambo forced to get back into action after his young niece (Yvette Monreal’s Gabrielle) is kidnapped by the Mexican cartel. Ahead of the fifth movie’s release date this coming 19 September, here is the ranking of all four Rambo movies from worst to best.

4) Rambo (2008)

This supposedly “final” chapter of the once-lucrative Rambo movie series sees then-62 years old Sylvester Stallone trying to dust off his old franchise and course-corrected it after the much-maligned Rambo III twenty years ago. And by doing so, he opted the back-to-basics approach that is less bombastic, smaller in scale but grittier in its overall tone. It seems all good on paper but Stallone, who also directed and co-wrote the script alongside Art Monterastelli (2003’s The Hunted), didn’t really do much to bring the Rambo franchise back to its former glory.

The story itself is surprisingly a tedious slog, making the movie’s otherwise compact 91-minute length feels a lot longer than it looks. And perhaps the biggest mistake of all is turning his own character into a largely passive protagonist, almost as if he’s here playing second fiddle to the group of Christian missionaries led by Julie Benz’s Sarah Miller and Paul Schulze’s Michael Burnett. But the movie does have its moments, particularly during the graphically-violent third act where Rambo (almost) single-handedly gunning down the Burmese army.

3) Rambo III (1988)

Say what you want about Rambo III. Sure, the plot — which centres on Rambo’s solo attempt to rescue his old colonel-friend Trautman (Richard Crenna) from the heavily-guarded Soviet fort in Afghanistan — is both flimsy and simplistic. Not to forget watching Rambo (once again) single-handedly taking down an entire Soviet army without really getting himself seriously injured certainly demands a huge suspension of disbelief.

Then again, Rambo III was released during the 80’s Reagan era — a product of its time where Hollywood masculinity rules. And for that alone, the sequel does deliver the goods, particularly in terms of action sequences. The then-US$63 million budget — a moderate Hollywood sum by today’s standards but at the time of its release, it was actually the most expensive movie ever made —  was put into good use, as director Peter MacDonald (replacing original helmer Russell Mulcahy of Highlander fame who reportedly got fired) staged every action setpiece with enough verve. The kind of big-budget Hollywood action blockbuster best experienced on the big screen.

2) Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985)

Stallone was already an established Hollywood star when he made the first three Rocky movies as well as First Blood. But it wasn’t until Rambo: First Blood Part II that finally cemented his reputation as one of the most quintessential action icons of the 1980s era (the other one would be his then-cinematic rival, Arnold Schwarzenegger).

Released in 1985 to huge fanfare, it went on to make a sizable amount of money in the US box-office alone and most of the sequel’s financial success was largely due to Stallone’s larger-than-life cinematic image of a well-toned, shirtless one-man army armed with an M-60 machine gun. The sequel is also a refreshing change of pace from the first movie’s grittier tone, favouring a more Hollywood-style action blockbuster that sees Stallone’s Rambo heading back to the jungles of Vietnam to fight against the heavily-armed enemies this time around. The action is what matters the most, as Rambo gets to dispatch the enemies with various weapons including the aforementioned M-60, a rocket launcher and even a bow with an explosive arrow tip. Like most action blockbusters released in the 1980s, Rambo: First Blood Part II is pretty much a product of its time — the kind where action speaks louder than words.

1) First Blood (1982)

Rambo: First Blood Part II may have been the most iconic and popular movie of them all in the franchise. But personally, I still think that First Blood — actually adapted from David Morrell’s 1972 novel of the same name — remains the best in the series. Sure, the movie is noticeably minimal in body counts and even lower in stakes. The first movie is pretty much about the misunderstood Rambo trying to live a normal life back home in America after surviving the Vietnam War, only to get harassed by the small-town local sheriffs led by Brian Dennehy’s William Teasle.

Unlike the first two sequels, the action is more grounded by comparison but director Ted Kotcheff did a great job staging all the setpieces. Stallone, in turn, delivers one of his best performances to date as the near-silent Rambo who doesn’t speak much throughout the movie. Both Brian Dennehy and Richard Crenna, who plays Colonel Trautman, equally deliver strong supports.

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