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How Sylvester Stallone’s First Blood Almost Failed

1982’s First Blood cemented Sylvester Stallone as one of the biggest action stars of his time. The film also found much success at the box office along with being the catalyst for the Rambo franchise to take place. However, getting the film off the ground and onto the big screen was far less simple. In fact, it almost never happened entirely.

First Blood was produced by action producers Mario Kassar and Andrew G. Vajna. Upon the completion of filming, Stallone wanted to cast the film aside, believing that it might damage his career. Fortunately, there were some crucial edits made to the initial story that helped transform it into the most famous action franchise of all time. Continue reading to learn about how this film withstood the trials and tribulations of moviemaking to go from dead in the water to setting the stage for five more Rambo films. 

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The Creative Crawl

“Rambo” originated as a novel written by David Morrell and was published in 1972. The story was inspired by the real-life actions of highly decorated WWII soldier Audie Murphy. The rights to the story were optioned by Columbia Pictures before being placed in the age-old Hollywood shuffle onto Warner Bros—meaning that the film idea was put on hold.

Ten years would pass before the story was even considered. Following his role as “Rocky,” Stallone initially turned down the film due to its struggle through the study system. He would later reconsider his proposition following edits to the script to go with a $3.5 million payday.

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Fork In The Road

Kirk Douglas was originally cast as Colonel Trautman but left the project during the early stages of production due to disagreement over a major plot point. Douglas felt that the script should be faithful to the novel’s ending with Rambo dying. However, Stallone, director Ted Kotcheff, and even test audiences felt otherwise. This led to Douglas leaving the project and being replaced by Richard Crenna who played Rambo’s mentor.

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The Most Iconic Knife In Film History

For the character Rambo, Stallone wanted to make sure that the character’s weapon of choice, a knife, was more than just a weapon but rather an extension of Rambo himself. That entailed a visit with famed knife maker and friend Jimmy Lile, who reported in 1985, “He [Stallone] told me he wanted something different, something that everyone else didn’t have. And that is what I made for him.” According to The Washington Post, survival knives reminiscent of the one carried by Rambo sales went berserk. The retail value of the one hundred blades Lile made for the film ranged anywhere between $15,000 to over $75,000. Blade Magazine states that the weapon of Rambo did “for the cutlery industry what ‘Dirty Harry’ did for the .44 Magnum pistol.”

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Real Blood

If it weren’t for Stallone’s all-out commitment to the film’s stunt work and action sequences, the Rambo story may not be as well-known as it still is today. One incident involved Stallone breaking the nose of an actor. This was during the filming of Rambo’s escape from prison. Moreover, the stuntman playing Sheriff Teasle was involved in an accident that temporarily impaired his ability to walk. 

Despite all the crazy stunts, the film was still headed towards trouble as Stallone sought to cancel the film altogether. It was only saved by extensive edits for the film that allowed it to come to fruition—and as one of the most popular action movie franchises to date.