As far as franchises go, the five-film run featuring Sylvester Stallone‘s stoic killing machine John Rambo is one of the strangest. First Blood, directed by Ted Kotcheff and adapted from the novel by David Morrell, stars Stallone as a traumatized loner just looking for a place to rest seven years after Vietnam. Running afoul of some biased local lawmen who don’t like his hippie look and vagrant vibe, Rambo uses his training and a heaping dose of PTSD to fight back, culminating in a heartbreaking breakdown by Stallone as Rambo remembers returning home from war to face scorn and protester spit. First Blood was as complicated and prescient as it was violent, but in the wake of its monster box office something weird happened; Hollywood saw dollar signs not in the message but in the image of an extremely shirtless Stallone wielding a machine gun. In the sequels that followed, the action got bigger, Stallone kept getting wider, and the body count grew by the dozens.
But even though a lot of the franchise has aged like fine milk, you can’t discount the character’s impact on the action genre. For many, the image of the huge-budget 1980s shoot-em-up set in one jungle or the other is synonymous with the word “Rambo”, and Stallone’s sweatband-and-dead-eyes look is action iconography as enduring as The Terminator’s leather jacket and John McClane’s sweaty tank.
With John Rambo returning to theaters for, presumably, the final time in Rambo: Last Blood, we’re taking a look at the franchise and seeing how each movie stacks up. Check out our ranking below, which now includes Last Blood.