If any character personifies the archetypal 80’s action hero, it’s John Rambo. Sure, you have your Terminators, your Conan the Barbarians, your Rambo-knockoff’s in the form of John Matrix of “Commando”, and even Sylvester Stallone’s own Rocky Balboa in his heavyweight champ heyday. However, there’s no denying that the impossibly shredded image of the super-soldier that is John Rambo, is the first thing that pops into many action fanatics’ heads when asked to name the character that typified the 80’s golden age of action movies.
What’s especially counter-intuitive about Rambo is his reputation as an example of over-the-top machismo and unrestrained masculine over-righteousness. Many a soldier will tell you “Rambo’s don’t make it in the military”, but watching the series in its entirety, it’s clear that Rambo is anything but the poster boy for military insubordination.
In every film in the series, Rambo is a Vietnam vet minding his own business while struggling to overcome his severe PTSD. The sad truth of his life is that his skills as a soldier always see him being pulled into a conflict he has nothing to do with against his own will, with his victories always being more melancholy than triumphant. We see that especially when he lays waste to an entire battlefield of Burmese soldiers in 2008’s “Rambo”, his ballistic skills making him virtually unstoppable against his legion of enemies.
However, one side of John Rambo that he’s never gotten his proper due for is his abilities as a martial artist. Obviously, his abilities with anything that fires a bullet is beyond compare, but even if you take away the modern weaponry we’re accustomed to seeing him blasting off with, he can more than hold his own in a fight.
While he hasn’t necessarily had a massive number of throwdowns in the series, it’s certainly been a blast to witness whenever he has. So home-in, readers, as KFK takes a (descending order) look at these Top 3 Rambo Movie Fights in this Retrospective Action Special!
- The Police Station Escape — First Blood (1982)
- Rambo vs Kourov — Rambo III (1988)
1982’s “First Blood” got the ball rolling for Rambo, but its place in the series is an interesting one. “First Blood” is at once everything and nothing like the subsequent films in the series.
We’re introduced to our troubled, wandering hero’s PTSD and uncanny skill at blowing a small town to smithereens, yet “First Blood” is more of a psychological thriller than a war movie.
After being pushed too far by the thugs in local law enforcement, Rambo finally snaps at his mistreatment and breaks free of his captivity in the local jailhouse, mopping the floor with every cop in his path on the way out. However, all his enemies are still alive by the time he’s gotten free, and that’s where the contrast between “First Blood” and the later Rambo films, along with David Morrell’s novel, really jumps out.
By the end of the novel, Rambo has slaughtered literally hundreds of people, and his reputation as the ultimate super-soldier in the later films of the series is well known. However, not a single person dies directly by Rambo’s hand in the film, with the only onscreen death in the whole movie being arguably self-inflicted.
From the moment Rambo fights back against his captors, we can tell he could have fled the police station with an entire basement full of dead cops, but even unhinged, he shows them mercy. That’s far more than can be said for the genocidal villains of 2008’s “Rambo”, and just shows that despite his PTSD, John knows where to properly unleash everything he’s got, and when to hold back.
Sly’s never hesitated to put himself through the ringer in his fight sequences, (see his trip to the emergency room after a particularly damaging punch from Dolph Lundgren in “Rocky IV”). However, no Rambo fight scene is as truly savage as his final rumble with the nefarious Kourov at the climax of “Rambo III”.
The sound effects of Rambo and Kourov furiously grappling with one another conveys impact alone, to say nothing of our hero’s impossibly bloodshot face.
Donnie Yen would go on to make grappling techniques and MMA all the rage in martial arts movies in the 21st century with “Sha Po Lang” and “Flash Point”, but Sly was clearly laying the groundwork for that revolution in fight choreography here.
More than any other battle he’s fought, Rambo’s one-on-one with Kourov stylistically resembles an MMA fight, blending grappling maneuvers with hard-hitting strikes and a jump-spinning kick for the finish. Rambo has always been an absolute beast in a fight, and we see that most vividly in the climactic smackdown of “Rambo III”.
…and in at #1 is…
The Stick Fight — Rambo III
By 1988, if you put the poster for “Rambo III”, featuring a poker-faced Sly with his arms at his hips with the mountains of Afghanistan behind him, anyone in the world recognized who they were looking at.
With a budget of $63 million, “Rambo III” was the most expensive movie ever made at the time (times have certainly changed, haven’t they?), and kicked things off right with our hero stick-fighting in an underground club in Bangkok.
Audiences already knew Rambo as the ultimate super-soldier, but as previously mentioned, far more so in the ballistic side of his training. Prior to this, we’d never seen such a vivid display of his abilities in martial arts, but we still knew he was good for a fight from what we had seen before.
Worth noting again is the fact that, despite the series’ reputation as a complete bloodbath, Rambo always knows the exact amount of force to appropriately exert in any given conflict. Rambo’s skills in Muay Thai and Kali are mesmerizing, but the fight also kicks “Rambo III” off just when the audience sees John’s temptation to really do his opponent in before restraining himself.
For all his wise discretion on how much to cut loose in battle, he’s still stricken with horrendous PTSD, reminding the audience that he’s still as human as the rest of us. On top of all that, it’s simply a superb action sequence to kick off “Rambo III” with, and undeniably Rambo’s best big screen bash!