The film was released in the United States on October 22, 1982. Despite initial mixed reviews, the film was a box office success, grossing $47.2 million at the box office. Since its release, First Blood has received reappraisal from critics, with many praising the roles of Stallone, Dennehy, and Crenna, and recognizing it as an influential film in the action genre. It has also become a cult film. The film's success spawned a franchise, consisting of three sequels (all of which were co-written by and starred Stallone), an animated series, comic books, novels, and a Bollywood remake. A fifth film, tentatively titled Rambo: Last Stand, was cancelled in January 2016 when Stallone stated that he was retiring the character.
Seven years after his discharge, Vietnam War veteran John Rambo travels by foot to visit one of his old comrades, but learns upon his arrival that his friend had died from cancer due to Agent Orange exposure during the war.
Rambo continues to travel, wandering into the small town of Hope, Washington. He is intercepted by the town's Sheriff, Will Teasle, who considers him an unwanted nuisance. When Rambo asks for directions to a diner, Teasle drives him out of town, and tells him not to return. Rambo returns to town, and Teasle arrests him on charges of vagrancy, resisting arrest, and possessing a concealed knife.
Led by chief deputy Art Galt, Teasle's officers abuse Rambo, triggering flashbacks of the torture he endured as a POW in Vietnam. When they try to dry-shave him with a straight razor, Rambo overwhelms the police, fights his way outside, and flees into the woods. Teasle organizes a search party with automatic weapons, dogs, and a helicopter to recapture him. During the search, it is revealed that Rambo is a former Green Beret who received the Medal of Honor for his service. Galt spots Rambo and resorts to lethal force in defiance of orders, attempting to shoot Rambo from the helicopter. Trapped on a high cliff over a creek, Rambo leaps into a tree to break his fall, injuring himself in the process. Galt leans out of the helicopter, trying to shoot Rambo, who is hiding behind a tree. Rambo throws a rock, which fractures the helicopter's windshield; the pilot's sudden reaction causes Galt to lose his balance and fall out of the helicopter to his death.
Rambo tries to persuade Teasle and his men that it was an accident, and that he wants no more trouble, but the police open fire and pursue him into a wooded area. Rambo disables the deputies non-lethally one by one using his combat skills, until only Teasle is left. Holding a knife to his throat, Rambo threatens to fight back much harder if Teasle doesn't let go, giving him a war that he won't believe.
Teasle chooses to press the issue, and the state police and national guard are called in to assist in the manhunt. At the same time, Rambo's mentor and former commanding officer, Colonel Sam Trautman arrives. Warning of his former soldier's abilities, Trautman advises that Rambo be given a gap to slip through so he can be recaptured more safely later. Confident that Rambo is hopelessly outnumbered, Teasle refuses.
A National Guard detachment corners Rambo at the entrance of an abandoned mine; against orders, they use a M72 LAW rocket, collapsing the entrance and seemingly killing Rambo. He survives, finds an alternate way out of the mine, and hijacks a supply truck, which he uses to return to town. From the truck, he takes an M60 machine gun and ammunition. To distract his pursuers, he blows up a gas station, shoots out most of the town's power, and destroys a gun store near the police station.
Teasle has positioned himself on the roof of his station to search for Rambo, and Rambo spots him there during the confusion. The two engage in a brief gunfight, which ends with Teasle being shot and falling through a skylight. Rambo prepares to kill him, but Trautman arrives and warns Rambo that he will be shot if he doesn't surrender. Rambo collapses to the floor in tears where he talks about the things that happened to him in Vietnam and when he returned home. He surrenders to Trautman, and is taken into custody.Sylvester Stallone as John Rambo
Richard Crenna as Colonel Sam Trautman
Brian Dennehy as Sheriff Will Teasle
Bill McKinney as Dave Kern
Jack Starrett as Art Galt
Michael Talbott as Balford
Chris Mulkey as Ward
John McLiam as Orval
Alf Humphreys as Lester
David Caruso as Mitch
David L. Crowley as Shingleton
Don MacKay as Preston
Shortly after David Morrell's novel was published in 1972, Columbia Pictures bought the filming rights at the behest of producer Laurence Turman for a reported $75,000. Richard Brooks was originally attached to direct. Brooks spent a year on the project, researching it and writing a never completed 115 page script, which was to place more emphasis on the character of the sheriff, and end with an unarmed Rambo being killed. Brooks did not have an actor in mind for Rambo but wanted Lee Marvin or Burt Lancaster to play the sheriff, and Bette Davis to play a psychiatrist who deals with Rambo. However Brooks was not happy with the script and did not want to make the film when Columbia wanted to, and the project fell apart.
John Calley at Warner Bros. then spent $125,000 to acquire the project from Columbia. Clint Eastwood and Robert de Niro were discussed for the lead and Martin Ritt agreed to direct from a script by Walter Newman (Newman did three drafts). In this version both Rambo and the sergeant died, and Trautman, "the true villain of the piece", according to Ritt, was allowed to live. Ritt says he wanted Robert Mitchum to play the sheriff and Paul Newman to play Rambo.
The next director to be attached was Sydney Pollack, who in late 1974 considered doing it with Steve McQueen as Rambo and Burt Lancaster as the sheriff. However ultimately he decided against it.
In 1975, Martin Bregman became attached and developed the project as a vehicle for Al Pacino. David Rabe was hired to write a script. However Pacino declined to make it. Rabe's script then briefly attracted the attention of Mike Nichols; and for a time Ray Stark and Martin Ritt (again) were interested.
In 1977, producer William Sackheim became involved and wrote a script with Michael Kozoll. Sackheim wanted to make the film with director John Badham starring John Travolta as Rambo, George C. Scott as Trautman and Gene Hackman or Charles Durning as the sheriff. Sackheim spent eight months on the project but could not get financing.
Producer Carter De Haven then optioned the project from Warner Bros for $25,000 and attached John Frankenheimer as director. Powers Boothe, Nick Nolte, and Michael Douglas were considered for Rambo; in the end Brad Davis, coming off Midnight Express, was cast. Cinema Group were to finance and Filmways to distribute. However, before filming started Filmways were taken over by Orion and the movie went into limbo.
Carolco then bought the property from Warner Bros. for $375,000 and paid Cinema Group $150,000 for the Sackheim-Kozoll script. They then approached Sylvester Stallone who agreed to play the role.
It was later estimated there were eighteen versions of the script. A writer who turned down the job was John Milius, who was approached in the late 1970s. However Milius' producer, Buzz Feitshans eventually produced the movie after the original producer, Ed Carlin, died of a heart attack.
Ted Kotcheff had been approached with the project in 1976. He only returned to work on First Blood after Mario Kassar and Andrew G. Vajna of Anabasis offered to finance one of his projects. Kotcheff offered the role of John Rambo to Sylvester Stallone, and the actor accepted after reading the script through a weekend.
When David Morrell wrote the novel, which was published in 1972, the producers first considered McQueen but then rejected him because they considered him too old to play a Vietnam veteran from 1975.
For the role of Sheriff Teasle, the producers approached Academy Award winners Gene Hackman and Robert Duvall but both turned the part down. Lee Marvin, another Oscar winner, turned down the part of Colonel Trautman. Kirk Douglas was eventually hired, but just before shooting began, Douglas quit the role of Colonel Trautman over a script dispute; Douglas wanted the film to end as the book did, with the death of the Rambo character. Rock Hudson was approached but was soon to undergo heart surgery and had to pass up the chance to work with Stallone. Richard Crenna was quickly hired as a replacement; the role of Trautman became the veteran character actor's most famous role, his performance of which received much critical praise.
Various scripts adapted from Morrell's book had been pitched to studios in the years since its publication but it was only when Stallone decided to become involved with the project that it was finally brought into production. Stallone's star power after the success of the Rocky films enabled him to rewrite the script, to make the character of John Rambo more sympathetic. While Morrell's book has the Rambo character violently kill many of his pursuers, Kozoll and Sackheim's draft had him killing sixteen people, in the movie version Rambo does not directly cause the death of any police or national guardsmen. Stallone also decided to let Rambo survive the film instead of keeping the book's ending where he dies. A suicide scene was filmed but Kotcheff and Stallone opted to have Rambo turn himself in at Trautman's urging. Stallone did an estimated seven revisions of the script. Kotcheff requested further work be done on the script, which was performed by Larry Gross and David Giler.
The film was shot in British Columbia, Canada in the winter. The town scenes in the movie were shot in Hope, while the rest of the movie was shot in Golden Ears Provincial Park and Pitt Lake in Pitt Meadows. The weaponry used in the film had to be imported into Canada. Over 50 of the imported firearms were stolen midway through the filming.
The first rough cut was over three hours, possibly three and a half hours long and according to Sylvester Stallone, it was so bad that it made him and his agent sick. Stallone wanted to buy the movie and destroy it thinking that it was a career killer. After heavy re-editing, the film was cut down to 93 minutes; this version was ultimately released in theaters.
The film's score was composed and conducted by Jerry Goldsmith, whose theme "It's a Long Road" added a new dimension to the character, and featured in the film's three sequels and animated spin-off. The soundtrack was originally released on LP by the Regency label, although it was edited out of sequence for a more satisfying listen. The album was reissued on CD with one extra track ("No Power") twice, first as one of Intrada Records' initial titles, then as an identical release by Varèse Sarabande. The complete score was released by Intrada in a 2-CD set, along with a remastered version of the original album (with the Carolco logo [previously released on La-La Land Records' Extreme Prejudice album] and the Rambo: First Blood Part II trailer music added), on November 23, 2010, as one of their MAF unlimited titles.
First Blood topped the North American box office for three weeks in a row, and its $6,642,005 opening weekend was the best October opening at the time. The film ended as a significant financial success, with a total gross of $47 million domestically, ranking as the 13th highest-grossing film of the year, and $125 million worldwide, against a $14 million budget.
First Blood originally received generally mixed reviews, with several critics noting that the plot lacks any sense of credibility. Variety called the film "a mess" and criticized its ending for not providing a proper resolution for the main character. More recently, Leonard Maltin gave the film one-and a half stars out of four, saying that it "throws all creditability to the winds about the time [Rambo] gets off with only a bad cut after jumping from a mountain into some jagged rocks." In 2008, First Blood was named the 253rd greatest film ever by Empire magazine on its 2008 list of The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time.
Contemporary and retrospective reviews of the film have been positive, and it is considered by many as one of the best films of 1982. First Blood's release on DVD sparked a series of contemporary reviews, earning it an 87% "Fresh" rating from Rotten Tomatoes and a score of 62 ("generally favorable") from Metacritic.
The film's three lead actors received much praise for their performances. In his review, Roger Ebert wrote that he did not like the film's ending, but that it was "a very good movie, well-paced, and well-acted not only by Stallone... but also by Crenna and Brian Dennehy". He commented, "although almost all of First Blood is implausible, because it's Stallone on the screen, we'll buy it", and rated the film three out of four stars. In 2000, BBC film critic Almar Haflidason noted that Stallone’s training in survival skills and hand-to-hand combat gave the film "a raw and authentic edge that excited the audiences of the time". James Berardinelli of ReelViews called the film "a tense and effective piece of filmmaking". He noted that the film's darker tone, somber subtext, and non-exploitative violence allowed the viewer to enjoy the film not only as an action/thriller but as something with a degree of intelligence and substance. On Stallone's performance, he wrote "it seems impossible to imagine anyone other than Stallone in the part, and his capabilities as an actor should not be dismissed".
First Blood has received the most positive reception of the Rambo series, whilst the next three sequels received mixed or average reviews; however, the sequels still developed strong cult followings.
In a 2011 article for Blade Magazine, by Mike Carter, credit is given to Morrell and the Rambo franchise for revitalizing the cutlery industry in the 1980s; due to the presence of the Jimmy Lile and Gil Hibben knives used in the films. In 2003, Blade Magazine gave Morrell an industry achievement award for having helped to make it possible.
Author Morrell recorded an audio commentary track for the First Blood Special Edition DVD released in 2002. Actor Stallone recorded an audio commentary track for the First Blood Ultimate Edition DVD released in 2004. This edition also includes a "never-before-seen" alternate ending in which Rambo commits suicide (a brief snippet of which appears in a flashback in the fourth film) and a "humorous" ending tacked on afterwards. Lionsgate also released this version on Blu-ray. Both commentary tracks are on the Blu-ray release.
Momentum Pictures released an HD DVD version of First Blood in the United Kingdom in April 2007. Lionsgate also released First Blood as a double feature on February 13, 2007, along with the 2004's The Punisher.
The film was re-released as part of a 6-disc box set, which contains all four films in the series, on May 27, 2008. However, the box set is missing the David Morrell commentary, even though the packaging clearly states it is included. In anticipation of the release, the film was shown back in theaters for one night, May 15, 2008, through Fathom Events; the alternate ending was shown after the main feature.
In May 2013, Original Entertainment confirmed to have agreed a five-picture deal with Millennium Films to produce Bollywood remakes of First Blood, The Expendables, 16 Blocks, 88 Minutes, and Brooklyn's Finest, with the productions for Rambo and The Expendables expected to start at the end of that year.
In early 2016, Siddharth Anand was announced as the director and the film will be co-produced by Anand, Daljit DJ Parmar, Samir Gupta, Hunt Lowry, Saurabh Gupta and Gulzar Inder Chahal. The film will specifically remake First Blood and will follow the last member of an elite unit in the Indian Armed Forces returning home only to discover a different war waiting for him, forcing Rambo to the jungles and mountains of the Himalayas and unleash mayhem and destruction.
In May 2017, Tiger Shroff was cast in the role of Rambo with principal photography set for February 2018 for a late 2018 release date.