‘First Blood’ Turns 30: Rambo’s original dark end
Sylverster Stallone as John Rambo in 'First Blood' (Photo: Everett Collection)
Thirty years ago Monday, "First Blood" hit movie screens, introducing audiences to John Rambo, the embattled Vietnam veteran played on screen by Sylvester Stallone. The movie was an enormous hit, earning $125 million worldwide on just a $14 million budget. The violent, R-rated action thriller spawned three sequels, video games, and, improbably, an animated series for kids. And it established Stallone as a major Hollywood star outside of his "Rocky" series. But none of that might have happened if they had stuck with the original ending for the movie where Rambo didn't survive.
In the theatrical version, Rambo is cornered in a police station. He has his gun aimed at Teasle (Brian Dennehy), the sheriff who pushed Rambo to lash out in violence. But then his old commanding officer Trautman (Richard Crenna) orders him to stop. Rambo breaks down, telling Trautman how Vietnam scarred him and that he can't find a place in the civilian world. Then he gives himself up, and the film ends with him being taken away by the police.
That ending was changed after test audiences rejected the much darker original ending. The first scripted and filmed ending saw the trapped Rambo pleading with Trautman to kill him. Rambo says, "I can't spend the rest of my life in a cell. If I've got to die, I want you to do it." Trautman flinches, but Rambo insists: "You trained me. You made me. You kill me. You owe me that." Rambo places a pistol in Trautman's hand. He tries to aim away, but Rambo pulls the gun towards him and it goes off. It ends with Trautman walking away as Rambo dies alone. You can see the original ending in the deleted scenes in the "Rambo - The Complete Collection" DVD and Blu-ray set.
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The ending where Rambo survived was actually Stallone's idea. He had co-written the screenplay, and in the middle of shooting felt that audiences might feel too sympathetic to Rambo to want to see him die. He insisted that they film both versions during production, and when the audience at a test screening objected to the death scene, the other ending was switched in.
The theatrical ending of 'First Blood' (Photo: Everett Collection)
Just getting "First Blood" to the screen was a challenge unto itself. It took more than a decade to adapt David Morrell's 1972 novel into a movie. Many huge stars were considered for the lead role of John Rambo, including Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, Robert De Niro, and Clint Eastwood. Kirk Douglas was originally cast as Trautman, and he told Movieline that is was his idea for the character to kill Rambo at the end. But he dropped out and was replaced by Crenna at the last moment.