First Blood had a grim ending when director Ted Kotcheff signed onto the 1982 classic. As originally filmed, Sylvester Stallone‘s Rambo commits suicide during a climactic standoff with Colonel Trautman, after the colonel refuses to kill Rambo in cold blood.
Kotcheff recently talked to EW about the dark ending. “The right wing thought [Vietnam veterans] were a bunch of losers. … The left wing thought they were a bunch of baby killers. A lot of veterans came home to find there was no place for them.” He went on to explain that, “the film was basically conceived as Rambo’s tragedy, that mirrored the tragedy of so many of the veterans that I talked to.”
After shooting the scene, Sylvester Stallone pulled the director aside, and pointed out the litany of things the film had put its protagonist through. After police abuse, rabid dogs, jumping off a cliff, and being plunged into freezing water, killing the character seemed unnecessarily sadistic to him.
Kotcheff admitted Stallone’s reservations had been simmering in his mind as well. “To then have him kill himself means the enemy would have won, that town would have killed him. By this time, the audience had gotten the message.”
On the spot, Kotcheff conceived of an ending that saw both characters live, and filmed it right then, right there. The director claimed that the movie’s producers went “bloody nuts” over the expensive improv, but he argued that distributors would eventually make them shoot a happy ending anyway.
He was proven right in the end: Test audiences rejected the suicide ending, universally preferring the new one. As a bonus, Rambo lived to see three sequels, so the producers couldn’t have been all that mad.
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