Sylvester Stallone’s Iconic Action Franchise Beginning Is Streaming 

Sylvester Stallone's First Blood is streaming on HBO Max.

By Sckylar Gibby-Brown | Updated

Sylvester Stallone

Although the Rambo series arguably isn’t as beloved as Sylvester Stallone’s other iconic franchise, Rocky, the action series about the titular veteran Green Beret has also left a significant impact on pop culture, especially in the action genre. Now the first Rambo movie, First Blood, is available to watch on HBO Max.

First released in 1982, First Blood cemented Sylvester Stallone as a viable action star. Following a war veteran named John Rambo, the movie is based on a book of the same name by David Morrell, which was first released ten years earlier, about a disturbed and misunderstood Vietnam veteran who has to turn to the skills he mastered in the war when he becomes the subject of a manhunt pursued by the U.S. government near the fictional small town of Hope, Washington. The film was directed by Ted Kotcheff and also starred Richard Crenna as Sam Trautman, Rambo’s mentor, and Brian Dennehy as Sheriff Will Teasle.

Sylvester Stallone

When First Blood was released, Sylvester Stallone was already a star as the first three Rocky movies had already been released and become big hits. However, the start of the Rambo franchise was a turning point for Stallone, showing his ability to play more nuanced and psychologically driven characters. First Blood also became a massive hit, earning the studio $125.2 million at the box office, massively overtaking the budget of $15 million that it took to make the movie. 

While critics almost universally disliked the film’s ending, critics also universally agreed that the acting in First Blood was phenomenal. Roger Ebert, a film critic that was famously hard to please, said the movie was “well-acted” by all three of the film’s leads. He even added that, though the plot of the movie was mostly unbelievable, because Sylvester Stallone was in the lead, the audience is able to suspend their disbelief and enjoy the movie. 

Sylvester Stallone

Because First Blood was a major success, the studio brought Sylvester Stallone back to make Rambo: First Blood Part II. The sequel to the first Rambo movie changed drastically in tone, going from a somber movie that explored the psychological and emotional struggles of its protagonist with heavy themes depicting PTSD, the mistreatment of veterans, and the effect of the war on the American population as a whole, to an action blockbuster featuring explosions and high body counts. 

First Blood Part II was released in 1985, a year after Arnold Schwarzenegger shotgunned his way into the mainstream with the first Terminator movie. The change in tone between the first two Rambo movies showcased the change in the action genre as action movies started to shift away from character-driven narratives towards more exciting action sequences and special effects.

Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo went from being an in-depth character study showcasing deeply human themes to being a one-man killing machine with amplified violence and any character exploration simply being about how badass his combat skills could get.

Still, despite deviating from the original movie, Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo has stayed an active part of pop culture and a franchise that has lasted over 40 years, with the latest film having only been released in 2019. Rambo: Last Blood, directed by Adrian Grunberg, veered even further away from the tone of the original movie as it still showcased awesome action sequences, but also brought on a darker, gritter tone laced with themes of revenge.

While the Rambo series has transfigured itself drastically from where it started when Sylvester Stallone first introduced the character in the 1980s, the series has left a significant legacy that has impacted pop culture for nearly 50 years. It’s due to Rambo that the “one-man army” archetype was established and has become a staple of action movies that feature a single man (or woman) who is highly skilled, resourceful, and seems to be able to take on the world.

While the Rambo series may not have had the same level of critical acclaim or enduring impact as Sylvester Stallone’s other popular series, the Rocky franchise, it remains a significant part of action movie history. Its influence on subsequent action films, the establishment of its protagonist as a pop culture icon, and the impact on discussions surrounding veterans’ issues have secured its place in the legacy of the action genre.