Sylvester Stallone accidentally broke the nose of an actor during the jail escape scene by elbowing him in the face, which is why he is seen wearing a band-aid throughout the rest of the film. Coincidentally, this is what Rambo does to a policeman in the novel during the exact same scene.
The large piece of rotten canvas that Rambo finds in the woods and cuts into a makeshift coat, was in fact not a movie prop, but a real piece of rotten canvas found by the film crew during the movie's production. Since there was only one piece, Sylvester Stallone joked about how the canvas became a treasured prop on the set. After filming ended, Stallone kept the rotten canvas and still has it in his possession to this very day.
Sylvester Stallone hated the first cut of the film so much that he tried to buy the film back and destroy it. When he couldn't do that, he suggested that the producers cut much of his part and let the rest of the characters tell the story. That cut the movie time in half and set a precedent for future action movies.
A plot point that was present in the novel but absent from the film was the primary reason behind Teasle's resentment and contempt towards Rambo, which was that Rambo was a veteran of the Vietnam War, which gained a lot of attention, whereas Teasle was a veteran of the Korean War; a war which most people had all-but-completely-forgotten at this point in time.
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 theatres.
When Rambo is believed to have been killed in mine attack by the National Guardsmen, Teasle returns to his office. Behind him, you can clearly see a display case that displays three medals. The three medals, from right to left, are: the Silver Star, The Purple Heart, and the Army Distinguished Service Cross Medals. These indicate Teasle was a highly decorated Korean War hero as both the Silver Star and ADSC are awarded for extreme valor and bravery in enemy combat. The subtext of the book was a battle of different war tactics, for this reason; this is underplayed in the film.
According to Sylvester Stallone in the DVD commentary, the names of the people on Rambo's team in Vietnam (as read by Col. Trautman) are actually names of various people of the film's crew, including make-up artist Michael Westmore and costume designer Tom Bronson.
In spite of the fact that the air and water temperatures during filming were extremely cold, and he wore only a tank top during most of the movie, Sylvester Stallone did not get sick, until someone offered him a shot of brandy.
In the DVD commentary, Sylvester Stallone recalls an incident during filming where a girl in the town bar pretended to be a fan of his in order to try and wheedle a free round of drinks out of him. He later includes just such a scene in his film Rocky Balboa (2006).
A scene was filmed but never used where Rambo, while in the cave after dispatching Teasle and his men, has another flashback: he and his buddies are in a bar in Vietnam, being entertained by the local women. Rambo takes one to a back room and they make love. The scene then flashes to the present, and Rambo begins to cry.
In the DVD commentary, Sylvester Stallone compares Rambo to the monster of Dr. Frankenstein and Colonel Trautman as the doctor, in the respect that Rambo is a war machine monster created by America to do its bidding, but then he escapes and runs amok, but also wanting to fit into a society who shuns him, and Colonel Trautman basically was instrumental in making Rambo into what he is and feels remorse for how he turned out and does what he can to help make things right.
During the scene when Rambo, on the stolen motorcycle, is being chased by the police, the stuntman representing Sheriff Teasle who was driving the patrol car (Bennie E. Dobbins) suffered a broken back (a compression lumbar fracture) as a result of a seventy mile per hour first take that launched the car to a remarkable height on the ramp assisted steep approach to the railway crossing. The vehicle slammed down flat on its chassis, causing the injury to Dobbins, and it rolled several hundred feet further up the road before coming to a stop. When Dobbins opened the door to exit he found himself unable to walk and he fell to the ground. This original high jump and landing was re-shot and replaced in the final cut, with a more modest and believable car jump and landing, using a different car and stunt driver.
With the exception of the National Guardsman leader Lieutenant Clinton Morgen (Patrick Stack), all of the other guardsmen who pursue Rambo into the mineshaft are referred to by the same names as the actors who portray them.
It is often claimed that in Japanese, "rambo" means "violence". This is not quite correct. The adjective "ranbou" or "rambô" (depending on how you choose to romanize it) has a meaning closer to "rowdy", although it can quite legitimately be translated as "violent". It is also identical in pronunciation to the Japanese title of the film.
Sylvester Stallone personally selected famed knifemaker Jimmy Lile to design and create the iconic knife first used by Rambo. The goal was to create a knife that could be reliable for extreme survival situations, including being long and sharp enough to slice food or cut wood; waterproof and able to hold necessities like matches and medicine; able to carry a nylon string for fishing or snaring; and have an alternate blade of sawteeth for defense and in order to cut poles for shelter. In all, six knives were created to be used during production, with additional updated versions made for subsequent movies in the series.
After the success of Convoy (1978), Kris Kristofferson was considered as a possible choice for John Rambo. Some felt the former Airborne Ranger would make a solid Rambo, and they hoped his good friend Sam Peckinpah could be persuaded to direct.
David Morrell said that the novel and character Rambo is a distillation of the symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and the signs of challenge of authority exhibited by university students who are younger than him. The novel is also a result of several discussion sessions organized by him after lectures aimed at the select group of students who have returned from a tour of duty in Vietnam.
Shortly after the novel was published in 1972, Columbia Pictures bought the filming rights at the behest of producer Lawrence Turman for a reported 75,000 dollars. 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.
In the novel, Rambo kills Deputy Sergeant Art Galt by slicing his stomach open with the shaving razor, and dies from disembowelment. In the film, Galt is killed when he falls out of the helicopter, shortly after he deliberately unbuckles his safety belt.
In Rambo: The Video Game (2014). The player, as John Rambo, can kill the Sheriff's Deputies, The National Guardsmen, and other policemen. In this film, Rambo does not kill anymore, besides Galt which was accidental. In the novel, Rambo kills the cops and the National Guardsmen.
John Calley at Warner Bros. spent 125,000 dollars 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, who 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.
After Kirk Douglas pulled out due to script differences at the last minute after being cast as Colonel Trautman, the producers rushed to replace him. They tried Rock Hudson first, who was recovering from open heart surgery and turned it down. They then offered it to Richard Crenna, who accepted the Friday before filming began the following week. Crenna had to ask the script supervisor constantly to feed him his lines until he was able to get caught up with memorizing the part.
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.
There are two possible alternate endings thought of or considered by Michael Kozoll, William Sackheim and Sylvester Stallone. The first would had seen Colonel Trautman forced to shoot and kill Rambo, just as Rambo is about to shoot the injured Teasle and kill him. The other ending would had seen Rambo run out of the police station in slow-motion, opening fire at the police, but, the police shoot and kill Rambo.
The film is not as violent as the book. In the film, Rambo does not kill anymore - he wounds Teasle's Deputies and puts them out of action. Only one man is killed - Deputy Sergeant Art Galt. Galt is accidentally killed when he falls out of the helicopter, due to his own stupidity, because he removed his safety belt.
In a 2011 article for Blade Magazine, by Mike Carter, credit is given to David 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.
Some minor details are altered and/or changed or omitted. Some examples include: in the novel, Teasle was a Marine Corps veteran of the Korean War, whereas in the movie (indicated by his medals) he is a U.S. Army veteran of the Korean War. In the novel, Deputy Galt is a young rookie officer, clumsy and inexperienced. He is killed by Rambo purposefully (in the film, he's accidentally killed when the helicopter jerks and he falls). In addition, he's also an older officer with experience, albeit with a brutal streak in stark contrast to the clumsy Galt which appears in the novel. The beginning of the novel finds John Rambo attempting to hitch a ride from a gas station, as opposed to the film where he's searching for an old Army buddy. A subplot involving Teasle attempting to get in touch with his estranged wife is absent from the film, but present in the novel. The animal Rambo has for dinner is an owl in the novel, but a wild boar in the film. In the novel, Rambo has been said to have fought with his father and been drafted to fight in the Vietnam War; the film makes no mention of this, but Rambo does mention having a father and quite possibly going home to see him in Rambo (2008). The novel also has a slightly different ending: in the novel, both Rambo and Teasle die. Rambo is put out of his misery by Colonel Trautman and Teasle dies of injuries inflicted on him by Rambo. The movie ending finds Rambo surrendering after suffering a breakdown and Teasle being wheeled away to a hospital after being shot numerous times by Rambo (his fate is left ambiguous). Teasle's background is explored more in the novel, including him and Orval being old friends and Teasle being present at the battle of the Chosin Reservoir.
On August 19, 1987, a man called Michael Ryan who was a fan of violent movies, went on a six-hour "Rambo style" violent rampage in Hungerford, England, which ended when he killed himself. It had been suggested by the media, and newspapers drew parallels between Michael Ryan and John Rambo in First Blood (1982), but there was no evidence that Ryan had seen First Blood.
Columbia Pictures first acquired the property in 1972 upon the novel's release through David Morrell's agent Larry Turner, but in an abrupt U-turn, sold it to Warner Bros. immediately. Ted Kotcheff saw the project through his friend (later agent), then studio vice-president Robert Shapiro, and developed it for three months before the studio decided to pull the plug on the project, due to the signing of the Paris Peace Accords. The film was later known as producers Mario Kassar and Andrew G. Vajna's first attempt to produce a film, but not before it was shopped around to three to five studios, with none expressing interest, due to the aftermath of the war.
The 1983 broadcast of the film in Canada featured scenes that were cut from the theatrical version, and the following deleted scenes were not on the special features on the DVD and Blu-ray releases: Rambo checking the bullets in Galt's pistols. Balford saying "I am ready when you are". Lester consoling Galt's widow. Kern confronting Teasle on arresting Rambo. "That boy is a heart attack!". Additional dialogue between Teasle, Kern and Trautman. Extra footage of Rambo in the caves and Teasle offering to drive Trautman to the airport.
In real life, Sheriff Teasle would have lost his badge and would possibly be charged with harassment. Teasle violated Rambo's civil rights by arresting him without probable cause. He had no proof that Rambo had been sleeping, camping out, or being in public places, and Rambo had not committed any other crime or misdemeanor.
Ted Kotcheff had been approached with the project in 1976. He only returned to work on it after Mario Kassar and Andrew G. Vajna 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.
John McLiam, who is enlisted along with his Dobermans to hunt down Rambo, played Boss Keen in Cool Hand Luke (1967). Both movies feature an elusive runaway fugitive who gets the better of the tracking dogs.
Currently, television rights to this film are owned by Paramount Pictures, which acquired Spelling Entertainment, the previous television right-holders, in 1999. The prints of the film that air on Spike, however, open with the Paramount logo variant that has the Paramount Communications (formerly Gulf+Western) byline, despite the fact that Paramount didn't get television rights to the film until years after the studio was sold to Viacom (the Paramount/Viacom merger completed in 1994, while the Spelling/Viacom merger completed in 1999).
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
The end of the chase between Rambo (on a motorcycle) and Sheriff Teasle, where Teasle's police car rolls off an embankment and flips over upside down, was not scripted this way, but when the car ended up in that position, Ted Kotcheff liked the result so much that he continued shooting the scene and had Brian Dennehy get into the police car while it was still upside down, and filmed the scene as it appears in the movie.
Sylvester Stallone suffered several serious injuries during filming of this movie. For the scene where Rambo jumps off the cliff and injures himself on some tree branches on the way down, Stallone performs the stunt himself during the bottom third of the fall, and in the process, broke one of his ribs when he landed on the tree branch. Stallone remarks on the DVD commentary that it was easy to play the landing when Rambo screams in pain, since he was not acting and was really in pain. Also for the scene where Rambo first runs into the abandoned mine shaft to elude the guardsmen firing at him, Stallone places his hand on top of a piece of wood, not realizing that his hand was right on top of a gunfire squib that went off a second later, injuring his hand in the process. Stallone mentions that the pain he felt was so intense, he was afraid to look at his hand, fearing the squib had completely blown his thumb off.
In his commentary, author David Morell cites the inspiration for John Rambo as being World War II hero, and later Hollywood actor Audie Murphy. In Rambo (2008), the latest film of the series, the character's last stand in the finale is very similar to how Murphy was awarded the Medal of Honor, manning a vehicle mounted .50 calibre machine gun, and singlehandedly holding off hundreds of enemy soldiers.
In the script Rambo originally kills 18 people. While Ted Kotcheff described the killings as target practice, co-producer Andrew G. Vajna felt it was glorifying a crazed mass murderer thus suggested that Rambo should instead be a sympathetic person who is really lost without direction and a victim of circumstances. Thus in the final film, he was never seen killing a person directly.
Numerous sound bites of this film were lifted and used in the 1989 arcade version of Golden Axe (1989). The two most notable sounds used were that of Deputy Sergeant Galt, as he falls to his death from a helicopter, and that of Mitch, after he is stabbed by Rambo in the leg in order to draw the other officers to his aid.
Kirk Douglas was originally cast to play Colonel Samuel Trautman. Because of script issues (Kirk wanted Rambo to die at the end, as in the novel), he dropped out of the film and Richard Crenna was cast at the last second.