In this movie, in keeping with proper, albeit subtle, continuity, we see Rambo's scars from First Blood (1982) (the scar on his right arm, caused by the fall through the trees) and Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985) (the small scar right above his left cheek, caused by the heated knife scraped by his eye).
The character Masoud (Spiros Focás) is a reference to Ahmad Shah Masoud, a real-life leader of the Afghani resistance against the Russian occupation, minister of defense of Afghanistan (after the Russian occupation ended) and later again a leader of the resistance, this time against the Taliban regime.
Director Peter MacDonald stated in the DVD commentary that for the scenes involving Rambo and Colonel Trautman inside the Monks' Temple, the temple itself was a real temple in Thailand undergoing renovation at the time of filming. Also, many of the Monk extras were in fact real Monks from that very temple who were paid to appear as extras for those scenes (along with additional extras who were merely dressed as Monks for the scene). MacDonald also went on to say how delighted he was to "give money to people who really needed it, as opposed to people who had too much of it".
The Soviet Spetsnaz troops are wearing the same "Hollywood knock-off" camouflage pattern outfits as seen on the Soviet paratroopers in Red Dawn (1984) (an approximation of the Soviet KLMK pattern, supposedly based on poor black and white photos of the genuine uniforms in use).
The knife in this film is the first in the series to not be designed by Arkansas knifesmith Jimmy Lile. The blade was designed by fantasy knife designer Gil Hibben and is two inches longer than the one in Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985) and three inches longer than the knife in First Blood (1982). The knife is also the first in the series to not be of a survival knife design, although Hibben did produce a hollow handle, sawtooth survival knife. It was used during the first few days of filming: Rambo can be seen using it to pry up a mine in the minefield scene. A closeup of the final design plunging into the sand was filmed later to begin the scene. Jimmy Lile did build a prototype bowie knife roughly similar to what Hibben eventually produced (now being reproduced by knifesmith Vaughan Neeley), but Stallone rejected it, showing Lile a Hibben design more like what he wanted. Not surprisingly, Lile suggested he use Hibben himself.
Although it has been claimed that the film was banned in parts of the UK after the killing spree of Michael Ryan, and that he was inspired by the Rambo movies, neither was in fact the case. A scheduled screening of the original First Blood (1982) was pulled from UK television (as was a screening of Nevada Smith (1966)), leading the UK's 'Daily Mail' and other media outlets to assume a direct link that never existed and which quickly became a popular urban legend. The film was heavily cut by the BBFC (by 1min 25secs for theatrical release and 3mins 3secs for home video), primarily for knife violence and cruelty to animals, but never banned. The DVD release has all the cuts reinstated apart from a two second shot of animal cruelty, in this case it being a horsefall.
The problems that the Russian forces faced with American Stinger missiles supplied to the mujaheddin fighters, as described in this movie, were very real, and accounted for the downing and destruction of hundreds of Russian helicopters during the real war. The missile was used again by Pakistan against better-flown Indian aircraft and gunships in the 1999 Kargil War but only accounted for 1 kill out of several hundred launches.
According to director Peter MacDonald in the DVD commentary, at the time this movie was being filmed, the Russians were, in fact, invading Afghanistan just as depicted in this movie, however about four weeks prior to this movie's premiere, the Russians withdrew from Afghanistan, and were no longer at war with that country. MacDonald felt that this turn of events had hurt the movie's box office returns, because the idea of the Russians being the primary villains in this movie was no longer really believable. At the same time though, MacDonald was somewhat glad of the idea that the events of this movie may have helped to contribute to Russia's withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Some footage filmed by original director Russell Mulcahy is present in the final cut. The scenes are; the sequence in which Trautman is ambushed by the helicopter and captured, as well as the scene of Rambo sitting on the roof off the temple pondering Trautman's proposition.
The Mi-24 Hind-A (large glazed cockpit as opposed to two small tandem cockpits for the later D version onwards of the type) helicopters seen in the film are in fact modified Aerospatiale SA 330 Puma transport helicopters with fabricated bolt-on wings similar to the real Hind-A's used in the former Soviet bloc nations.
The film's ending was longer: In the original cut, as Rambo and Trautman are driving away from the freedom fighter's camp, as seen in the theatrical cut, Rambo decides to not go back with Trautman home to America and Rambo decides to stay with the freedom fighters, feeling that he has finally found somewhere he belongs. Trautman understands and says goodbye to Rambo and wishes him luck and returns home to America alone.
Five years later, Richard Crenna parodied his role in the spoof Hot Shots! Part Deux (1993). Just like Colonel Trautman, his character personally sought out the main protagonist (played by Charlie Sheen) in a location somewhere in Southeast Asia to ask for help, and was also captured by the enemies forces, this time the Iraqis.
The other helicopter disguised as a Russian gunship was really an Aerospatiale/Eurocopter SA 341/2 Gazelle (also modified as the title helicopter in the movie Blue Thunder (1983)), of British/French design. The four fighter aircraft seen at a distance in the beginning are French-built Mirage-IIIs of the Pakistani Air Force.
"Hot Shots 2: part duex" (1993) is a parody of Rambo III with almost identical scenes shot the same way with gags thrown in. Richard Crenna even appears in the movie reprising a parody role of himself as the Sergant. Something Crenna asked Sylvester Stallone if it would be OK for him to do? Which Stallone was all for and happy for him to poke fun at the Rambo films!
Gerry Fisher was the first cinematographer hired for the film, but quit prior to the start of shooting due to a chest infection which precluded him from working in the desert locations. Michael Seresin took over the position, but quit the production along with original director Russell Mulcahy. Ernest Day was next to take on the position, but after about a week was asked to instead become the film's second unit director, leaving camera operator John Stanier, who had signed on with Seresin, to handle the cinematography for the rest of the shoot.