Much like the fellow Sylvester Stallone franchise Rocky, the Rambo series has become a staunch part of film history and American culture. Despite its rather introspective beginnings, the series morphed into the zenith of exaggerated 1980s action that has defined much of Stallone's career.
With John Rambo's fifth, and possibly final, adventure now in theaters, we've calculated which bloodbath was the best, and which was the worst, based on an aggregate of reviews from Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes. Here's where each movie ranks in the franchise's quality.
First Blood - Average Score: 74.5
The first is still the best when it comes to the Rambo franchise. Based on the 1972 novel of the same name by David Morrell, 1982's First Blood told the story of John Rambo, a Vietnam War veteran who runs afoul of a small town's law enforcement. Forced to rely upon his combat training to survive being hunted, Rambo evades his pursuers, who see him as a violent nuisance.
The film was far more dramatic than its successors, focusing namely on the societal indifference, if not intolerance, that Vietnam veterans faced upon returning home. It did, however, set the precedent for the series' trademark action, emphasizing its protagonist's combat abilities. The violence is notably much less over the top than what would come later, however. Its initial reviews were mixed at best, but many now view it as both one of Stallone's best performances, and one of the best films of 1982.
Rambo - Average Score: 42
The second-most well-received installment of the series is the controversial 2008 film Rambo. Featuring a storyline in which Rambo is asked to save a group of missionaries captured in the jungles of Burma, the film was praised both for Stallone's performance as an aged Rambo and its action. The latter was also a point of contention, however, as many critics saw the film as gratuitously violent, with uneven pacing for its rather thin plot.
Rambo: First Blood Part II - Average Score: 42
The second Rambo movie, and the first to feature his name in the title, marks a significant downturn from the quality of the original Anything in way of First Blood's social commentary is tossed aside in favor of over-the-top action. Having been captured at the end of the first movie, Rambo is now released to rescue American P.O.W.s in Vietnam. The result is one of the most bombastic action movies of the '80s, one that fully transitioned the Rambo movies into the arguably mindless explosion- and kill-fests they're known to be today. Even its critics typically enjoy, with Razzie Award founder John Wilson dubbing it one of the "100 Most Enjoyable Bad Movies."
Rambo III - Average Score: 38.5
The 1988 Rambo III was, for two decades, the franchise's last film, and its worst-received. Although featuring a then-timely plot involving Rambo saving a former ally from Russian forces trying to overtake Afghanistan, it again dropped any attempts at political or thematic nuance. Many lamented that, and pointed out how even the thrilling action was coming back with diminishing returns in an era dominated by similarly brainless romps.
Its anti-war elements only further highlight how far the series had come from giving actual commentary. The most interesting thing about Rambo III was the retroactive controversy. A common misconception is that the film's ending praises the Afghani Mujaheddin. Some believed this was altered after 9/11, but the film actually never displayed this message. Produced on a now-conservative budget of about $63 million, it was at the time the most expensive movie ever made.
Rambo: Last Blood - Average Score: 29.5
From the looks of things, the purported final Rambo film is by far the worst. Rambo: Last Blood has been brutalized by critics, particularly for its graphic violence and supposed xenophobia. The violence has been compared to both slasher movies and an adult version of Home Alone. Bringing Rambo back into action to save his niece from a Mexican cartel, the film's story is especially controversial in today's political climate. Other sore points are the film's generic, knockoff Taken plot, and how it doesn't feel like much of a last hurrah for the character. Author David Morrell, Rambo's creator, was also harsh on the film, which sticks out given his defense of 2008's Rambo.
Sadly, it seems that Rambo will go out with more of a whimper than the expected bang. The good news is that, according to Rotten Tomatoes, at least, audiences are far more positive toward the film than critics. The audience score sits at 84 percent at the time of this writing. Atlhough it might not be the more though-provoking original, Last Blood is sure to at least please viewers who simply want to see John Rambo hurt people real bad one last time.
In theaters now, director Adrian Grunberg's Rambo: Last Blood stars Sylvester Stallone, Paz Vega, Sergio Peris-Mencheta and Yvette Monreal.