If someone said the name Sylvester Stallone to you, what would be the first thing to come to mind? Would it be an image of a shirtless John Rambo, wielding a giant machine gun in one hand and a giant knife in the other? Would it be Rocky Balboa, who after six boxing films had his character pivot to being a trainer for his former adversary’s son? The Rocky and Rambo franchises have both been around for almost 40 years and with Creed II coming to theaters November 2018 and a rumored fifth Rambo film debuting in 2019, neither film series seems to be slowing down anytime soon. Although both series combined have earned at the box office over $2 billion, Rocky and Rambo just aren’t cash grabs for Sly. The man has very personal connections to each film starting with First Blood in 1982 and Best Picture winner Rocky in 1976.
Although both film franchises have been around for decades, do you know everything there is to know about all of the Rocky and Rambo films? Stallone wrote one of the drafts for First Blood, but did you know that John Rambo was based on a real person from World War II? What actor from Star Trek: The Next Generation made their big screen debut in Rocky? Where did Rambo’s last name come from? What was Rocky Balboa’s real first name? Rambo vs. the video game Golden Axe? Rocky vs. the King of Rock and Roll Elvis Presley? After reading this list, you’ll get a better sense of Stallone’s involvement in Rocky and Rambo, and you’ll also learn just how personal and important these films were to him.
20. RAMBO WAS BASED ON A REAL PERSON
Although the Rambo film series centers around John Rambo, a Vietnam war veteran, the character is actually based on someone who fought in World War II. Audie Murphy was one of the most decorated soldiers ever to set foot on the battlefield. Besides fighting, Audie was an actor as well!
The film To Hell and Back not only was about Murphy, but it also starred him as well. Murphy suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, and writer David Morrell drew from this to create the Rambo character in his 1972 novel First Blood. That is definitely why it came across as so real, because it was!
19. RAMBO HAD ZERO FATALITIES
People often poke fun at the poor marksmanship of Stormtroopers in the Star Wars universe. Even when watching the G.I. Joe cartoon from the 1980s, you’ll find that people rarely get shot or even wounded in battles. The Rambo movie franchise contains numerous bloody and gory scenes, but do you know how many people Rambo eliminated in First Blood?
Although one of the deputies perishes when he falls out of the helicopter, John Rambo racks up an astonishing zero body count! Was Rambo a former Stormtrooper? The movie wanted to make a clear stance on Rambo, saying he was sympathetic and was only using violence in defense.
18. NAMED AFTER AN APPLE
Nicolas Cage was born Nicholas Coppola, but changed it to Cage after the comic book hero for hire Luke Cage. The actor even named his son Kal-El after the Last Son of Krypton. Although Rambo was based on WWII war hero Audie Murphy, what was he named after? A type of weapon? A form of choke hold?
The character Rambo was named after a type of apple called Rambo. Does the apple have an extreme way of eliminating people? Does it look like Sylvester Stallone? No, novel writer David Morrell just liked the sound of the name and was luckily eating a Rambo apple while writing the book.
17. GOLDEN AXE RAMBO
Believe it or not, there are seven video games that are associated with the Rambo film franchise. The first one came out in 1987 for the NES and the gameplay was suspiciously like Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. So what does Rambo have to do with Golden Axe?
The multiplayer game Golden Axe came out in 1989 and based on the game setting its implied it takes place in the past, with a sword and sorcery environment similar to Lord of the Rings. If you listen closely to their screams, you’ll hear yells that were used in the film First Blood!
16. THE KNIFE
Luke Skywalker’s weapon of choice is the lightsaber. For “Dirty Harry” Callahan, it was the .44 Magnum. Rambo does utilize a number of guns over his film franchise but he always wields the same iconic knife. That knifemaker was personally selected by Sylvester Stallone himself. It was updated with each movie but the overall look was the same.
The knife was designed by Jimmy Lile. It was an all-purpose knife that was serrated on one side and sharp on the other. This meant that it was versatile enough to cut wood, carve an animal, dig and had a hollow handle to hold things like matches.
15. RAMBO IS ROWDY
Novelist David Morrell liked the name Rambo because of how it sounded. Coincidentally, it also sounded like Rimbaud, the name of the French writer who authored the poem A Season in Hell. There’s also another phonetic coincidence with Rambo’s name, dealing with a culture on the other side of the world from America.
Without any planning on the part of the writers, it was later discovered that name of Stallone’s character sounds a lot like the Japanese word rambo, which means rough or violent. These are words that most definitely describe former soldier John Rambo!
14. A TOWN CALLED HOPE
Sometimes films will take place in a fictional location, possibly because they don’t want to imply anything bad about a real location or business. First Blood took place in the fictional town of Hope, Washington, but oddly enough it filmed in a town actually called Hope, located in British Columbia.
What’s even more strange is that the 2011 film Recoil starring Steve Austin also took place in the fictional town of Hope, Washington. We don’t think Austin is trying to create an interconnected universe, but is this coincidence, or is Hope just unlucky when it comes to violent protagonists?
13. DOZENS OF RAMBO SCRIPTS
Sylvester Stallone may be famous for playing muscular action heroes, but let’s not forget that he’s an accomplished writer. He’s written over two dozen films, including all of the Rocky movies, all of the Rambo movies, the Expendables movies and more. So how many versions of the Rambo script were there before he got a hold of it?
First Blood was based on the book of the same name by David Morrell. There were around 26 versions of the script before Sylvester Stallone wrote the last draft. Previous versions had Rambo racking up a high body count and not surviving the end of the movie.
12. RAMBO CREATED JOBS
Ever watch the credits to a movie? If it’s a Marvel movie, you’re just waiting for the post-credits scene. The credits list everyone that worked on the film. You may not know who the gaffer is (or what they do) but they’re an essential part of the film. Let’s also not forget the importance of extras.
For the town that First Blood filmed in, the movie did more than just provide the townspeople a chance to appear on screen with Sylvester Stallone. At that time, the mill employing most of the town had closed, so the movie brought some well-needed employment opportunities to those without a job.
11. THANKED BY THE KNIFE INDUSTRY
Films can change our perspectives on things by reminding us of history or exposing us to viewpoints that we wouldn’t normally hear. The character of Rambo offered insight into the difficulties war veterans faced when returning home as well as the struggles of dealing with PTSD. The movie First Blood also received an acknowledgment that you may not have expected.
David Morrell, the author of the book First Blood, was given an industry achievement award by Blade Magazine in 2003. The inclusion of Rambo’s signature knife on screen was a big part of the revival the cutlery industry in the 1980s!
10. ROCKY WAS WRITTEN IN RECORD TIME
Making a movie can take a long time. Pages of a script are divided into 8ths of a page, and in one day you may only get to 6/8ths of a page worth of material filmed! The writing process is different, but the time it takes depends on the deadline the person is under. In Hollywood, people are given deadlines before anything else, so time is a factor!
Sylvester Stallone not only starred in the film, but he also was the writer as well and his script was nominated for best screenplay (but lost to Network). Stallone wrote the first draft of the script in an amazing 3 1/2 days!
9. ROCKY’S REAL FIRST NAME
Rocky is the ultimate underdog. Perhaps he didn’t win the initial match against Apollo Creed, but he did have everyone in the crowd chanting his name. “Rocky! Rocky! Rocky!” was even chanted by the crowd in Russia when he went up against Ivan Drago in Rocky IV. Would it be a different feeling if they actually shouted his real name?
Rocky would probably sock you in the jaw for using his actual birth name, which you may need to look at the script in order to learn what it actually was. Rocky’s real name was Robert Balboa! Robert! Robert! Robert! Yeah, doesn’t do it for us either.
8. YOU GOT YOURSELF A ROCKY STEW, BABY!
Although Stallone may be one of the most famous people on Earth right now, back in the 1970s he was an unknown. Making Rocky was a gamble, but like most fighters, they know what odds they’re up against and keep punching anyway.
When Carl Weathers auditioned for the movie, he sparred with Stallone, but after getting hit for real, Weathers asked to work with a real actor. When informed that he was, in fact, sparring with the actual star of the film, Weathers reportedly said: “Maybe he’ll get better.” Weathers was hired shortly after.
7. ROCKY VS WORF
HoS lI’ Dalo’Ha’chu’! It may be one thing to fight with an accomplished boxer in the ring, but it’s a totally different fight if you’re going up against a Klingon! In the Star Trek universe, Klingons are some of the fiercest warriors around, so what Klingon was hanging around in the 1970s on Earth?
In an uncredited appearance, Michael Dorn played one of Apollo Creed’s bodyguards. It was his very first film appearance, and Dorn would eventually star as Worf in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Today is a good day to… box!
6. BIGGEST EXPENSE ON THE FILM?
Some of the biggest expenses on a film set are feeding people and transporting crew and cast to locations. Production costs have gone way down thanks to digital technology, but there are still plenty of expenses that can have a film costing millions of dollars. The most expensive film to date is Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides at $378.5 million.
What was the biggest expense for Rocky? If it was made today, it might be Stallone’s salary, but back in the 1970s, he was virtually unknown. The single biggest cost on the film wasn’t locations or props, it was the make-up!
5. THE CINEMATIC ART OF ROCKY
The “Bullet Time” effect first used in the 1999 film The Matrix was a great effect and excellent technical achievement in cinema. Even the introduction of the compact yet high-quality GoPro camera has given filmmakers the flexibility to film without the usage of gigantic camera rigs. What innovative effect was used in Rocky?
A Steadicam is a giant rig worn by the operator that allows the camera person to walk and film, yet they are still able to get a very smooth shot. Rocky running up the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum is one of the earliest examples of the steadicam being used.
4. A VERY DIFFERENT ADRIAN
Talia Shire was nominated for a Golden Globe as well as an Academy Award for her role in Rocky. Her portrayal of Adrian as a quiet, reserved woman might have partially been due to her having from an intense flu while filming her scenes. Her husband at the time was David Shire, and he almost wound up the composer for the film as well but wound up working on another film.
Speaking of things that almost happened, Shire was not the first choice to play Adrian. It was originally offered to actress Carrie Snodgress, then to Susan Sarandon. Why was Sarandon rejected? Because producers thought she was too attractive!
3. STALLONE’S JOB BEFORE ROCKY
What’s important to know about being involved in filmmaking is that there’s a big difference between being famous and being rich. Working as an actor can be very fulfilling, but not every actor gets lucky enough to score a hit television show or be a part of a cinematic franchise.
When Stallone sold his script, he was adamant that he also get a chance to star in the film as well. Even when producers offered him huge sums of money to just buy the script, he refused. This must have been tough for Stallone, because at the time Sly was working as an usher, only making $36 per week.
2. ROCKY VS ELVIS
In a Family Guy parody of Rocky VI, Rocky goes to fight a boxing match on Mars. Even though there’s no oxygen, he’s not afraid of fighting an alien on another planet. Is there anything that would put fear into either Sly or Rocky Balboa?
The answer is: Elvis Presley. Since Elvis couldn’t just go to the theatre down the block, the King of Rock and Roll invited Stallone to come down to Graceland with a copy of the film and do a private screening. Stallone was too intimidated and instead just sent a copy, which Elvis watched with friends and enjoyed.
1. ROCKY OSCAR
The very first sports film to be nominated for Best Picture was the 1932 film The Champ. It won Best Actor and Best Original Story (Best Story Oscars were discontinued after 1956). The first film to ever win Best Picture at the Academy Awards was Rocky!
Rocky received 10 nominations and won for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Film Editing. Stallone was nominated for Best Actor but did not win. Stallone is one of a handful of people to receive two Oscar nominations for playing the same character in separate films: He received a nomination in 1976 for Rocky then 39 years later for Creed.
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