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While Sylvester Stallone has access to a seemingly endless supply of high-power gunnery in the Rambo series, it is his knives that have become icons. Each of the four movies has its own blade, which Rambo keeps for the entirety of the film. But at the blades don’t make the jump from one movie to the next. The Rambo knife undergoes a dramatic evolution throughout the series, growing from a relatively small survival knife to a machete.
In First Blood, we meet John Rambo, a mentally unstable Vietnam vet trying to pass through Sheriff Will Teasle’s small town. With his stone-cold demeanor and no-nonsense blank stares, it probably should’ve been easy for viewers to deduce that a bizarre arrest for vagrancy would end with Rambo waging a one-man war on a Teasle and his town. With the best survival skills in the country and a badass blade as a sidekick, Rambo single-handedly beats the cops and the National Guard, until Colonel Sam Trautman, the man who trained him, convinces him to turn himself in.
Jimmy Lile designed the knife that showed the world what a badass knife was meant to be. Lile wanted it to contain everything a person would need to survive in the wilderness, and so he came up with what is truly a survival knife. The 9” long steel blade was sharp enough to cleanly cut through paper, so it obviously had no problem dealing with anything else Rambo needed to see sliced. In case he needed to chop down a tree rather than threaten Sheriff Teasle’s life, the knife’s spine had 14 saw teeth. The cross guard featured both a Philips and slotted screwdriver. In the rare situation that Rambo got hurt, all he needed to do was open the airtight handle and get out his first aid kit. The pommel also featured a compass so Rambo could navigate through the wilderness around Teasle’s town.
First Blood Part II
In First Blood Part II, Rambo has been sentenced to a labor prison camp because of the events of the first movie. Colonel Trautman visits him in camp and offers him release and full clemency. The catch? Rambo must return to Vietnam and search for American POWs. He is told to only take pictures of the POWs, but, of course, Rambo tries to rescue them. Marshal Murdock, the corrupt bureaucrat in charge of the mission, abandons him in Vietnam, and the North Vietnamese capture Rambo. Rambo escapes and then returns to rescue all the remaining POWs. Once he succeeds, Rambo leads them towards the American camp in Thailand, where he threatens Murdock with his knife and tells him to rescue other POWs from Vietnam.
The First Blood Part II knife was nearly identical to the original Rambo knife. The difference, of course, was the size. To raise Rambo’s badass aura, the knife grew to 15” in overall length, with the blade measuring in at 10”.
In Rambo III we learn that Rambo stayed in Thailand after his last mission and became a Buddhist. Colonel Trautman asks Rambo to join him on a mission to deliver weapons to the Mujahedeen rebels of Aghanistan who are battling the Soviets in the Soviet-Afghan War. Dedicated to his new peaceful faith, Rambo refuses to help. Trautman goes without his trainee and is captured and imprisoned by Soviets. Not one to see his friends in danger, Rambo sets out to save the Colonel. He does, of course, save Trautman and other prisoners. Together with the rebels, the American duo defeats the Soviets and kills the evil Soviet commander.
For Rambo III, the incredible survival knife is abandoned in favor of a bigger Bowie knife. While, the practicality and usefulness of the original design are lost, the new blade designed by Gil Hibben gains some fear-inducing power and a bit of badass flare from its style and length. The blade is nearly 12” long, making it almost the total length of the original knife. Instead of nylon-wrapped steal, the new handle is 6” of laminated ebony.
In the final movie, Rambo is still hanging out in Thailand and has apparently been working as a ferryman on the Salween River and as a snake trapper. Since twenty years have passed since Rambo III, the current crisis isn’t post-Vietnam or Soviet-Afghan fighting – it’s the violence in Burma. Rambo is hired to take a group of missionaries into Burma. Of course, soon after Rambo drops them off, they are attacked by a group of Tatmadaw; some are killed, while most are taken captive. When the group fails to return, a priest hires mercenaries and asks Rambo to take them to the village where he last saw the group. Rambo is told to stay in the boat, while the mercenaries go in search of the missionaries. A group of Tatmadaw appears with prisoners and the mercenaries take cover and wait until they finish playing a brutal game of torture. However, Rambo surprises everyone by revealing himself as more than a ferryman when he appears and singlehandedly kills every Tatmadaw. He then rallies the mercenaries to save the missionaries from the POW camp where they are being held.
In this movie, Rambo kills the most people of the entire series. How many? A whopping 236 people fall to his bullets, bombs, flames, arrows, and single blade. While this certainly requires some badass survival moves, the Rambo knife does not fit into the stereotypical uber-coolness of “the Rambo knife.” The mini-machete is very crude compared to the expertly crafted survival knives of the earlier films. That said, the huge 18” long knife obviously gets the job done, plus the film shows us that Rambo crafts it himself in one night in the depths of the jungle, since he’d lost his trusty survival knife in a fight and couldn’t very well go blade-less. In reality, Gil Hibben, who made the Rambo III blade, created the machete. The blade measured in at 12” of ¼” thick carbon steel, and the handle was wrapped in paracord.