The Actors Who Almost Played Rambo Before Sylvester Stallone

Before Sylvester Stallone signed on to play Rambo and help rewrite First Blood’s script, several other big Hollywood names passed on the project.

One of Sylvester Stallone’s most iconic roles is Vietnam War veteran John Rambo in First Blood and its subsequent Rambo franchise, but the part could have gone to a number of other actors had things gone differently. As with so many Hollywood productions, First Blood took a while to make it out of development, meaning the story and concept changed hands many times before finally arriving with Stallone and director Ted Kotcheff. As a result, there were many other big names considered to play the lead at different points in First Blood‘s journey to production.

Rambo had to fight through development hell before ever making it to the screen, and even once the film had been made, First Blood almost got its release canceled. Several factors contributed to the film’s decade or so of languishing, its near flop, and its mixed reviews after finally being released. A big one was First Blood‘s central conflict, in which Rambo seems to be waging war on his own country. Although First Blood is based on a book by David Morrell from 1972, before the Vietnam War had ended, the prospect of bringing Rambo’s story to the big screen at the time was a bit risky in terms of how audiences would respond. Even in 1982 reception was mixed, and Rambo continues to be politically misconstrued to this day. Beyond this, First Blood also struggled for common film industry reasons, such as constant overhauling of the script and uncertainty over who would direct and play the leads.

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Before the lead role in First Blood went to Sylvester Stallone, a perfect fit for Rambo, many other big Hollywood names were considered or outright offered the part. The list includes Paul Newman, Al Pacino, Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, James Garner, Ryan O’Neal, Steve McQueen, Dustin Hoffman, John Travolta, and Clint Eastwood. There are a variety of reasons why none of these panned out, such as Eastwood’s other obligations and McQueen’s older age, but most of it comes down to the same big factors that left the film in the lurch for so many years during its development.



Brian Dennehy rambo first blood

Because the script for First Blood continuously changed studios and directors from 1972 to 1982, it was hard for specific actors to stay tied to the project for long, and the uncertainty led several to pass on the role. Even First Blood‘s ending changed a few times, with different versions killing off supporting characters and even Rambo himself. But another big reason that several of the possible leads turned First Blood down was the controversy of Rambo’s original character and story from the novel. James Garner specifically, who earned a Purple Heart in the Korean War, disapproved of how earlier versions of the script portrayed veterans. For the other actors, Rambo was either too dark or violent or else not eccentric enough to justify his acts of one-man war, and the prospect of playing an extremely aggressive character who would engage in such a gory battle with fellow Americans may have looked like career suicide to some. It was actually Stallone who toned down Rambo’s movie kill count when he signed on to the project and contributed to rewriting the script, and he was instrumental in sparing the Green Beret’s life in the end as well.


First Blood remains a somewhat divisive yet legendary action film to this day, and it manages to strike a balance between the original story’s brutality and the sympathy viewers were inclined to offer Stallone after his star-making turn as boxer Rocky Balboa. While other actors may have been able to pull off the part, it was really Stallone’s script contributions that made First Blood the success that it was, though of course he also plays the character perfectly. John Rambo’s backstory and Vietnam War veteran status make him a complicated character, and of all the actors who almost played him in First Blood, Sylvester Stallone was ultimately the best choice – both for the original movie and the successive Rambo sequels.


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The Actors Who Almost Played Rambo Before Sylvester Stallone

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