First Blood director talks original ending involving Rambo’s death

Last Updated on August 2, 2021

Sylvester Stallone started his rise to fame Hollywood with the Oscar-winning sports drama ROCKY. However, in the 80s he established himself as one of the world’s most bankable action stars, and the world has never been the same. It all started with 1982’s aptly named FIRST BLOOD, introducing us to Stallone’s Vietnam vet, John Rambo. The film is a seminal action classic that’s spawned three sequels, but it was very close to being a one-and-done effort.

Director Ted Kotcheff has recently put out a new biography, Director’s Cut: My Life in Film, and when talking with EW brought up how the original ending to FIRST BLOOD has Rambo committing suicide (as he does in the 1972 novel). He does this with the help of Colonel Trautman, who at one point was played by Hollywood legend Kirk Douglas. After Stallone read the script, he said he would do it if he could help Kotcheff rewrite the draft:

One thing about Sylvester: He has a populist sense. He knows what audiences like to see, and what they don’t like to see. I’ve never had that. [Laughs] We came around to do the ending. He’s surrounded by the army, and by the police. He’s in the police station. The Colonel comes in there to put him out of his misery. [Rambo] says, “I know you have a gun underneath your jacket there. You created me. Now, you have to kill me.” And he pulls out the gun. But he can’t do it, of course. But Rambo reaches out, presses the trigger, and blows himself away. The whole scene was awfully moving. He kills himself!

We shot it. It was incredibly moving, after all we’d been through. Sylvester got up and said, “Ted, can I talk to you for a second?” He said, “You know, Ted, we put this character through so much. The police abuse him. He’s pursued endlessly. Dogs are sent after him. He jumps off cliffs. He runs through freezing water. He’s shot in the arm and he has to sew it up himself. All this, and now we’re gonna kill him?”

Kotcheff went on to talk about how he decided to shoot the now official ending with Rambo living, and how he shot both endings back-to-back, despite producers hounding him the whole time. It all worked out, and test audiences liked the happy ending much better. As for Douglas, Kotcheff kept saying how the legend would refer to himself in the third person, and would keep asking to have other character's lines. The constant rewrites drove Kotcheff mad, and Douglas was replaced by Richard Crenna.

Stallone's career may have gone a different route had Rambo died in the first movie. Yeah, we would've gotten a great solo Rambo movie, but Stallone may not have gone on to be so involved in the action genre, with both the sequels being so popular in their time. But Stallone was right, and the non-suicide ending did play better for audiences, and kudos to Kotcheff for being such a collaborative force. Always trust Sylvester Stallone.

Source: EW

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