The impact of the Rambo movies and Rambo knives on both modern culture and the knife industry has been monumental over the past three-and-a-half decades.
In this, the 35th anniversary year of the original Rambo movie, First Blood, BLADE® asked me to do a story on Sylvester Stallone and what has become the worldwide phenomenon of Rambo.
“Make the Knife Into a Character Itself”
There is no knife in David Morrell’s novel, First Blood. It was Stallone’s idea to give Rambo one.
“I love knives and I wanted the character to have one,” Stallone wrote, “almost to make the knife into a character itself.”
A knife collector in his own right, Stallone wanted Rambo to have a great survival knife that looked good on film.
The Making of the First Knife
The selection of BLADE Magazine Cutlery Hall-Of-Fame© member Jimmy Lile as the maker of the knife came about when Stallone was shopping and ran across Pony Express, a sports/hunting store in Los Angeles. While there he discussed the Rambo project with storeowner Joe Ellithorpe, telling Ellithorpehe wanted Rambo to have a survival knife, “something unique that had never been seen before.”
Ellithorpe recommended Lile and Stallone contacted the Arkansas maker.
“[Lile] understood the vision,” Stallone observed. “He was the real deal and I wanted a real knife for the film, not just another prop.”
The Knives of First Blood and Rambo: First Blood, Part Two
Stallone stated he told Lile what was in the script rewrites for what would be required of the knife, and Jimmy took care of the rest. Lile gave the first six First Blood knives he made to Stallone, all of which survived the standard amount of wear and tear from the movie’s many takes.
Lile made the first two knives for the Rambo movie franchise, including Rambo 2: The Mission, which Stallone called “the fans’ favorite” and which is why he used it in a boat scene in Rambo IV (DVD extra deleted).
The Knife of Rambo III
For Rambo III, though, Stallone wanted to go in a different direction, that is, more of a fantasy look.
Enter Cutlery Hall-Of-Famer Gil Hibben. “I had collected some of his fantasy blades,” Stallone noted, “and then I met him at [the California Custom Knife Show] in Anaheim.”
Unlike with the Lile knives, Stallone had a lot of input on the Rambo III model.
“I drew several versions out on paper and cardboard cutouts,” Stallone wrote. “Once I decided on a design, I told Gil my plan was to make this knife the most famous knife in the world! I believe it’s still selling very well today, along with the other film versions.”
In fact, according to Mrs. Linda Hibben, the Rambo III knife is the most popular knife Gil has ever made.
The Knife of Rambo IV
Stallone also had input on the Rambo IV Hibben knife, stating, “More than the previous films I wanted something that looked like Rambo could have made in one evening, something crude.”
To prepare for the role of Rambo, Stallone received some training in knife use, “a little from ex-military folks,” he noted. He also studied real stories of those with experience in using the type of survival knives in the movie.
Prop Knives vs. the Real Thing
If the knives look real in First Blood, that’s because they are. However, in the second film molded resin versions of Lile’s handmade knives were made to help protect the actors during live takes. In Rambo III, unsharpened aluminum prop knives were used along with the real Hibben knives. Rubber stunt, aluminum and steel versions of the knives all were used in the fourth film.
“Most were destroyed on set but a very few still exist today,” Stallone wrote. Those include a Rambo II resin version prop knife, a Rambo III aluminum knife that looks great and is very lightweight, and all types from Rambo IV—rubber, aluminum and steel.
“They all look good. You can’t really tell them [from the real thing] just by looking—you have to pick them up,” he stated.
Will There Be a Rambo 5 Knife?
He still has a few of the original knives from each film and keeps them “proudly on display.” He does not clean them and keeps them in the same condition as they were after each movie.
According to some reports, Stallone has indicated he will never do another Rambo movie.
When I asked him if that was his final word or could something happen to change his mind, he simply said, “Never say never.”
Can’t Get Enough Rambo?
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