"First Blood" may have signalled the beginning of the incredibly lucrative "Rambo" series but for Sylvester Stallone it represented his first success outside the "Rocky" franchise. The the heavily dramatic "FIST." (1978), the critically acclaimed "Nighthawks" (1981), or the risible "Escape to Victory" (1981) were among the notable flops Stallone starred in between the "Rocky" films.
Originally entitled "Blood Knot", "First Blood" was a toned-down version of a 1970s book by David Morrell. Stallone plays the Vietnam vet John Rambo who falls foul of an over-zealous hick, town sheriff Teasle (Brian Dennehy). Taking an instant dislike to Rambo, Teasle arrests him. His subsequent humiliation in the local clink plus a forced shaving gives Rambo flashbacks to his torture in 'Nam and he breaks out, only for Teasle to stage a massive manhunt involving over 200 Guardsmen. Only as one of them puts it "We ain't hunting him. He's hunting us".
At this point the film turns essentially into a chase movie with Stallone foiling his pursuers at every turn. As opposed to the later films his hapless enemies are only maimed by Rambo and never killed.
Stallone underwent training in survival skills and hand-to-hand combat that helped give the film such a raw and authentic edge that excited the audiences of the time. This didn't prevent his by now standard hospital visits while making a film. Four broken ribs and a burned hand were some of the injuries he sustained portraying the cinema's most famous one-man army.
The major change from the novel was that Rambo survives although his 'death' was filmed true to the book. With an international gross of over $100m from a budget of $16m, this was a decision the producers would not regret, paving the way for two sequels.