The first actor to play Rambo on screen (not Sylvester Stallone)


One of Sylvester Stallone’s most iconic characters is Rambo, but he wasn’t the first actor to play the role of John Rambo on screen.

Rambo is one of Sylvester Stallone’s most popular characters, but he wasn’t the first actor to play John Rambo on screen. Rambo first appeared in the 1972 novel first blood, with the Vietnam veteran launching a personal war against a small town. Author David Morrell’s book was both an intense, fast-paced thriller and an anti-war novel. John Rambo’s depiction in the book is also much darker than the eventual film, with the character having no problem killing his pursuers; in the final chapters of the book, he is also executed by his former mentor.

Several actors almost played Rambo in first blood before Stallone, including Al Pacino and Steve McQueen. Stallone was so appalled by the original 3-hour cut of the film that he offered to buy the negative back so he could destroy it. He then suggested cutting the film backwards, including cutting out Rambo’s dialogue whenever necessary. The film was a hit and launched Stallone into a new phase in his career. He became an action hero around this time, which is best exemplified by the Rambo suites and Cobra.


Related: Why Rambo’s Creator Hated Last Blood

In 2019, Stallone apparently left the character behind with Rambo: Last Blood, the fifth entry. Despite these claims, he also revealed his concept of potential Rambo 6. Stallone is so ingrained in the public mind as John Rambo that it’s hard to imagine another actor in the role, though it seems inevitable that the franchise will be rebooted at some point. Stallone wasn’t really the first actor to play John Rambo, however, Cuban-Italian actor Tomas Milian first brought the character to the screens in 1975. Syndicate of sadists (A.K.A Rambo’s revenge).

tomas milian rambo syndicate sadists

For context, Tomas Milian read Morrell’s first blood novel in the early 70s and was so enamored with the material that he wanted to make a film adaptation of it. The Italian producers apparently had no interest in pursuing the rights to the book, so Milian decided to use the name John Rambo (which has a tragic backstory) for Syndicate of sadists rather. This movie doesn’t have much to do with the book aside from the character’s name, although they do share some traits, including a fondness for motorcycles. The story instead sees Milian’s outlaw, Rambo, seeking revenge against two crime families after the murder of his friend.

Syndicate of sadists has more in common with dirty harry Where Serpico – with Tomas Milian’s Rambo slightly resembling Pacino’s cop in the latter – that a Rambo– war movie style. Still, it’s an entertaining example of the Italian “poliziotteschi” subgenre, and Milian’s scruffy biker with a heart of gold makes him a likeable action hero. It also features bloody action and impressive stunts, although it failed to throw a Rambo film franchise in Italy. Prolific director Umberto Lenzi (Cannibal Ferox) reportedly wanted to use the name Rambo in the title but was rejected. However, some later versions of Syndicate of Sadists doubled it Rambo’s Revenge following the success of Sylvester Stallone Rambo movies.

Next: Actors Who Almost Played Rambo Before Sylvester Stallone


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