Rambo's knife is as famous as he is, but it's gone through some major changes over the years. Composite by Coffee or Die Magazine.
There is a famous scene in First Blood in which the film's protagonist, John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone), is frisked by a small-town sheriff. The sheriff (Brian Dennehy) discovers a large knife in Rambo's waistband. “Why would you be carrying a knife like this?” he asks, pulling it out. To which Rambo replies, "Hunting." The sheriff presses Rambo to tell him what exactly he hunts with the knife. Rambo's answer is unclear, because Stallone mumbles the line, but he seems to say, “Name it.”
It’s been 40 years since First Blood hit theaters, and the jury is still out on what Rambo said he hunted with his knife. Watch the scene a few times and you might hear Stallone’s words morph into various combinations of syllables. For example, the first time, you might hear him say, “Name it.” But then you watch the scene again and hear “Amy.” Some Rambo fans have even argued that he says “Naimi,” a Native American word that apparently refers to animals of the deer family. According to the film’s subtitles — at least on DVD — the word is, in fact, “emu.” And if you read the script that’s available online you’ll find the line is supposed to be “everything” (which is definitely not what Stallone says).
Rambo comes close to slashing the sheriff's throat, but the knife remains strictly a survival tool in First Blood. Screenshot from YouTube.
Nobody knows for sure what Rambo tells the sheriff about the types of prey he hunts with his blade. But eventually we learn that the list includes people. This comes to light after the corrupt sheriff pushes Rambo too far and the former Green Beret decides to give the Hope Police Department a little taste of ’Nam. If at this point the sheriff is still wondering about Rambo’s reasons for carrying that enormous knife, the mystery is soon resolved when he finds it pressed against his throat. “Don’t push it,” Rambo warns, “or I’ll give you a war you won’t believe.”
With an overall length of 14 inches and exaggerated spine serrations, Rambo’s knife is as much a part of his repertoire as his red headband and propensity for gratuitous violence. When the film premiered in 1982, the Rambo knife entered the pantheon of iconic movie props alongside the likes of the Ghostbusters’ proton pack and Doc Brown’s time-traveling DeLorean.
Rambo puts his trusty blade to good work in First Blood. He uses it to build booby traps, treat a wound, and scare the shit out of a corrupt small-town sheriff. And yet, despite all of its screen time, the Rambo knife never actually draws blood — at least not in the first movie.
Though its name might imply otherwise, First Blood is relatively light on violence. It’s more of a drama than an action-thriller, touching on heavy topics like American foreign policy, post-traumatic stress, and a warrior’s Odyssean inability to find his way home after combat.
So despite being the first installment of a gloriously over-the-top slaughterfest franchise, First Blood actually depicts only one death — and it’s an accident. When Rambo is pursued by a police helicopter, the deputy riding in the passenger seat tries to shoot him with a rifle. Rambo throws a rock at the helicopter in self-defense, causing it to swerve and the trigger-happy cop to fall to his death.
Sylvester Stallone now sells customized Rambo knives online. Screenshot from YouTube.
Wedged somewhere between William Wallace’s broadsword in Braveheart and the Hattori Hanzo katana in Kill Bill, Rambo’s knife ranks among the greatest blades to ever grace the big screen. But unlike those other two, the Rambo knife was built primarily as a survival tool.
Arkansas knifemaker Jimmy Lile designed and forged the original Rambo knife in 1982. The knife’s pommel unscrews, opening a small storage compartment in the hollow handle. People typically keep things like fishing line, hooks, or matches inside survival knives. Rambo, on the other hand, packs his with some needles and thread, which he uses at one point in the film to sew up a nasty laceration.
The large serrations along the knife’s spine allow it to be used as a saw. Rambo uses it as such in First Blood to construct several booby traps. Additionally, the tip of the knife features a prominent Bowie-style clip point, which makes it good for stabbing, while the blade’s deep belly aids in cutting. As we know, Rambo doesn’t stab anybody in First Blood, but in the sequels he uses a variation of the original knife to stab lots of people.
Over the course of five films, Rambo's knife goes from survival tool to heart remover. Screenshot from YouTube.
Following First Blood, the Rambo knife became closely associated with the character and variations were forged for each of the sequels.
The knife in Rambo II closely resembles the first but is slightly bigger. It also has a more dramatic clip point and features a matte black finish on much of the blade. The third knife deviates a bit. It ditched the serrations and survival handle for a larger hilt and a fuller (sometimes called a “blood gutter”).
For the fourth movie, Rambo, the knife became a hybrid. Its large, rectangular blade is something between a machete and a butcher’s cleaver. The knife in the fifth installment, Rambo: Last Blood, was dubbed “The Heartstopper.” The 15-inch hunting knife boasts a 9-inch blade and a Micarta handle. You can even buy your own Heartstopper from Sylvester Stallone’s online shop.
In total, Rambo claims 552 on-screen kills over the course of the entire franchise. For his last and final kill, Rambo uses the Heartstopper to literally cut a man’s heart out of his chest while he’s still alive. So if you’ve only seen First Blood and were disappointed by the lack of knife kills, don’t worry. Rambo makes up for it in the sequels.
Mac Caltrider is a senior staff writer for Coffee or Die Magazine. He served in the US Marine Corps and is a former police officer. Caltrider earned his bachelor’s degree in history and now reads anything he can get his hands on. He is also the creator of Pipes & Pages, a site intended to increase readership among enlisted troops. Caltrider spends most of his time reading, writing, and waging a one-man war against premature hair loss.
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