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Rambo III is a 1988 American action film directed by Peter MacDonald and co-written by Sylvester Stallone, who also reprises his role as Vietnam War veteran John Rambo. A sequel to Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985), it is the third installment in the Rambo franchise, followed by Rambo. Making it the last film to feature Richard Crenna as Colonel Sam Trautman before his death in 2003.

Rambo III
Theatrical release poster
Directed byPeter MacDonald
Produced byBuzz Feitshans
Written by
Based onCharacter
by David Morrell
Music byJerry Goldsmith
CinematographyJohn Stanier
Edited by
  • James Symons
  • Andrew London
  • O. Nicholas Brown
Distributed byTriStar Pictures[1]
Release date
  • May 25, 1988 (1988-05-25) (United States)
Running time
101 minutes[2]
CountryUnited States
Budget$58–63 million[3][4]
Box office$189 million[5]

The film depicts fictional events during the Soviet–Afghan War. In the film, Rambo sets out on a dangerous journey to Afghanistan in order to rescue his former military commander and his longtime best friend Col. Trautman from the hands of an extremely powerful and ruthless Soviet Army colonel who is bent on killing both Col. Trautman and Rambo, as he helps lead the Soviet armed forces and their mission: Conquering Afghanistan.

Rambo III was released worldwide on May 25, 1988, and grossed $189 million at the box office. With a production budget of between $58 and $63 million, Rambo III was the most expensive film ever made at the time.


Three years after the events in Vietnam, Colonel Sam Trautman visits his old friend and ally John Rambo in Thailand. He explains that he is putting together a mercenary team for a CIA-sponsored mission to supply the Mujahideen and other tribes as they try to repel the Soviet fighters in Afghanistan. Despite being shown photos of civilians suffering at the hands of the Soviet military, Rambo refuses to join, as he is tired of fighting. Col. Trautman proceeds anyway and is ambushed by enemy forces near the border, resulting in all of his men being killed. Col. Trautman is captured and sent to a large mountain base to be interrogated by Soviet Colonel Zaysen and his henchman Sergeant Kourov.

Embassy official Robert Griggs informs Rambo of Col. Trautman's capture but refuses to approve a rescue mission for fear of drawing the United States into the war. Aware that Trautman will die otherwise, Rambo gets permission to undertake a solo rescue on the condition that he will be disavowed in the event of capture or death. Rambo immediately flies to Peshawar, Pakistan, where he intends to convince arms dealer Mousa Ghani to bring him to Khost, the town closest to the Soviet base where Trautman is held captive.

The Mujahideen in the village, led by chieftain Masoud, hesitate to help Rambo free Trautman. Meanwhile, a Soviet informant in Ghani's employ informs the Russians, who send two attack helicopters to destroy the village. Though Rambo manages to destroy one of them with a turret, the rebels refuse to aid him any further. Aided only by Mousa and a young boy named Hamid, Rambo attacks the base and inflicts significant damage before being forced to retreat. Hamid, as well as Rambo, are wounded during the battle and Rambo sends him and Mousa away before resuming his infiltration.

Skillfully evading base security, Rambo reaches Trautman just as he is about to be tortured with a flamethrower. He and Trautman rescue several other prisoners and hijack a Hind Gunship helicopter to escape the base. The helicopter is damaged during takeoff and quickly crashes, forcing the escapees to flee across the sand on foot. An attack helicopter pursues Rambo and Trautman to a nearby cave, where Rambo destroys it with an explosive arrow. A furious Zaysen sends commandos under Kourov to kill them, but they are quickly routed and killed. An injured Kourov attacks Rambo with his bare hands, but is overcome and killed.

As Rambo and Trautman make their way to the Pakistani border, Zaysen and his forces surround them. But before the duo are overwhelmed, Masoud's Mujahideen forces attack the Soviets in a surprise cavalry charge. Despite being wounded, Rambo takes control of a tank and uses it to attack Zaysen's Hind gunship in a head-on battle with both vehicles firing high-calibre machine gun rounds, Rambo firing the tank's main gun and Zaysen unleashing volleys of the Hind's high explosive rockets and missiles. The final charge sees the two vehicles collide, but Rambo survives. At the end of the battle, Rambo and Trautman say goodbye to the Mujahideen and leave Afghanistan.



Development and writingEdit

Sylvester Stallone later said his original premise of the film "was more in keeping with the theme of Tears of the Sun, but set in Afghanistan."[6]

Bullitt and Red Heat scribe Harry Kleiner was hired to write a draft, but his script was rejected by Stallone.[7]

Several weeks into filming, many of the film's crew were fired including the director of photography and director Russell Mulcahy. Stallone:

The canvas of this movie is so large you have to constantly think 10 scenes ahead. You can't wing it. They didn't go into the Battle of Waterloo not knowing what their strategy would be. Well, this movie is kind of like a cinematic warfare. We have a huge cast and crew (more than 250 people) and tough locations to deal with. Everyone and everything has to coordinate.[8]

Some critics noted that the timing of the movie, with its unabashedly anti-Soviet tone, ran afoul of the opening of Communism to the West under Mikhail Gorbachev, which had already changed the image of the Soviet Union to a substantial degree by the time the movie was finished.[9]


He went to Israel two weeks before me with the task of casting two dozen vicious looking Russian troops. These men were suppose [sic] to make your blood run cold. When I arrived on the set, what I saw was two dozen blond, blue-eyed pretty boys that resembled rejects from a surfing contest. Needless to say Rambo is not afraid of a little competition but being attacked by third rate male models could be an enemy that could overwhelm him. I explained my disappointment to Russell and he totally disagreed, so I asked him and his chiffon army to move on.[6]

Mulcahy was replaced by Peter MacDonald, a veteran second unit director. It was MacDonald's first film as director but he was very experienced and had directed the second unit action sequences in Rambo: First Blood Part II. MacDonald later said, "I tried very hard to change the Rambo character a bit and make him a vulnerable and humorous person, I failed totally."[10] "I knew instinctively what was a good and bad shot," he added. "Stallone knew his character because it was his third outing as Rambo. I wasn't shooting Shakespeare and at times it was hard to take it seriously."[10] MacDonald shot the stick fighting sequence in Bangkok himself using a handheld camera.[10]

The character Masoud, played by Greek actor Spiros Focás, was named after mujahideen commander Ahmad Shah Massoud who fought the USSR and later the Taliban.[11]


The film was shot in Israel, Thailand, and Arizona. MacDonald:

There were so many restrictions in Israel, where you could and couldn't shoot. The producers and Stallone decided they would go back to Arizona where they had looked long before I was on the film. There was a group there called the re-enactors. We had around two hundred and fifty of these guys who re-enact the [American] civil war. They were called on to do fight sequences, which they loved.[10]


Rambo III: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Film score by
ProducerJerry Goldsmith
Jerry Goldsmith chronology
Rent-a-Cop: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Rambo III: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Criminal Law: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

An extensive film score was written by Oscar-winning American composer Jerry Goldsmith, conducting the Hungarian State Opera Orchestra; however, much of it was not used. Instead, much of the music Goldsmith penned for the previous installment was recycled. The original album, released by Scotti Bros., contained only a portion of the new music as well as three songs, only one of which was used in the film (Bill Medley's version of "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother", played over the end credits).

  1. It Is Our Destiny – Bill Medley (4:30)
  2. Preparations (4:58)
  3. Afghanistan (2:35)
  4. The Game (2:23)
  5. Another Time (3:54)
  6. He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother – Bill Medley (4:30)
  7. Aftermath (2:42)
  8. Questions (3:34)
  9. The Bridge - Giorgio Moroder featuring Joe Pizullo (3:59)
  10. Final Battle (4:47)

A more complete 75-minute version of the score was later released by Intrada.

  1. Another Time (3:58)
  2. Preparations (06:21)
  3. The Money (0:52)
  4. I'm Used To It (1:00)
  5. Peshawar (1:12)
  6. Afghanistan (2:38)
  7. Questions (3:37)
  8. Then I'll Die (3:34)
  9. The Game (2:25)
  10. Flaming Village (4:07)
  11. The Aftermath (2:44)
  12. Night Entry (3:58)
  13. Under And Over (2:55)
  14. Night Fight (6:50)
  15. First Aid (2:46)
  16. The Long Climb (3:25)
  17. Going Down (1:52)
  18. The Cave (3:31)
  19. The Boot (1:53)
  20. You Did It, John (1:08)
  21. The Showdown (1:26)
  22. Final Battle (4:50)
  23. I'll Stay (9:00)


Box officeEdit

Rambo III opened in the United States on May 25, 1988 at 2,562 theatres in its opening weekend (the four-day Memorial Day weekend), ranking #2 behind Crocodile Dundee II.[12][13] Overall, the film grossed $53,715,611 domestically and then took $135,300,000 overseas, giving Rambo III a box office total of $189,015,611.[5] The film is the second most successful of the Rambo franchise, behind Rambo: First Blood Part II.

Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B+" on an A+ to F scale.[14]

Critical receptionEdit

Rambo III received mixed to negative reviews from critics.[15] It scored a 38% on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 33 reviews and with an average rating of 4.53/10. The sites critical consensus states that "Rambo III finds its justice-dispensing hero far from the thoughtful drama that marked the franchise's beginning -- and just as far from quality action thriller entertainment."[16] Metacritic gives the film a rating of 36 out of 100 based on 15 critic reviews, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews".[17]

Prominent critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert were split on Rambo III, with Siskel awarding the film "thumbs up", and Ebert declaring "thumbs down" for those expecting more out of Rambo III. Ebert did, however, give "thumbs up" to fans, saying the film was entertaining and that it "delivers the goods".

The New York Times took a dim view of the film.[18]

In Germany, the Deutsche Film- und Medienbewertung (FBW), a government film rating office whose ratings influence financial support to filmmakers, earned criticism after it awarded a "worthwhile" rating (in German: wertvoll) to Rambo III.[19]

The 1990 The Guinness Book of World Records deemed Rambo III the most violent film ever made, with 221 acts of violence, at least 70 explosions, and over 108 characters killed on-screen.[citation needed] However, the body count of the fourth film in the series, Rambo, surpassed that record, with 236 kills.[citation needed] The Mi-24 Hind-D helicopters seen in the film are in fact modified Aérospatiale SA 330 Puma transport helicopters with fabricated bolt-on wings similar to the real Hind-Ds which were mainly used in the former Soviet bloc nations.[citation needed] The other helicopter depicted is a slightly reshaped Aerospatiale Gazelle.[citation needed]

Some have claimed that the dedication at the end of the film has been altered at various points in response to the events of 9/11. Specifically it is claimed that the dedication was (at one point) "to the brave Mujahideen fighters" and then later changed to "to the gallant people of Afghanistan".[citation needed] However, reviews of the film upon its release and later publications (prior to 9/11) show that the film was always dedicated "to the gallant people of Afghanistan".[18][20][21]


Award Category Subject Result
Razzie Award Worst Actor Sylvester Stallone Won
Worst Screenplay Nominated
Sheldon Lettich Nominated
Worst Supporting Actor Richard Crenna Nominated
Worst Picture Mario Kassar Nominated
Buzz Feitshans Nominated
Andrew G. Vajna Nominated
Worst Director Peter MacDonald Nominated

Home mediaEdit

Rambo III was released on DVD on November 23, 2004, and a Blu-Ray release followed on May 23, 2008. Rambo III was released on 4K UHD Blu-Ray on November 13, 2018.

Cut versionEdit

In the United Kingdom, the original theatrical trailer released worldwide by (then) Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. was rejected, but three versions appear on VHS, DVD and Blu-ray and original theatrical release. The BBFC rated the theatrical release 18 and later video releases rated 15. They also cut between two seconds and 65 seconds off of the original film's runtime. [2] Some later video releases almost tripled the cuts.[22]

Other mediaEdit


David Morrell, author of First Blood, the novel the first Rambo film is based on, wrote a novelization called Rambo III.

Comic booksEdit

A comic book adaptation of the film was published by Blackthorne Publishing.[23][24] Blackthorne also published a 3D version of its Rambo III comic.

Video gamesEdit

Various companies released video games based on the film, including Ocean Software and Taito. In 1990, Sega released its own game based on the film for the Master System and Genesis/Mega Drive. Sega later adapted some of the battle scenes in the film for the 2008 arcade game Rambo. In 2014 was released Rambo: The Video Game, based on the first three Rambo films.

Other referencesEdit

  • In the film The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, the character of Chop Top jokes that the recording of one chainsaw murder sounds like "the Rambo III soundtrack", although at that time, there had only been two Rambo films.
  • In the film Twins, Arnold Schwarzenegger's character is seen looking at the poster of Rambo III featuring Stallone, where he compares his biceps to Stallone's, but waves it off with a smile while shaking his head and walks away.
  • In the film Hot Shots! Part Deux, the protagonist Topper Harley (Charlie Sheen) is a parody of John Rambo and the plot of the film is the same as Rambo III, which involves Harley rescuing his mentor, Col. Denton Walters (Richard Crenna, parodying his character from the Rambo franchise).


  1. ^ a b "Rambo III (1988)". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. Retrieved October 3, 2018.
  2. ^ a b "BBFC Cinema Rating, 1988". Retrieved December 17, 2017.
  3. ^ Hall, Sheldon; Neale, Stephen (2010). Epics, spectacles, and blockbusters: a Hollywood history. Wayne State University Press. pp. 239–240. ISBN 978-0-8143-3008-1. Rambo III (1988) cost a then-record $58 million.
  4. ^ Robertson, Patrick (1991). Guinness Book of Movie Facts and Feats. Abbeville Press. p. 33. ISBN 9781558592360.
  5. ^ a b "Rambo III (1988) - Box Office Mojo". Retrieved December 17, 2017.
  6. ^ a b "Day 3 - Stallone guts some more questions and lets the answers spill out!". Retrieved December 17, 2017.
  7. ^ Broeske, Pat H. (May 10, 1987). "Son Of 'Bullitt'". Retrieved December 17, 2017.
  8. ^ 'Rambo Iii' Gets Back On The Track In Israel Los Angeles Times September 22, 1987|PAT H. BROESKE
  9. ^ "Preview Review: Rambo IV". Retrieved December 17, 2017.
  10. ^ a b c d David Ellis, "Peter MacDonald: The Man Who Failed to Change Rambo", Film International 20 November 2013
  11. ^ "Rambo III".
  12. ^ Easton, Nina (June 14, 1988). "WEEKEND BOX OFFICE : Crocodile Swamps 'Rambo'; Hanks' 'Big' Hit". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved January 1, 2011.
  13. ^ Blank, Ed. "'Croc' devours 'Rambo' in first week in theaters". Pittsburgh Press. Retrieved October 29, 2010.
  14. ^ "CinemaScore".
  15. ^ Easton, Nina J. (January 5, 1989). "Roger Rabbit' Hops to Box-Office Top; 'Coming to America' Hits 2nd". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 29, 2010.
  16. ^ Rambo III at Rotten Tomatoes
  17. ^ Rambo III at Metacritic
  18. ^ a b Maslin, Janet (May 25, 1988). "Reviews/Film; Stallone's 'Rambo III,' Globe-Trotting Cowboy For the 80's Audience". The New York Times. Retrieved October 29, 2010.
  19. ^
  20. ^ The Civil War in Popular Culture (1996). Washington D.C.: The Smithsonian Institution. ISBN 1560986875, p.152.
  21. ^ Vietnam war films: over 600 feature, made-for-TV, pilot, and short movies, 1939-1992, from the United States, Vietnam, France, Belgium, Australia, Hong Kong, South Africa, Great Britain, and other countries (1994). Mcfarland & Co Inc Pub. ISBN 0899507816, p. 355.
  22. ^ "BBFC Video Rating, 1989". Retrieved December 17, 2017.
  23. ^ "Blackthorne Publishing: Rambo III". Grand Comics Database.
  24. ^ Blackthorne Publishing: Rambo III at the Comic Book DB

External linksEdit