Sylvester Stallone Says Rambo 4 Is His 'Best Action Film'

The timing couldn't be better for Sylvester Stallone to conduct a tell-all interview with The Hollywood Reporter reflecting on his career and offering insights into the personal bouts he's gone through. Stallone is in full promotional mode to hype his new starring role in Paramount+'s "Tulsa King" from "Yellowstone" co-creator Taylor Sheridan. The Hollywood legend also has a reality show about his home life in the works. Still hustling after all these years, Stallone seems to have retained the same undying spirit he carried within him during the intense struggles and obstacles he endured and overcame to get "Rocky" made. 

Moving from the classic underdog story that helped define the character pieces of the 1970s, Stallone moved into the Reagan era of the 1980s with a relatable, survivalist story about a forgotten Vietnam veteran by the name of John Rambo. Based on David Morrell's engrossing novel, "First Blood" went on to spawn four sequels, giving Stallone the envied position of starring in and developing successful films in two separate franchises.

The "Rocky" films aren't nearly as action oriented as the "Rambo" series, opting instead for more dramatically driven storylines that give way to an inevitable training montage that culminates in a knock-down, drag-out fight that Balboa always manages to somehow survive. The "Rocky" franchise operates on a different motor, which is understandably why Stallone thinks that one "Rambo" film in particular is the greatest action movie he's appeared in over his storied career. 

Stallone didn't think Rambo 4 would make it to theaters

After the success of "Rocky Balboa" in 2006, Stallone used the momentum to revisit the life and times of John Rambo, who has become a grizzled loner living in the jungles of Burma. In his all-encompassing interview with THR, Stallone talked about his feelings now about 2008's "Rambo" and its initial reception:

"One film I'm truly proud of – it's the best action film I've ever done because it's the most truthful – is 'Rambo IV,' dealing with Burma, where they've had a civil war for 67 years. But I got excoriated because the movie's so violent. And it is violent. It's horrifying. It's children being burnt alive. That's what makes Civil War worse than anything. It's your neighbor, all of a sudden, killing you."

Stallone recalls being raked over the coals for the film's arguably gratuitous (okay it's A LOT) violence, but he was obviously aware of the potential blowback, saying "I was really happy with that film and I never thought it would ever reach the theater. I thought, 'They're never going to show this.'" It is, without equal, Stallone's goriest film, even after the literally back-breaking stunt work in "The Expendables" films and a fairly shocking final scene in "Rambo: Last Blood," the fifth and final(?) entry. 

Looking back, it is somewhat surprising that the unrated version of "Rambo" was released in over 2,700 theaters in January of 2008. The drawing power of Stallone was still riding the wave that "Rocky Balboa" created, and that good-old fashioned Hollywood clout played a big factor in getting the most violent film of Stallone's career in front of so many eyeballs. "Rambo" scored an impressive second place finish for the weekend with over $18 million and went on to gross $113 million worldwide.

Is Rambo 4 too violent?

Clearly, the masses didn't seem to have a problem with the overload of gore and may have even been empowered by it. The extreme violence in "Rambo" showing the real-life horrors of the Burmese people was coupled with even more graphic, crowd-pleasing scenes of Rambo obliterating a bunch of mercenaries at close range with a 50 caliber machine gun. Turning other human beings into pink paste seemed almost cathartic for Rambo, so maybe moviegoers were living a little vicariously through a character they had grown to know and love over the past 40 years. 

Combining the real-world conflict in Burma with an iconic figure who became a symbol for American jingoism in the '80s may have been Stallone's attempt to reclaim some of the character's humanity. In "Rambo," John is a reluctant hero that seems more in line with the traumatized ex-soldier seen in "First Blood." The violence wasn't necessary, however, and may have actually undermined the character considering it has become the element that "Rambo" is most remembered for. With "Rambo: Last Blood," Stallone tried to retain a high threshold of violence (with a slightly toned down murder count) while still getting at the heart of what makes John Rambo relatable during the film's quieter moments.

Stallone should be busy with what could turn out to be multiple seasons of "Tulsa King." But if another "Rambo" film is on the horizon, maybe he can finally reconcile the two for a proper sendoff.