The Massive Gun Heist That Hit The Set Of Rambo: First Blood

Odd and terrible things can happen on movie sets, from animals wandering into a shot to stunts going horribly wrong. One of the wildest stories we've heard happened decades ago on an iconic action film.

Blake Brown, professor of history at St. Mary's in Canada, recently tweeted about a gun heist on the set of the 1982 Sylvester Stallone film "First Blood." It's a pretty crazy story that was picked up by Vancouver media at the time and here's a taste:

"During the filming of First Blood in Vancouver in 1982, thieves stole a small aresenal [sic] used in the movie. The press reported that the stolen guns included two M-60 machine guns, fourteen M-16s, and eleven AR-15 semi-automatic rifles."

"First Blood" was directed by Ted Kotcheff and co-written by Stallone. He starred as Vietnam vet John Rambo, a character which would go on to appear in four other movies, including "Rambo: First Blood Part II," "Rambo III," "Rambo," and "Rambo 5: Last Blood." It even inspired an animated series, comics, video games, and a Bollywood remake. "First Blood" (which is also called "Rambo: First Blood") also starred Richard Crenna and Brian Dennehy.

Heavy Guns

Blake included a screenshot of a newspaper clipping from when this robbery happened. 

It says:

Heist netted heavy guns

Two light machine-guns have been added to the list of weapons stolen from the props truck on a movie set in this Vancouver suburb during the weekend.

Added to the list of weapons stolen from a locked and guarded truck at the First Blood Productions location in a forested area are two 7.62-calibre M-60 machine-guns.

Live ammunition

The machine-guns are belt-fed weapons mounted on tripods with a potential effective range of 1,000 meters when metal plugs in their barrels are removed to allow live ammunition to be fired at the rate of 500-650 rounds a minute

Also reported missing are: 14 automatic M-16 carbines, 11 semi-automatic rifles, two Belgian-weapons could be easily converted to fire live ammunition.

"At this point it's sketchy as to what happened and how the thieves got access to the weapons," said Elias.

The theft was discovered by production staff at 9 a.m. Saturday. The weapons were being used as props for a $12 million movie called First Blood which will star Sylvester Stallone, Kirk Douglas, Richard Crenna and Brian Dennehy.

Most of the Guns Were Recovered At Least

In the thread, Blake mentions that some of the guns were recovered and that three men faced charges:

"Three men, all members of the Canadian militia, were later charged with theft of the guns from the set of First Blood. By late 1984, authorities had recovered 15 of the 47 stolen guns, including the two M-60 machine guns."

The article clip attached to the second tweet says:

Three in court on weapons charges

Three Lower Mainland men — all members of the Canadian militia — appeared in North Vancouver provincial court Thursday, charged with the theft of weapons from the movie set of First Blood.

Richard Edward Gallant, 26, of 1081210 Falcon, Coquitlam, is charged with possession of stolen property and possession of a restricted weapon.

He was remanded in custody until today when he was to appear in court again.

Doublas Burgess, 20, of 4444 Gladstone, Vancouver, is charged with possession of stolen property and possession of a prohibited weapon.

He was released on bail of $1,000.

John Krahn, 29, of 3527 Tanner, Vancouver, is charged with possession of stolen property.

He was released without bail.

All three are members of the B.C. Regiment, said a police spokesman.

The weapons were stolen from the movie set of First Blood, starring Sylvester Stallone, during filming near Cleveland Dam on Jan. 23, 1982.

Police recovered 15 of 47 weapons, including two M-60 heavy machine-guns.

Also recovered were 12-gauge pump shotguns, M-16 U.S. military assault rifles, and AR-15 rifles, civilian versions of the M-16.

When the weapons were stolen, a Los Angeles gun expert said the weapons could be easily converted from firing blanks to live ammunition by removing a plug with a crescent wrench.

All three have been ordered to appear in court Jan. 4.

The Guns Were Supposed to Fire Blanks

Of course, the guns were not supposed to be firing anything other than blanks. However, as an AFI catalogue article on the film states:

"Superintendent Roy Byrne, investigating for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, noted that it would be fairly easy to make the stolen weapons fully operational."

After the incident, the set was reportedly put under heavy guard. Considering some of the tragic incidents that have occurred on film sets with blank-firing guns (the shootings on the sets of "Rust" and "The Crow" immediately come to mind), this is a perfect example of being better safe than sorry. After all, there were a number of issues on the set already, including some injuries sustained by Sylvester Stallone.

It's a fascinating thing to learn about, especially because film reporting wasn't as comprehensive (read: exhaustive) as it is these days with social media. Can you imagine the tweets about the Rambo gun heist if this had happened today?