In the Rambo book, Shortly after David Morrell’s novel was published in 1972, Columbia Pictures bought the filming rights, which were then resold to Warner Bros. Ted Kotcheff was offered the project, picking out of many screenplays the one done by Michael Kozoll and William Sackheim. While Kotcheff was prepping the movie, Warner decided to pull the plug as they thought Vietnam was too recent and the film was not going to work. Kotcheff only returned to work on First Blood after Mario Kassar and Andrew G. Vajna of Anabasis offered to finance one of his projects. Kotcheff offered the role of John Rambo to Sylvester Stallone, and the actor accepted after reading the script through a weekend.
Long before Stallone was hired to play Rambo, other actors were being considered for the role such as Clint Eastwood, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, Nick Nolte, John Travolta, Dustin Hoffman, Ryan O’Neal, James Garner, Kris Kristofferson. Terence Hill, as recently confirmed during an interview to an Italian TV talk-show, was offered the role but rejected it because he considered it “too violent”. Dustin Hoffman and John Travolta declined the role for the same reason. When Al Pacino was considered for the role of John Rambo, he turned it down when his request that Rambo be more of a madman was rejected.
For the role of Sheriff Teasle, the producers approached Academy Award winners Gene Hackman and Robert Duvall but both turned the part down. Lee Marvin, another Oscar winner, turned down the part of Colonel Trautman.
Various screenplays adapted from Morrell’s book had been pitched to studios in the years since its publication but it was only when Stallone, who at the time had limited success outside of the Rocky franchise (most of his non-Rocky films either barely broke even or were flops altogether), decided to become involved with the project that it was finally brought into production.
Stallone’s star power after the success of the Rocky films enabled him to rewrite the script, to make the character of John Rambo more sympathetic. While Morrell’s book has the Rambo character violently kill many of his pursuers – Kozoll and Sackheim’s draft had him killing sixteen people – in the movie version Rambo does not directly cause the death of any police or national guardsmen. Stallone also decided to let Rambo survive the film instead of keeping the book’s ending where he dies, stating that after Rocky he felt that the protagonist should not be killed. A suicide scene was filmed but Kotcheff and Stallone opted to have Rambo turn himself in at Trautman’s urging.
Prior to Stallone taking the lead role, Steve McQueen expressed interest in it. When David Morrell wrote the novel in 1972 the producers first considered McQueen but then rejected him because they considered him too old to play a Vietnam veteran from 1975.
Just before shooting began, Kirk Douglas quit the role of Colonel Trautman over a script dispute; Douglas wanted the film to end as the book did, with the death of the Rambo character. Rock Hudson was approached but was soon to undergo heart surgery and had to pass up the chance to work with Stallone. Richard Crenna was quickly hired as a replacement; the role of Trautman became the veteran character actor’s most famous role, his performance of which received much critical praise.
The film was shot in British Columbia, Canada in the winter. The town scenes in the movie were shot in Hope, while the rest of the movie was shot in Golden Ears Provincial Park and Pitt Lake in Pitt Meadows. The weaponry used in the film had to be imported into Canada. Over 50 of the imported firearms were stolen midway through the filming