Guns of ‘Rambo III’ (1988)
Check out the unique Soviet-era eastern bloc firearms populating this second Rambo sequel.
THE SECOND RAMBO movie was an astonishing international success, breaking box office records all over the world, and cementing the character of John Rambo as a pop culture icon of the 1980s. Another sequel was inevitable. Stallone hit the gym and came back for the simply titled Rambo III, dropping the “First Blood” moniker and leaning into the sequel craze of the era in 1988. Sly was bigger, his hair was longer, the film’s budget had more zeroes, and this time, it was personal.
No seriously. That was one of the movie’s tag lines. And at the time, it wasn’t that unoriginal. The movie is fun and its pure Rambo, but it does have a feeling like the filmmakers were constantly trying to outdo the previous two movies, making it more a spectacle with far less meaning and emotional impact than either of the previous installments.
Instead of having to rescue nameless POWs from their captors in Vietnam, this time Rambo has to rescue his former mentor, Col. Sam Trautman, from a Soviet fort in Afghanistan. The plot has to do with Tratuman volunteering for a CIA mission to smuggle Stinger missiles to Afghani rebels (this really happened BTW) so they could stand a chance against the mechanized Soviet forces, namely their devastating helicopter attacks. Rambo refuses to accompany Trautman on the black bag mission, and his guilt and sense of duty compel him to go on the solo rescue mission after his former commander captured.
The movie is a bit heavy handed with its “get the Soviets out of Afghanistan” message, which was at the forefront of the political news when the movie began production—but when the movie was finally released, it came out a few days after the Soviets had officially pulled out of Afghanistan.
When Rambo III came out, the character had changed quite a bit in the public consciousness. Rambo 2 was a sequel to a somewhat sleepy post-Vietnam story that was unconventional but fairly subdued, so there were a lot of places to go.
The third movie had to pick up after the second movie made the character an 80s icon. In the late 1980s, Rambo was on all kinds of products, including lunchboxes, action figures, and all kinds of toy guns—not to mention a popular cartoon series. The long hair, headband, muscles, knife, and machine gun had become iconic.
So the only thing to do was make the third movie even bigger than the first. It has some high aspirations. Rambo had been in the forest, then the jungle and now he was going, prophetically, to the desert—which would become the primary environment of U.S.-involved warfare for the next few decades.
And sequels had become very common, hence the simplified title that ditched the “First Blood” moniker and just went with a big, bold “Rambo III.”
AKM with M203 Grenade Launcher
Rambo III is a strange movie, from a gun perspective. It’s also strange in that it helps make the titles of the Rambo film series one the first to actively confuse audiences, though there have been many since. First Blood was followed by Rambo: First Blood Part II and then we got, Rambo III, which was followed 20 years later by the fourth film, simply titled, Rambo. One could say the titles regressed.
But back to the guns, which are strange, especially for the time period. Originally, the entire film was set to be filmed in Israel, standing in for Afghanistan, with the opening filmed in Thailand, standing in for, well, Thailand.
After the events of Part II, we find John Rambo in Thailand, having retreated there after his return to Vietnam and subsequent double-cross by the CIA. He lives in a Buddhist Monastery, but when Col. Trautman goes looking for him, he finds his former protege living a double life, one of peace and service in the monastery acting as a carpenter, and one of violence, participating in vicious stick fights in a nearby village on the river for money, which he then gives to the monks.
Trautman, again in league with the CIA, has decided to embark on a dangerous covert mission in which he will be inserted into Afghanistan to help clear the way for the secret delivery of Stinger missiles to rebel groups fighting against the Soviet invaders. He wants Rambo to come along, but he says no. Trautman goes anyway and gets himself captured, and Rambo can’t live with that, so he sets off to rescue him on his own.
A number of scenes were filmed in Eilat, the southern most tip of Israel between Jordan and Egypt, using Israeli armorers to provide guns for the film.
Consequently, the first half of the movie is replete with accurate Soviet weapons of the time, something hardly any movie made in the 1980s can claim. Most American films of the era had to make due with Chinese AK copies and other modded weaponry and gear.
But, about halfway through filming, the spectacle of a major American movie being filmed int he Middle East drew a lot of attention. It didn’t hurt that *First Blood: Rambo Part II** had made the character, and Stallone, internationally famous. There were some terrorist threats made against the production, and in the film’s commentary, Stallone says he was near some type of security incident in which his bodyguards had to intervene. Regardless of the particulars, things got too dangerous and Israel revoked permission for the film to be made there, citing security concerns.
The movie wasn’t going to be scrapped, so the production was up and moved to the deserts of Southern California and Arizona. But all those accurate Soviet guns were still back in Israel. Stembridge Gun Rentals took over, according to imfdb.org, for the U.S. shoot and did the best it could to produce Soviet-looking guns.
As a result, the end of the film includes mocked up Browning M2 .50 Cal machine guns meant to look like real Soviet DShK 12.7 mm machine guns. If you pay attention, the accurate Soviet vehicles from the middle of the film are modified American tanks in the final battle.
Though there are numerous intercut scenes, the portion of the movie filmed in Israel with Soviet weapons ends roughly after the first prison escape, and the scene filmed in the U.S. with mocked up guns picks up from there.
JOHN RAMBO’S GUNS
AKM Rifle With an M203 Grenade Launcher
This film is also a departure in that Rambo doesn’t get his signature firearm or a variant of it, the M60 machine gun. Actually, he really doesn’t use any one gun for very in this film, frequently trading them out for guns he finds along the way. This makes a bit of sense in the context of the film. He makes his way to Afghanistan with the help of the CIA spook who was working with Trautman, so he can’t bring a lot of gear. When he meets his contact, he has some gear waiting for him: C4 explosives and timed detonators, a bow and explosive arrows from the previous film, his knife (presumabley), and some clothes and other gear, but no gun. After all, the plan was to silently get Trautman out and escape the enemy fort with nobody the wiser.
In fact, he’s not even carrying a gun during his insertion into the Soviet camp, only his knife and a bag of explosives, though he does pick up a carbine shortly after getting through the minefield.
The most distinctive gun he uses in this film is an odd one. During the final scene, after Rambo beats Sgt. Kourov (Randy Raney) hand-to-hand and sends him into a cavern at the end of a rope, after pulling the pin on a grenade hooked to his vest (yeah, it was pretty awesome), he picks up the Russian’s weapon: an AKM rifle with an M203 grenade launcher mounted under the barrel.
This is obviously a portion of the film shot in the U.S. First, the rifle is a Maadi ARM rifle with an aftermarket side-folding stock made for a Galil rifle, instead of an AK or AKM.
Second, the M203 40mm launcher was made to be attached to the M16 and M4 rifle platforms, not the AK-47 platform. At the time, the correct grenade launcher would have been the Soviet 40mm BG-15, which would have been mounted to an AK-74 during the Russo-Afghan war.
According to imfdb.org, the mating of an M203 to an AK was seen much later in the 21st century by militias in Africa out of necessity, but this was a pretty original looking arrangement in the 1980s, and made for a distinctive firearm, even if it’s highly inaccurate. In the photo above, you see the odd way Stallone has to hold the magazine in order to pull the trigger on the M203 launcher.
AKM and AKMS Rifles
During Rambo’s first attempt to rescue Trautman, he picks up an AKM rifle from a downed guard before making his way out of the Soviet fort, forced to leave Trautman behind when the kid from the village alerts the guards, and gets himself wounded.
The AKM and variants are used by both Mujahideen and Soviet soldiers as well as by Rambo and Trautman, throughout the film, however they alternate between real Soviet AKMs and Egyptian-made Maadi ARM rifles for the U.S.-filmed scenes.
During the fort escape sequence, many viewers assumed there were continuity errors, as Rambo’s gun changes a couple times. Actually, since he’s not carrying any magazines or pouches for them, Rambo simply keeps picking up fully loaded guns from downed bad guys along the way.
He enters the tunnel with Mousa Ghani (Sasson Gabai) and the wounded boy with a full stock AKM, but soon after uses a AKMS with a wire stock to break through the sewer grating. He actually discards his rifle along the way and takes Mousa’s AKMS for the task.
In the final battle, Mousa uses a Chinese-made Norinco Type 56-1 with an underfolding stock.
The first gun Rambo picks up upon entering the Soviet fort the first time is a Hungarian-made AMD-65 (Automatic Modified Paratrooper), which is a variant of the AKM. The rifle’s size makes it adequate for use as an infantry rifle as well as for use as a fire support weapon from an armored vehicle or tank.
The gun is fitted with a 12.6-inch barrel and a side-folding stock to keep it extra compact. It uses a specially designed muzzle brake in lieu of a gas expansion chamber to ensure reliable cycling. The brake reduces muzzle flash but makes the gun quite a bit louder. It also has a vertical fore grip for added control.
The brake on Rambo’s gun has been replaced with an Israeli Blank fire adapter. Several Soviet tankers are seen with the same gun and Trautman uses one at the beginning of the final battle.
When the Hind helicopter Rambo uses to evac himself, Trautman, and at least four other prisoners, crashes a the bottom of a canyon, he grabs his bow and a gun on the way out of the cabin…and perhaps most disappointingly for gun lovers watching, it’s never seen again.
The rifle is an SVD Dragunov, a particularly vicious looking semi-auto sniper rifle chambered in 7.62-54mmR that was developed in the Soviet Union around 1963. It was designed as a squad support weapon.
It’s entirely possible the gun in the film is a Chinese-made NDM-86, which was readily available on the commercial market in the late 80s, since that scene was likely filmed in the U.S.
When the movie was released on DVD, we found out that there were deleted scenes filmed of Rambo using the Dragunov to snipe a number of Soviet troops with Trautman acting as a spotter.
He thins the numbers of the pursuing soldiers until the rifle runs out of ammunition and is discarded as the pair heads into the caverns. Trautman calls the range at about 1,000 yards…so the shots Rambo ends up making off hand with a gun he just pulled out of a crashed helicopter are pretty amazing, LOL.
PKM Machine Gun
During the final battle with the Red Army, Rambo briefly uses a PKM machine gun, which one could say was the Soviet counterpart to the M60. This means the scenes of him using the gun with a 200-round box magazine attached were likely shot in Israel and inserted into the final battle footage.
Disguised Browning M2HB
The heavy machine guns are interesting in this film. During the final battle, we see Rambo use a machine gun mounted in a blue pickup truck driven onto the battlefield by the rebels. It’s actually a Browning M2HB .50-caliber machine gun fitted with a fake barrel shroud and muzzle brake to make it look vaguely Soviet, or at least, not like a Browning M-2, but if you take a close look at the receiver, it’s obviously a Ma Deuce.
DSkH 12.7mm Soviet Heavy Machine Gun
Earlier in the film, when the Soviet attack helicopters tear up the Afghan village, we get a rare cinematic look at an authentic DSkH 12.7mm Soviet Heavy Machine Gun, as this was almost certainly one of the scenes filmed in Israel.
The gun was often featured, made out of a mocked-up Browning M2, but this is the real thing, with it’s distinctive sights and non-disintegrating ammunition belt.
One of the guards at the base camp is also armed with a DShK and so is the clueless guard who Rambo sneaks up on when he goes back to the fort to rescue Trautman.
In what is possible a nod to the previous film, Rambo picks up an RPG-7 as he is escaping the fort the first time. He fires it from behind some large rocks and takes out an enemy truck, temporarily blocking the fort entrance and buying them some time to get away.
Since the scene is pretty dark, it’s tough to see if it’s a genuine RPG-7 or not. But the launch looked pretty good, even if the rocket was on a wire.
Rambo’s Hoyt Compound Bow
Although Rambo didn’t get his M60 this time around, he still got his bow and knife.
Making a second appearance in the franchise is Rambo’s compound bow, which was part of the gear he request Mousa have ready for him. It’s the same model from Hoyt used in Part II, but with some different accessories. The flashlight from Part II has been removed and an on-board arrow quiver has been added, instead of the bow bag doubling as a quiver like in Part II.
He first assembles the bow just after the helicopter crash, before he and Trautman descend in the caverns. He uses the first arrow with an explosive tip to take out a helicopter as it crests a hill.
He then uses the bow in a stalking scene, similar to those includes in previous films, which takes place in the canyons, which is made a bit more interesting as it takes place in complete darkness, though at least on of Rambo’s pursuers has night vision goggles. Rambo also attaches a blue cyalume lightstick to an arrow, which he fires into a bad guy, to distract his other pursuers and allow him to change position. He blows up another group of bad guys with an exploding arrow when they cluster too close together. The rest he either takes out by hand or with his knife—plus one kill for Trautman—which brings up my biggest gripe with this entire sequence.
Rambo takes out a bad guy and is surprised by another bad guy who comes up behind him. The Soviet commando has his rifle pointed right at Rambo, steps away, but he doesn’t fire. Why? Because he doesn’t have a freakin’ round chambered! He actually has to work the bolt on his gun, which gives us an extra couple seconds, and time for Trautman to shoot the dude from behind. There is no way in hell a trained commando would be searching for a dangerous enemy in a cave and not have his weapon ready to shoot.
If anything, this stalking scene is a bit short. I suppose there weren’t many visual things the filmmakers could do in a dark cave—but the point is, there’s none of the tension that was in the forest scene from the first movie or the rain in the jungle scene in the second…following along with Rambo’s pursuers as you wait for Rambo to spring from somewhere. Instead, it seemed more like a smash cut of Rambo’s Cave Kills. It was likely kept tight due to pacing concerns, and so that the hand-to-hand fight once Rambo climbs out of the cave could have a bit more time, which is fair.
The Rambo III Knife
Rambo also gets a knife, though its a major departure from the previous two blades he carried. Though Jimmy Lile was again contacted to create a new knife, he and Stallone couldn’t agree on a design. Stallone then went to knife maker Gil Hibben, known largely for his remarkable fantasy knives, who first created a knife based on Lile’s previous designs. It was a larger version of the same survival knife shape, but now inflated to bowie-knife size with more saw teeth and a blood groove in the center of the polished blade, as well as finger grooves in the hollow, cord-wrapped handle, which went back to being green like the knife from First Blood.
The knife even made it on set and can be briefly seen in a couple shots during the mine-field probing scene, but Stallone really wanted the character to have a bowie knife this time around instead of a survival knife.
The knife we see in the rest of the film is the distinctive and menacing bowie from Hibben with an angled stainless steel guard, rapier style handle, and a stainless steel butt cap.
The blade was over 12 inches, made of 440 chromium steel, and was .25-inches thick.
Instead of sawteeth, there is the suggestion of saw teeth on the blade’s spine with eight notches for the eight men who served in Rambo’s unit, Baker Company, in Vietnam. There is actually a deleted scene showing Rambo forging the knife himself in the monastery before embarking on the rescue mission to save Trautman. It’s pretty silly to think he could make such a refined product in such a facility in only one night..and perhaps that’s why it was scrapped. Stallone re-used the idea in the next film on a knife that looks like it was forged from a truck spring in the jungle.
The knife also has a distinctive slot cut into the blade, which it was assumed acted like a runnel to balance and lighten the big knife. In fact, in a prototype photo of the knife, it was revealed Hibben had intended for a Batman-symbol-looking horizontal blade to be inserted into the slot and locked with a spring-loaded release button—the purpose of which remains a mystery.
RAK Police Submachine Gun
Now here’s a gun you certainly won’t see very often on the silver screen. In fact, the only English language movies you’ll see it in are Rambo III and The Delta Force (1986).
The gun is a Polish-made submachine gun used extensively by Police Special Ops units and Airborne units, as well as police divisions while Poland was an active member of the Warsaw Pact. Its chambered in 9mm Makarov and is one of the few actual submachine guns issue behind the iron curtain in the post-war period between 1946 and the early 1970s. The gun was copied and produced without license as the Type 82 in China.
You might notice that the actor playing Col. Zaysen seems to work the slide when he draws it and when it’s pressed to Col. Trautman’s throat, it seems like the slide is locked open—this is due to the somewhat unusual operation of the gun.
The RAK is a selective fire, straight blowback firearm that uses a rotating barrel system. Like many submachine guns, it fires from an open bolt, but unlike most sub guns, it has a reciprocating external breech bolt, more commonly known as a slide.
The gun looks like the slide is locked open, but this means it’s ready to fire. When the trigger is pulled, the slide is released and driven forward by the return spring, stripping a round form the magazine and feeding it into the chamber. As soon as that cartridge lines up with the chamber, the extractor grips the rim and the gun fires while the slide is still moving forward. It is then driven back by the recoil of the round and the sequence starts over again.
Norinco Type 56 Rifles
While many genuine Russian-made AKs are featured during the fort scene, which was largely filmed in Israel, the big battle at the end of the movie was shot in the U.S., meaning firearms had to be sourced from different places. Instead of AK-47 rifles, Chinese-made Type 56 rifles were used instead. Since China supplied many Type 56 rifles to Mujahideen fighters via Pakistan during the 1980s, this is actually accurate.
Trautman’s AKM Rifles
There are a lot of genuine AKMs in the movie, especially in the first half that was filmed in Israel. When filming in the states, Egyptian-made Maadi ARM rifles were used to stand in for AKMs.
Both Rambo and Trautman use AKMs, and Trautman is clearly seen flicking the safety off on his AKM while listening for approaching helicopters while trying to facilitate the secret importation of Stinger missiles to the rebels at the beginning of the movie.
Fake Oerlikon 20mm Anti-Aircraft Gun
During the final battle, after Trautman is wounded in the shoulder, he mans a Oerlikon 20mm Anti-Aircraft gun, though they didn’t do a very good job at making its use look realistic.
Namely, it’s missing its rear sight and, more importantly, its missing a giant drum magazine that feeds into the top of the gun. So, we see Trautman firing an unloaded auto cannon.
And as we can see in several shots, the gun is actually an “acetylene gun,” which is a real gun mocked up with gas internals that simulate firing by ejecting bursts of flame from the muzzle—this is done often for large firearms and artillery pieces that would be simply too dangerous to actually fire, even with blanks, in front of the cameras.
Trautman fires it at an incoming helicopter at fairly close range, causing some damage. In reality, even a single 20mm round would likely tear right through that chopper at that range, taking it down instantly.
Token Gruesome Scene
For this movie, we get a throwback to First Blood as Rambo has to do a bit of self surgery. During the failed attempt to rescue Trautman from the Soviet fort, Rambo catches a piece of shrapnel in his side from an explosion. Its actually a fairly large piece of wood that goes clean through him. When first injured, Rambo he breaks off the giant splinter like an arrow so he can continue to fight.
Once he’s alone in the cave after he Musa, and the annoying kid escape, he reveals how much pain he’s actually in and rips his shirt open to expose the grievous wound. After washing it with some canteen water, he pushes the piece of wood out of the wound by jamming his thumb into the hole from the back. As if that’s not enough, he stops the bleeding by cauterizing the wound. He accomplishes this by dumping the propellant from a 7.62 round into it after knocking the bullet off with his boot knife.
He then sets fire to the propellent, causing a jet of fire to shoot out of both ends of the wound. On Blu Ray, The closeups of the piece of wood being pulled from the wound don’t look as real as they did on VHS, but the fire effect still holds up, still looks real, and still looks crazy painful.