In the 2005 film Lord of War, Andre Baptiste Jr. calls for the arms dealing character played by Nicolas Cage to bring him the “gun of Rambo.” Cage retorts by asking, “Part One, Two, or Three?”
That exchange begs the question which gun the son of Liberia’s warlord actually intended. Rambo used a lot of guns over the course of three movies, and with the fourth movie released in 2019 even more firearms were used onscreen.
In 1982’s First Blood, Vietnam veteran John Rambo, played by Sylvester Stallone, carried an M60 machine gun. However, most firearms enthusiasts and movie buffs alike would argue the more iconic “gun of Rambo” is the modified M60E3, which was a lightweight version of M60. Carried in 1985’s Rambo: First Blood Part II it was the belt fed machine gun Stallone used when he returned to Vietnam to rescue some prisoners of war.
Fans of the movie seemed to like the weapon more than the actual warfighters who carried it. Developed in the early 1980s, the M60E3 was adopted by the United States Marines Corps in 1986. However, the decreased weight and shortened barrel led to reliability issues and it was prone to overheating.
The Action Star and His Guns
As one of Hollywood's most iconic action stars, and with a career spanning nearly five decades, Stallone has appeared in more than two dozen films where he carried some form of firearm.
Setting the stage for the roles to come, Stallone first appeared as “Machine Gun” Joe Viterbo in the 1975 B-movie Death Race 2000 where, despite a futuristic setting, his retro gangster character carried an M1928 Thompson. He next starred in the low-budget gangster film Capone, appearing as Frank Nitti—where he carried a Colt Detective Special and a Star Model B. The latter was a Spanish-made copy of the M1911 .45, but was chambered in 9mm. It was commonly used in Hollywood productions in the 1960s and 1970s as a stand in for the M1911 as it was more reliable with blanks.
Stallone may be remembered as much for his gun-toting characters as he is for playing Rocky Balboa, yet it wasn't actually until he starred in the 1981 neo-noir action thriller Nighthawks alongside Billy Dee Williams and Rutger Hauer that the Oscar nominee emerged as a true “action star.” He carried a number of firearms in that film including the Ingram Model 10 (MAC10) and M1911.
Just a year later he made First Blood, which introduced Rambo to the world as a veteran who seems to be suffering from PTSD. That film, which had an anti-war/anti-military theme, soon launched one of the most popular action franchises in history. While he carried a number of guns in the film, it was until the sequel Rambo: First Blood Part II came out in 1985 that Stallone could be seen armed with an AKM, RPG-7 and, of course, the M60E3.
Over the next thirty-five years, he starred in as many hits as misses on the big screen—wielding a variety of firearms along the way. Yet, unlike Clint Eastwood who has become iconic for carrying the Smith & Wesson Model 29 .44 Magnum or John Wayne with the Winchester Model 1892, there really hasn’t been a single gun tied to Stallone.
About the closest to an “iconic” Stallone gun could be the Kimber Gold Combat II, a modern M1911 which his character Barney Ross carried in all three of The Expendables films. Playing an aging mercenary, alongside other “over-the-hill,” action stars, the Kimber was also used along with the vintage Single Action Colt revolver—a possible statement to the fact that Ross and his colleagues were from another time.
Stallone’s most recent action outing was in 2019’s Rambo: Last Blood, and while he still carried a mix of firearms including an M16A1 and even an M1 Garand, there was nothing to match the M60 or M60E3. Perhaps it was best that Stallone let his most famous character go out on more subtle note.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.