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Why a small Canadian town erected a statue of Rambo

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John Rambo in 'First Blood'.

Not many action movie stars can claim that local citizens have built statues of their iconic movie characters. The Belgian city of Anderlecht built a statue of Belgium’s favorite son, Jean-Claude Van Damme. Although not a movie character, Columbus, Ohio, has a statue of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Sylvester Stallone’s “Rocky” was immortalized in the city of Philadelphia.

Sly Stallone has one up on all his action movie contemporaries, after a statue of his legendary character John Rambo went up in the small Canadian town of Hope, British Columbia. This one is a wood carving that looks like the Rambo of 1988’s “Rambo III,” made by artist Ryan Villiers of Edmonton, Alberta.

Stallone said on Instagram that Hope is where they shot the first of the “Rambo” movies, “First Blood” in 1981.

“First Blood” was almost an entirely different movie, with an entirely different message. Actors Robert Duvall, Gene Hackman and even Lee Marvin were all considered for the role of Sheriff William “Will” Teasle, ultimately played by Brian Dennehy. Col. Trautman was almost played by Kirk Douglas, Rock Hudson and George C. Scott.

It’s hard to imagine anyone else as John Rambo nowadays, but when casting “First Blood,” producers considered a wide range of other actors first. Steve McQueen, Robert DeNiro, Clint Eastwood, Paul Newman, Burt Reynolds, Al Pacino, Michael Douglas and Dustin Hoffman were all approached for the role.

Stallone would, of course, turn Rambo into a worldwide phenomenon, spawning four more movies, comic books, novels, and, of course, video games, each in the Rambo franchise. Now, that franchise includes a statue of the character, erected in the tiny town of Hope, British Columbia, where it all began.

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A wood carving of the Sylvester Stallone character John Rambo is seen in Hope, B.C., where the original 1982 film “First Blood” was filmed. (Emelie Peacock at the Hope Standard)

The statue of John Rambo went up in Hope in 2020, nearly 40 years after principal photography for “First Blood” began. The town and its residents are more than proud to be the birthplace of the Rambo franchise, even offering maps for self-guided movie location tours on its website. Its celebration of its place in the Rambo universe led the town to commission the statue from Ryan Villiers.

Villiers, despite being intimidated by the task of capturing Stallone’s unique look as Rambo from a hunk of wood using a chainsaw, has done a number of celebrity wood carvings. When Stallone himself gave it his blessing on Instagram, Villiers called the actor’s approval “the icing on the cake.”

Of course, over 40 years, the town of Hope (which, in the film, is set in the town of Hope, Washington State, not Canada), doesn’t look exactly the same. Some locations, such as the gun shop and the gas station, were built by the production with the express purpose of being blown up by Rambo. Wallace Street, where Rambo speeds away on a motorbike, and the tunnels into which he escapes are still there. The original “Welcome to Hope” archway is no longer there, though remains can be seen. The movie’s bridge to Portland, Oregon (in reality the Kawkawa Bridge), was dismantled in 2011.

Still, the town is a pleasant diversion from real life, stepping back into a movie that became an action movie classic, describing the plight of Vietnam veterans trying to reintegrate into society by calling attention to them with a great story and some well-placed explosions in an otherwise sleepy little town.