30th anniversary FIRST BLOOD poster

Here is my poster for one of my favorite movies of all time, FIRST BLOOD, celebrating it’s 30th anniversary. Yep, this beast of a film was released back in ’82 when I was 5 years old. After doing the DRIVE poster late last year I knew for my next work I wanted to dive into the past a create something I loved as a kid. When Mystery Box asked me what film I wanted to create a poster for, this was my first pick. They worked their magic, and we’re just waiting on a bit of red tape.

I wasn’t allowed to see FIRST BLOOD when I was a little kid. My parents said it was too violent so they would never rent the VHS for me, but I always caught little snippets of it when I was over at friends’ places. This, of course, made the movie even cooler because it was outlawed in our house. Something dangerous. But toys weren’t out of the question. I remember my mom ordering me the Rambo toy knife kit out of a comic book, and I got the Rambo figure for Christmas in ’86. That rocket-launcher was awesome.

So to me (probably because of the rubber toy version), Rambo’s knife was one of the main characters of the film. He’s typically depicted with a big gun of some sort, but I knew for my poster I wanted that knife front and center. My favorite parts of FIRST BLOOD take place out in the woods as he’s beating up cops and the local makeshift army. Very natural scenery, with a Canadian tie as it was shot outside of Vancouver in a town called Hope. Other than sporadic outbursts, Sylvester Stallone’s character is relatively calm and determined during the movie. You never knew when he was about to cut loose. I wanted that reflected in my design rather than an action scene. Had to be about the character.

I did quite a few sketches, trying to dial in on the tone I wanted to hit and the elements I wanted to include. I then scoured the movie for some reference shots I could use before starting up the digital paints. Found the shot I wanted to work with and started some studies and final build. The original version had very different colours, but I switched to a palette that reflected those forest scenes I love so much. Here’s a few process shots.

And a close-up of the final to show a bit of the painterly detail.

This is my second movie poster completed to this extent. As some of you know I did my first poster drop a week and a half ago for DRIVE and it was turbulent at best. I hit snags at just about every step and lost quite a lot of sleep as I tried to smooth out the speed-bumps I encountered along the way. I took some knocks, but learned some valuable lessons and tips along with some very helpful information. I owe a huge thank-you to the kind people at Expresso Beans who reached out to me and lent a hand with kind words, encouragement and advice. You know who you are, and I really appreciate it.

So, what will be different? My representation Mystery Box has been hard at work to set up a system to get my (and other artists they represent) posters produced, sold and shipped. First and foremost, we will be working with the mighty D&L Screenprinting in Seattle, a reputable company who does tremendous screenprint work. The FIRST BLOOD poster was designed specifically with screenprinting in mind and I’m excited to move into this new territory. 24″ x 36″, thick paper with a vicious colour variant. Mystery Box has also set up it’s own storefront coupled with a fulfillment company. This will be the platform where my posters will be sold, along with other Mystery Box artists.

We will be moving into production next week, and once we are further along I will have the onsale information to post. As always with these things, it’s best to follow me on Twitter to get details quick.

“THEY drew first blood! NOT me!”


  1. Adam

    That looks awesome, and I remember that knife from growing up as well.

  2. Nice, but I’m not blown away as I was with the Drive poster. This just doesn’t have that “something”.



  4. love the “makeshift army” guys on the vest.

  5. Damn, you make me nostalgic.
    I had those toys back when I was a kid!

    Thanks for the memories.
    Great work by the way. I like it!

  6. CameronDuthie

    I just fell off my seat! That’s awesome man! I love how the army snuck in there too!

    This also throws off my earlier guess of The Muppets movie out the window, haha…or does it… :)

  7. Jonas

    Awesome as always!

  8. Jonas

    Awesome as always! All sexy vector ..

  9. Dude. Yes. Loving the greatness going on here! I hope you land a kickin deal with them too! Really great stuff, and what a creative solution to use the knife. That alone sets this apart, plus your execution is flawless.

  10. Sam Marks

    I would like to have seen something with actual imagery mixed with effects and typographic work. I’m not feeling this one as much as the the other works from your gallery e.g. The ‘Awesome” work, a really strong image with nice typographic work over the top mixed with some cool effects.

  11. Simon

    Gotta say I kinda agree with Leukocyt on this, was pretty hyped to see what was being worked on, but just not feeling it, especially compared to your earlier stuff which does kick arse. I certainly prefer the usage of typeface on the examples you showed, but I still just feel this has that kinda ‘auto trace’ feel about it. I don’t believe for one minute you did, but I think that’s why is looses that spark of difference, it almost could have been.

  12. HEY MAN,

    nice job!!!! I nearly forgot that I had that Rambo Survival Knife pack when I was young……….damn! Live Show tonight?


  13. james (Author)

    Thanks for the comments, gang.

    Sam and Simon, appreciate the feedback guys. When it comes to effects and things that you mentioned, this thing was built for screenprint so I couldn’t use any of the flares, fades or gradients found in earlier work. Trust me, it was hard to NOT go that direction after working there for so many years. This poster is a 5-colour job where all that other work was … dunno, a million. :)

    Just wanted to point that out. Not in disagreement or anything, just that this one is a different medium than all my previous work. Definite learning curve. Thanks guys.

  14. I like how you’ve hidden those soldiers in his vest. Nice detail!

  15. To me, from a visceral standpoint, this poster crushes the DRIVE one. Mainly because the movie is a huge part of my youth. Still watch it at least once a year. I hope I can land one of these suckers. Nice work, man.

  16. Looks sweet :-) You get the coolest projects. I’m also looking forward to see what it’ll give once screen printed.

    I’m actually liking the orange version (bottom right) better than the one you settled on, but that’s just me.

  17. Really nice! Have to agree with Chris, I prefer this to the DRIVE poster purely for the emotional content (both mine and John’s ;)
    First Blood is one of only a handful of movies that I have to watch until the end if I catch even one frame whilst channel-hopping (Quadrophenia being another).
    One question – what prompted the change to the sans-serif face in the final version?

  18. james (Author)

    Chris, appreciate the note man. Happy to hear that coming from a fellow old-schooler. Rambo was a staple of my childhood.

    Simon, thanks man. I’ll be honest, that orange scheme was really hard to let go of. I dig how it was coming along, but it just didn’t “feel” like the movie to me. Tone wasn’t right, so I put it aside … for now. Working on a neat varient where that might fit nicely.

  19. james (Author)

    Richard, right on. Thanks man. The original typeface I was using, and this may sound silly, was too wide making the title of the film too small for my taste. I had a look at the original Struzan poster (which I love) and wanted a similar kind of san-serif.

  20. Sweet, man! Got to love some old Stallone flicks. Just don’t challenge him to an arm wrestling match if he turns his hat around.

  21. Ryan Edison

    Looking good James! Love the army guys in the chest and the knife as well. I actually got one of those knives for Christmas one year when I was about 7! That sort of gift just doesn’t fly this day and age.

    Would liked to have seen a couple more ‘easter eggs’ like the army guys. Maybe a silhouette of Rambo falling from a limb in the background trees with the chopper off in the distance. Or something like that. But i’m no artist and too much could also take away from the poster. Again, it looks awesome and you totally captured the feel of the forest scenes.

    Well done…an easy +1 for me.

    SO GLAD to see you taking your work in this direction! It was hard to see all the mishaps you had with the Drive poster but you took it like a champ and your honesty with the situation was really appreciated. If the end result is we start getting screen prints of your work then everybody wins! We can be a finicky bunch over at EB but it’s only because we love the hobby so much. I am super stoked you have thrown your hat in the ring! I can’t wait to see how this looks in person… not to mention some future works. Cough Predator Cough Cough. ; )

  22. I REALLY like this one, James. The knife treatment is really well done, playing with positive and negative space, then hitting it with the white. I confess, I didn’t notice the camo/soldiers at first… I had to scroll back up to the poster and then had that “AHA” moment. I also congratulate you on how I think you captured that look of fear, energy, alertness, ready to attack feeling on Sly’s face! Nicely done. ~ Quig

  23. I dig it, only thing I would maybe change is placing more blood splatters on the “First Blood” text and maybe switching the Stallone to white, other than that, bang up job!

  24. Ryan

    Hope my above comments about Easter Eggs didn’t come off as pretentious or anything. As I said, I’m no artist.

    The more I see this poster the more it draws me in. The above comment about the “look of fear, energy, alertness, ready to attack” hit the nail on the head.

    Looking forward to the release info.

  25. james (Author)

    Kiren, so funny that you brought up the white “Stallone”. It was white right up until the last second then I switched it to red. In white it tended to bleed (heh heh) into the FIRST BLOOD text taking importance away from the title. Just one of those things that caused stress in that layout as I looked at it. I wanted it white initially because i only wanted the blood to be red. Design choice, it was a tricky one for sure.

    Ryan, never apologize for honest crits buddy! I appreciate all the feedback I get. Thanks man!

  26. The poster looks awesome! I really like the style of this and the Drive poster. I really think if you keep it up with these great posters then pretty soon you will be designing “official” movie posters.

    What do you think of the newest Rambo movie? I never get tired of watching it. It’s nice and short, and I love the end scene when he hops on the truck mounted gun.

  27. Mike R

    I think you should sell the orange “finished” one as a variant. It’s pretty badass looking, along with the finished version of course.

  28. John

    Awesome work dude…. one of my favourite movies growing up.

  29. Jeff Mills

    This is mediocre…. i wouldn’t personally hang it. I think you should stick to what you’re good at bro

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