The Rambo III Knife Replicas
Since the release of the movie "Rambo III" in 1988, the knife made famous in the film has become almost as iconic as the Rambo character himself. Gil Hibben designed and made the knife used by Sylvester Stallone in the film at Stallone's personal request. Gil and Stallone exchanged ideas and several prototype knives were made before arriving at the now famous Bowie style knife that was used in the film (See THIS LINK for more information about the development of the knife.)
Gil Hibben made several prototypes and copies for use in the film. He then made a limited edition of 350 handmade full size screen accurate copies from 440C stainless steel (the same as the actual movie knife). He also made a limited edition of 101 copies from Damascus steel and 1 from meteorite. Since the original series have sold out, Gil is making a second limited edition of 100 "RIII" knives that are full size handmade copies of the knife made famous in "Rambo III".
For the 2008 movie "Rambo", Gil designed and made the new machete style knife used by "Rambo". He also made some copies of the Rambo III knife from D2 steel that were to be used in the new movie but those scenes were edited out of the final cut. To see more of the Hibben knives or to order a handmade knife, please visit Gil Hibben's website at www.hibbenknives.com
Two manufacturers, United Cutlery and Master Cutlery/Hollywood Collectables Group, are making factory-made reproductions of the Rambo III knives. My purpose here is to show and compare the replica knives to the screen accurate knife. Since these knives are primarily purchased as collectables, I am reviewing aesthetic values only and I am not testing functionality.
For clarification, United Cutlery has actually made two versions of the replicas. United produced the first version, Model UC-201, in 1988 and it became one of the biggest selling knives ever with over 250,000 copies sold worldwide. United closed down after filing bankruptcy in 2007. The company name and remaining assets were purchased by another company and United Cutlery was restarted as a completely new company operating from a new headquarters in Thomasville, GA.
The new United Cutlery continued many of the knives from the old United catalog including the replica of the knife used in "Rambo III". However, United no longer has license to use the "Rambo" name as the license for the name was granted to Master Cutlery/Hollywood Collectables Group. Because of this, United named the new version of the knife "Hibben III" in honor of it's creator.
I feel it is important to note that Gil Hibben licensed United Cutlery exclusively to produce replicas of the knives that he designed for the "Rambo III" and "Rambo" movies. He did not grant permission to Master Cutlery to produce replicas of the knives and they are doing so without his consent and against his wishes. Master Cutlery has been granted license to use the "Rambo" trademark on items they market but they have not been granted license for the knife design by Gil Hibben. The official statement from Hibben Knives regarding the issue is as follows:
"For over 20 years we have used the “RAMBO” trademarks (currently owned by Studio Canal Image S.A.) in connection with the advertising and sale of the knives featured in the movies Rambo III and Rambo. While we strongly believe we still have the right to use the “RAMBO” trademarks, we have decided to temporarily discontinue such use in order to avoid a legal dispute with the trademark owner. We are, and will continue to be, the ONLY source of authentic reproductions of the knives used by Sylvester Stallone in the movies Rambo III and Rambo."
One more note before I get into the comparisons. Gil Hibben never wanted a full size factory-made reproduction of the Rambo III knife. Instead he granted United Cutlery license to make a scale replica of the knife that is a little shorter and has a thinner blade than the actual movie knife. There were two reasons for this:
1. Gil wanted to reserve the full size replicas for his handmade copies to protect the integrity and value of his limited edition handmade knives among his collectors.
2. The overseas factories do not have the tooling to produce blades thicker than 1/4 inch. The actual movie knife had a blade that was a thicker 5/16 inch. Since the factories are not capable of making the knife with the correct blade thickness, if they made the knife the full length and height but with a thinner blade the whole balance and feel of the knife would not be right. Instead Gil Hibben and United Cutlery scaled down the overall size of the knife to the point where it's balance and feel would be correct with the thinner 1/4" blade.
I have obtained four knives to photograph, measure and compare. I obtained these knives anonymously rather than requesting evaluation models from the manufacturers to avoid any possibility of the manufacturers "cherry picking" exceptional models for review.
The Original Rambo III Movie Knife
For our baseline comparison, here is an exact copy of the knife used in the movie handmade by Gil Hibben. The knife is 17 1/4 inches in overall length with a blade 11 7/8 inches long, 2 1/4 inches wide and 5/16 inch thick. The handle is made from solid Makassar Ebony and the guard and pommel are milled from stainless steel. These knives, like the actual movie knives, are completely handmade by Gil Hibben in his one-man shop in LaGrange, Kentucky.
Gil Hibben / Hibben Knives
This knife is a handful! However, even with it's massive nearly 2 1/2 pound weight it is very well balanced and comfortable in the hand. As you would expect from any of Gil Hibben's knives the quality, fit and finish are impeccable. The blade actually has three finishes. The hollow grind is a satin finish, the flats are hand rubbed (finely sanded), and the clip (false edge) is mirror polished. The blade is sharpened to a fine working edge.
This is one of a limited edition full size exact copies of the knife that Gil made for use in the movie. It comes with a hand signed Certificate of Authenticity, a handmade custom fitted leather sheath and a custom padded carrying case. The blade is serial numbered and bears an etching of Hibben Knives trademark and Gil Hibben's signature. As serious knife collectors are well aware, Gil's handmade knives often sell among collectors around the world for thousands of dollars and these are sure to increase in value over time.
The original United Cutlery "Rambo III" model UC-201
This knife was originally produced in 1988 and production continued for several years. This was a ground breaking knife in the industry as it was the first movie replica knife mass produced. It was a huge hit selling over 250,000 copies worldwide and led to many more movie replicas being produced in the years to come. United also made two special limited editions of this knife; the "10th Anniversary Edition" released in 1998 and the "Special Edition" released in 2000. These knives are exactly the same as the original model except for different markings on the blade and handle.
As explained above, this is a scale replica that is 1.25 inches shorter than the actual movie knife and has a 1/4 inch thick blade that is 1/16 inch thinner and thus somewhat lighter in weight than the movie knife. It is well balanced and feels very good in the hand. The blade finish is a rubbed satin finish.
The blade is made from 420J2 stainless steel (often referred to as surgical stainless steel). Some knife collectors are put off by this but it is a good steel for a collectable such as this. 420 stainless is one of the most rust and stain resistant stainless steels that you can get (even more so than the much more expensive 440C stainless) so it will maintain it's finish very well. 420 is somewhat "softer" than higher grades of stainless meaning that it will not hold an edge as well as 440C but it is does take a good edge and hold it reasonably well and it is relatively easy to sharpen when needed. 420 is a very tough steel meaning that it is impact resistant and not likely to break under chopping impacts.
The handle is attractive wood and contoured a bit more than the actual movie knife. I also notice that the stainless steel guard and pommel are shaped a little differently than the movie knife with a bit more of a flare at the bottom. The knife comes sharpened with a decent working edge. The leather sheath is good quality and fits the knife well. It is embossed with "Rambo III" on the front and has a Gil Hibben signature snap on the retaining strap. These knives came with a Certificate of Authenticity.
Although this knife has been out production for several years, over 250,000 of them were made and new in-the-box knives can still be found at knife dealers and online auction sites.
The NEW United Cutlery "Hibben III" model GH-201
The new model is very close to the original model produced in 1988. The only difference that I can see are that the handle is a little smaller in diameter and 3/16" longer than the previous United Cutlery version. Other than the slight handle difference everything else is pretty indistinguishable from the previous version described above.
The handle is just slightly thinner than the original United Cutlery version but it makes a noticeable difference in the feel of the knife. I don't know why they changed it. Maybe they wanted to make it a better fit for smaller hands. In any event, being very familiar with the Rambo knives, it was the first thing thing that I noticed when I picked it up. It just feels different and the balance is a little different. The appearance is good as is the fit and finish. The blade tang fits snugly in the handle and the knife has a good, solid feel. The blade has a nice rubbed satin finish and is etched with "Hibben III" along with the Hibben Knives trademark and Gil Hibben's signature. The knife came with a reasonably sharp working edge with an even grind.
The handle is handsome laminated wood with attractive grain. The spacers between the wooden handle and the stainless steel guard and pommel is evenly trimmed and there are no visible gaps in the assembled knife. The leather sheath is embossed with "Hibben III" on the front and the Hibben Knives logo on the strap. The sheath has a nice finish and the stitching is straight and even.
Overall, I think it is a nice movie scale replica and good value for the price. Personally, I think the handle is a little too small and I wish United had not changed it.
The Master Cutlery/Hollywood Collectables Group "Rambo III" model MC-RB3S
This knife is being offered in three versions:
It is my understanding that all three versions are exactly the same except for the markings on the blade and different Certificates of Authenticity.
The knife is advertised as being "the first time ever that a full size licensed factory reproduction of the actual knife used in the movie has been available". However, the actual movie knife is 17 1/4 inches in overall length with a 11 7/8 long, 2 1/4 inch wide, 5/16 inch thick blade. The Master Cutlery "full size" knife is a bit too long at 17 7/8 inches (advertised as 18 inches). The blade is also not accurate at 12 1/4 inches long (advertised as 13 inches), and only 0.20 inches thick rather than an accurate 0.31 inches thick.
The blade has a rubbed satin finish is is etched with "Rambo III" and a "John Rambo" signature along with a serial number. There is no Hibben logo or any mention of the designer. It has a laminated wood handle and comes with a leather sheath embossed with "Rambo III" and a "John Rambo" signature. The box is very similar to the United Cutlery versions in design.
Yes, I do have some bias and will state that clearly right up front. Master Cutlery and Hollywood Collectables Group made these knives and are selling them against the wishes and with no input from it's designer and creator, Gil Hibben, and give no recognition or compensation to Mr. Hibben for selling his design. As a knifemaker and collector I am very much against any company that knocks off other peoples designs and pockets the profits gleaned from others creativity and hard work without giving the rightful owners of the designs any recognition or compensation. With that said, I will do my best to me as honest as I can in my review and I will clearly illustrate my findings with detailed photographs.
My immediate first impression is the feel of the knife is all wrong. The handle is much too big and the thin 0.20 inch thick blade is simply too thin for a blade this large. This gives the knife an awkward "clunky" feel. The guard and pommel are also too thick adding to the clunky feel.
Next I noticed that the grind lines are soft and washed out looking and not crisp and clean like the other reproductions or the movie knife. I also noticed the milling of the slot in the blade is rough.
I was suspicious of the handle. It is advertised as laminated hardwood but I was not convinced that it was not plastic. I tapped the handle with my knuckle and I could hear and feel the tang of the blade rattle inside the handle. I had to investigate. I removed the handle and found that by looking at the unfinished inside portion it does indeed appear to be wood. However the slot for the tang is cut too large thus making a very loose handle fit and resulting in the hollow rattle that I heard and felt.
The blade is even thinner than the smaller scale replicas from United Cutlery and considerably thinner than the actual movie knife. Pinging the blade with my finger produces a tinny sound and the lack of thickness makes the blade disproportionately light especially with the oversized handle. The blade does have a reasonably sharp working edge. The fit of the guard and pommel is reasonably good with no visible gaps or voids.
The leather sheath is embossed with ""Rambo III" and a "John Rambo" signature. The stitching is a little uneven and sloppy. The knife does not fit the sheath well as the risers meet the guards before the knife goes all the way into the sheath. I also noticed that the surface of the leather on the retaining strap was breaking up where it bends over the guard.
Overall, in spite of my bias, I am not impressed. I am sure Master Cutlery/Hollywood Collectables wanted to make a bigger "full size" replica than their competitors but in doing so they missed the mark. The dimensions are wrong not only negating the accuracy but also affecting the appearance, feel and balance. The "full size" replica is 18% lighter than the actual movie knife due to the lack of steel in the blade making it much too light in the blade. The oversized handle and guard along with the ridiculously thin blade for it's size just makes it all wrong. Add to this, the ill-defined grinds, poor milling in the slot and an unimpressive sheath, it just does not measure up to expectations of an accurate replica or a quality knife.
I am also put off by the advertising associated with the Master Cutlery "Rambo III" knives. I noticed some claims that I feel are untrue and misleading. I think other claims are questionable. For example:
Below are some side-by-side comparisons of the replicas and the movie knife.
The biggest thing I noticed here was that the "13 inch" blade as claimed by Master Cutlery is wrong. It is actually 12 1/4 inches when properly measured from the tip to the center of the guard. Regardless of how you measure it, it is not 13 inches. Also, the Master Cutlery knife's 18 inch overall length is about 3/4 inch longer than the actual movie knife.
Blade grind and finish comparison
The grind lines on the Master Cutlery knife are not as crisp and clearly defined as they are on the other two knives.
You can clearly see that the Master Cutlery blade, even though it is the largest of the three, is the thinnest blade.
Here we can see the balance point of the three knives. I balanced each knife on a wooden dowel rod to determined it's point of balance.
The master Cutlery knife balanced at a point approximately 5/8 inch forward of the guard. The Master Cutlery knife balanced closest to the guard indicating more weight in the handle.
The Hibben handmade knife with the thicker blade balanced approximately 1 5/8 inches forward of the guard indicating more weight in the blade.
The United Cutlery knife balanced approximately 1 inch forward of the guard which would fit the scale of the Hibben knife.
Fit and Finish
Sheath Stitching and Finish
If you want an authentic screen accurate copy of the movie knife, there is only one real choice, a handmade Gil Hibben replica. Of course the handmade knives are rather expensive and very limited in number.
Of the factory replicas, neither United Cutlery of Master Cutlery really nail it.
United Cutlery's "Hibben III" is a pretty accurate scale replica. Since the factories are not equipped to produce an accuarte 5/16 inch blade, I think it was the right move to scale the knife down slightly to retain the correct balance, feel and scale with a 1/4 inch blade. The knife looks good, feels very solid, and exhibits good quality, fit and finish. It has a nice sheath even though some collectors would prefer not having "Hibben III" embossed on the front. I am disappointed that United made the handle smaller than the previous version. People who have not handled the previous knives or the movie knife won't notice the difference but I immediately detected the different feel of the knife with the smaller handle.
Master Cutlery's "Rambo III" is obviously a scaled up replica of the previous United Cutlery Knife and not copied from an authentic movie knife. Enlarging the knife to 18 inches in length and adding an oversized handle while using a blade that is just slightly thicker than 3/16 inch really throws this one off. The feel and balance is all all wrong, The thin tinny blade and the tang rattling inside the handle really scream "cheap". The sheath is fair at best with a poor fit, sloppy stitching and leather already cracking off the retain strap right out of the box. This example of Hollywood Collectables venture into knives shows that they should stick to what they know, making bobble heads.
If you want a Rambo III knife replica, buy a handmade Hibben or a Hibben authorized United Cutlery replica.