Some blades in fiction are famous because of the people who carried them, and sometimes, it’s the other way around. These are some of the coolest knives ever featured on the silver screen, and the characters who carried them.
John Wick’s Microtech OTF Knives
While John Wick (Keanu Reeves) uses swords, knives, and hatchets in numbers too high to count in the most recent third installment of the series, and he’s mostly a firearms-focused dude, in the original John Wick and John Wick: Chapter 2, the titular assassin and vengeance seeker carries a particularly awesome knife to round out his arsenal.
In the first film, we see him slide a Microtech Ultratech OTF knife into a Velcro sheath on his ankle. The “OTF” stands for “Out The Front”, meaning the blade fires out of the handle and locks in place with the push of a button rather than folding into the handle. Press the button the other way, and the blade is retracted back into the handle — kind of like old school gravity knives on steroids. They’re a little impractical for every-day carry and use, but they possess untold amounts of cool and they vibe perfectly with Wick’s aesthetic and tactics.
Wick uses the Ultratech to take out several Russian bad guys as he infiltrates the Red Circle club, at least, until things get noisy. It’s one of the few times I’ve seen a Microtech knife in a big film, though we barely see the knife at all in the first JW movie. (A red Microtech Halo V knife got a good amount of screen time in Bullet to the Head (2012), which is really the only reason to watch that movie.)
In the second film, Wick uses a different Microtech OTF model, the slightly larger Combat Troodon, that he keeps in his pants pocket. We get a really good look at the knife and its OTF action during the knife fight on the subway with Cassian (Common), who is using a double-edged fixed blade fighting knife, which John leaves in his chest after his Troodon is batted away, though he does remember to pick up his Microtech before leaving the train car — they’re expensive, after all.
Crocodile Dundee’s Bowie Knife
It’s one of the most famous knives in movie history because of one scene and one line of dialog. When Mick Dundee (Paul Hogan) follows reporter Linda Kozlowski (Sue Charlton) from his home in the Australian outback to 1980’s New York City in Crocodile Dundee (1986), we see him experience a culture shock that is a mirror of what Linda experienced during the first half of the movie while visiting Australia, but he takes it all in stride.
At home, Mick carries a large bowie knife (in a croc-skin sheath of course) with him everywhere, and he pretty much does the same in the city, until some nice NYPD officers tell him he shouldn’t do that anymore. In the Outback, Dundee proves to be extremely effective with his large knife, using it to shave and stab a giant crocodile through the head with equal skill.
The particular scene that everyone knows, if they’ve seen the movie or not, has a simple set-up: a young street criminal approaches Mike and Linda while they’re walking through the city. He’s outfitted as all muggers apparently were in the 80s, like a reject from a new wave band in a shiny red pleather knock-off Members Only jacket, matching headband, and armed with an old-school switchblade. He brandishes and demands Mick’s wallet as his two buddies come into view.
Linda: “Mick, give him your wallet.”
Mick: “What for?”
Linda: “He’s got a knife.”
Mick: (laughing) “That’s not a knife.” (draws a giant bowie from a sheath under his jacket) “That’s a knife.”
The would-be mugger literally drops his little switchblade in fear at the sight of the bowie knife. Mick then proceeds to slash up his shiny red jacket with the huge blade before sending them scampering off. Is it corny? Totally. Is it a glorious display of ridiculous 80’s bravado that got a lot of people to buy impractically large bowie knives in the late 1980’s? Absolutely.
Tom Brown Tracker from The Hunted
Knives are practically a character in The Hunted, the story of CIA black ops soldier Aaron Hallam (Benecio Del Toro) who suffers from extreme PTSD and is being hunted by the people he once worked for…or is he?
He’s an expert assassin who is particularly adept with a knife, which is on full and bloody display in the movie’s first scene, set during the Kosovo War.
The man who trained him to use a knife and taught him wilderness skills, L.T. Bonham (Tommy Lee Jones), is brought in by the FBI to help track Hallam after he kills some hunters in the woods. The film leaves it in the air as to whether or not the “hunters” were actually CIA hitmen, as Hallam believes them to be. (TRIVIA BIT: This movie was originally envisioned as a prequel and first entry in a film series based on Stephen Hunter’s Bob Lee Swagger books. Instead, the studio later made Shooter (2007) starring Mark Wahlberg based on Hunter’s novel, Point of Impact.)
While this film isn’t the most realistic in terms of martial arts, spec ops, field craft or physics, it’s a pretty great ride and the knife Hallam uses throughout is distinctive, menacing, and a real-life survival knife — the Tom Brown Tracker.
The knife was designed by Tom Brown Jr., a naturalist, tracker, survivalist and author who runs the Tom Brown Jr. Tracker School in New Jersey. He wanted it to be the ultimate all-in-one wilderness tool that cuts like a knife, chops like a hatchet and can perform a number of woodworking tasks that can be difficult for a normal knife. Brown worked as a technical advisor for this movie, which ended up heavily featuring his knife. The exposure resulted in a surge in demand for the handmade blade, and TOPS USA has been mass-producing it ever since.
Hallam carries his Tracker in a horizontal sheath, scout style, on the back of his belt in the first act. It is presumably taken by the authorities when he is apprehended after being shot with a tranquilizer dart. After visiting his girlfriend and his footlocker that he has stashed in her house, he’s carrying a new Tracker knife in the same kind of sheath, along with another more conventional fixed-blade knife.
Hallam loses this Tracker when he jumps off a bridge in Portland to escape authorities. When he washes up downriver, he makes a primitive knife from a steel leaf spring that he pulls from the rusted remains of a truck in the woods. He uses a campfire to heat the spring and another hunk of steel as a hammer and shapes it into a blade with the rough shape of the Tracker Knife. This is likely impossible and a big waste of energy even if it were — and it caused the movie to catch a lot of flak from the survival community when it was released. Conversely, Bonham hand-knaps a stone knife in preparation for the final face-off, though it breaks during the big fight.
The Rambo Knives
No other film character is as synonymous with knives as John J. Rambo (Sylvester Stallone). Rambo’s knife in First Blood (1982) was so different from what was on the market at the time, and so freaking cool, that practically everyone who saw the movie wanted one. From then on, any large survival knife with sawteeth and a hollow handle became known as a “Rambo Knife.” There are now five films in the Rambo franchise, and the character has used six different primary knives on screen (he uses a few throwing knives here and there, too), though the first two are the most iconic.
The original First Blood knife was designed by a renowned Arkansas knifesmith, the late Jimmy Lile. The movie knife had a 9” flat-ground blade with a grey bead-blasted finish in the center with brightly polished edges all the way around, which looked great on camera. The knives Lile made for the movie were constructed of D2 tool steel and the spine of the blade featured 14 split saw teeth. Though you can’t really see it on screen, the ends of the guard are flat and Philips head screwdrivers. The guard also has holes for lashing it to a stake to create a spear, as Rambo does in the first movie.
The famous hollow handle was also made from D2 steel and was wrapped in 36 feet of green nylon paracord and sealed with lacquer. In the movie, Rambo keeps a small survival kit in the waterproof hollow handle, including matches, fishhooks and line, and a sewing kit (great for stitching up your own arm). The cap of the handle contains a compass on its underside and is made of aluminum, so as to not interfere with the compass.
The knife was, all at once, imposing, elegant and tactical for 1982, and when audiences saw it, EVERYONE had to have a Rambo Knife. This, of course, led to a bunch of licensed, mass-produced copies of Lile’s design that were mass-produced from average materials, as well as a whole lot of knock-off knives of varying aesthetic quality that were all pure junk. Lile also continued to make the knife to order until his death in 1991.
For the sequel, Rambo: First Blood Part 2 (1985), Lile created an updated version of the Rambo knife with a blade that was wider and an inch longer that the first one. Instead of bead blasting the center of the blade, this knife sported a black finish with highly polished edges that looks outstanding on-screen and in person. A black cord-wrapped handle replaces the original green, and the cap included a skull-crusher point. If the first movie made the Rambo knife famous, the sequel made it ubiquitous.
Today, there are some pretty decent and affordable replicas of the first two Rambo knives, and you can buy handmade versions that are almost identical to the movie knives, in either presentation or utility-grade, for $2,000 to $2,500 each from JimmyLile.com.
Sylvester Stallone, an avid knife collector, wanted something different for Rambo III in 1988, and after he and Lile couldn’t agree on a design, Lile recommended knifesmith Gil Hibben, famous for his many fantasy and fighting knife designs. The Rambo III knife is a large bowie knife instead of a survival knife, with an 11.75” blade that’s 2.25” wide, a wood handle, and an angled stainless steel guard and stainless butt cap that give it an unusual grip profile. And that distinctive slot in the blade? Well, an earlier version of the knife that Hibben built featured a goofy double-axe-head-looking blade that snapped into that slot. The second blade was ultimately ditched, but the slot was retained because it looked cool.
In Rambo (2008), John forges his own knife in his riverside blacksmith shop on a tight deadline, and the resulting blade appropriately looks more like a crude machete with a massive 12.25” blade and a cord-wrapped handle finished in black tape. Hibben designed this knife as well. The new Rambo knife garnered some fame of its own from the now-famous scene where Rambo decapitates a bad guy with one vicious swipe of the huge blade.
For Rambo: Last Blood (2019), German designer Dietmar Pohl created Rambo’s new knives. The main knife used in the film is Pohl’s MK-9 Sub-Hilt Fighter, which was dubbed the Heartstopper for the movie. It has a full-tang, contoured 9” blade with a thick titanium guard and a handle made from slabs of green canvas Micarta, harkening back to the original knife. There’s also a pronounced skull crusher point on the pommel and a tab on the tang that goes between the index and middle finger when holding the knife.
So there you have it, my take on the coolest movie knives of all time. Do you agree, or remember some you think I should have included? That’s the great thing about being a movie fan — we can all have our own favorites!
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