Back on Halloween, Adrian Canton posted a great article on the legendary weapons of the 007 franchise. I’ll not steal his thunder, especially since his article inspired this one by getting me thinking about other famous firearms in cinema and TV history. Go read the whole thing. It’s well-done and very interesting.
And while you’re here, make a note to check out the incredible Internet Firearms Database. If you like film and firearms half as much as I do, you’ll be able to waste days in there just surfing for your favorite weapons and characters. Much of the information in this article was either sourced or fact-checked by those fine folks. Give ‘em a look, why don’t you?
Firearms have always held a special place in American culture; though for a long time, firearms were so common as to be merely a tool in the mind of the average American. It put food on the table, defended the family from predators, and served as a deterrent to bad men with bad intentions. But as grocery stores, cities, and police forces grew more common in the post-WWII era, the need to own and become an expert with a firearm began to vanish for the average American. Heroes doing amazing things with guns became the realm of Hollywood, with the Golden Age gun writers like Elmer Keith, Ed McGivern, Jeff Cooper, and Bill Jordan carrying the banner of “real” firearm culture. And though those great men birthed an amazing legacy that continues today, the images on film and screen still drive the popular conscience about firearms.
The average American might not know a nickel’s worth of difference between a .38 and a 9mm. But they will surely recognize Dirty Harry’s iconic revolver, or that staple of action films, the Beretta 92. Broadly speaking, any firearm to an Average Joe is a “gun” – a menacing, fire-breathing, implement of death carried by good guys and bad guys alike. And with the rise of “realistic” first-person shooter video games (think Call of Duty or Battlefield), a new generation of American kids are becoming at once highly-familiar and uneducated about firearms. They talk about “.45s”, or “shotties”, or Glocks…and every time, we feel like Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino, growling at the kids to get off our lawn. It’s truly incredible how popular culture has both managed to take the mystery out of the firearm, and still leave so many unaware of the joys of shooting and firearm ownership.
But this isn’t a rant about how kids are dumb and disrespectful, or how movies are ruining the image of an American symbol of freedom, or any of that. This is about celebrating some of the most iconic firearms on film and screen, and remembering how awesome it was to experience them the first time through the medium of the movies and TV.
Smith & Wesson Model 29 – Dirty Harry
The first, and probably most mythical, of these entries is “Dirty” Harry Callahan’s gorgeous Smith & Wesson Model 29 revolver with the 6” barrel, chambered in .44 magnum. Having fired that round myself, I’m in no position to disagree with his notion that it was at one time the most powerful handgun in the world. Obviously, there are bigger and heavier handgun loads these days, but the Model 29 remains for many the defining “big boy” gun of all time.
Custom 1911 – Wanted
Angelina Jolie’s character in Wanted, Fox, carried a beautiful custom 1911 for much of the film. The base model was a Safari Arms Matchmaster .45, with ivory grips and intricate engraving added for cosmetic appeal. While the weapon itself is a thing of beauty (much like the owner), it sadly doesn’t grant the shooter the ability to curve bullets in flight. There were many excellent standard and custom firearms used in the film, but this one wins by taking the “barbecue gun” to a whole new level.
Colt Police Positive – Death Wish
Like the man himself, Paul Kersey’s .32 Colt Police Positive revolver was both practical and just a little flashy. While future bad guys in the Death Wish series would meet their maker at the hands of much larger weapons (a rocket launcher!), the iconic little nickel-plated revolver remains one of the neatest handguns in film history. However, regardless of what he’s carrying, everyone can agree that Charles Bronson’s character is the most dangerous architect in history.
IMI Desert Eagle Mk. 1 – Snatch.
Bullet Tooth Tony’s everyday-carry piece is quite a load. While he claims it’s a “Desert Eagle point-five-oh”, the Mark 1 wasn’t available in the .50AE cartridge. Nevertheless, it’s a beastly-looking piece, and the .357/.44 offerings of the Mark 1 are no pussycat rounds. For many, Snatch. was their first glimpse of the legendary IMI handgun, and who better to wield it than Vinnie Jones’ psycho Tony? Let’s just try to forget that every kid in America now calls it a “Deagle”, shall we?
Ruger KP90 – Desperado
While many red-blooded males perhaps remember Desperado mostly for introducing them to the lovely Salma Hayek, a great number of guys likely think first of El Mariachi’s guitar case arsenal. There were a large number of incredibly-cool firearms on display in the movie, including the Wildey Magnum, Beretta 93R, and the Sentinel Arms Stryker 12 shotgun. But my choice from this film’s offerings is the lightly-customized, matching Ruger KP90s that El Mariachi carries up his sleeves like a hidden Ace. Sixteen .45 rounds is certainly one heckuva trump.
M60 – Rambo films
Quick, how many characters were killed in the first Rambo film? One. That’s amazing, considering that the enduring image from the series is Sly Stallone toting an M60 machine gun and a long belt of 7.62 ammunition. Granted, future film installments up the kill count slightly, but it was a shock to my childhood memories to discover that only one guy died in First Blood. Anyhow, John Rambo is an iconic character, and his most famous weapon is the M60, so it makes the cut. And unlike several of the firearms on this list, the M60 is probably one of the few weapons an average person could specifically name.
Colt AR-15/M203 – Scarface
You knew a list of great movie guns couldn’t pass without mentioning Tony Montana’s “Little Friend”. Like Scarface, this AR-15 was loud, angry, and deadly. Modified with an M203 grenade launcher (okay, it was a very, very fake one, but work with me here) and an apparently-bottomless supply of ammunition, the Little Friend is easily one of the most recognizable firearms in cinema history.
Stoeger Coach Gun – Army of Darkness
Ash’s double-barreled shotgun is immortalized by one simple declaration: “THIS is my BOOMSTICK!” It’s quite the firearm that could distract from Ash’s other “enhancement” – a chainsaw arm. Several of the stop-motion animated undead met their demise at the end of two short barrels of justice. No word on how many simply ran in fear of the mighty coach gun. (Side note: Army of Darkness is easily the best of the Evil Dead trilogy. No question about it.)
Glock 21 – Justified
A foolish man makes Raylan draw down. Over the course of three excellent seasons, Deputy U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens has racked up quite the body count, several of them with Gaston Glock’s G21 in .45 Auto. Raylan also carries the 9mm “Baby Glock” G26, but more often than not, when a suspect forces Raylan to pull it’s the G21 we see dispensing frontier justice to the bad guys.
Walther PPK – 007 Franchise
The legendary Walther PPK has long been 007’s carry weapon of choice, but as Adrian already covered the weapons of Bond in excellent detail, I’ll not go into it further. It just felt right to give it an acknowledgement in this list of other famous firearms.
As we can see, the American fascination with firearms has permeated nearly every part of our culture. Though they are but fairly uncomplicated machines, they represent so much more – safety, sustenance, fun, and individual responsibility. This list is by no means definitive, but it’s a great start. And of course, it goes without saying that each of the movies or shows referenced is an excellent bit of entertainment. I cannot recommend enough checking them all out and enjoying some good old fashioned gun play.
Until next time,