Up to now we have looked at some famous firearms used in movies that have distinct links to particular characters or film series. Obviously there have been hundreds of other firearm models used in the entertainment industry, going back to the time of the first moving pictures.
In most cases, many of these firearms have been used in much greater numbers and frequency than the ones we looked at previously, and this is one of the reasons why they have not developed the same strong association with just one character or film.
For a lot of these weapons, their frequency of use in film and television is simply related directly to their use in real life. So, if you have a movie that depicts the police (which is extremely common), it will naturally feature the official firearms used by the police force at that time.
The same applies to films depicting particular eras or historical events: A war movie will feature the common military weapons of the time, while a Western will use lots of single-action revolvers and lever-action rifles popular in that period.
In some instances, the firearms used are simply the ones that are commonly available at the time and location of filming. However, even this is linked closely to their proliferation and use in reality.
A clear example here is the AK-47 (and its variants), the most mass-produced and prolific firearm in the world. Therefore, it is available in most countries and prop houses, often modified to resemble other desired firearms that are unavailable.
Here we examine the ‘Honourable Mentions’ of the movie firearm world, those guns not specifically famous but still worth highlighting due to their influence on the entertainment industry.
GLOCK: The 'Porcelain Gun'
Above Top: The “first-generation” Glock 17, full-size model adopted in 1985 by the Norwegian military and designated the P80
Above Bottom: A terrorist threatens a hostage with a Glock in ‘Die Hard 2’
The GLOCK pistol range is one of the most successful and popular of modern times.
It has been adopted by numerous national armed forces, as well as police and security agencies, in at least 48 countries, and accounts for 65% of the total market share of handguns for law enforcement in the United States.
It was introduced and adopted by the Austrian military and police services in 1982.
However, there was some initial resistance to accepting this gun in the rest of the world due to its polymer frame, quite an innovation for the time (while the GLOCK was not the first polymer-framed pistol, it was certainly the first widely-accepted and successful one.)
These unfounded concerns are perfectly reflected in one of the pistol’s very first Hollywood appearances, in the 1990 movie ‘Die Hard 2’.
In this film, the GLOCK (identified as a GLOCK 7) is incorrectly referred to as a ‘porcelain gun’ used by terrorists to get past airport metal detectors.
Even if the GLOCK was made from porcelain, this or its polymer frame would not make it undetectable to security metal detectors, especially with a magazine full of very detectable ammunition.
This artistic licence of the scriptwriters certainly contributed to the initial misunderstanding of this relatively new firearm by the general public.
GLOCKs were also often utilised in science fiction and futuristic movie settings due to their unconventional square and simplistic design (especially in their early days, when they were relatively unknown.)
As the pistol soon found more and more customers in the United States, especially in law enforcement, it also received more screen time, and soon the shifting public sentiment was again mirrored in film, as in the movie ‘U.S. Marshals’, where US Marshal Samuel Gerard (played by Tommy Lee Jones) looks at his new partner’s handgun and states, “Get yourself a GLOCK and lose that nickel-plated sissy pistol.”
Right: “Get yourself a GLOCK…” Tommy Lee Jones as Samuel Gerard in ‘U.S. Marshals’
Today, as one of the most popular and successful firearm brands in the world, GLOCK is a common sight in all channels of the entertainment industry.
One of the more notable recent appearances was in the movie ‘John Wick: Chapter 2’, where the filmmakers blatantly and shamelessly promote the GLOCK 34, customised by Taran Tactical Innovations (shown on right), but I don’t think anyone in the audience really minded.
The Colt M1911 and ‘The Wild Bunch’
John Moses Browning’s famous pistol design is easily one of history’s greatest firearm success stories.
Introduced in 1911, the design has been copied and produced by many different firearm manufacturers around the world (in countless variations), and continues to be sold to this day.
Serving as the standard sidearm for the United States Armed Forces through World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War (and still used by certain branches of the armed forces), it has rightly earned its legendary status.
Left: A Colt 1911 and metal washers. You’ll have to watch ‘The Wild Bunch’ to get this reference, without spoilers
With such an illustrious history, it is unsurprising that the 1911 has been featured in hundreds, if not thousands, of movies, television shows and video games, if not due to its popularity, then simply due to its long service life and worldwide proliferation.
The movie I would like to highlight, however, is the 1969 Western, ‘The Wild Bunch’, directed by Sam Peckinpah.
Despite being a Western, the story takes place in 1913. All of the members of the Wild Bunch gang carry and use Colt M1911s (sometimes substituted for 9mmP Star Model B pistols, which worked better with blanks).
This film is significant in cinema history as it redefined the Western genre. Until then, the Old West had always been romanticised, with glamorous and heroic characters.
However, this film showed the West in a far grittier, realistic light, with violent and complicated protagonists who straddled the line between right and wrong.
Left: This screenshot from ‘The Wild Bunch’ shows actor William Holden holding a Star Model B instead of a Colt 1911, evident by the external extractor behind the ejection port
Having them use M1911s (which in 1913 would have been extremely modern) further illustrated the end of the romantic era of Westerns and the beginning of a new way of portraying the Old West.
It was noteworthy for pushing the boundaries of graphic violence and heavily influencing how action is depicted in modern cinema. It has been noted to have inspired the work of many modern directors like John Woo, Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese.
In the director’s effort to give the film a more realistic depiction of violence he pioneered new methods of utilising squibs and portraying gunshot wounds.
Peckinpah was inspired while on a hunting trip and shooting a buck. He is reported to have told a friend afterwards:
“The bullet went in the size of a dime. But the blood on the snow was the size of a salad plate. That’s the way violence is. That’s the way death is. And that’s what I want to do on film.”
A subtler, but equally influential change he instigated was how gunshot sounds are depicted in film. Before then they all sounded exactly the same, despite the type of firearm used.
However, Peckinpah insisted that each different type of firearm have its own specific sound, a rudimentary detail in today’s films.
Right: A fan-made poster for ‘The Wild Bunch’, nicely depicting a Colt 1911 pistol next to a Colt Single Action Army revolver, symbolizing the end of the old West
Lastly, but by no means least, the movie is also the inspiration for Wild Bunch Action Shooting, a sport introduced and governed by the Single Action Shooting Society (SASS), similar to other Cowboy Action Shooting events, except that it stipulates the use of the pistol used famously in the film, namely the 1911.
M60: The Gun of ‘Rambo’
The M60 is a belt-fed, medium machine gun adopted by the United States Military in 1957, referred to generally as the Squad Automatic Weapon, or SAW.
It is a general-purpose machine gun that can be fired from the shoulder, and from an integral bipod or separate tripod. It is also often mounted as a door gun on helicopters and other military vehicles.
Being a military firearm, we may have only just recognised it on screen, fulfilling its designated role in war epics like ‘Apocalypse Now’, ‘Platoon’, ‘Full Metal Jacket’, and so on. Yet it has earned greater fame and recognition by being the gun wielded by just one man and his fight for survival: John Rambo.
In 1982, the movie ‘First Blood’ was released (internationally it was known as ‘Rambo: First Blood’), becoming an instant smash hit and, in later years, a cinematic classic.
In the film’s final act, Rambo the protagonist removes an M60 from an army truck, slings a few ammunition belts over his shoulders, and uses it to wreak havoc on the small mountain town that pushed him over the edge.
Left: The original poster artwork for ‘First Blood’, depicting the iconic image of John Rambo holding the M60
This is also the image used on the poster artwork for the original release, and has forever linked the character to the M60. Even though there would be three more ‘Rambo’ sequels, he actually only uses the M60 in ‘First Blood’.
However, the success of this film was so great that it bonded the two together forever.
The strength of this bond is referenced nicely years later in the 2005 film ‘Lord of War’, the semi-factual account of international arms dealer Yuri Orlov. (The film and character were based on a combination of different real-life arms dealers and factual events).
While dealing with the son of a Liberian dictator, Yuri is asked: “Can you bring me the gun of Rambo?”
This implies nicely that, even in the war-torn West African country, they were aware of Rambo and his M60.
Although a lot of this movie is fictional dramatisation, I would not be surprised at all if this part at least was true.
Above: “Can you bring me the gun of Rambo?” – A scene from the movie ‘Lord of War’
Steyr AUG: ‘The Bullpup’
Hollywood loves things that are different, and the Steyr AUG definitely fits the bill. With its unusual (for the time) looking bullpup design, brown plastic body, integrated scope, and those translucent magazines, this was an exciting rifle unlike any seen before.
A bullpup is a style of rifle design where the action and magazine are set behind the trigger group, enabling the firearm to have a shorter overall length, while maintaining a full-length barrel.
It was adopted as the main battle rifle for the Austrian Army in 1977.
While it was certainly not the first military bullpup ever devised, it can be considered as the most famous and commercially successful.
It gained quick popularity and a good reputation for its ergonomics, modular design, reliability, and decent accuracy.
It was later also adopted by the armed forces of Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Oman, Ireland, Argentina, and Tunisia, as well as many other special forces, police units, and security agencies, including the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency and the US Coast Guard.
Left: The menacing Karl holds the Steyr AUG to John McClane’s face in the movie ‘Die Hard’
The first movie appearance by the Steyr AUG was in ‘Octopussy’ in 1983, the 13th official James Bond film in the series.
Unusually, these rifles were carried by Russian soldiers, while in reality they have never been used by any Russian armed forces. Not to mention that there are usually enough AK47 or AKM rifles available from prop houses for an entire army of extras.
It may simply have been chosen to match the modern and exotic themes present in all Bond movies.
As you might guess, the Steyr AUG also found its way into many science fiction and future-set movies and television shows early on in its career, such as ‘Robocop’ and ‘The Running Man’, due to its unconventional appearance.
For most of us, it is most notably and fondly remembered as the rifle used by the menacing and formidable Karl (shown right) as he tried to eliminate Detective John McClane and avenge the death of his brother in the movie ‘Die Hard’.
More recently, you would recall it from Season 3 and 4 of ‘The Walking Dead’, deployed in the hands of ‘The Governor’ (shown left) as he tries to force Rick and his group of survivors out of the abandoned prison.
Or for the gamer crowd, it is certainly remembered as a favourite weapon of choice in popular titles like ‘Counter-Strike’ (and its many sequels).
Today, due to its commercial success and use in the entertainment industry, the Steyr AUG is definitely the most famous and recognisable of all the bullpup rifles.
Even though there have been many other very good bullpup-style rifles introduced to the market since 1977 (and adopted into various armed forces), the Steyr AUG holds the top spot in people’s minds, and is still identified by many simply as ‘The Bullpup’.
The Colt Single Action Army and Winchester Model 1873: ‘The Guns that Won the West’
Above: The guns that won the west, the Winchester 1873 rifle and Colt 1873 Single Action Army revolver
These firearms definitely fall under the category of those used in movies simply due to their popularity and distribution during a certain era.
In fact, both were in existence many years before the introduction of the first moving pictures.
The Colt 1873 Single Action Army revolver, also known as the ‘Colt 45’, ‘Frontiersman’, and ‘Peacemaker’, is one of the most famous and successful firearms to ever come out of the United States.
It is still manufactured today by many companies around the world, in many variations and calibres, which collectively are referred to simply as Single Action Armies.
Released almost serendipitously in the same year, the Winchester Model 1873 lever-action rifle was one of the most successful of its time, popular among ranchers, cowboys, lawmen, and outlaws alike.
Today, with the growing popularity of Cowboy Action Shooting, the demand for this rifle is still high, and many companies are still producing copies.
Unsurprisingly, both of these firearms were promoted by their creators, and are still known by the same shared title of: ‘The Gun that Won the West’. These firearms were produced and used extensively during one of the most turbulent and significant periods in the history of the United States.
The expansion of the Western frontier was a highly exciting and romanticised event, even during its happening.
Those who undertook this great pilgrimage would face many unknown hardships and dangers, all for the opportunity of seizing a piece of this unclaimed territory and fulfilling the American dream. This was a truly fascinating historical period, producing many memorable tales and figures. It is no wonder that many of the very first movies depicted stories from the Wild West, and therefore included the guns so popular at the time.
One of the first films to feature the Single Action Army is also one of the earliest existing short films in American cinema, called ‘The Great Train Robbery’, released in 1903.
It is considered by many as the film that birthed the US motion picture industry, as it is one of the first to utilise editing techniques to depict an actual linear narrative.
Since then, the Single Action Army has appeared in hundreds of Western movies and television shows, from the early classics starring legends like John Wayne and Clint Eastwood, to more modern films like ‘Tombstone’, ‘Unforgiven’, and ‘Open Range’.
Right: The final scene from the 1903 movie ‘The Great Train Robbery’, where the leader of the bandits points his Colt 1873 revolver directly at the audience and fires.
It is not just Westerns where it can be spotted, however, as it has also appeared in many other contemporary settings.
For example, as the quickly-drawn back-up gun of Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) in the ‘Expendables’ movie franchise (shown on the left).
The film career of the Winchester 1873 began almost as early, with its first-known movie appearance being the 1919 film ‘Back to God’s Country’.
From there it was featured in almost as many Western movies and television shows as its six-shooting partner, with one of the most notable being the 1950 classic ‘Winchester 73’.
In this movie, the rifle is central to the story, featuring a coveted ‘One of One Hundred’ special edition version, and following the intertwined stories of the various characters whose hands it ends up in.
The list of Western and period films to feature the Winchester 1873 extends to modern times.
As long as viewers and audiences yearn to relive the excitement, drama, and history of the American Old West, we will continue to see these two legendry firearms of the frontier on the screen.
Right: Actor James Stewert holds the ‘One of One Hundred’, special edition Winchester 1873 rifle in the movie ‘Winchester 73’
Heckler & Koch MP5: The Special Forces’ Sidekick
The H&K MP5 is easily the world’s most popular and widely-used, post-war submachine gun. It is no wonder it found its way into all avenues of the entertainment industry, also making it one of the world’s most recognisable firearms.
Developed in the 1960s, it has seen service in nearly 90 countries, with numerous law enforcement and security agencies. Today there are no fewer than 100 variants of this famous firearm – and it is still currently in production.
It wasn’t movies or television shows that put the MP5 on the world stage, however, but rather ‘reality television’, when it was shown famously on live television news being used by the British SAS to rescue hostages held in the Iranian Embassy in 1980.
Before then, the firearm was mainly only used and known in Europe, being overshadowed worldwide by the popular Uzi submachine gun. However, after the successful SAS raid, every law enforcement and special-forces agency in the West wanted it.
Unsurprisingly, from the early 1980s onwards, the MP5 became a regular feature in action movies and television shows (and later on in video games), and was an instant hit with viewers.
What is interesting about some of the most iconic Hollywood blockbusters from the 1980s and 1990s, like ‘Die Hard’ and ‘Die Hard 2’, ‘Lethal Weapon’, ‘Rambo: First Blood Part II’, ‘Commando’, ‘Predator’, ‘Terminator 2’, and many others, is that they didn’t even use real MP5s, but rather converted H&K HK94s.
The HK94 was the semi-automatic only, long-barreled, civilian version of the MP5, imported into the United States from the late 1970s to 1980s. Since most factory-original, fully-automatic MP5s coming into the country then were reserved for military and law-enforcement, it was easier and cheaper for prop houses to convert the plentiful HK94s, which were almost indistinguishable from the real thing.
Right: The British SAS during the raid of the Iranian Embassy in 1980, with their MP5s in hand
One of the most memorable movie moments for the MP5 was in the film ‘Die Hard 2’, where the terrorists famously tape two magazines together, one filled with blanks, and the other with real ammunition, in order to carry out an elaborate plan of deception.
Anyone who understands how firearms and blank-firing ammunition actually function know this idea would never work in reality, but it certainly made for some great popcorn-movie entertainment.
And no one remembers these technical ‘oversights’ in movies anyway.
Moviegoers only remember that cool-looking submachine gun.
Pancor Jackhammer: The Shotgun of Digital Legend
There are few screen guns with as intriguing a back-story as the Pancor Jackhammer.
It may not be immediately recognisable to the strict movie aficionado, but it is certainly well-known in the video-game world, being featured in some of the most successful and popular titles, including ‘Fallout’, ‘Max Payne’, ‘Far Cry’, ‘Battlefield 2 and 3’, ‘Counterstrike Online’, and many more.
What makes the Jackhammer’s story so interesting is that, for such a distinctive and widely-utilised firearm (in video games at least), it actually didn’t make it past the prototype stage, and was never put into production.
The Jackhammer, designated officially as the Pancor MK3, was a bullpup-style, fully-automatic, 12-gauge shotgun.
It was designed by John Anderson in 1984, intended to be offered to the United States Armed forces and police for consideration as a new combat shotgun.
Top Left: A picture of the last, remaining Pancor Jackhammer
Bottom Left: A CG rendering of the Jackhammer
It featured a rotating cylinder, similar to that of a revolver, holding ten rounds of 12-gauge shells, known as an ‘ammo cassette’ in beautiful 1980s vernacular.
One great novelty that added to the mythical allure of this shotgun was that the ‘ammo cassette’ was intended to be converted into a makeshift anti-personal mine known as the ‘Bear Trap’.
This was done by attaching an ancillary trigger mechanism that fired all ten rounds upwards when tripped. As far as available records show, this device was only ever produced in model form, and no working version was ever created.
Only three functioning examples of the shotgun were ever produced, two of which were sent away for testing and evaluation (and eventual destruction), and one early prototype retained by Anderson himself.
Unfortunately, this shotgun was rejected by the military. Unable to find financial backing to continue with its development, the small company went into liquidation.
Anderson eventually sold the prototype to a movie prop company that later rented it out to comic book artists and computer game designers to illustrate and model. It is only from this last remaining version (as well as from copies of the original patent available on the internet) that artists were able to virtually recreate the Jackhammer so that it could live on through video games.
The Jackhammer is so recognisable by computer-gaming generations that few realise it was never produced as an actual finished product (including myself, until I started to delve more into its history.)
Hopefully it is some consolation to Anderson that his striking and innovative combat shotgun at least found success and fame on the digital battlefield.
Above: Just some of the many computer and video games that have used the Pancor Jackhammer design, contributing to its status as one of the most recognizable firearms, that have never actually gone into production
By Alessandro De Grandis, first published in On Target Africa magazine, Vol. 1, Issue 8, September 2018 (Part 1) and Issue 9, October 2018 (Part 2)
Note: Some of the layout, formatting, images and content of this article has been edited and differs slightly from the original, published version.