Do movies ever get guns right?
Guns and movies have an odd relationship. Sometimes gunfights are portrayed realistically.
But 9 times out of 10, the portrayal of firearms is often quite humorous (and entertaining) for those in the know.
That said, I always get a little giddy when a movie gets gun scenes and firearm handling right.
So, let’s celebrate a few of the best, the worst, and the funniest examples of realistic firearms handling in films.
Table of Contents
Best Gun Scenes in Film
1. Any Michael Mann Film
Michael Mann is a stickler for authenticity.
One of the few directors who; Mann firearms seriously, Mann hires firearms advisors and makes his actors train before filming begins.
It pays off.
Most famous example: Heat.
Heat is well known for its extremely detailed and authentic firearm handling. The bank robbery scene, anyone??
Former SAS guys were advisors on the film, and it shows.
I’d GIF a section of it…but the whole movie is just too awesome. Take the time to watch the whole thing!
The best parts in my opinion?
- The accurate use of automatic fire to suppress the police as the crew retreats
- Val Kilmer’s reload is quite legendary (ok…GIF time)
- Presence of the Mozambique drill (a Michael Mann favorite)
- Actual trigger discipline!
- This movie is quiet with dialog and general sounds…until the gunfire starts. Then it’s loud, nasty, and makes you really feel like you’re in the middle of a firefight.
Heat isn’t the only film that deserves credit.
Old school but great.
Also, we can’t forget Collateral with Tom Cruise and his USP 45.
This includes one of the best on-screen Mozambique Drills, where he hits two targets in 1.39 seconds from concealment.
If you are a gun gal or guy, look no further than Michael Mann’s filmography.
If you are a gun gal or guy and you want to see accuracy in the handling and using of firearms look no further than Michael Mann’s filmography.
What We Learn
- The importance of cover fire
- Reloading under fire is a critical skill
2. The Way of the Gun
This film is best described as Heat Jr…and not in a bad way.
This small and unfortunately overlooked movie is one of the best portrayals of firearms in movies. Apparently, the director’s brother was a Navy SEAL and served as an advisor.
First off, the guns in this movie are loud.
You feel them when they’re fired — especially near the end of the movie as a massive shootout occurs.
In almost every scene, the actual round count for the firearms they use is quite accurate. AND they reload quite often, sometimes with only one hand.
Near the beginning of the movie, the antagonists kidnap a woman and escape.
At the same time, they tactically retreat, covering each other, laying down suppressive fire, and using wits to escape as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Trigger discipline is another near-constant in the film.
The characters obviously have firearms experience, so they practice perfect trigger discipline.
Also, the bad guys wear IWB holsters which makes sense because they are criminals. Concealment would be absolutely critical to remaining inconspicuous to law enforcement.
There are also two lessons about using cover you learn…
First off, don’t dive randomly behind cover — you might get your arm filled with glass.
Second, make sure your entire body is concealed. The first “bag man” gets whacked because his toe is exposed.
What We Learn
- Rifles beat pistols, so bring more rifle ammo
- Cover only counts when your entire body is behind it
- Know how to do everything one-handed
3. Lone Survivor
The true story of a tragedy involving a four-man SEAL team first appeared as a book by Marcus Luttrell. Later, it turned into a movie starring Mark Wahlberg.
Before shooting the movie, the four main actors attended a three-week boot camp where they trained with actual SEALs.
The training cleared paid off as these guys handled their weapons like pros.
And just when firing them, but when patrolling and being more casual. They look comfortable with their weapons and gear.
All weapons feature an optic, and the actors appear to use them.
They use aimed, semi-auto fire the exact way SEALs would.
As they become more and more wounded, they improvise effective means to use firearms, grenade launchers, and smoke.
The tension constantly builds as the guys run out of ammo. This isn’t like the Walking Dead, where you constantly question the constant supply of ammunition.
You feel the tension as they keep fighting and run empty.
It gets to the point where Ben Foster’s character runs both his rifle and then pistol dry. The final shot of the M9 with the slide locked back gives you goosebumps.
My only gripe is none of these guys seemed to have a sling, which is an invaluable piece of gear.
What We Learn
- Aimed accurate fire is critical
- How to operate a firearm with one hand
4. John Wick
The movie John Wick suffers from the classic and unrealistic overpowered good guy syndrome.
But once you move past that, you get a movie full of gun goodness.
As an actor, Reeve’s skill with a gun cannot be overlooked. He looks confident; fundamentals are almost always flawless — nice high grip with thumbs forward and eyes opened.
His extensive pre-filming training with Taran Tactical paid off.
John Wick, as a character, is portrayed to be one of the best assassins in the world, so you expect a high level of competence.
Reloading is frequently seen in the film. John Wick also carried a small backup handgun that he transitions to when his primary runs dry.
This was a nice touch that kept the gunfight flowing in the nightclub.
John’s primary method of shooting is called center axis relock, designed for close quarter’s combat.
And he does seem to find himself in bad breath distance with enemies regularly.
Reeves seems to be confident using the style, oozing contained aggression. He never loses momentum and keeps up the attack.
My gripe with this movie is that it portrays suppressors with a metallic pew noise and barely any other noise. Also, the gun karate gets a little silly in the house scene.
What We Learn:
- Fortune favors the bold…be aggressive
- Master reloading
- Don’t mess with a man’s dog
The Netflix original, Extraction, came out of nowhere as far as I’m concerned.
It was one of the best surprises of 2020, providing a John Wick-style entertainment with a new cast of characters, actors, and an interesting setting.
Extraction supplied some seriously pulse-pounding action scenes.
I could pick any of several for this section — the bridge scene at the end is incredible. That said, the scene that stands out to most comes roughly half an hour in.
In total, it runs about 12 minutes long and — using some awesome editing — appears as one continuous shot.
Not only is this a super stylish choice, but it’s also filled to the brim with brutal action.
What starts with a brutal knife takedown quickly turns into a mix of martial arts and gunfighting.
From there, the next 12 minutes are a freight train of action. The camera becomes a character witnessing these events, and I love that as an editing choice.
It puts the action in your face, delivering a mix of fantasy and reality. We see mercenary Tyler Rake play the song of his people with a Glock 17.
Tyler fires the gun from extremely close range; he hides behind cover and makes his shots count.
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In one scene, he uses his gun as a blunt fighting weapon. This predictably knocks the gun out of battery and causes a malfunction.
Tyler’s tangled up with these bad dudes, and guess what he does? He clears the jam by racking the sites on his plate carrier. (That’s why we ditch the crappy Glock sights.)
Whenever he has a moment to breathe, he reloads his Glock and keeps moving.
So, what are my gripes? Tyler has plenty of opportunities to pick up a bad guy’s long gun and have a much better tool for fighting but never does.
What We Learn
- Malfunctions happen in the most reliable guns
- Training for extreme close quarters is important
- Reload when you can, even if you aren’t empty.
6. John Wick 2
You could include basically any scene from any of the three John Wick movies into this list, but the sequel included what might be my favorite scene of the series.
It’s important to remember that John Wick mixes gun fantasy with realism.
John Wick spent all his points in plot armor, making him a level 100 Warrior in a catacomb full of level 1 spiders.
Nothing he does in the movie is impossible, but it’s just crazy to believe that one man can do it all.
The catacombs see John Wick retreating from a superior force using just his pistol. Outgunned, he lays down his own cover fire. He retreats far enough to grab his rifle and engage.
Now he can fight back much more efficiently.
Long guns outperform handguns 100 to 1, and John makes the most of it. He zaps dudes left and right with his rifle.
He uses an LPVO and an offset red dot and reloads more than once, utilizing his coupled magazines, then those from his fighting belt.
Between reloads, he successfully and efficiently transitions to his pistol, engaging in buying himself some time.
Then he moves to my favorite part, the Benelli M4 shotgun, using the M4 like a trench broom.
John decimates these goons one after the other, constantly reloading the shotgun.
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Shotguns have low capacity and are slow to reload, and the scene shows exactly that. He executes a port load twice — once from a match saver device.
Another time he muzzle-thumps a dude, then port reloads into an execution.
Watch the scene closely; John realizes the bad guys are wearing armor.
Shotguns don’t penetrate armor well, so he changes his engagement tactics, aiming for the legs to slow them down. Then he hits them in the head.
Leg shots with most weapons suck, but shotguns offer a little spread and a lot of pain compliance versus a handgun or rifle.
It’s a sweet scene that shows the effects of a shotgun and what they can do in close quarter’s combat.
My biggest gripe is that John uses mostly 3-gun gear to execute his speedy kills, and most 3-gun gear isn’t necessarily combat-ready.
What We Learn
- Shotguns require lots of reloading.
- Long guns beat handguns.
- Know your weapons and know them well.
The movie Sicario was a sleeper hit that took many people by surprise – a tense, well-done thriller with some awesome action scenes and a brilliant cast.
We see a mix of DEA agents, Delta operators, FBI agents, Marshalls, and more, all gathering for one big mission into Mexico.
They must extract a bad guy but ultimately get stuck at the border, waiting their turn to get into the States.
This team of pros instantly spots two cars full of troublemakers. (“Troublemakers” being the nice way of saying armed cartel soldiers with ill intentions.)
What we see here is a brilliant display of situational awareness. They pay attention, so they pick up the threat early. This buys them time to react to the threat.
Situational awareness is a skill all of us should possess.
The team exits their vehicles, forming an L-shape around both cars.
An L-shape allows the team to concentrate fire into the car without the risk of friendly fire.
Our Delta, DEA, CIA, and special guests get the drop on these bad guys almost instantly.
The bad guys don’t seem to know it, though, and make their move. We see our good guys open fire and quickly kill the threat in a very professional manner.
Each team member only fires a few shots and all utilizing fire discipline. In a crowded environment, this reduces the chance of hitting an innocent person and conserves ammunition.
What are my grips with this one…Why is Jeffrey Donovan’s bolt locked to the rear while he’s in the car?
What We Learn
- Situational awareness can win fights
- Training ensures fire discipline
- Positioning matters in a gunfight
8. The Outpost
This film is based on the true story of one of the bloodiest battles of Afghanistan.
A U.S. Army COP (Combat Outpost) gets attacked by 400 fighters, and The Outpost tells the story of shortly before, during, and after the battle.
The final firefight is one of the best depictions of firefights from the War on Terror.
There is no style here beyond chaos, and that’s often what a firefight feels like. This film captures that perfectly.
It’s loud, brutal, and bloody. The enemy is often tough to see and is seemingly everywhere.
We see the judicious use of cover, and the soldiers who don’t find cover are quickly injured or even killed.
One little thing I noticed was a SAW gunner chicken winging his gun as he moved and shot in close quarters.
It’s a valid tactic for the big full auto-only gun when trying to move and shoot.
We see the importance of combined arms and machine guns and grenade launchers in a firefight.
Scott Eastwood yells “Keep that gun up!” to his M240 gunner at one point as it delivers withering fire to the Taliban.
The final scene is brutal — made even more when you know it happened. These men fought their asses off in a terrible tactical situation in which they were outgunned and outflanked.
But heads up for people with experiences like mine in the war in Afghanistan…watching the scene triggered a little bit of my own anxiety.
You know I got gripes, and for this movie, it comes down to us seeing lots of shots of guys scoping bad guys in the open…but not taking the shot.
What We Learn
- Firefights are chaos
- Cover matters
- The bigger gun is almost always better
9. Without Remorse
To be honest, Without Remorse was a terrible film and had almost nothing in common with the book of the same name.
While the movie sucks, the action scenes do have some flair.
In the first scene, we see the SEAL team on a rescue mission in Syria. Right off the bat, we see suppressors that are way too quiet.
It’s very much the James Bond-style…so quiet that no one in the next room can hear it. Okay, I can deal with that.
We do see some great CQB tactics.
When they toss a grenade, Michael B. Jordan shows the frontman what it is to make sure he knows what’s going on.
They toss the flashbang and clear the room well and in a rehearsed manner.
As they move through hallways, they use proper dispersion for the scenarios and spread out to focus fire to the front.
When they do fire, it’s with control and done in semi-automatic.
Then the Syria situation devolves, and wrenches get thrown into plans.
Two SEALs find themselves pinned down by bad guys with AKs. Keep in mind, this is a small room in a building with the AKs blazing away at full auto.
The two SEALs stop to have a nice conversation about movie plot points as bad guys fire at them from just a few feet away.
Nothing like some quick exposition in the middle of a firefight. Once their conversation is over, they decide to kill the bad guys and wrap things up.
The action has a lot of potential and is most certainly the film’s highlight. However, I don’t see the action redeeming the poor story and plot.
Here are a few other films that feature excellent firearms handling that didn’t make the list. These weren’t necessarily better or worse films; it would have just become repetitive to list many of these.
- Blackhawk Down: Nothing else needs to best said.
- Act of Valor: Using real SEALs, and SWCC guys is kind of cheating
- Unforgiven: The scene where Munny tries to shoot a can after years of not firing a handgun is an excellent representation of how skill deteriorates.
- Blood Diamond: Excellent gun handling from the trained professionals, including reloads, shooting positions, and well-aimed shots. Child soldiers and rebels handle their guns in the exact unsafe and inaccurate manner you’d expect from conscripts.
- Ronin: Excellent constant use of firearm sights and well-aimed fire. De Niro running a SAW, firing short bursts is quite nice to see, even if it’s from the hip.
Hall of Shame: Bad Gun Scenes
I could easily write an entire article on how and where Hollywood got it wrong.
Instead, I want to point to just a few mess-ups and mistakes that I find kinda funny.
If you’re new to guns these can be fun to look for. But if you’re an old hand with a firearm, they can start to grind your gears.
I’m not sure if Commando is supposed to be a satire of 80s action movies or just a director’s cocaine dreams.
Either way, it’s full of great one-liners and silly action scenes, none better than the final shootout.
It encompasses everything great about 80s action movies in a roughly 3-minute action scene in which Arnold Schwarzenegger lays down the hate with a variety of weapons.
His character, John Matrix, starts with a Valmet M78/83 RPK-like machine gun, firing from the hip.
Yet every bullet seems to strike where he needs it. He faces down an army of men wielding M16s and kills dozens of them.
When he gets to the 870, he’s blowing men off their feet and hitting two men with one shotgun blast.
Heck, the movie gets even better when he’s out of guns and reverts to saw blades and pitchforks.
Commando goes so far into the bad territory it loops around and becomes good again. I could easily write an entire article on how and where Hollywood got it wrong.
2. American History X
A tragic and great film has a few very brutal scenes.
One involves the main character wielding a Ruger P94. This gun holds 10 rounds, but the main character discharges it 24 times without reloading.
Honorable Mention: Bruce Willis in Last Man Standing...the bullets keep coming.
Hammers mysteriously appearing on striker-fired guns like Glocks (and/or the sound of a hammer cock with a striker-fired pistol) is an ole school Hollywood goof.
(Find out why that’s weird in our Single Action vs. Double Action vs. Striker Fired article.)
In Marvel’s Ant-Man, a stream of ants clogs the magically appearing hammer on a Glock.
Honorable Mention: Though not a movie, Sons of Anarchy seems to do this every time a Glock is in a scene.
Kyle Reese pumps his shotgun three different times without ever firing a shot in The Terminator — when he cuts the barrel off (which makes sense), when he wakes up, and when he starts shooting in the club.
Honorable Mention: Natural Born Killers has shotguns being pumped numerous times without a shot fired.
4. Open Range
The idea that a gunshot can send you flying off your feet is a ridiculous one.
Physics says if a bullet can throw a person, it will also throw the shooter.
The movie has a great shootout plagued by Robert Duval sending guys flying 3-feet from shotgun blasts.
Honorable Mention: Running Scared has an awesome firefight at the beginning that loses any sense of realism when one of the victims is thrown several feet by a shotgun.
The balancing act between action and drama and realism with guns in movies will always be a tedious one.
Certainly, filmmakers wise enough to invest in actual firearms training for their actors will always produce more accurate films.
Luckily, it seems more studios and actors are taking realistic gunplay more seriously, which is nice to see as an avid gun owner.
What are your fave gun scenes from movies? Are there films you think illustrate great gun handling? Let us know in the comments below. If you’re a cinephile, check out the Top 10 Famous Movie Guns, Best Survival Movies, and Famous Western Movie Guns.