Do movies ever get guns right?
Guns and movies have an odd relationship. Sometimes gun fights are portrayed realistically.
But 9 times out of 10 the portrayal of firearms is often quite humorous (and entertaining) for those in the know.
So who does it right?
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
1. Any Michael Mann Film
Michael Mann is a stickler for authenticity.
He is one of the few directors who takes firearms and how they are used seriously. He hires firearms advisors and makes his actors receive training before filming begins.
It pays off.
Most famous is the film Heat.
Heat is well known for it’s extremely detailed and authentic firearm handling. The bank robbery scene and what follows in particular is well known for it’s accurate gun handling.
Former SAS guys were advisors on the film, and it shows.
I’d GIF a section of it…but the whole thing 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.
Michael Mann’s first film, Thief, is another excellent example. James Caan actually got to train at Gunsite for the film. This showed as he looked like he knew how to handle a 1911.
Old School but great.
Also we can’t forget Collateral with Tom Cruise’s handling of his USP 45.
This includes one of the best on screen Mozambique drills (2 to the chest & 1 to the head) where he hits two targets in 1.39 seconds from concealment.
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 can we learn?
- The importance of cover fire
- Reloading under fire is a critical skill to have
2. Way of the Gun
Way of the Gun 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. It certainly shows when it comes to gun handling. Check out the bad-ass finale:
First off, the guns in this movie are loud.
You feel them when they’re fired. Especially near the end of the movie a massive shootout occurs.
In almost every scene the actual round count for the firearms they are using is quite accurate and they reload quite often. And sometimes with only one hand.
Near the beginning of the movie the protagonists kidnap a woman and escape. At the same time they are tactically retreating by covering each other, laying down suppressive fire, and using their 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/protagonists wear IWB holsters. This makes sense, because they are criminals and concealment would be absolutely critical to not being noticed by 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 wacked because his toe is exposed.
What can we learn
- Rifles beats pistol, 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 was first a book by Marcus Luttrell, and later turned into a movie starring Mark Wahlberg.
Prior to shooting the movie the four actors who portrayed the SEALs attended a three week boot camp where they trained with actual SEALs.
The training cleared paid off. The guys handle their weapons like Pros.
Not just when firing them, but when patrolling and being more casual. They look comfortable with their weapons and their gear.
Fingers are off triggers, the firearms are carried professionally.
All of the weapons have 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 their firearms, grenade launchers, and smoke.
The tension is constantly building as the guys are running out of ammo. This isn’t like the Walking Dead where you constantly question why they never run out of ammo.
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.
None of these guys seemed to have a sling, which is an invaluable piece of gear.
What can we learn:
- Aimed accurate fire is critical
- How to operate a firearm with one hand
4. John Wick
John Wick does suffer from the classic and unrealistic overpowered good guy syndrome.
Once you get past that you do get a movie full of gun goodness.
As an actor Keanu’s skill with a gun cannot be overlooked. He looks confident with a gun in his hand. His fundamentals are almost always flawless. A nice high grip, his thumbs are forward, and his eyes are opened.
And if you haven’t check it out yet…his training with Taran Butler, one of the best 3-Gun competitors out there.
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, including both John Wick and the bad guys. John also carried a small back up handgun that he transitions to when his primary runs dry. This was a nice touch and kept the gun fight flowing in the night club.
John’s primary method of shooting is called center axis relock.
It is designed for close quarter’s combat. John Wick does seem to find himself in bad breath distance with enemies regularly.
Center axis relock as a technique is on full presentation when John is attacked inside his home. Keanu Reeves seems to be confident using the style and oozes contained aggression. He never loses momentum and keeps up the attack.
Full scene goodness:
Another movie that portrays suppressors as creating a metallic pew noise with barely any other noise. Also the gun karate gets a little silly in the house scene.
What we can learn:
- Fortune favors the bold…be aggressive
- Master reloading
- Don’t mess John Wick’s dog
What do you think of John Wick’s gun-play?
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. (Eric: It’s like me at competitions…lol).
- Blood Diamond: Excellent gun handling from the trained professionals, including reloads, shooting positions, and well aimed shots. Child soldiers and rebel 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 and firing short bursts is quite nice to see, even if it’s from the hip.
Hall of Shame
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. If you are an Old hand with a firearm they can actually start to really grind your gears.
Unlimited Ammo: 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
Yea…Cock that Hammer:
The sound of a hammer being cocked on a Glock or other striker fired pistol is an old school Hollywood goof.
Find out why that’s weird in our Single Action vs Double Action vs Striker Fired article.
Sons of Anarchy seems to do this every time a Glock is in a scene so the award goes to them.
Honorable Mention: In Ant Man a stream of Ants clog the magically appearing hammer on a Glock.
Shotgun Pumping Sounds Are Cool: The Terminator
Kyle Reese pumps his shotgun three different times without ever firing a shot.
Once when he cuts the barrel off (which makes sense) once when he wakes up, and once when he starts shooting in the club.
Honorable Mention: Natural Born killers has shotguns being pumped numerous times without a shot fired.
Bullets Make People Fly: 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.
I can forgive silly movies like Shoot Em Up and Sin City, but Open Range was a serious western.
The movie has great shootout plagued by Robert Duval sending guys flying three feet from shotgun blasts.
Honorable Mention: Running Scared has an awesome firefight in the beginning that loses any sense of realism when one of the victims is thrown several feet by a shotgun.
The balancing act in guns and movies will always be a tedious one.
Certainly those filmmakers wise enough to invest in actual firearms training for their actors will always produce more accurate films.
Luckily it is becoming more common to be accurate with gun-play in movies.
What do you think? Do you have any movies you think have good gun handling. Let us know. And also be sure to check out our favorite guns & gear in Editor’s Picks.