The 5 Best Hollywood Gun Scenes

The 5 Best Hollywood Gun Scenes

Hollywood isn’t known for its accurate portrayals of firearms, but even a blind squirrel finds an acorn every once in a while. The squirrels who directed and wrote the five scenes below cared enough to do their homework, and they deserve some credit. While their colleagues put hammers on Glocks, they thought carefully about how guns operate, how bullets fly, and when it’s time to reload.

Well done, Hollywood squirrels. Well done.

Pitch Perfect: Saving Private Ryan

I include this scene not because I think it’s likely that a WWII-era sniper could put a round through the scope of an enemy’s rifle at 450 yards (as cool as that is). I like this scene because it gets the sound right.

I’ve never been downrange of rifle fire, but I understand that the speed of light is faster than the speed of a rifle bullet, and the speed of a rifle bullet is usually faster than the speed of sound. Because of this, if you’re in the unfortunate position of watching an enemy sniper fire at you from long range, you’ll see the muzzle blast, feel the bullet, and hear the shot–in that order.

Most movies disregard the laws of physics and show all three happening more or less simultaneously. But not Saving Private Ryan. In this scene, viewers see the muzzle blast of Private Jackson’s shot before they hear the shot report or bullet impact. The fact that Spielberg chose to include all three elements and place them in the correct order speaks to his respect for the subject matter and attention to detail.

No Frills: No Country for Old Men

Hollywood’s track record with depictions of hunting is about as strong as its record on guns. But this scene from the movie adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s famous novel does both pretty well.

When Llewelyn Moss peers through his rifle scope, it shows a reasonable magnification given the distance from the pronghorn, and it wobbles as much as you might expect given his shooting position. He adjusts the scope two clicks, which is also believable. The recoil on the rifle is a little weak (the muzzle would have jumped more from its rest on the rock), but Josh Brolin does his best to simulate the recoil impulse. He also picks up his brass, which I always thought was a nice detail. I can’t recall if the Moss character is ever shown reloading ammunition, but he seems like the kind of guy who would.

All in all, this scene is a solid depiction of what many rifle hunts look like. It doesn’t include anything fancy or over the top–just a realistic portrayal of a pronghorn hunt.

Tactical Reload: John Wick

On one hand, the John Wick franchise is silly. The Keanu Reeves character shoots, stabs, and throttles an absurd number of bad guys without getting killed himself, and the world of assassins the movies depict isn’t what you’d call strictly realistic.

On the other hand, gun guys love these movies because Reeves trained extensively under gun instructor Taran Butler, and it shows. This first fight scene from John Wick: Chapter 1 could be pulled straight from the range at Taran Tactical.

A few things stand out. First, Wick puts multiple rounds in each bad guy. This might seem like overkill, but unlike what you’ll see in most Hollywood portrayals, these bullets aren’t magic. They don’t immediately incapacitate a threat, which is why actual operators recommend more than one round.

This scene also depicts what may be Hollywood’s first tactical reload (as far as I’m aware, anyway). A tactical reload is also known as a “reload with retention,” according to Sig Sauer’s Steve Gilcreast. Wick takes advantage of a break in the action to swap his half-empty magazine for a full one, but retains the first mag in case he needs it later. It’s the kind of thing most directors would never consider including, but Reeves’ time with Butler no doubt inspired that moment.

The Little Things: Heat

Michael Mann reportedly hired former special operators to train his actors, and it paid off: this scene from Heat includes all kinds of details that portray what an actual gunfight is like.

Mann amps up the gunfire audio to simulate the deafening sound of each shot. The characters lay down suppressive fire (i.e., shots meant to keep the police huddled behind their cars) without depicting all the shots hitting their marks (a more realistic outcome of automatic fire). Val Kilmer performs a textbook reload, the characters are careful to move from cover to cover down the street, and they’re shown keeping their fingers off the triggers until they’re ready to fire (i.e., trigger discipline).

It’s not the perfect scene–as much as Val Kilmer shoots, he almost certainly would have had to reload more than once. But as 10-minute shootout sequences go, it’s pretty damn good.

Triple Threat: Captain Phillips

When I watched Captain Phillips for the first time, I assumed the sniper scene in the movie’s final minutes was a simple case of Hollywood embellishment. There’s no way a team of three snipers could land three simultaneous shots on three different targets through the small windows of a lifeboat from another boat while both are bobbing up and down in the water without hitting a hostage...right?

Apparently not. Here’s an excerpt from the Encyclopedia Britannica describing the true story of Captain Phillips: “Believing that the captain was in imminent danger, three Navy SEAL snipers were ordered to take action. When the pirates were all visible, the snipers simultaneously fired, killing them. Phillips was unharmed.”

Remind me not to get on the bad side of Navy SEAL snipers.

Plus, the scene itself is a great watch. Tons of action, suspense, and emotional turmoil. Give it a watch if you haven’t already.

Honorable Mention: Raiders of the Lost Ark

This scene from the Indiana Jones franchise doesn’t demonstrate a deep knowledge of firearms or great skill with a gun. But it is funny. And iconic. In fact, I’d wager it could be the most famous movie scene that features a gun.

In its own goofy way, it also scratches the itch of everyone who’s ever been frustrated watching intricate martial arts choreography while a firearm lies on the floor within arm’s reach of one of the fighters. Just pick up the gun, people. It’ll save everyone a lot of time.

Last Shot

Which scenes did I miss? I’m sure there are other great ones out there. Sound off in the comments!

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