Get Fired Up! Some Great Movie Gun Scenes

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Ever since Justus D. Barnes took direct aim at audiences in The Great Train Robbery, guns and gunplay have been just as integral a part of American cinema as they have been a mainstay of the culture at large. According to no less a legend than Jean-Luc Godard, a firearm on film accounts for a full 50% of all you need for a successful screen venture:

All you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun.

Hollywood hasn’t done much to disprove the French auteur’s formula for box-office gold. Since guns currently occupy a significant place in the national conversation, this seems like the perfect time to corral a few of the more memorable movie moments where the most ubiquitous weapon in cinema plays a major role. But let’s be clear about what we’re not, uh, aiming for here—this will be no collection of shoot-outs. When it was time to take the measure of bullets flying in blockbusters, we decided to Ask Movie Irv: What’s the Best Movie Shootout?—so there’s not much novelty in reloading that query here.  

No, here we’re going to showcase some high-caliber scenes that do not involve people pulling the trigger on each other. And there will be no Wayne, Eastwood, Bronson, or Tarantino, because boring, to use the popular blogger’s parlance.

Zardoz

I’d had John Boorman’s cult sci-fi film sitting on my shelf for quite some time before I’d finally pulled the trigger and watched it. Boy howdy, does it deserve its colorful reputation. Not as a bad movie, though. I get that the wardrobe and general production design date this picture a good bit, but the story is such a genuine mind-bender and so far afield of the usual “dystopian future” fare that its still-topical cynicism, humor (both intentional and otherwise), and kaleidoscopic strangeness make it must-viewing for fans of the genre and anyone looking to start some pretentious roundtable chat about the persistent societal tugs-of-war between men and women, knowledge and ignorance, and sex and violence.

Here’s just the first of many eye-popping moments, drawn from a modified trailer–where the titular floating stone head vomits artillery down to the non-thinking survivalists who are encouraged by their god to worship the force of arms:

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The fuller quote from the film sheds more light on the general thrust of Boorman’s satire: The gun is good! The penis is bad! I’m pretty sure someone could make a quick fortune selling that bumper sticker in more than a few of these 50 states, where that sentiment would be embraced without a trace of irony.

The Deer Hunter

This was the film that Movie Irv said he’d never watch again, mainly because he wanted to preserve undiminished the dire impact watching it had on him in the theater. When you think of Russian Roulette in the movies, there is no other movie that leaps so instantly to mind, so definitive and disturbing is this scene between Christopher Walken and Robert De Niro.

Yes, this clip takes you all the way to the end, so depending on where you are when you click “play,” this could be the occasion for one of those “NSFW” advisories…although it seems to me we see more graphic material than this these days on primetime network shows:

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As a general topic for the movies, suicide is a dicey one to handle with class and power. Now let’s go, to paraphrase Spalding Gray, from dark to light…

Take the Money and Run

Because no actor/writer/director is more identified with explosive screen violence than the man who said I’m not afraid of death; I just don’t want to be there when it happens:

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Some people just aren’t meant to carry a gub.

Robin and the 7 Hoods

This entire post actually had its origins with Sammy Davis Jr., as I’d been bopping around the interwebs in search of a good recording of Mister Show Business performing the theme song from Beretta. (Sometimes these things just pop into your head and before you know it, you’ve wasted a lot of valuable time.) That led me to think of this scene from the movie musical that gave us “My Kind of Town.”

When you think about the recent spate of mass shootings, it becomes difficult to watch this scene and listen to the lyrics without getting a little queasy. Or that could be just me; your conscience is your own. One thing that cannot possibly be disputed, though, is Sammy’s spectacular gift for song and dance. Yes he can:

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I think we can reliably predict that this highly enjoyable movie will be safe from the remake machine for some time. Tough, though, to make an argument that those were the “simpler” times. 

Witness

Sure, it’s a crowd-pleasing Harrison Ford blockbuster from the 1980s. But the director is Peter Weir, and the richly satisfying Earl W. Wallace/William Kelley script also gives us this quiet and very challenging exchange. I daresay a minority of those viewing this film ultimately sided with Eli, but an inability to take this scene into your heart at some level would indicate to me a state of mind more than worthy of marginalizing:

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I’ve spent my rounds. You’re invited to add to this brief catalog any and all of the classic scenes not represented here (Not shoot-outs. Not shoot-outs. Not shoot-outs.). Palaver concerning your cold, dead hands and other tired bloviating should at least be accompanied by the semblance of integrating it into the appreciation of a great movie gun scene.

After all, I may simply not have the energy to follow up with a black helicopter article.

  • http://www.moviefanfare.com/ Jason Marcewicz

    Nice article! I’d like to fudge a bit by naming a scene with a bullet rather than a gun. Specifically, the end scene of Mad Max 2 (The Road Warrior) where Max has the Feral Kid climb through the broken windshield of his truck to get him the last remaining shotgun shell. Heart-pounding!

  • Wayne P.

    Would have to take “The Quick and the Dead” as at least the girl was pretty & good with the gun too!

  • Henry OTTINGER

    My favorite non-shoot-outs are both from John Wayne movies. The first from Brannigan–the titles of a ,38 Colt Diamondback. the other is from The Shootist when he is giving a shooting lesson to Ron Howard.

  • Blair Kramer

    I wasn’t aware of the fact that Godard said it, but I’m familiar with the phrase “all you need is a girl and a gun to make a movie.” But I’m sure he wasn’t serious. After all, what would the girl do after she shoots every round and runs out of amunition? Then again, I suppose the answer to that question would depend upon the length of the gun barrel…

  • Huge movie fan

    Tombstone. Now hold on! This is not a shooting scene! The scene where doc holliday mocks johnny ringo’s pistol skills by mimicking his moves with a cup is one of the best scenes in the movie

    • GeorgeDAllen

      Bullseye! That scene is a Val Kilmer career high.

  • JLEVIN

    Certaiinly look at Black Sunday for the unrelenting chase of Bekim Fehmiu as Fasil by Robert Shaw playing Major David Kabakov for a great gun scene directed by the great John Frankenheimer

    • GeorgeDAllen

      Ooo “Black Sunday.” Well done. I haven’t watched that one in a good long while. I might have to cue that one up soon.

  • rapalmi

    Another classic moment and a classic line: showing little Brandon De Wilde how to handle a gun, Alan Ladd as Shane tells him, “Joey, a gun is only as good or bad as the man using it.” Then a horrified Jean Arthur hustles Joey into the house, exclaiming that she does not want her son learning about guns.

    • hiram

      This is the first scene that came to my mind, too. And Kevin Bacon simply exhibitiing his gun in THE RIVER WIDE makes it look like the killing instrument that it is. An interesting sub-category of this question would be “What’s the best learning-how-to-shoot scene. You know, the one in Westerns where bottles get stood on objects and the fellow who’s good with the gun shows the novice how it works (like Wayne and Stewart in LIBERTY VALANCE.)

  • Rufnek43

    The best movie firearms scene? Any with an armed Lee Marvin! Prior to filming, Marvin rehearsed the handling of firearms the way other actors rehearse lines. As a result, he is the ONLY movie actor consistently to look as though he was really handling a weapon–all the rest look like they were handing movie props.

    • http://www.facebook.com/butch.knouse Butch Knouse

      Lee Marvin was an ex-Marine who fought in the Pacific in WW II and was a Sergeant by the time the war ended. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetary.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Matt-Gaffney/1450547336 Matt Gaffney

    The final shootout scenes in The Wild Bunch. There was a lot of lead being thrown around in that movie.

  • -Griz

    Best western shootout is “The Open Range” with Costner and the irreplaceable Robert Duvall’

  • kmcc

    In the Peter Jackson remake of King Kong the ship’s captain brandishes an 8″ barreled Artillery Luger to save his landing party from the most grusome looking natives I ever saw on film. Also seeing crates full of vintage 1921 Thompson submachine guns on the ship being handed out for a rescue mission was a treat even if their later use to shoot giant insects away from trapped sailors bordered on the rediculous.

  • Bruce Reber

    Point Blank with Walker (Lee Marvin) using his gun (it looked like a .44 or .357 Magnum or maybe a .45 Automatic to me) on the guys trying to screw him out of his share of robbery loot certainly deserves a mention. The last scene of The French Connection with tough cop Popeye Doyle gunning for the French drug kingpin and blowing away a fed by mistake. Surely one of the most iconic endings to a film, Bonnie and Clyde and their car being riddled with Tommy gun fire in the 1967 classic. The opening and closing massacre scenes of The Wild Bunch. The Outfit with Robert Duvall both ripping off and blowing away the mobsters who iced his brother. The original Walking Tall (1973) with sheriff Buford Pusser (Joe Don Baker) being ambushed by the mob who’s taking issue with his efforts to clean up the county. And last but not least, White Heat with psycho – Oedipus complexed gangster Cody Jarrett (James Cagney) in the chemical plant shooting it out with the cops, and then climbing up the storage tank, shooting off the valve and starting the fiery explosion, him shouting that famous last line “made it ma, top of the world!!!” before both him and the plant vanish in a apocalyptic fireball. Could someone please clarify what kind of gun Walker used in Point Blank.

    • GeorgeDAllen

      According to the Internet Movie Firearms Database (!) — which is quite the source of web-surfing fun — Marvin uses the Smith & Wesson Model 29 .44 Mag. Here’s the link to that weapon’s page on the IMFDB (! again! What a site), and the other films where that gun is utilized, and by whom: http://www.imfdb.org/wiki/Smith_%26_Wesson_Model_29

  • Bruce Reber

    Thanks Mr. A – that just happens to be Clint Eastwood’s weapon of choice in the Dirty Harry films. At the beginning of Magnum Force he delivers the iconic line “This is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world! It can blow your head clean off! Do ya feel lucky?!!!” while he’s pointing it right at you!