The Dumbest Uses of a Suppressor in Movies

Movies and, by extension, TV are terrible when it comes to suppressors. Ever since the olden days, a suppressor has been near whisper quiet when it comes to muffling gunshots. Most pieces of media get it wrong, but not all. Breaking Bad had an episode where Mike kills several cartel members with a suppressed handgun, but it’s still quite loud. In an oddball film, A Scanner Darkly, a character attempts to make an improvised suppressor with a pill bottle; it’s tremendously loud and played as a joke. 

However, most of the time, Hollywood gets it wrong. Very wrong. In fact, the Hollywood suppressor can be quite ridiculous — more than just being too quiet. Today, let’s look at hilarious examples of the Hollywood suppressor and just how wrong they get the idea of muffling a gunshot. 

The Hollywood Suppressor – Getting It Wrong on the Big Screen

The Silent Shootout 

This is the oldest version of the Hollywood suppressor. Suppressors take loud, massive handheld explosions and silence them with total efficiency. In film, guns make a cute little “fwip” noise that is impossible to hear. You can shoot two guys side-by-side and they’ll never even know! The reason this is a myth is because suppressors don’t work that well. 

john wick with suppressor
This scene from John Wick showed guns being absurdly quiet. In the real world, this makes no sense.

In fact, outside of a single shot .22LR firing subsonic rounds, I can’t think of any configuration that’s as quiet as a Hollywood suppressor. We see this most notably in John Wick 2, a film gun nerds enjoy for its firearm’s handling. John Wick and Cassian have a gunfight in the middle of an extremely busy train station and no one notices. Their guns are that quiet. 

In reality, you have to account for a wide number of noisemaking variables. First, some rounds have a supersonic crack that a suppressor can’t suppress. Sure you can use subsonic rounds, but a suppressor still makes a fairly loud pop. It’s easy to hear. Next, we have the noise of the action slamming back and forth over and over — as well as cases ejecting and dinging off the floor. 

The Pillow Suppressor

Why would you ever spend north of a grand on a suppressor for your gun when you can just grab a throw pillow from Target? A “Live, Laugh, Love” pillow can now be called a “Live, Laugh, Love, Suppress” pillow. The movie tradition of grabbing a pillow and using it to suppress your gunshot is a classic from film and media. 

pillow being used as a suppressor
A pillow is no silencer.

Layer Cake does it in a flashback. John Wick even does it once. The Mel Gibson classic Payback involves the main character using a pillow to suppress his revolver shot! That’s a whole different bag of worms. A pillow doesn’t work as a suppressor. It turns out cheap fabric and cotton can’t suppress a piece of metal moving at least 1,000 feet per second.  

You can say it only needs to work once and doesn’t need to be made from metal rated for ballistic explosions. Well, maybe that would be true if cotton and fabric could do anything to resist super hot, fast-moving gasses. A suppressor works by containing, slowing, and cooling hot, high-speed gasses. A pillow isn’t quite tough enough to do that…even once. 

Silenced Revolvers 

Silenced revolvers are another classic mistake of the Hollywood suppressor industry. It is possible to suppress a revolver, but that revolver has to have a gas seal — like the Nagant revolver. Gas-sealed revolvers are rare and aren’t what I’m talking about. It’s a weird exception, not the rule. 

The sting suppressed revolver
The Sting is a great film, but they didn’t get the suppressors right.

Your typical revolver cannot be suppressed. The gap between the cylinder and barrel emits a portion of hot gas, creating a portion of the noise heard. This trope has popped up in films like Magnum Force and Desperado — even the always amazing film, The Sting. A suppressor on a revolver won’t do much. A suppressed revolver becomes a very expensive flash hider with some muzzle brake features. It won’t effectively suppress a weapon by any real means. This still doesn’t stop Hollywood from tossing cans on revolvers. 

Soda Bottle Suppressor

Can a soda bottle act as a suppressor? I don’t know from any personal experience, but I’ve heard some legends that if you stuff the soda bottle with various materials, it can help reduce the noise of gunshot, but not to actual suppressor-like quality. It takes “BOOM” and makes it “boom”. Soda bottles can only be used with anemic calibers like .22LR and would only be useful for a few shots. 

soda bottle on silencer
Fun fact, Steven Seagal is a scumbag and his pop bottle can wouldn’t work (scene from On Deadly Ground).

To me, that seems unlikely, but I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. However, in most movies, they just plop a water bottle on the gun and call it a day. Sometimes, the guy shooting the gun just holds the bottle to the gun and pulls the trigger. That wouldn’t work. Not even a  little. In the film Shooter, the main character taped a water bottle to a bolt action .22LR. In that scene, at least the bottle is full of something. 

In movies like On Deadly Ground, the hero (played by Steven Seagal) taped a suppressor to a 1911 and it worked like magic! In reality, a taped suppressor would seemingly disable or cause a malfunction with a moving slide. It also wouldn’t suppress something like .45 ACP. 

The Potato Silencer

When getting to the best of the worst of Hollywood suppressors, we have the potato suppressor. Just slap a potato onto the end of your barrel and, boom, your weapon is silenced. That’s it suppressor companies, pack it up! Idaho has put you out of business. Admittedly, I’ve only seen it in one movie, an Indie flick called South Central from the early 1990s. 

putting a potato on a suppressor
This is an interesting way to make mashed potatoes.

In the film, one gang targets a nightclub and slaps potatoes on an M14-type rifle and several revolvers. They magically suppress the guns to a whisper-quiet nature. It’s hilarious but, while the film is a very serious indie drama, this scene takes you out of the movie in a flash. 

In reality, the potato would have exploded and the noise would have been the same at best. In one scene, they seemingly stab the potato onto the barrel, which would seemingly fill the barrel with potato. Can potato guts and a bullet meeting explode the barrel? I don’t know for sure, but I wouldn’t suggest trying it. They definitely wouldn’t have a suppressed gunshot; they would have mashed potatoes or maybe French fries. Wait, is this how you make Freedom fries? 

Hollywood Just Gets the Suppressor Wrong 

Good old Hollywood. It’s kind of nuts the power Hollywood has on regular people. Cinema shapes their worldviews on topics they often aren’t educated on. This includes suppressors. The portrayal of suppressors in film and media is what likely contributes to their continued legislation. In reality, it’s a safety device that helps cut noise pollution. At the same time, we laugh at Hollywood and their silliness. It’s actually kind of a pain in our butts. 

At least we can laugh, and I hope I’ve provided you with something to laugh at.

Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine Gunner and a lifelong firearms enthusiast. Now that his days of working a 240B like Charlie Parker on the sax are over he's a regular guy who likes to shoot, write, and find ways to combine the two. He holds an NRA certification as a Basic Pistol Instructor and is probably most likely the world's Okayest firearm instructor. He is a simplicisist when it comes to talking about himself in the 3rd person and a self-professed tactical hipster. Hit him up on Instagram, @travis.l.pike, with story ideas.

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