There have been jokes in Hollywood that screen legend Michael Caine is in every movie. There is no denying that Mr. Caine is in a lot of films. As of last year, he had appeared in 176 films, but that actually pales to the 201 acting credits of Danny Glover (who apparently isn’t getting too old for this “stuff” after all) and doesn’t even come close to Eric Roberts (brother of Julia) who was in a reported 666 films and TV shows as of last year.
Being in more movies doesn’t mean they were all good. Moreover, Stanley Kubrick only directed around 20 films in his career including shorts, and he only made a dozen full-length features. Most are considered classics today.
Now, when it comes to firearms in the movies, a number of truly high-profile guns have CVs more closely resembling that of Kubrick than perhaps Caine or Glover—a fact that likely may come as a surprise.
The AK-47 Relied on Stand-ins
Ask someone what firearm has appeared on screen the most times, and the AK-47 is likely to be on any shortlist. Its credits are impressive and include dozens of films but most are post-1990. The reason is that during the Cold War, there was a U.S. government ban on all weapons imported from the Warsaw Pact.
Though other communist nations, notably Yugoslavia and China, were able to negotiate trade agreements, which allowed “AK-clones” to fill in, a true AK-47 wasn’t actually seen in the early wave of Vietnam War films of the 1970s and 1980s. Instead, Chinese, Egyptian, and Yugoslavian rifles had to stand in.
That also explains why there isn’t a single AK-47 seen in “The Green Berets.” Instead, the enemy is seen largely with the erroneous M-1 Carbine. In this case, at least John Wayne did get to carry an M-16!
Now, that also isn’t to say the AK didn’t appear in films from the 1950s to the late 1980s. In fact, its first appearance predated its use in combat. The Soviet-designed firearm made its film debut in the domestically produced comedy “Maksim Perepelitsa” in 1955 – a full year before Western observers first took note of the assault rifle during the Hungarian Revolution. The rifle was seen in a number of subsequent Soviet films but remained largely unknown to American moviegoers.
It wasn’t until 1977 that it appeared in the Israeli-made “Operation Thunderbolt” about the raid on Entebbe Airport in Kampala, Uganda, on July 4, 1976, that audiences outside of the Soviet Union could have seen the AK-47 on the big screen. That film was one of three made about the operation—including two American made-for-TV presentations—about the infamous raid by Israeli commandos to rescue 102 hostages held by Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
A year later, Kirk Douglas became the first American to be seen with an AK-47 in the film “The Fury,” a supernatural thriller directed by Brian De Palma. It was also filmed in Israel, where the production’s armorers had access to captured Soviet-made AK-47s from Syria—likely obtained during the Six Day War of 1967 and the Yom Kippur War of 1973.
While Israeli armorers provided real AK-47s in a number of productions, films such as “Apocalypse Now” and “The Deer Hunter” largely had to rely on the similar-looking Chinese Norinco Type 56.
Bond, James Bond Didn’t Often Carry the PPK
Another “trick” question for movie buffs is what firearm does James Bond carry? Those quick on the buzzer will say, “Walther PPK,” but they’re not entirely correct. One doesn’t need to be a super spy to discover this could be a nefarious plot by a supervillain to confuse the truth. In nearly a third of the Bond films, the PPK isn’t ever present.
Here is the timeline: Sean Connery’s Bond is actually given a Walther PP to replace his Beretta 418 in “Doctor No,” even as the pistol is described as a PPK. Audiences likely didn’t know or care. 007 does have the PPK in the follow-up “From Russia With Love,” however.
Bond does little shooting in “Goldfinger”—being a captive guest of the title villain after all—and he is only seen with a Walther P38 at one point.
The PPK was back in “Thunderball” and was seen in the subsequent “You Only Live Twice,” “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” (George Lazenby’s only outing as Bond), and “Diamonds Are Forever.” It also stuck around with Roger Moore in “Live and let Die, The Man With the Golden Gun,” and “The Spy Who Loved Me.”
However, there was no PPK in “Moonraker” but Bond could be seen with a laser gun as this one was trying to take advantage of the popularity of “Star Wars.” When the series came back down to Earth with “For Your Eyes Only,” the PPK was back once again. Then it was gone in “Octopussy” (only appearing in the credits) and the competing “Never Say Never Again,” while Moore used it a final time in “A View to A Kill,” and it was present in both of Timothy Dalton’s films: “The Living Daylights” and “License to Kill”—while Pierce Brosnan used the PPK in “Goldeneye.”
The Walther P99 replaced the PPK in “Tomorrow Never Dies,” and it remained Bond’s new pistol for “The World is Not Enough” and “Die Another Day.” That was also the sidearm at the beginning of the “reboot” era with Daniel Craig in “Casino Royale.” However, perhaps to play into nostalgia, the PPK returned yet again in “Quantum of Solace” and remained Bond’s choice of a gun in “Skyfall,” “SPECTRE”, and “No Time to Die.” The question could be asked why a 21st-century secret agent is carrying a pistol that was first introduced before World War II, but it is part of the Bond mythos.
A Late Bloomer – The Uzi 9mm
Another firearm that is known by people who know nothing about firearms is the Israeli Uzi submachine gun. Yet, like the AK-47, it was around for a long time before it became a “movie star.” The compact open-bolt submachine gun, which was designed by Major Uziel “Uzi” Gal in the late 1940s, first entered service with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in 1954. It saw use in a number of conflicts but was never actually seen in a film until 1976’s “Raid on Entebbe”—the first of the TV movies about the daring rescue operation.
The Uzi later appeared in “Black Sunday,” “Operation Thunderbolt,” “Midnight Express,” and “The Wild Geese.” It is seemingly never mentioned by name in any of these films, however, and it didn’t get its first “call out” until 1981 when it appeared as the weapon of choice in “The Dogs of War.” Interestingly, that production actually didn’t have enough Uzis to go around and some cast members can be seen with modified MAC-10s instead.
The SMG’s big screen moment finally came in 1984 when Arnold Schwarzenegger asked for an “Uzi 9mm” in “The Terminator.” After that, the Uzi was infamous.
The Most Powerful Handgun Also Didn’t Get Much Attention
The big-framed Smith & Wesson Model 29 was one of those firearms virtually ignored by filmmakers for years. It was introduced to shooters in 1955, but it took more than a decade before it made its screen debut in 1967’s “Point Blank” starring Lee Marvin. In fairness, the late 1950s and early 1960s was an era of Hollywood epics that included historical dramas, biblical stories, and westerns.
It was in 1971 that the Model 29 became a star when it was carried by Clint Eastwood’s Inspector “Dirty” Harry Callahan who seemed to trade his Colt Single Action Army for the S&W Model 29.
The opening scene of “Dirty Harry” has, of course, become legendary—and has resulted in the T-shirt quote, “Do you feel lucky punk.” Except, after shooting several bank robbers, Callahan faced a potential standoff with one and actually said, “I know what you’re thinking: ‘Did he fire six shots or only five?’ Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement, I’ve kinda lost track myself. But being this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do you, punk?”
It is also worth noting that by the time the film was made, the .44 Remington Magnum cartridge had been eclipsed in size and power by the .454 Casull round. As it would take almost another decade for a widely available revolver chambered for the round to come out, Callahan was technically correct.
More importantly, Dirty Harry did put the S&W Model 29—or at least the .44 Magnum—into the public consciousness, and the gun did go on to be carried by such diverse stars as Bill Cosby (yes, Cosby) and Robert De Niro.