The 8 Most Realistic Hollywood Gun Scenes


Given enough time and typewriters, a barrel of monkeys could write the script for Dumb and Dumber. I’m guessing it might take three monkeys with a used Smith-Corona Speedline about an hour. Following similar logic, with enough movies, even the folks in Hollywood are bound to get some gun scenes right.

It’s probably too much to ask for those folks to get a whole movie right when it comes to guns, so I’ll focus on only a few clips here—shining examples of mostly realistic gun scenes. As with my previous list that focused on the worst Hollywood gun scenes, there will be some violence in these clips, so reader beware!

1. Air Force One: Trigger discipline!

Here’s one from a movie that made “The Top 9 Worst Hollywood Gun Scenes Ever” list a couple of weeks ago.

Air Force Major Caldwell (William H. Macy) displays some actual trigger discipline when the butt-kicking President (Harrison Ford) hands him an MP5A3. Believe it or not, Caldwell aligns his trigger finger along the receiver as they head off into the plane to kick some terrorist butt.

Air Force One
Now that kinda trigger discipline isn’t something you see in every Hollywood flick!

2. Act of Valor: All of it.

The movie Act of Valor was made by a couple of former Hollywood stunt men with cooperation by the US Navy. In fact, all military personnel in the movie are played by active military personnel. That’s right, there are hardly any “real” actors in this movie—which explains why the gun handling is so good throughout. It also explains why the acting leaves a little bit to be desired, but that’s okay. As a side note, it took over two years to film the movie because the “actors” (US Navy SEALs) had to keep going on deployments overseas.

Many of the scenes in the movie were filmed using live fire. Rather than mock up everything for a movie, the producers filmed a number of live training exercises.

I’m only identifying scenes in this movie as I promised scenes only at the beginning of this article, but the whole movie is on-target. Here are a couple of my favorites.

Blanks? Who needs blanks? When the SEALS lay down a little bit of covering fire on the bad guys from their boat-mounted General Dynamics GAU-17/As, you’ll see real brass flying, not that crimped-nose movie prop stuff. That was one of the live fire scenes, and it sure was impressive.

Real pros use semiautomatic, aimed fire. You’ll see this throughout the movie, along with actual magazine changes. This scene shows a brief example of the good guys aiming at bad guys and using rapid semiautomatic fire for maximum effect.

As you might expect, the gun handling in this movie almost qualifies as an instructional class as opposed to entertainment. In another scene, two of the heroes even manage to execute perfect muzzle discipline while diving away from a terrorist suicide bomber. That’s focus!

3. Lone Survivor: Round count?

While most movie characters have unlocked the unlimited ammo perk, the director of this movie paid close attention to the number of shots fired and number of total rounds the characters carried. The director kept track of multiple actors, multiple shots, takes per scene, and the ammo status of each in its non-linear method of filming. It demonstrated a herculean commitment to maintaining a semblance of reality, so I have to give Hollywood an “A “for effort! In this case, the dwindling ammo supply certainly amped up the suspense level. And, as in Act of Valor, you’ll see aimed, semiautomatic fire.

4. Blackhawk Down: Well, this is my safety, sir…

“You Delta boys are a bunch of undisciplined cowboys!” So says Captain Steele to Delta operator SFC “Hoot” Gibson after chastizing Hoot for walking around the base chow line with a hot weapon, safety off. Hoot casually moves his trigger finger in front of his face, saying “Well, this is my safety, sir.”

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He’s right; the best safety is in your brain, and not a mechanical device. But that’s still no excuse not to take advantage of a safety that’s in place, of course.

5. Enemy at the Gates: Actual sniping?

The Russian hero finds himself with an opportunity to take out a German commander. He’s in a hidden position behind a small wall. Rather than expose the muzzle of his Mosin-Nagant over the wall, he sets up so his rifle is a couple of feet behind a small hole. By not crowding the firing hole and sticking the muzzle through it, he stays hidden from view. You can see our character lining up to make sure the bullet clears the hole given the offset of his iron sights. Well done!

6. Unforgiven

When William Munny (Clint Eastwood) takes his Starr 1858 Army model revolver out of storage for some practice, he takes a number of slow and deliberate shots at a tin can with the self-cocking revolver. He manages to miss every time. Frustrated, he retrieves a coach shotgun and blows the can off the fence post.

In real life, it’s hard to hit a small target with a handgun. I was glad to see Hollywood give a nod to the challenges faced by a real handgunner.

7. Inglourious Basterds: A realistic death scene?

Near the climactic end of the film, heroine Shosanna Dreyfus shoots German war hero Fredrick Zoller in the back three times with her pocket pistol. According to, her pistol is either an FN Model 1905 or a Colt Model 1908 Vest Pocket, chambered in .25 ACP.

Anyway, rather than flying across the room or instantly dying, he slowly falls down against the door that he was closing at the time. A moment later, Shosanna sees Zoller slowing moving, not yet dead. In a tender post-murder moment, with soft music playing in the background, she turns him over, at which point he plugs her four times with his 9mm Luger.

Both shootings are fatal, but like in the real world, not necessarily immediate. Leave it to Quentin Tarantino to come up with a realistic, and quite gory, death scene.

8. Heat: The bank robbery scene

Editor’s note: I just couldn’t let Tom write this piece without sticking one of my favorite “gun scenes” into it—the bank robbery scene from Heat.

Aside from being an all-around awesome movie featuring some great actors like Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro, and Val Kilmer, 1995’s Heat sports a wide variety of firearms (including a Chinese Type 56 AK, a very cool FN FNC, and a Galil) and believable gunplay. One of the film’s most memorable scenes is when the antiheros’ bank heist goes awry, resulting in a massive shootout in the streets of Los Angeles.

Though the firefight is brimming with gratuitous fully-automatic fire from the robbers, the law enforcement officers tend to keep their giggle switches set to “semi.” It also features characters actually reloading their guns and using their firearms’ sights—not something you saw too often in action movies from the ’90s.

The action starts in the clip below around 4:15.

Contrary to my assumption, there are quite a few movie scenes with realistic gun portrayal. If you spend a little time at the Internet Firearms Movie Database, you’ll find plenty of examples of historical accuracy and realistic technique.

These are some of the most realistic scenes that popped into my head, what say you?

Tom McHale is the author of the Insanely Practical Guides book series that guides new and experienced shooters alike in a fun, approachable, and practical way. His books are available in print and eBook format on Amazon.

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