The history of Hollywood’s shoot ‘em up movies stretches as far back as cinema itself. The shootout has always been the plot device of choice for action films, westerns and gangster flicks. Some of the most legendary actors have made their names with one-liners famously delivered before firing the first shot. A gun fight can define a film, a career and even an entire genre.
Let’s face it, the movie shootout is and always has been an art. The guns, the actors and the authenticity of the action all play a part in creating a crowd-pleasing battle.
We considered breaking these down into categories like “best barroom shootouts” or “best western shootouts,” but it just seems more fun to consider the entire history of gun fights on the Silver Screen.
We ranked the following shootouts based on a few criterion:
- Guns: Were the guns used as much a part of popular culture as the movies themselves?
- Notoriety: How firmly is the shootout engrained in shooting lore?
- Cool Factor: How eye-poppingly awesome was the shootout?
- Authenticity: Was the use of firearms authentic and believable throughout?
How does Tony Montana’s final overture compare to Wyatt Earp’s legendary stand-off? We had a pretty lively in-house debate, and we have a feeling that it’s not over just yet.
The Guns: Colt Detective Special, Smith & Wesson Combat Masterpiece, M1911A1, Ithaca 37
Why We Love it: Crooked cops, a white hot Kim Basinger and one of the most explosive good-against-evil finales on our list makes this gun fight a standout. The two against 20 gun fight makes for a thrilling end to this acclaimed crime drama.
The Guns: Smith & Wesson Model 66, Beretta 92FS Inox, Remington 870 sawed off, Smith & Wesson Model 625, Desert Eagle, Heckler & Koch MP5K, Uzi, Beretta 92FS, Smith & Wesson Model 629 Bodyguard, Mossberg 500 sawed off
Why We Love It: Bullets flying everywhere -- along with destroyed furniture -- and plenty of shouting over thunderous gunfire. What's not to love?
The Guns: Great Western Revolver, Colt Single Action Army, Smith & Wesson Safety Hammerless, Hammerless Coach shotgun
Why We Love It: Vintage John Wayne -- and even a young Ron Howard -- going to town on an entire barroom: It's a classic Western scene, and one that never, ever gets old.
The Guns: M1911A1, Smith & Wesson Model 10, M1921 Thompson
Why We Love It: Not all shootouts have to be all explosive gunfire and intense music, as director Sam Mendes proved with his artistically masterful gunfight toward the end of 2002â€™s Road to Perdition.
The Guns: Single Action Army, Winchester Model 1873, Flintlock rifles (Not fired, but hung on wall in background)
Why We Love It: Shane shows some quick thinking here, taking down two assailants in a matter of seconds, and a third with the help of a precocious little scamp hiding outside.
The Guns: Smith & Wesson Model 15, Smith & Wesson Model 36, SPAS-12, Ithaca 37, AR-18, M16A1
Why We Love It: Dual-wielding a Franchi SPAS-12 and an AR-18, the killer cyborg takes out the boys in blue like itâ€™s nobodyâ€™s business. Arnie gets his just desserts in the end, however, when his cranium is crushed like a grape under a hydraulic press. Justice.
The Guns: Single Action Army, Remington 1895, J. Stevens & Company 1878 Coach Gun, Winchester 1873
Why We Love it: Almost every shot fired in this film feels as real as if you were sitting sideline. Costner's fast firing with the SAA and Duval's blasts with the Coach Gun all rang true.
The Guns: USAF M16, M60, M1911A1, SA Vz.58, M72 LAW, M79, Browning M2HB heavy machine gun
Why We Love It: Thereâ€™s no denying it: War is hell. Full Metal Jacketâ€™s depiction of the Battle of Hue during the Vietnam War is painful to watch, just for the sake of the soldiers watching as their friends are killed one by one, but the courage of each soldier to bravely risk their own lives for one another is truly admirable. Thereâ€™s no greater bravery than that. Semper fi, Marines.
The Guns: Taurus PT92, Glock 26, Para-Ordnance P-14, Smith & Wesson Model 629 Snub, Smith & Wesson Model 686 Snub, Para-Ordnance P-10, Smith & Wesson 5906
Why We Love It: As police reconstruct a violent suburban shootout, the viewers are treated not only to gratuitous violence, but a veritable arsenal of handguns, most of them wielded by one character (above). Just as entertaining is Willem Dafoeâ€™s brilliant retelling of the firefight.
The Guns: Colt 1851 Navy (cartridge conversion), Colt 1851, Navy Percussion, Remington 1858 New Army, Winchester 1866 "Yellow Boy" (mocked up as a Henry 1860), Sharps 1874, Colt 1860 Army, Remington 1858 "Cattleman's Carbine", Springfield Model 1863, Galand Revolver
Why We Love It: Clint Eastwood has carved himself a place in almost every single list involving movies, guns and badassery. This movie is no different. The final gun fight is the epitome of western showdown. Quick, give us more intense music and close ups of those killer glares.
The Guns: Ruger KP90, Beretta 92FS Inox, Taurus PT99, Desert Eagle Mark XIX, Smith & Wesson Model 19, MAC-10
Why We Love It: El Mariachiâ€™s gunfight at the bar is everything you could ask for in a shootout: slick moves, plenty of bullets flying, and of course, some beautiful guns, including the beautiful Ruger KP90s flying out of Banderasâ€™ sleeves (above).
The Guns: Single Action Army, Smith & Wesson Schofield Model 3, Starr 1858 Army, Spencer 1860 Saddle Ring Carbine, J. Stevens & Company 1878, W. Richards 10 gauge double-barreled shotgun
Why We Love It: In addition to a good old fashioned Western standoff, we're treated to typical Clint Eastwood banter when he explains himself for shooting an unarmed man. Classic.
The Guns: Colt M1911/Star Model, Single Action Army, Colt New Service, Smith & Wesson Model 10, Luger P08, Winchester Model 1897, Winchester Model 1912, Single Barrel Shotgun, Double-Barreled Shotgun
Why We Love It: Some of our elder statesmen here at G&A spontaniously yelled out this movie's name when we first brought up the subject. The film's final scene belongs up there with the greats, as this bunch of criminals does one last good deed. G&A Executive Editor Payton Miller has been yelling, "Give 'em hell Pike!" in his office ever since we mentioned this movie.
The Guns: Beretta 84FS Cheetah, M16 (SP1), Micro Uzi, Heckler & Koch MP5K, Franchi SPAS-12, Yugoslav Model 61 Skorpion, Smith & Wesson Model 10 Heavy Barrel
Why We Love It: Granted, Keanu Reevesâ€™ showmanship is aided with the help of computers, but come on, how many of you can say with a straight face that you didnâ€™t much care for that bullet dodging? In addition, the lobby scene (above) has all the collateral damage we come to expect from our action films â€“ and some gravity-defying acrobatics to garnish it.
The Guns: Smith & Wesson Model 36 Snub, Smith & Wesson Model 10, Smith & Wesson Escort
Why We Love It: The image of a bloodied Travis Bickle pointing his fingers to his head and calmly saying, â€śBang,â€ť after rescuing a child prostitute in a violent gunfight is one of the most enduring cinematic images of the 20th century â€“ well-deserving of mention on this list.
The Guns: SIG Sauer P220, Beretta 92FS, Taurus PT92, Mossberg 590, Mossberg 500, Remington 870, Colt Model 733, IMI Galil ARM in 5.56mm, M16A1
Why We Love It: Who doesn't love a good heist followed by a car chase? Firing off a few hundred rounds just adds to the excitement.
The Guns: 12 Gauge Double-barreled Side-by-Side Shotgun, Winchester Model 1873, Winchester Model 1873, Single Action Army, Colt Lightning, Meteor 10 Gauge side-by-side shotgun, Colt Buntline Special (EMF/Uberti replica),Stevens 10-gauge side-by-side shotgun
Why We Love It: This is the pinnacle of shootouts. It's as much a part of pop culture as anything on this list. In fact, we're taking the rest of the day off to watch this classic.
The Guns: Colt Python, Uzi, M1911A1, Remington 870, FN FAL, Heckler & Koch HK33, Valmet M82A, Colt AR-15 with fake M203 grenade launcher, aka â€śMy Little Friend,â€ť M16A1, Spanish Zabala sawed-off double-barreled shotgun
Why We Love It: A huge amount of firearms? Check. Bullets flying everywhere with thunderous gunfire? Check. Catchphrase? Check. For immortalizing Tony Montana in shooting lore, we give Scarface the top spot on our list.