By: Peter Suciu
Movies are filled with firearms that don’t – and likely never will – exist. Yet many of these imaginary weapons have gained as much notoriety (and sometimes, infamy) as their real-world counterparts on which they’re based.
Fictional firearms are especially prevalent in science-fiction films, where futuristic-looking guns abound. Harrison Ford has been known to carry a couple of these in his various roles – notably the LAPD 2018 Blaster he carries as “Rick Deckardin” in Bladerunner, and Han Solo’s DL-44 heavy blaster pistol from the Star War films.
Real firearms were used to create both of these very distinctive handguns, with quite spectacular results. When people see the real Mauser C-96 “Broomhandle” semi-automatic pistol today, the weapon is probably associated more often with Han Solo than with Winston Churchill, who carried a real one as a soldier in the British military.
Though they often resemble the real thing, these are weapons of pure fantasy. And we expect sci-fi films today to have such iconic firearms, just as earlier generations expected Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon to carry art deco-influenced ray guns.
There are times, however, when it seems Hollywood has crossed the line in trying to include fantastical guns that don’t exist and force these into realistic films. Some of the results require just a bit more than the usual suspension of disbelief required to make films enjoyable – such as the Glock 7s of Die Hard 2, or the ceramic assassin pistol of In the Line of Fire. Others are so downright silly, though, that the results can’t be forgiven.
Cry Havoc Indeed with the XM-18
The 1980 film, The Dogs of War, based on the Frederick Forsyth novel of the same name, details the intricacies of the illicit small arms trade as part of the preparation for a violent mercenary-led coup of an African dictatorship. The movie touches on such topics as end-user certificates and depicts the various methods that can be employed to smuggle small arms across international borders.
Then the film features the very fictional “XM-18,” a multi-shot grenade launcher that could fire “fragmentation, grenade, tactical, anti-tank, anti-personnel,” all within “18 rounds in five seconds.”
This weapon seems not only unnecessary to the plot, but also quite unbelievable as it is shown on screen. The rate of fire appears far slower than 18 rounds in five seconds, due in part to the fact that the XM-18 is actually a very real Manville Machine-Projector.
The Manville Machine-Projector was developed in the 1930s as a rotary-cylinder 12 shotgun and later redesigned to fire 25mm tear gas or smoke grenades and flares. It was never actually capable of firing fragmentation grenades, nor could it be. The size of the barrels would be incapable of launching anti-personnel or anti-tank rounds, and certainly not at a safe distance from the user! As noted, it was limited to tear gas and smoke only.
In the film, the “XM-18” fires 12-gauge blanks, and it took movie magic to make the explosions look “realistic.” Given that there were actual grenade launchers in use in 1980, the inclusion of this weapon in an otherwise fairly accurate action film is simply a major misfire!
To the Max with a Personal Minigun
The 1980s will always be remembered as the decade of excess, so it shouldn’t be surprising that the original Predator film from 1987 featured one of the most over-the-top machine guns ever seen on screen.
While it is easy to accept the body armor-mounted heavy weapons from Aliens – which came out a year earlier – since it is a sci-fi film featuring aliens, after all, seeing Jesse Ventura wielding a hand-held M134 Minigun in the jungles of Central America in Predator pretty much made it hard to take anything else seriously in this film. An invisible alien warrior hunting humans is a far more believable part of the plot than that weapon is.
First, even a former pro wrestler would have a hard time carrying the ammunition this gun is capable of firing – which helps explain why director John McTiernan had the rate of fire substantially decreased from the normal 6,000 RPM to 1,250 RPM. Doing so allowed the film’s audience to see the barrels spin, making for a truly extreme 1980’s experience.
Ventura described the experience of firing the gun (with blanks) as akin to “firing a chainsaw.” While editing suggests to viewers that the user would have something resembling control, this would be the ultimate “spray and pray” type of weapon – but in this case, you want to pray you don’t accidently hit friend as well as foe!
Of course, no one says what powered the M134, as it would require a battery pack at least as large as the ammo container. Such a weapon could essentially run dry in seconds, which explains why no attempt has been made to create a real version. It would be empty in moments, and then just be an expensive and heavy piece of useless equipment to carry through the jungle.
Completely Off the Rails
Now no one expects pretty much any film with Arnold Schwarzenegger in it to be completely realistic when it comes to firearms. But the inclusion of the EM-1 Railgun in the 1996 film Eraser takes what could be an almost believable story and erases – ahem – its credibility instantly.
The weapon is described as being able to fire aluminum rounds at close to the speed of light. While such a feat will never be possible (speed of light? really?), all real attempts to create a “railgun” are usually in a scale far closer to the armament on a warship, not something a person could carry.
Power consumption and heat would be a serious issue, but even if this were overcome, there is still the matter of the round, which would be so hot it would likely burn up before it reached the end of the barrel and would resemble a stream of plasma. Accurate it would not be.
As a plot point crucial to the story, it also makes no sense that these guns are being sold on the black market, and even a rogue state likely couldn’t afford to maintain such weapons. And finally, the end sequence with “Arnuld” carrying two of these weapons seems more appropriate to have included in The Terminator.
Real-life gangsters are reported to have concealed weapons in violin cases – or at least that’s what movies from the 1930s would have us believe. This concept was revisited in films from the 1990s – but this time the cases became the guns!
We never really get to see what sort of firearm is in the guitar cases carried by “El Mariachi” in the 1995 film Desperado, but director Robert Rodriguez has commented that specially modified Military Armament Corporation Model 10 – more commonly known as MAC-10s – were used to fire blanks for the muzzle flash, while the sound effects are from the M134 mini-gun. Such a combination suggests a very high rate of fire that doesn’t match the flash.
Moving past that minor detail, as I noted already, the M134 would present a problem with ammunition and battery and would weigh quite a bit – but an M-10 submachine gun, even fitted with a special extended barrel, would have little to no accuracy. Reloading this weapon would be difficult to say the least as well, and while heroes seldom need to reload their guns, this one brings it to an absurd extreme!
While action stars can be expected to shoot from the hip, firing a gun enclosed in a guitar case is something that seems difficult even for Antonio Banderas – and let’s not get started on the guitar case rocket launcher...
Time to close the case on this one.
Peter Suciu is a freelance writer based in Michigan. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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