I really can’t stand much of Hollywood, its largely anti-gun actors or its hypocrisy on violence, but what can I say—sometimes I enjoy a good action shootout. While there are many more bad examples of shotguns in use than there are realistic ones, over the years Hollywood has turned out a few classics. Here are a few of my favorite shotgun scenes, along with my extremely subjective ranking.
1. “No Country For Old Men”
You might remember the creepy hitman character, Anton Chigurh, played by Javier Bardem in Cormac McCarthy’s screen-adapted 2007 masterpiece. Chigurh’s weapons of choice are a pneumatic cow killer used in slaughterhouses, and a Remington 11-87 that’s been fitted with a giant suppressor. He’s deadlier than the Black Plague with it. (If you wish to see that actual prop gun from the movie, it’s on display at the NRA’s National Firearms Museum in Fairfax, VA.) But at one stretch during the movie, it’s shotty vs. shotty when Chigurh is hot on the trail of the movie’s protagonist, Llewelyn Moss.
In one dimly lit scene, Moss sits on a hotel room bed, facing the door with his sawed-off Winchester 1897 shotgun leveled at it, hoping to ambush Chigurh. As he sees a shadow dance under the door, he cocks the old shot-sprayer’s hammer. Bad mistake. The telltale click alerts Chigurh, who immediately opens fire. Both characters are wounded in the exchange, but narrowly escape after another buckshot battle in the street.
I give the movie 4.5 of 5 Shells for its shotgun action. It’s not a five because the silenced shotgun is too quiet (and the can on the 11-87 is fake as could be), but all in all it’s a wonderful flick.
2. “The Way of the Gun”
This shoot-’em-up is hardly Oscar worthy, but I do like the realistic way actor Ryan Phillippe handles his extended-mag Remington 870 in a great shootout finale. Director Christopher McQuarrie was obviously concerned with realism, because all actors can be seen reloading their guns copiously, even left-handed if they are wounded. That Phillippe had some shotgun training is evident by the way he carries the gun—often with a sling—and leans into its imaginary recoil. Unlike most movies, the shotgun doesn’t kill everything it flags, because it’s possible to miss, even with a street sweeper. I give the movie 4 of 5 Shells, simply because the shootout at the end of the film lasted so long that I ran out of popcorn and soda.
3. “The Getaway”
In Sam Peckinpah’s 1972 film, actor Steve McQueen’s character, Doc McCoy, isn’t keen on returning to jail, but he’s not a murderer either. Hiding his High Standard K-1200 riot shotgun in a brown paper sack that looks like a flower box, he pulls the piece on two officers who want no part of the 12 gauge’s bite. As soon as they toss over their police specials, Doc takes to demobilizing the patrol car with the shotgun. Now, if this were a real fight it would have been over for McQueen, because his gun handling and reloading skills suck, but lucky for him it’s Hollywood. For this reason I give it 3 Shells. I just hope my buddy, NRA Museum curator and movie buff Phil Schreier, doesn’t hate me for not giving it a 6.
This 1995 bank-robbery drama is one of my all-time favorite films thanks to its engaging dialogue and, mainly, for director Michael Mann’s insistence on lifelike gunfighting. The bank heist shootout scene in the streets of LA was, in my mind, the best of all time. But if you’re like me, you appreciate the subtle stuff even more. Like when Al Pacino’s unit pays an unannounced visit to the condominium of corrupt businessman Roger Van Zant.
As they approach the door, Detective Casals (played by actor Wes Studi) deftly stuffs slugs into his Mossberg 590 pump without even looking. It’s like he’s done it a million times before. As soon as he reaches the door, he levels the shotgun and breaches it with two realistic shots to the hinges before kicking it in. He even turns his head to protect his eyes from flying debris. It was very well done. I give the scene 5 out of 5 Shells for its subtle, but great, use of a shotgun.
This movie is about as realistic as “Edward Scissorhands,” but the fact remains: When a person who is a crack shot with a pistol is given a shotgun, his chances of missing are slim and everyone knows it. This is why, just before marching down the sunny street toward the OK Corral, Wyatt Earp tosses Doc Holliday a sawed-off double-barrel and says, “They’ll be less apt to get nervous if he’s on the street Howitzer.” It works like a charm when Ike Clanton retreats and trips over himself trying to flee. But, the scene gets ridiculous when Doc fires three rounds from the double without reloading. Frankly, the OK Corral scene in the movie, “Wyatt Earp” was much better in terms of gun play, but nonetheless I give Tombstone’s rendition 3 out of 5 Shells because it’s even more entertaining than listening to Joe Biden give tactical shotgun advice.
6. “End of Watch”
In my opinion, “End of Watch” is one of the better realistic police dramas of the last 15 years. It allows viewers to ride along with two young officers on their daily beat. During one scene, the two are responding to an officer-in-distress call when actor Jake Gyllenhaal grabs his 870 from the patrol car and ventures down dark alleys looking for the gang-banging perp. His gun handling and adrenaline-laced actions seem authentic. The camera angle is such that it’s like a video game, in that all the viewer sees from the character’s point of view is the barrel of the Remington and just beyond it.
I found myself hoping he would go ahead and blow away the thug he finds beating a female officer within a whisper of her life. The scene is as intense as the rest of the movie. I give it 4 Shells and not 5, just because I kept waiting to see that gun bark fire upon a deserving evildoer, but it never did.
7. “Young Guns”
Remember that scene where Chavez suggests the gang drink peyote so they can enter the spirit world and find their way out of their current jam? This is when character Dirty Steve Stephens hallucinates and jumps out of a cave holding his (curiously) hammerless, double-barrel shotgun and yells, “Did you see the size of that ?$*## chicken?!” Although it’s a lesson of how not to handle a gun and may even remind you of your college days, just about everyone near the age of 40 can quote that line, so just for that, I’m giving it 2 Shells.
When most people are asked to recall a famous shotgun scene from a movie, they cite Clint Eastwood as William Munny in the 1992 western film “Unforgiven.” Most remember the scene where Munny enters a saloon, levels his short side-by-side at Gene Hackman’s character and says, “Who’s the fella who owns this #&!*hole?” before blowing away the barkeep, who flies across the room as though he were a bag of discarded Christmas wrapping paper. Trouble is, that can’t happen. (This is the same reason I don’t like the movie “Open Range”—its shotgun scenes are stupidly unrealistic.)
Rather, I like the part of the movie where Munny is choosing his gun-of-choice back at his family’s shack. After missing a tin can sitting on a fence post six times in a row with a pistol, he walks back inside and promptly returns with a double-barrel 12 gauge with bunny ears, with which he blows the can away on the first shot. He’s satisfied, and so am I, so I give it 5 Shells.