The Internet Movie Firearms Database (IMFDB) is a gold mine website. Whatever you want to know about guns in movies - complete with images from the scenes they appear in - is at your fingertips. It's the one place you can go to easily find information on all the things that go boom in any given film.
For everything from real lions to life-threatening stunts, directors have gone to incredible lengths to achieve peak realism in gunfight scenes. While some in a more science-fiction realm make no attempt to reflect reality at all, by and large the desire is for things that go “boom” in real life to also do so in full effect on screen.
Modern advances in special effects have essentially made it possible to create an explosion from a blank Paint page. Nonetheless, some directors - past and present - have decided there’s no substitute for the real thing.
Below are four films from the IMFDB that used real bullets and other explosives in their making.
Angels with Dirty Faces (1938)
The final shootout scene in Angels with Dirty Faces calls for James Cagney’s character, Rocky, to appear under windows, which would be blown out by a Thompson M1921 machine gun.
Cagney had just walked away from telling the director he was wary about the setup. Suddenly, one of the bullets from the scene in progress “ricocheted, hitting the steel edge of the window and going right through the wall where Cagney's head had been.”
Even under the control of a professional machine-gunner, this close call reinforced the actor's concerns. According to IMFDB, “this experience convinced Cagney that ‘flirting this way with real bullets was ridiculous.’”
Come and See (1985)
In an interview about the making of this 1985 Soviet war film, director Elim Klimov discusses his desire to not only have a very real, immersive experience for viewers, but also for his actors. Live bullets whizzing - sometimes just four inches - over the heads of cast and crew seemed to have the desired effect.
The film’s most famous freeze-frame bears an image of a German officer holding a Walther P38 to the protagonist's head. Klimov revealed in later interviews that many guns listed on IMFDB held live ammunition (as opposed to blanks).
As far as movie guns go, few are as unique as Castor Troy (Nicolas Cage)'s weapons of choice in Face/Off. Two gold titanium nitride-plated Springfield Armory M1911-A1 V-12s fitted with custom gold inlaid grips sit tucked into small-of-the-back holsters on our hero in this 1997 action thriller.
According to IMFDB, director John Woo takes significantly more precaution in his actors’ safety than perhaps our previous mentions. Hence, the section showing all the applications of the Beretta 92FS in the film tells us that:
“During the shootout in the funeral home, many of the guns are shown in close-ups, except they are at different locations than the scene takes place. This is because they are non-blank adapted guns firing real bullets in front of a high speed camera, to capture the bullet in flight.”
Act of Valor 2012
Perhaps the film that has to take the “live fire” cake is the 2012 SEAL Team chronicle Act of Valor.
Most “movie guns” are synonymous with fake replicas or models modified for blanks. However, almost all of the weaponry you’ll find on IMFDB for these battle scenes is the real deal. Pistols, machine guns, carbines, Uzis...you name it, they shot it to its fullest effect.
So there you have it. For anything you need to know about guns in movies, the IMFDB site has gun trivia treasures galore. This list is just the beginning.
And hey - once you’ve found that iconic piece to help you channel your inner Navy SEAL, John Wayne, or Clint Eastwood - we’ve got your ammo covered.