The 10 best gunshot scenes in movies
Some like dialogue. Others go for the actors, the love scenes, the mood, the era or the style. But who doesn’t enjoy a good bullet?
Death by gunshot is a thing to treasure. It is almost certainly the most common cause of screen death, or injury, because a bullet can say so much.
The slowly raised pistol of the cornered woman as the sex-killer moves in. The bloke who, instead of being blown to the ground, is suspended in the air by a horizontal rain of lead. The panicked, scrambled reloading of weapons as all hope fades…
It’s usually the bad guy who gets it, and there’s no better case in point than the final shootout in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. But it’s by no means the rule. Have a look at the elevator scene towards the end of Martin Scorcese’s The Departed. In that delightful little massacre, two good guys get it.
It is for lack of bullets that so few science-fiction films make the grade. We happily accept the premise of alien life-forms roaming the universe, but space-age laser-style weapons lack retort, recoil, impact and noise.
That is why Predator, the Arnie film in which he and his mercenary buddies engage the quicksilver alien, here on Earth, is such a winner. We have humans using contemporary combat weapons against an unknowable force. (And they even wing the slippery bastard, causing him to bleed a trail of mercury.)
For reasons that are not clear to me, we all require, in our films, and in our books, that someone dies. (Maybe that’s the point. It’s not us, it’s someone else.) And bullets were, are, and always will be the preferred method of sending someone back to the Maker.
Here is a top 10 of my best movie gunshot scenes. Please add your own.
1. The Godfather: Many hold dear the death of Sonny Corleone (James Caan), riddled by tommy-guns at the tollbooth. But the best killing is when Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) shoots mongrel Irish copper Captain McClusky (Sterling Hayden) in the throat in the restaurant. McClusky wasn’t expecting that!
2. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford: For perfunctory death by gunshot, the killing of Jesse James (Brad Pitt) by Bob Ford (Casey Affleck) is hard to surpass. Jesse is studying a painting when Bob Ford, the Judas, shoots him from behind. Wear out the rewind button studying how hard Brad’s head slams into that painting! He earned his pay that day!
3. Shaun of the Dead: Shaun (Simon Pegg) must use an old rifle to put down his dear mum, Barbara (Penelope Wilton), who likes to call him “Pickle”. Barbara has turned into a zombie. Poignancy, humour and extreme violence all in the one bullet - a joy!
4. Pulp Fiction: When Vincent (John Travolta) emerges from the dunny and is gunned down by Butch (Bruce Willis), we are all taken unawares. But even more so when Vince shoots Marvin (Phil LaMarr) in the face in the car (“I didn’t meant to do it, it was an accident”). Jules (Samuel Jackson) and Vince are rather more concerned about the mess than with Marvin.
5. Scarface: The coked-out Tony Montana (Al Pacino) has already taken about 70 bullets when he’s finally shot-gunned off a balcony into an indoor water feature. It’s good – it’s great – but for bullets working hand-in-hand with dialogue, you can’t go past the scene where Montana shoots detective Mel Bernstein (Harris Yulin) in the guts. Bernstein, looking surprised and offended, says: “Fuck! You can’t shoot a cop!” Says Montana: “Whoever says you was one?”
6. Fargo: No one ever enjoyed a bullet less than weasel Carl Showalter (Steve Buscemi) when he gets one from Wade (Harve Presnell) at the rooftop ransom meeting. After shooting Wade (Carl asks him: “Are you happy now?”), Wade pulls out a pistol and fires a glancing bullet which slices open Carl’s chin. Carl’s pain and affront at being shot is visceral, and all over what’s left of the film.
7. Bambi: Any child who did not weep or have nightmares when Bambi’s mum was shot was not a child.
8. The Mariachi trilogy: Rarely is the bullet so celebrated and so superbly overused as in these south-of-the-border bloodbaths. Antonio Banderas (who played El Mariachi in the second and third instalments, Desperado and Once Upon a Time in Mexico), dispenses more ammunition than used in some civil wars.
9. Full Metal Jacket: When Private Joker (Matthew Modine) executes the wounded VC woman sniper (Ngoc Le), it is, as Donlon (Gary Landon Mills) says: “Hard core, man, hard core.”
10. Castle Keep: An obscure Burt Lancaster film with a terrific, morally questionable shooting. The Americans have taken the castle and are on scout. Lieutenant Amberjack (Tony Bill), a student of classical music, is playing his flute. A German voice comes out of the bushes saying the flute is out of tune, and he can fix it. The German fixes it, and plays a few notes. At which point Sergeant Rossi (Peter Falk) shoots him. Says Amberjack: “What did you do that for?” Sgt Rossi: “That’s what we do for a living, Lieutenant.”
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