Warren Cantrell from 10rant.com has contributed so many great Top 10s to this site that I couldn’t list them all here. Do a search and find them all for yourself. Better yet, go to his site 10rant where his lists lie in glorious, unedited form. But first, peruse this badass list of the Top 10 Most Iconic Movie Weapons. If you’d like to contribute your own Top 10 list to Scene-Stealers, email me at email@example.com. Here’s Warren:
“Thor” just came out last Friday, which finally brought a superhero with a proper, iconic weapon into the limelight. Sure, Tony Stark had a magnificent suit, and Peter Parker rocked one hell of a web-spitting system, but neither of those men swung a classic weapon in the truest sense of the word. Their peers could lay claim to even less, for the Hulk was its own weapon, something that could also be said of Superman, and most of the X-Men. Sure, Bruce Wayne rocked a gnarly assortment of toys when in uniform, but there wasn’t a particular device that is immediately associated with the Caped Crusader. Only Captain America could really stand beside Thor when it comes to traditional, hand-held weapons, and that movie is also out this summer.
Over the years there have been a lot of iconic armaments in film, the mere sight of them enough to draw an avid cinephile into a luscious daydream harkening back to better times. Today’s list celebrates the most iconic weapons in movie history, ranking the choices by their notoriety and standing within the film community. This means the candidate had to represent a larger cinematic tradition, or at the very least, be instantly recognizable as an indispensible component of the franchise. As far as the weapon itself, it had to be hand-held and independent of a base or organic connection. Essentially, I wanted actual weapons, and not mutant extensions (sorry, Wolverine), appendages (Aliens are out), or machines (“Terminator”). These had to be implements capable of murder that could be wielded easily and without restriction.
About the only tough decisions revolved around the inclusion of Jason’s machete, which doesn’t really represent any one genre or franchise any longer, along with the disc blades in “Tron,” and Zorg’s ZF-1 from “The Fifth Element,” which I couldn’t bear to rank over this first consideration…
This was an 11th hour addition to the list which stole the #10 slot from the Proton Packs in “Ghostbusters.” Sure, the nuclear-powered spectre-catchers were ice fucking cold, and are instantly identifiable with the franchise, but they were tools more than weapons. Yes, much like the whip in “Indiana Jones,” which also just barely missed out on a slot, these tools just didn’t feel appropriate for today’s rant. Shaun’s cricket bat, on the other hand, was a brain-smashing instrument of doom, and proved that the wooden sporting device had more applications than providing a hitting implement for the planet’s strangest game.
An instant horror classic and an elite entry into the zombie catalogue, Edgar Wright’s heartfelt tribute to the undead genre mixed subtle allusion, foreshadowing, and clever word-play with top-notch action and gore special effects. All of this came together to create one of the smartest and most exciting films of the last decade, horror or zombie genre be damned! Now something of a cinema icon as a result of his unchanged clothes and deteriorated appearance throughout the course of the picture, Shaun’s stained white shirt, red tie, and ever-present cricket bat are all now a part of a bigger cinematic tradition. This tradition guarantees little outside of universal fanboy adoration and a costume legacy that will resurface every Halloween, yet for achieving this remarkable feat, I felt that the cricket bat and “Shaun of the Dead” ought to at least steal a spot at #10.
A threatening, mean handgun for an even meaner, more imposing man, Inspector Callahan’s (Clint Eastwood) .44 Magnum was and is a very scary weapon. When “Dirty Harry” was released in 1971, many urban centers in the United States were suffering the dual insult of elevated violent crime rates coupled with largely ineffective and corrupt police institutions. “Dirty” Harry Callahan represented a more dignified and untainted standard: a cop whose sense of justice was just as outdated as his tactics. Yet beneath this hard-hearted warrior’s exterior was a passionate love of justice, and an unquenchable desire to punish the wicked.
A man with one-dimensional morals, Harry went after the bad guys with frightening simplicity and held nothing back. Like his weapon of choice, the .44 Magnum, what appeared true on the surface translated into a reality once in action, for the man and the handgun didn’t fuck around. If Dirty Harry was after you, then one might as well expect to be caught or killed: a certainty rivaled by a revolver that also left few questions to be answered after its introduction into a situation. A no-nonsense weapon for a man who let his high-impact cartridges do most of the talking, the .44 is now synonymous with a character, and rogue-cop identity, that has persevered into the second decade of the 21st century.
The enduring symbol of the film, the bone played an important role not just for the plot of this film’s earliest portion, but as a pretty obvious symbolic gesture that was meant to connect with man’s most complex technology. Whether it was the first rudimentary discovery of a tool, and the implications involved with the bone’s use an implement to control the will of others, or the construction of a spacecraft that could bring human beings to the furthest reaches of the unknown, our species doesn’t have a great track record with technology.
Early in the picture, when it focused on premodern man, the bone proved that humans had the ability to think critically, to tap into a creative base that allowed for the development of ideas, ideas like “Hey, this hard bone is a lot stronger than my fist, and doesn’t hurt me when I hit things with it! Baaaaaaad-ass!” The connection to the latter half of the film was made all the more clear with the deliberate focus on the bone as it was tossed in the air, hinting at more human developments in that region in the years to come, though not necessarily with consequences any more productive or noble. Indeed, whether we had discovered our first club, or developed a razor-sharp artificial intelligence system, much of what we create invariably leads to a heightened capacity to harm. The next guy would certainly vouch for this…
Avid 10rant readers are already familiar with my unapologetic love of this franchise, and the high regard in which I hold those involved with its creation. Not even a year ago, I wrote a celebration of cinema’s most outstanding acts of resilience following an appendage loss, and our man Ash (Bruce Campbell) got that list’s runner-up slot. This was due in no small part to his burly triumph over the forces of evil that had invaded his hand. Already in possession of a scatter-gun and a fully-functional chainsaw, Ash lopped off his infected paw and attached the motorized cutting device to the stump, allowing him free-motion to cut in all directions.
Our zombie-killing hero used his new death-bringing hand-extension to carve up every undead hell-spawn that he came across, and even transitioned into a royal appointment of sorts in the third installment because of the device. Yes, trapped in a wet, medieval dungeon with a bloodthirsty creature hungry for his ass, Ash only got on top of the situation after his chainsaw came into play. The right weapon at the right time for just the right man, Ash’s chainsaw became as much a part of this now-legendary franchise as any other component, and for that, I thought it worthy of a nod.
Of all the iconic accoutrement associated with British super-spy James Bond, the man’s Walther PPK is the most readily identifiable talisman for the character. Introduced as a replacement piece for Bond’s troublesome Beretta in “Dr. No,” Bond held on to his trusty sidearm well into the next millennia, and smoked dozens, if not hundreds, of baddies with the slick semi-automatic. Much like the MI6 agent himself, the Walther was an unassuming stinger, for it was a relatively small, low-caliber weapon in an espionage-fueled world that entertained the wildest, biggest, most insane weapons in creation.
Of course, Bond got his hands on some of these contraptions as well, and proved entirely capable of wielding any blade, bazooka, rifle, or pistol: but the real magic was made with the PPK. Sure, you could blast somebody full of 58 holes or fry them with some kind of space-age rail gun; or, if you are as bad-assed as Mr. Bond, you could travel the world and untangle countless nefarious plots with little more than your wits, sex appeal, and an easily-concealable sidearm. Like the spy, what made the Walther so special was not what it could do on its own, but what the right man in the right situation could do with so little. Indeed, like this next weapon, what made Bond and the Walther so impressive was how much could be accomplished with what appeared to be so little. The franchise, man, and weapon became nearly indispensible as a result…
If Charlie Sheen is this generation’s bad-boy, then Errol Flynn was the walking embodiment of Satan during his lifetime. An established film star and recently minted American citizen in 1942, the Australian native tried to enlist in every branch of the U.S. military after World War II started, but was flatly denied. Even though Flynn represented the pinnacle of manhood due to his swashbuckling roles and off-screen sexcapades, the military didn’t want anything to do with him, owing largely to the fact that he’d already had a heart attack, dormant malaria, tuberculosis, several different venereal diseases, and a rotten back. This was kept under wraps at the time by a studio system that didn’t want to threaten a cash-cow whose adventurous persona kept people coming back to the theater time and again.
Flynn’s bankability had been confirmed with the smashing success of his Robin Hood reboot, which astonished the film industry by raking in even more cash than Douglas Fairbanks’ 1922 rainmaker. While the original certainly sold a lot of tickets, and solidified Fairbanks as a marketable action star, it was Flynn’s devil-may-care take on the character, and the blistering onscreen action that dazzled audiences. The most striking addition to the franchise was Robin’s bow and arrow, which played a far larger role in Flynn’s 1938 version. In his version, the Merry Men of Sherwood used the device with deadly efficiency, and the bow and arrow played an integral role in the grand finale, when an archery contest and a split arrow on the bullseye identified Robin in disguise. A crucial component of the film, the bow and arrow became indispensably associated with the “Robin Hood” character who, like the bow and arrow, has continued to endure.
Though it is not bandied about during discussions about important, groundbreaking Hollywood contributions, “Little Caesar” was as responsible for the entire gangster genre as we know it today, as “The Searchers” and “Stagecoach” are to Western cinema. Released in 1931, “Little Caesar” cast the mold for a series of pictures that bore more than a passing resemblance to the real-life events that kept the American mid-west in the news during the 1930s. Machine Gun Kelly, John Dillinger, Bonnie and Clyde, Pretty Boy Floyd, and a host of other faceless associates were tearing through small-town America with super-charged automobiles and stolen firepower that humbled local authorities who largely just tried to stay out of the way.
The Feds weren’t getting a lot of help from a civilian base that seemed apathetic at best, and sympathetic at worst, to the thieves who struck banks and other institutions that were blamed for the nation’s crippling depression. Always ready to capitalize on the whims of public opinion, Hollywood began turning out movies that gave ordinary citizens a peek into a darker, more violent world they’d only read about up to that time. Starting with “Little Caesar” and a career-defining performance by Edward G. Robinson, the studios invented an entirely new genre populated by hard-living criminals who talked fast and carried a very loud, aggressive machine gun. After this film, almost every gangster spoke like Robinson and carried a Tommy Gun like it was part of the genre’s codified uniform, something that has carried over to this day. “Little Caesar” and the release of “Scarface,” starring Paul Muni, a few years later paved the way for a cinematic institution whose primary modifier was not the identity of the protagonist/antagonist, but rather, what they were carrying under their arm.
I feel really bad about this one clocking in at a meager #3, for most of the world had never even heard of nunchakus let alone seen them in action before Bruce Lee whipped a pair out in 1972’s “Fist of Fury.” By 1973, Lee was in the ground, but his legacy as a martial-arts legend and a cinematic institution escaped the vacuum of death and emerged stronger than ever. Before Bruce Lee hit the scene, Asians rarely appeared in western forms of entertainment as anything more than a passive victim or harmless foil. All of this changed once audiences got a look at this chiseled piece of Chinese fury, and what the man could do not just with weapons most people had never even seen, but with just his bare hands and feet. No longer a backward and unsophisticated culture that was relegated to building railroads and doing the laundry, Asian cinema and its toned, hard-hitting ambassador proved that there was more to the people than petty stereotypes.
These Chinese, Japanese, Korean, (and as people were quickly learning) Vietnamese folks had a lot of fight in them, and weren’t just doing the ironing and pressing any longer. No, some of these people had crazy fighting moves and knowledge about weapons most westerners couldn’t wield with an instruction manual. In a handful of years, Bruce Lee completely altered the role of Asians and their culture in western cinema, and introduced nunchakus to a generation of kids (and immature adults) who immediately got their hands on a pair, and started knocking out their own teeth. Though Bruce Lee introduced the world to a lot of eastern concepts and ideas, when it comes to weapons, it’s the nunchakus that are most readily identifiable with the man and his legacy.
If you’re willing to accept that Bruce Lee was largely responsible for introducing a series of basic eastern concepts into popular western culture during the early 1970s, then George Lucas’ reinvention of the science-fiction genre just a few years later must be assessed in the proper context. Clearly, the young film student and wanna-be beard purveyor was struck with the sudden explosion of Asian culture on the American market in the post-”Enter the Dragon” era of 1973-75. A lot of people were blown away by what they saw in Lee’s films, and looked deeper into the Asian landscape for more goodies. These same people were largely astonished to find that filmmakers like Kurosawa, Inagaki, and Okamoto had been making layered, thoughtful, action-packed films for over twenty years.
Many plot points, themes, and staging elements were “borrowed” from these Japanese and Chinese pictures and recycled into American films in varying degrees from homage all the way to outright theft. Leaning more toward the former category, Lucas constructed his “Star Wars” universe using many traditional Asian themes, not the least of which was the now-iconic weapon of the franchise: the lightsaber. A devastating weapon with multiple applications for both offensive and the defensive operations, the sci-fi mainstay was the perfect compliment to a warrior who had no equal. Blissfully awesome because they are outside the bounds of even the wildest possible reality, lightsabers are instantly recognizable in any context, and were one of the few survivors of a franchise that practically pawned off its street-cred. for extra merchandising revenue over the last dozen years. Yet in the end, Lucas’ enduring symbol of power was merely a knock-off, an updated variation on a weapon that has changed little, nor seen much cause to, in the last millennia…
Yes, you need look no further than the source of all that is majestically awesome in modern films when searching for the most iconic cinematic weapon. Sure, there was swordplay in the motion-picture industry prior to the early 1950s (widely considered the golden age of Japanese cinema), yet the use of the sword as its own defining character came to the fore only after katana fight scenes came to the attention of non-Asian audiences. Older European forms had dominated the western consciousness prior to the Asian film explosion of the 1970s, when fluid, dynamic, and busy combat scenes between multiple opponents brought fight choreography from a one-plane environment into the third-dimension. Not just a stabbing device any longer, the Japanese style of self-defense opened the door to sword-fighting vignettes that were not just a means to get the hero from one side of the screen to the other, but rather an independent set-piece worthy of isolated attention.
A relic of period films no longer, the sword became a weapon to be feared and respected once again, even in the face of clumsy pistols or blasters that threatened the dominance of such an elegant, time-tested weapon. Sword fights (and by extension, lightsaber duels) went from a rarely seen novelty to the lynchpin of a whole host of pictures, and brought a once-forgotten weapon out of the shadows and back into the limelight. Due in large part to the efforts of Akira Kurosawa’s work in the 1950s, the samurai and his sword became an unmistakable symbol of a pure, ancient form of warfare. While it might not seem like an iconic watershed in comparison to some of the other weapons listed today, just remember what the katana blade has become to audiences these last 40 years, and what has followed in the wake of an artistic reawakening that blew new life into a weapon whose utility had all but failed.