The Five Best Gun Movies

My wife is surprisingly ungrateful when I provide helpful comments on firearm inaccuracies and anachronisms during movies. In fact, she has made it clear that unless I cease and desist, we’re likely to be watching movies separately from now on. So I thought instead I’d share with you a list of the five movies which I think should have received Oscar nominations for “Best use of firearms in a movie“. If there was such a thing. In no particular order these are movies which feature an interesting selection of guns and gunplay. They’re also movies which I have enjoyed because, let’s face it, no-one wants to sit though a dull and dreary movie just because it has a few guns in it.

The Mummy (1999)

Remember those wonderful old Hammer horror movies from the 1960s? Well, this is a sort of modern update. And it’s great. The plot…, OK, look, the plot is a bit silly. It’s some nonsense about a mummified Egyptian priest returning to bring his dead love back to life. And destroy the world. Or something. But it doesn’t really matter because the hero is played with gusto by the underrated Brendan Fraser, ably supported by Rachel Weisz, John Hannah and Kevin J. O’Connor, the special effects are reasonable, it never takes itself too seriously and the whole thing rollicks along for just over two hours without pausing to draw breath. Your wife will enjoy it. Hell, your mum would probably love it. Even your kids will enjoy it too (provided they aren’t too young – some of the scary bits are, well, quite scary). And the guns…

800px-tm_chamelot-delvigneAfter a short prelude in ancient Egypt, the bulk of the movie takes place in 1923 and 1926. Whoever was responsible for choosing the guns really knew what they were doing, and there is some great period stuff on display. Rick (Bredan Fraser) dual-wields a pair of seriously chunky French Chamelot-Delvigne Model 1873 revolvers throughout (he plays an ex-French Foreign legionnaire, so a lot of the hardware on display is French) with a Colt M1911 as back-up and a Winchester Model 1897 shotgun for when those pesky mummies are particularly thick on the ground. In an early part of the film he also uses a French Lebel M1886 rifle. The tube magazine on the eight-shot M1886 was a notoriously finicky feeder, and it was obviously impossible to get it to load properly with blanks because all the characters using this particular rifle in the movie reload after each shot (but, trust me on this, your spouse and kids won’t appreciate your pointing this out during the film).


In addition, you’ll see the Mauser C96, Lee-Enfield MkIII rifle, Mauser 98K rifle, a Lewis Gun and even a Colt Single Action Army. Every weapon in the movie is historically appropriate. Even the 1911s are M1911s, not the later and more common M1911A1, which would have been impossible in the 1923 part of the movie. I was disappointed to note in the sequel, The Mummy Returns (2001), a Browning Hi-Power. The second movie was set in 1933, and the Hi-Power wasn’t introduced until 1935. Oh dear. But this one gets the guns spot-on and there’s some unusual and interesting stuff on display. The movie’s fun too, so this one is highly recommended.

The Raid (2011)

I don’t generally like action movies. Mainly because most of them are dull, dreary and feature very little in the way of actual action. But I make an exception for The Raid from 2011 (also known as The Raid: Redemption in some parts of the world). It’s a movie made on a shoestring budget in Indonesia, featuring a largely unknown Indonesian cast and made by a Welsh director (I have no idea why). It has a basic plot and relatively little dialogue but it does feature more gun and fighting action than you’ll find in any five standard Hollywood blockbusters.


The plot, such as it is, involves a team of Indonesian SWAT type police who are sent to arrest a crime boss in a crumbling apartment block. They get in, quickly find that they have been set up for an ambush by lots of heavily armed gangsters and the rest of the movie is about their attempts to fight their way back out again. That’s it. You’re not going to lose the thread during this movie.

The police and criminals are heavily armed with a variety of weapons and most of the first half of the movie is a running gun battle. All the guns used are airsoft replicas with slow-mo bullets, muzzle flashes and ejecting shells added later using CGI. It’s kind of fun playing spot the replica – look out for a Tanaka Smith & Wesson M37 later in the film. Despite things like airsoft brass inner barrels occasionally being very obvious, the gun stuff is well done and as exciting as anything produced in Hollywood. But things really hot up when the police squad start to run low on ammo and are forced to fall back on their fighting skills.


You see, the Police (and many of the gangsters) are experts at Silat, a little-known Indonesian martial art which uses fists, feet and knives. The fight scenes are fast and breathtakingly violent. The people taking part in the movie may not be fantastic actors, but they really know how to throw a punch. Or a knife. Or a chair. They frequently appear to make full-force contact with each other, and I suspect that some scenes simply degenerated into real fights, with the camera continuing to follow the action. There are some superbly choreographed scenes, but most of the second half of the movie is raw and bloody.

If you like action, you’ll love The Raid. I never thought I’d see a movie which made Jackie Chan look like a wuss – but this one does. It is very violent though, so it may be best not to watch it with your Mum. And then you can admire all those lovely replicas…

The Wild Bunch (1969)


Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch is loosely set during the period of the Mexican revolution from 1908 – 1916, though the actual date isn’t explicitly noted. The movie is often cited as Peckinpah’s masterpiece and features a wonderful cast including William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Ryan and Warren Oates. It’s a movie that features guns and shooting heavily. To give some idea of the scale of gunfire here, more (blank) rounds were fired during the making of the film (over 90,000) than in the actual Mexican revolution. With a total body count of almost 150 and a final, apocalyptic shoot-out which incorporates over one hundred deaths and three hundred edits in just over five minutes of action, there’s a lot of shooting going on. And yet, strangely, this is also a thoughtful, reflective movie with long periods when the elderly protagonists do little more than ruminate on the absurdity of their situation.

You see, the Wild Bunch isn’t really about guns or shooting at all and to call it a Western is to miss the point – it’s really about the death of the old West and the philosophy and attitudes of that period. There are lots of guns in it but the Wild Bunch themselves know that they are anachronisms and probably doomed, but they simply don’t know how to adapt to live in the modern world. It’s also a violent film – Peckinpah wanted to show what it really looked like when someone got shot as opposed to the bloodless deaths seen in most earlier cowboy films, though the film was heavily criticised for excessive violence on release.

And the guns? The Wild Bunch and their protagonists use the Colt 1911 and the Single Action Army and a variety of shotguns and rifles. For the most part the guns used are appropriate, though it’s occasionally obvious that Spanish Star Model B pistols are used in place of 1911s. The 1911 doesn’t work reliably with blanks, and the 9mm Star is often used as a movie stand-in. The Model B is visually similar to the 1911, though it doesn’t have a grip safety and has a large, external extractor on the right of the slide. The only real firearm anachronism in the movie is the Browning M1917 machine gun which features during the latter part of the film. This obviously wouldn’t have been around in the period covered by the movie though it’s close enough not to jar too much. The sheer volume of gunfire and the graphic depiction of its effects make this essential viewing for anyone interested in the old West and/or the firearms of this period.


The Wild Bunch is a film about doomed men who accept their fate but are determined not to go quietly. It’s not an action movie in any sense – it’s a thoughtful, slow, melancholy rumination on getting old and finding that you no longer have a place in the world in which you find yourself. Though it is punctuated by short bursts of extreme violence. So, it’s short on laughs, but at least the opening credits should make you smile. Peckinpah allegedly became exasperated with Robert Ryan’s incessant demands for top billing (which he didn’t get – top billing went to William Holden). In the opening credits, the scene freezes on the faces of William Holden and then Ernest Borgnine as their names appear on screen. As Ryan’s name appears, the screen freezes on a shot of several horse’s rear-ends.

Winchester 73 (1950)

As you may have guessed from the title, this black and white western follows the rifle of the title as it is first won in a shooting contest by cowboy Lin McAdam (played by the ever reliable James Stewart) and then, after being stolen from him, passes through the hands of several interesting characters. The story also follows McAdam as he pursues a parallel story featuring that most cliched of western quests – a search for the man who killed his father.


Action shooting contest, circa 1870.

Other than the Winchester of the title, the movie features Martini-Henry repeating rifles, Springfield carbines and of course, lots of Colt Single Action Army pistols. The use of firearms in the movie suggests that whoever was involved in the selection process knew a great deal about their history and use.   At one point there is a discussion of the deficiencies of the US army’s Springfield Carbine and how these may have contributed to the massacre of Custer and his men. The shooting action is pretty good too and the final shootout is still regarded as a classic. They obviously didn’t worry too much about damage to stars then either – you’ll see Jimmy Stewart take several facefulls of dust and stone chips from “near misses”.


Sneering bad guy. Note hat.

The movie tells a complex, episodic story in just 92 minutes – I imagine if it were to be re-made today we’d be treated to hours of angsty introspection, but in the typical style of the 1950s this gallops along with barely a pause in the action. It’s a good cast too. Surprisingly, this was Stewart’s first leading role in a straight Western (though he had starred in the spoof Destry rides again in 1939) and he went on to make many, many more. The rest are pretty good too, with Stephen McNally as snarling bad guy Dutch Henry Brown, Millard Mitchell as McAdam’s sidekick and Will Geer as Wyatt Earp. Best of all though is Dan Duryea as the giggling and psychotic Waco Johnny Dean. It’s also worth watching to spot a couple of young and relatively unknown actors who would go on to bigger things – Rock Hudson (in an unlikely piece of casting) plays an Indian Chief who leads his warband against a small group of US cavalry whose ranks include a very young Tony Curtis.

This has everything you could want from a Western – a nasty bad guy (who wears a black hat), morally upstanding good guys, Indian attacks, the US Cavalry, shooting and lots of historically accurate firearms. There just isn’t a better way to spend a wet afternoon.

Equilibrium (2002)

The previous four movies are notable for their use of realistic and historically accurate firearms. This one is pure sci-fi fantasy, but it does feature lots of guns. The plot is fairly standard sci-fi stuff: It’s 2072, and following a catastrophic third world war, the Tetragrammaton, the ruling body in the country of Libria, has decided to avoid the possibility of any future conflict by forcing the population to take daily doses of Prozium, a mood altering drug which leaves them docile and free of troublesome emotions. Some people object and try to avoid taking the drugs. These sense criminals are ruthlessly hunted down by Grammaton Clerics, a quasi-religious group of highly trained enforcers who use Gun Kata, a combination of martial arts and handguns to deadly effect. OK, so it’s actually a completely rubbish plot which sounds as if it was scribbled on the back of an envelope by a fourteen year old with ADHD. Yet somehow, this manages to be an entertaining little movie.


Christian Bale, Sean Bean, Emily Watson, Taye Diggs and David Hemmings all do their best to look as though they’re taking it seriously and Gun Kata is simply an excuse for lots of cool gunplay mixed in with dramatic martial-arts style poses. Though there is some sort of lame attempt to justify it all:

“Through analysis of thousands of recorded gunfights, the Cleric has determined that the geometric distribution of antagonists in any gun battle is a statistically-predictable element. The Gun Kata treats the gun as a total weapon, each fluid position representing a maximum kill zone, inflicting maximum damage on the maximum number of opponents, while keeping the defender clear of the statistically-traditional trajectories of return fire.

DuPont, Vice Councillor of the Tetragrammaton

In this movie, guns have changed surprisingly little in 2072. The Cleric use a modified Beretta 92FS (with some cool additional features) and their henchmen use H&K G36 assault rifles and MP5 machine pistols. Though for no readily apparent reason, the Cleric also use Samurai swords on occasion. And it’s notable that, like the war films of the 60s and 70s, the goodies here appear to use live rounds while the baddies seem to have been issued mainly with blanks. With its mix of balletic martial arts moves and guns, it’s difficult not to draw comparisons with the Matrix, but there is one small but important difference: Christian Bale and Sean Bean manage to convincingly portray men with no emotions. Kenau Reeves, Carrie-Ann Moss and the rest of the Matrix cast appear to be unable to convincingly portray any emotions at all.


The handgun of the future. Apparently.

It would have been nice to see a little more imagination in the design of guns from the future. By 2072, the Beretta 92 design will be more than 100 years old – surely we could expect the Cleric to have something a little more cutting-edge? And don’t expect anything deep in terms of a story – it’s all gloriously silly, but also kind of fun and glossy and cool and the cast do their best to give it all some gravitas. Just don’t try those Gun Kata moves with your replicas – you’ll almost certainly end up shooting a BB up your nose!

Happy viewing!

Related pages:

Replica guns in movies and television


Classic handguns – the Walther PPK

Classic is an overused and seldom defined term. What exactly is a “classic” handgun? Ask ten people and you’ll probably get ten different answers, and ten different lists of “classic” guns. However, there are a small number of handguns which I’m fairly confident would appear on most people’s list, including the one I want to talk about here: The Walther PPK. Although it was introduced almost eighty-five years ago, the PPK is still available, virtually unchanged from its original form. That in itself is testament to good basic design, but the PPK is also perfectly sized, a decent shooter and of course is has an association with a certain British secret agent…


The pocket pistol (what we’d now call a compact or sub-compact design) wasn’t a new idea in the 1920s. A number of manufacturers including Colt, Mauser and Steyr all offered small, easily concealed semi-auto pistols. However, most were of a hammerless design and were intended to be carried with a round in the chamber. Manual safeties were provided, often of the cross-bolt type, but accidental discharges due to light, single action triggers were frighteningly common. Revolvers, which required a long, double action trigger pull were generally safer, but less popular for concealed carry due to their greater bulk. What the market wanted was a compact semi-auto pistol which incorporated a revolver style double-action trigger.

Fritz Walther, the eldest son of founder Carl had persuaded his father to enter the pistol market in 1908. Recognising the need for a safer pocket pistol, in 1924 Fritz registered a German patent for a “self-loading pistol with magazine and revolver self-cocking lock and double action trigger“. Development continued until 1929 when the Walther PP (Polizei-Pistole) was released. The PP was a mid-sized, blowback operated design with an external hammer and double and single action trigger. Additional safety elements included a manual safety which also locked the trigger and hammer, a de-cocker and a loaded chamber indicator. Another notable feature was the takedown system – rather than using a separate lever or catch, the trigger guard of the PP was hinged at the rear. Rotating the trigger guard down and letting it rest against the frame allowed the slide to be removed. Reliability, safety and a reasonable price ensured that the PP immediately became popular both as a police handgun in Germany and as a civilian weapon in that country and elsewhere.


The Walther PP

However, though it was smaller than a full-size military pistol, the PP was still relatively large and was mainly used as a sidearm by uniformed police. Walther almost immediately began work on a more compact version suitable for use by undercover and plain-clothes officers. In 1931, the Walther PPK was released. Visually and mechanically similar to the PP, the PPK featured a shorter barrel and grip and a smaller capacity magazine, making it the perfect concealed carry weapon. Incidentally, the “K” in PPK stands for Kriminalmodell (Detective model) and not Kurtz (Short) as is sometimes claimed.


Early Walther PPK produced in Zella-Mehlis


The PPK was an instant success, being quickly adopted by police and civilian users in Germany and elsewhere. Both the PP and PPK also became very popular as German officer’s sidearms. In this period, German army and navy officers were given an allowance to select and purchase their own pistols, and very large numbers chose the small and light Walther pistols and not, as Hollywood would have us believe, the larger and heavier Luger.

Why was the PPK so popular? The de-cocker and double action trigger certainly made it less prone to accidental discharge than some other pocket pistols and it was a reliable and effective shooter. It was also relatively cheap, being one of the first commercially produced handguns to use pressed steel parts. But most of all it was the perfect size. Very small handguns are difficult to grip and fire accurately. The PPK was just big enough to provide a good and comfortable grip while being small and light enough for concealed carry. Even more than the PP, the PPK was an instant commercial success.


Post-war Walther PPK from Ulm, with “pinky rest” magazine extension

Initially, the PPK was manufactured at the Walther plant at Zella-Mehlis in Thuringia, Germany. Following World War Two the plant was relocated to Ulm in Baden-Württemberg, though for a number of years firearm manufacture was forbidden by the Allied powers. As a result, in 1952 Walther licensed production of PPK series pistols to Manufacure de Machines du Haut-Rhine, a French engineering company better known as Manurhin. Manurhin produced the PPK from 1952 until 1986, though their licensed versions continued to feature Walther markings. Production of the PPK at the new Walther plant in Ulm finally resumed in 1955, though early models utilised many parts manufactured by Manurhin. It wasn’t until 1986 that full manufacturing and production of the PPK was undertaken in Ulm and this continued until 1999. The only significant new version produced during the post-war period was the PPK/L, featuring a lightweight dural frame.


Manurhin Walther PPK

In 1978, Walther also granted a manufacturing license to US company Ranger Manufacturing to produce both the PPK and the new PPK/S. These versions were distributed in the US by Interarms. The PPK/S was produced in response to the US Gun Control Act of 1968 which set minimum sizes and weights for imported handguns. The PPK was simply too small to comply with these new requirements, and the slightly larger PPK/S was produced by combining the slide and barrel of the PPK with the frame and grip of the original PP. From 2002 Smith & Wesson began production of a licensed version of the PPK/S in the US. S&W are now the only producers of the PPK and the pistol remains part of their current range.


Interarms stainless steel Walther PPK/S

The PPK was produced in several calibres. The majority were 7.65mm, though a 6.35mm version was produced in relatively small numbers. The PPK was also available chambered for the .22LR round, principally to provide a police practice and training weapon which used much less expensive .22 rimfire ammunition. The PPK was also chambered for the 9mm short (9x17mm, also known as the .380 ACP) cartridge, but this was considered the limit for the strength of the slide, and no versions were produced using the more powerful 9mm Parabellum (9x19mm) cartridge.

Visual style

I don’t normally consider the appearance of a pistol separately. After all, a handgun is a functional piece of equipment which is principally designed to operate efficiently rather than to look good. However, there is something about the appearance of the PPK that I can’t entirely explain but which makes this pistol look as fresh now as it did in 1931. As is the way of things, I started to wonder why that might be…

The design of any item is inevitably influenced by events in the wider world. The Walther PP and PPK were designed at a time of political change and social turmoil in Germany. However, this period was also notable for the influence of the German Bauhaus art movement. Started in 1919 by German architect Walter Gropius, Bauhaus took the concepts and philosophy of high art and translated them into the industrial production of everyday objects. Rejecting the ornate and ostentatious Art Nouveau which had gone before, Bauhaus stressed simplicity, functionality, unity and ease of use and manufacture. A Bauhaus artist had to be not just creative in an abstract sense, but also capable of translating this into functional and useful manufactured objects. Though it’s notable that many of the things created by Bauhaus artists also have a timeless and elegant aesthetic that makes them as visually appealing as they are functional.

“It is harder to design a first rate chair than to paint a second rate painting – and much more useful.”

Walter Gropius, the Bahaus Manifesto

cppk14Take a look at this “cesca” chair above, designed by Hungarian architect Marcel Breuer, a leading member of the Bauhaus movement. Look familiar? The chances are that if you visit any modern office or public space, you’ll see something very similar to this 1928 creation. Why has this design lasted so long? I suspect the answer is because it’s comfortable, practicable and simple to manufacture and yet it somehow manages to appear contemporary more than eighty years after it first appeared.


Tokarev TT-33 (top), Walther PPK (centre), Enfield Number 2 (bottom)

I haven’t found any evidence that the engineers at Walther who created the PPK were directly influenced by Gropius or the philosophy of Bauhaus. But by the late 1920 the ideas inherent in the movement, that industrial production could and should generate objects which had artistic value, were prevalent in Germany and elsewhere. Take a look again at the PPK and consider the Bauhaus ideals of simplicity, unity and ease of use and manufacture within a visually pleasing whole. Is the PPK a Bauhaus pistol? I certainly think so. Also, try comparing the PPK to a couple of roughly contemporary handguns – the British Enfield Number 2 revolver and the Russian Tokarev TT-33 for example. Both were perfectly adequate handguns, but unlike the PPK both now look very dated and neither could be mistaken for a modern design. Somehow the PPK looks as good now as it did in 1931, which suggests a design which, in some indefinable way is “right“. Whether or not its designers were consciously influenced by Bauhaus, I believe that the PPK embodies the ethos of the movement perfectly.

James Bond and the PPK

However, one of the reasons the PPK is so well known has nothing to do with its abilities, design or appearance. The James Bond novels of Ian Fleming were hugely popular in the 1950s and 1960s. Strangely however, for the first five novels Fleming provided his hero with a Beretta 418 in .25 calibre. Which is an ineffectual and rather rubbish gun for such a tough hero.


Beretta 418. James Bond gun? Really?

In 1957 while he was writing the sixth novel, Fleming received a letter from Bond fan and firearms expert Geoffrey Boothroyd who pointed out that the Beretta was “a lady’s gun – and not a very nice lady at that!” Boothroyd suggested that it would be much more appropriate to provide Bond with a Walther PPK in 7.65mm calibre. Fleming agreed and Boothroyd went on to provide advice about firearms for the following Bond novels. In recognition, a new character was introduced in Dr No; – Major Boothroyd, the MI6 armourer known as “Q” who is described as “the greatest small-arms expert in the world”.

cppk9When Albert “Cubby” Broccoli came to make the first movie based on a Bond novel in 1962, the screenplay was based on Dr No, and so the movie Bond (then played by Sean Connery) exchanged his Beretta for a PPK from the very start. The PPK continued to be 007’s screen sidearm for sixteen more films and 35 years, until in Tomorrow Never Dies in 1997 it was swapped for a Walther P99. However, with the advent of Skyfall in 2012, the third film starring Daniel Craig as Bond, the character has once again reverted to using a PPK, albeit modified with a palmprint recognition system. The Bond connection gives the PPK additional cachet, and ensures that it is recognised by people who otherwise know very little about firearms.


Walther PPK Replicas

Given the enduring appeal of the original plus the James Bond connection, there have been surprisingly few decent replica air pistols based on the PPK. Ignoring spring powered replicas, which are pretty dire, I’m aware of just two: The Umarex PPK/S in 4.5mm and the Umarex/Maruzen PPK in 6mm.


The Umarex Walther PPK/S

The Umarex CO2 powered 4.5mm version was introduced back in 1999 and was the first Umarex blowback pistol. In some ways it’s a great replica – all metal, heavy with great fit and finish and strong and snappy blowback. Unfortunately in other ways it’s not so good. I don’t care for the moulded-in-place slide-mounted safety, or the actual safety which is a moving lever at the front of the right grip (though it’s similar to the safety fitted to some prototype PPKs). It’s also not terribly accurate compared to more modern BB shooters. However, the main issues for me are when I first bought one were the large and visible CO2 tightening tab at the base of the grip and the shape of the grip itself, which has been stretched to accommodate the CO2 cartridge. The tab has been replaced with a less obtrusive recessed allen screw, but there’s nothing you can do about the lengthened grip which, to me at least, completely loses the pleasingly squat profile of the original. However, this is overall a decent PPK/S replica and it does have the virtue of being readily available and relatively cheap.


The Maruzen Walther PPK

The 6mm Walther PPK from Japanese manufacturer Maruzen is a much better visual and functional replica (it’s also licensed by Umarex, but for the sake of clarity I’ll refer to it as the Maruzen PPK here). It’s a gas powered blowback replica and the slide mounted safety, magazine release and takedown all work as they do on the original. It incorporates Walther markings and this version accurately replicates the short, squat grip of the original. Even the magazine incorporates a pinky rest, just like the original. The metal finish version looks particularly good and in 2011 a 125th Anniversary edition (celebrating 125 years of Walther) was released. However, this is an all plastic replica which is very light (around 375g) and it shoots only in the 220-240fps range, so it isn’t particularly powerful. It can also be very difficult to find new, and production seems to be sporadic.

Shooters Design (a company specialising in aftermarket parts for airsoft guns) produce a full metal kit for the Maruzen PPK, which replaces the plastic slide and frame with metal versions, though a heavyweight slide return spring is also required. I’m not sure if this kit is still in production and it is certainly hard to find. The Maruzen PPK has good functionality and looks good, but is too light to be an entirely convincing replica and it isn’t a particularly great shooter out of the box. Upgrading by using the Shooters Design kit is said to improve look, feel and function, but this is also a pretty expensive option. You can expect to pay around £125 ($200) for the basic pistol and over £200 ($325) for the upgrade kit, if you can find one. I have been looking for a Maruzen PPK and an upgrade kit for some time, and if anyone has either one they’d be willing to donate or sell for review, I’d be very happy to hear about it!


Whether you regard it as a piece of Bauhaus art, an industrial artefact from a significant historical era, a James Bond movie prop or simply a compact and pointable handgun, the Walther PPK doesn’t disappoint. It’s small, light, looks great, fits most hands and shoots better than its small size and relatively antiquated design would suggest. It’s no accident that in 2003, when Walther engineers set out to create a new compact pistol (the PPS), they used the weight and dimensions of the PPK as a guide to what looked and felt right. If ever a handgun deserved the “classic” label, it’s the Walther PPK.

It’s disappointing that the PPK is under-represented in the replica world. The Umarex and Maruzen versions both have good points, but neither is entirely satisfactory. We’re still waiting for a weighty PPK replica which is also a decent shooter and mirrors the functionality and distinctive look of the original.


The Walther PPK (on the Walther Arms website)

The Umarex Walther PPK/S

Shooters Design kit for the Maruzen PPK (on the redwolf airsoft site, but don’t get too excited because it’s currently out of stock)

The Bauhaus movement

Related pages:  

Umarex Walther PPK/S review

Modifying the CO2 tab on an Umarex Walther PPK/S

Classic Handguns – The Glock 17

Classic handguns – the Glock 17

This is the first in an occasional series of articles on firearms which are the basis for replica pistols. These won’t be exhaustive or definitive, but they will provide some basic and I hope interesting information for anyone who wants to know a little more about the cartridge version of their replica. Let’s start with a pistol which has spawned a plethora of replicas – the Glock 17.


In many ways, fifty-one year old Gaston Glock was an unlikely person to develop a game-changing handgun. Glock ran a modest manufacturing business based outside Vienna in Austria. The main business was the manufacture of radiators for the automotive industry, but the company also produced small quantities of brass door and window fittings and curtain rods using a second-hand metal press. By 1980 the product range had expanded to include field knives and bayonets which were used by the Austrian armed forces. In connection with this work, in February 1980 Glock was visiting the Armed Forces Ministry in Vienna when he happened to overhear two high-ranking officers discussing the problems they were having in finding a suitable replacement for the antiquated P-38 pistols then in use by the Austrian military. Sensing a chance to expand his product line, Glock asked whether he might be allowed to submit a design for a new pistol. One can only assume that the military were somewhat bemused by his offer. Although Glock was a respected supplier of various blades, he had no knowledge or experience of handgun design or manufacture. He didn’t even have much interest in shooting or guns and designing a handgun from scratch is a complex process. However, Glock was insistent and it was agreed that his company would be allowed to submit a tender which would be considered alongside offerings from five established firearms companies.


Gaston Glock in 2010

You might imagine that trying to design a handgun from scratch when you don’t really know much about firearms would be a daunting task, but Glock set about it with the same energy and focus that he applied to all his business ventures. He immediately bought as many examples of existing handguns as he could, and systematically disassembled them, analysing their strengths and weaknesses. He took a number of shooting and gunsmithing courses and shot at ranges as often as possible. Then, in May 1980 he assembled a number of firearms experts and military staff at his holiday home in Velden, a lake resort town in Southern Austria and asked them: “What would you want from a pistol of the future?“.

Designing something entirely from scratch is daunting, but it can also be incredibly liberating. Any existing firearms manufacturer setting out to design a new pistol is constrained, partly by a need to maintain a recognisable visual identity which links any new design to existing company products and partly by the knowledge that expensive tooling is sitting around the factory floor, emphasising the need to re-use existing parts. Most often, this leads to an incremental development of an existing design rather then something entirely new.  Sometimes, approaching an engineering problem with no preconceptions and no history is the best way to find a fresh solution. Gaston Glock started out with only a short list of requirements gained from discussions with firearms experts (the ability to use the existing 9x19mm NATO standard round, a large capacity magazine, simplicity, reliability, light weight, a light and consistent trigger pull, a smooth design to avoid snagging when holstering or unholstering and ease of use with a minimum of training) and combined these with a knowledge of CNC (Computer Numerical Control) manufacturing equipment to develop a design which would meet the requirements of military and police users and yet would be cheap and simple to produce.

Glock had a number of crude prototypes made which he test fired in a basement firing range he had built in his home. Although he was right-handed, he used his left hand for these early tests, reasoning that if one of the test pistols failed explosively, he would still be left with a functioning right hand. In April 1981, just ten months after the first meeting with his firearms advisors, he filed an Austrian patent for the Glock 17 pistol. Why 17? Simply because it was the seventeenth thing he had invented (we don’t know what the previous sixteen were). Though by coincidence, the new pistol featured a magazine with a capacity of 17, 9mm rounds, leading many people to suppose that this was the origin of the name.


Early Glock 17

The Glock 17 is a remarkable design in many ways. Functionally it is pretty conventional, using a short recoil, locked breech, tilting barrel arrangement. However, it used injection moulded plastic for the frame and grips. Glock already owned injection moulding equipment, used to produce handles and sheaths for the military knives and bayonets he sold, so using plastic to produce a strong but corrosion resistant part of a pistol seemed entirely logical. Some earlier rifles and assault rifles from other manufacturers had used plastic for stocks and frames, but no-one had used it on a commercially successfully pistol design. Plastic was cheap and light and the injection moulding process was ideally suited to computer control. It was also notable that the Glock had no conventional manual safety. In his research into handgun use, Glock had become aware that even highly trained police officers and military personnel sometimes tried to fire their pistols without first releasing the manual safety. To avoid this, the Glock featured a trigger safety, where pulling the trigger also moved a central blade that released internal safety mechanisms. In this way, the Glock was made drop-safe, but would fire every time the trigger was pulled.

The Glock had other advantages, too. It was light – just 660g compared to, for example, the Heckler and Koch P9S pistol (one of the other entries assessed for selection as the Austrian service pistol) which weighed 930g. It was simple, with only thirty-four components compared to the seventy-five parts in the H&K pistol and yet it managed to pack seventeen rounds into its reasonably sized grip (the H&K pistol held just nine). And best of all, it was cheap. Being designed exclusively for CNC production, the Glock could be produced with a minimum of costly human intervention. The Glock made no concessions at all to aesthetics – it’s an undeniably ugly pistol. But ease and speed of manufacturing meant that the other, perhaps more visually appealing pistols just couldn’t compete commercially with the utilitarian simplicity of the Glock.

The Austrian military thoroughly tested all the pistols submitted to them. The test pistols were subjected to extremes of heat and cold, immersed in water, mud and sand and dropped from a height of two metres. Interspersed with these torture tests, each pistol was fired ten thousand times. While the other entries stumbled, the Glock misfired just once. In November 1982, the Austrian military announced that the Glock 17 had come out top in the trials and would be adopted as their principal service pistol.

The Glock 17 in America

Creating a handgun from scratch and selling it to a national military force in less than two and a half years is pretty impressive. But the total number of pistols involved was relatively small (20,000 were initially ordered). Though other European military and law enforcement agencies showed some interest in the Glock, the biggest single potential market for the new pistol was the USA.

In the mid-1980s, police and law enforcement agencies in the US were predominantly equipped with revolvers. However, they increasingly found themselves confronted by criminals using higher capacity semi-automatic weapons. In 1986 in Miami, eight, revolver equipped FBI agents tried to arrest two murder suspects armed with semi automatic weapons. Both suspects were killed, but the ensuing fire-fight also left two FBI agents dead, three with life-changing injuries and two with gunshot wounds. The FBI agents had simply found themselves outgunned, and this situation was repeated on a number of occasions across America. It was clear that law enforcement agencies needed a pistol with more than the traditional six-shot capacity of a revolver.

In late 1985, Glock Inc. was formed as the US marketing agency for Glock handguns. The reasonably priced, light and simple Glock appealed to US law enforcement agencies for precisely the same reasons that it did to the Austrian military. In 1986 the twelve officers from the Police department in the small town of Colby in Kansas became the first to re-equip with the Glock 17. By 2010 Glock pistols were the most common handgun used by Law enforcement agencies in the US. Currently, 65% of all US law enforcement agencies use Glock pistols.


Generation 4 Glock 17

But the biggest part of the handgun market in the US comes from civilian owners and, despite some initial resistance to the idea of a plastic pistol, it was here that the Glock 17 found huge numbers of willing buyers. Part of this success can be attributed to the image the Glock quickly attained. A media frenzy was sparked in 1985 when a Defence Department official dismantled a Glock 17, put it in a duffel bag and took it through a security scanner at Washington National airport without being noticed. “Hi-jacker Gun!“, the headlines shouted, “Terrorist pistol“, “frighteningly easy to smuggle past airport security“. In response, several US states moved to ban the Glock 17 on the grounds that it was just too dangerous. While failing to note that in the same consignment of luggage as the Glock 17 was a fully assembled and all-metal H&K pistol, which also went undetected. The issue clearly lay with the bored, inattentive, minimum wage staff manning the security point rather than any attributes of the Glock 17.

It was quickly shown that the Glock 17 was no more likely to be undetected at airport security than any other handgun, but by then it had established an identity as a “bad” gun in many sections of the US media. The situation was exacerbated in 1988 when it was found that the Police Commissioner in New York (where the Glock 17 was still the subject of a licensing ban) was carrying a Glock 17 as his personal weapon. A number of newspapers ran the story, including the New York Post who described the pistol (among other things) as a “state-of-the art supergun“. You just can’t buy that sort of publicity. Imagine: you’re choosing a gun for yourself. Would you rather have an ordinary pistol, or for rather less money, an evil, hi-tech supergun? Not a difficult choice.

Hollywood too added to the mystique of the Glock. Reprising his role as John McLane in Die Hard 2 in 1990, Bruce Willis said:

“That punk pulled a Glock 7 on me. You know what that is? It’s a porcelain gun made in Germany. Doesn’t show up on your airport X-ray machines, here, and it cost more than you make in a month.”

Wrong on every count of course – there never was a Glock 7, Glocks are made in Austria, not Germany from metal and plastic, not porcelain, they are detected by airport scanners and they aren’t particularly expensive. But people watching the movie got the message – a Glock was something special. In the 1998 movie U.S. Marshalls, Tommy Lee Jones looks contemptuously at Robert Downey Junior’s stainless steel Taurus PT945 and quips:

“Get yourself a Glock and lose that nickel-plated sissy pistol.”

Unsurprisingly, Glock 17 sales to civilian customers went off the scale in the US. Other gunmakers struggled to compete and Glock still accounts for a sizeable proportion of handgun sales to the US civilian market.


Glock 19

The Glock 17 went on to spawn a number of other variants. The Glock 18 added a full auto feature, the 19 was a slightly smaller version and there are currently a whole range of Glocks of different sizes and calibres including .40 and .45 in addition to the original 9mm. They still recognisably use the same design as the original, and an updated Glock 17 is still available. The new Generation 4 version only differs in very minor details from the original and is visually almost identical (other than minor differences in grip finish and the addition of an accessory rail).

Glock replicas

Glock have an active legal department which aggressively pursues any perceived infringement of intellectual property rights, which includes replicas which are visual replicas even if they don’t actually use the word “Glock” in advertising or packaging. This is partly down to the registration of the shape of the pistol itself as a trademark. In part, the description of the trademark reads:

The mark consists of the three dimensional overall configuration of a semi-automatic pistol having a blocky an squared-off shape as viewed from the side, the front, and the rear. The shape of the trigger guard and the shape, location, and a position of the trigger safety tab are claimed as a part of the mark…”

In other words, if you make something that looks like a Glock, you’re infringing the trademark. This has deterred many companies from producing unlicensed replicas of Glock pistols. It also probably explains why some replicas which looked rather like Glock pistols have quietly disappeared from the market after a short period. Glock have also pursued some airsoft vendors who sell Glockalike replicas. The most recent case (in March 2014) involved a lawsuit against AirSplat, the largest US airsoft vendor, for patent and trademark infringement and false advertising relating to selling replica pistols which look like Glocks.


6mm Stark Arms S17. Obviously not intended to resemble any real-world pistol.

People may be surprised to learn that up to 2017, Glock didn’t actually license any replica pistols. Despite that, if you look at the websites for most airsoft vendors you will see what look awful like pre-2017 replicas of the Glock 17 and other variants of Glock handguns. These are not licensed replicas and don’t generally include accurate Glock markings.


Tokyo Marui G17. Quoting from the AirSplat website: “This airsoft gun is not to be misrepresented as a real firearm or gun that is manufactured by Glock and is merely an airsoft gun that fires 6mm pellets.” It’s also noticeable that the markings shown above on the front left of the slide are rather more difficult to read on the site. And the logo on the grip seems to have disappeared…

Then, in 2017, all that changed. Glock announced an exclusive licensing deal with German manufacturer Umarex and now, you can purchase a bewildering array of licesced Glock replicas offered by Umarex. These include the Glock 34 target pistol, the Glock 17, the compact Glock 19 and the sub-compact Glock 42 in 6mm, 4.5mm and pellet shooting variants, powered by green gas and CO2 and in blowback and non-blowback form. These aren’t cheap, but they are very good replicas with full markings and many are pretty decent shooters too.


The Umarex 6mm Glock 17 Deluxe features a CNC machined slide, it’s the same weight as the original and it operates and dissassembles in the same way. It’s a lovely replica, it’s just a pity that you may need to sell a kidney in order to afford one…


Is it fair to call the Glock 17 a classic? Well, it’s as ugly as a box of frogs and it might not make it on to most people’s list of classic guns but it’s undeniably a seminal design which changed the landscape of handgun construction forever. It hard to name a single new semi-automatic pistol design which doesn’t feature a polymer grip and frame and many also include some form of trigger safety and a high capacity magazine. These things can be traced directly back to Gaston Glock, sitting in his basement in Austria with a blank sheet of paper and pondering what the pistol of the future might look like. If that isn’t a reasonable definition of a classic, I’m not sure what is.

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