Guns of Tom Cruise Movies: 1981-2000

Taps (1981) • Born on the Fourth of July (1989) • Far and Away (1992) • Mission: Impossible (1996) • Mission: Impossible II (2000)

With a new Mission: Impossible film slated for release this year, let's take a look at some of the firearms Cruise has used to blast his way to box office success over the years:

Taps (1981)

Cruise firing an M60 machine gun as Cadet Capt. David Shawn in the military school drama *Taps*.
Cruise firing an M60 machine gun as Cadet Capt. David Shawn in the military school drama Taps.photo from imfdb.org

Cruise's first substantial film role, even before his brief appearance in 1983's The Outsiders was as Cadet Captain David Shawn in Taps alongside a young Sean Penn and Timothy Hutton and an aging George C. Scott. When a local civilian is accidentally shot and killed by the commander (Scott) of a once prestigious military school, unrest builds until violence breaks out between the armed cadets and townies, leading to a standoff when police surround the campus. When things escalate, the National Guard show up with the big guns, and a tank.

Throughout the movie, Shawn becomes increasingly unhinged, and all too eager to fire his M16 over the heads of an unruly crowd.

As the standoff reaches a fever pitch, a young cadet attempts to run to the gate to escape in the dark of night when he is mistakenly by the guardsmen.

His death leads to nearly all the cadets standing down the next morning—all but Shawn, who sets up an elevated position and opens fire from a window of the barracks with an M60 machine gun.

The M60 machine gun is chambered in 7.62 x 51mm NATO (.308 Win) and fed by a disintegrating belt of ammunition with M13 links. The general-purpose machine gun was introduced in 1957 and has seen service in every branch of the U.S. military, and is still used today, though it has largely been replaced by other firearms, like the M240.

Cruise also carried an M16 rifle as Cadet Capt. Shawn with a Colt 3x scope affixed.
Cruise also carried an M16 rifle as Cadet Capt. Shawn with a Colt 3x scope affixed.photo from imfdb.org

The M60 is generally a crew-served gun, operated by a team of two or three since it’s weight and the weight of the ammo needed to feed it is a big load for a single person. A full crew consists of a gunner, an assistant gunner, and an ammunition bearer.

The M60 saw heavy use in Vietnam where a gunner would carry the gun and, depending on the necessity and his size, anywhere from 200 to 1,000 rounds of ammo. The assistant carried at least one spare barrel to change out when another became overheated, and more extra ammo. He also handled reloads and was responsible for spotting targets for the gunner.

In addition to extra belts, the ammunition bearer carried a tripod and the associated traversing and elevation mechanism, if issued. That being said, the M60 was also designed to be used by one person, if necessary, and can be accurately fired from the shoulder and the hip thanks to a hold-over in concept form the M1918 Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR).

Getting behind the M60 didn't work out so well for Shawn. When the Guardsmen return fire with a .50 cal. mounted on a tank, Moreland (Hutton), Shawn, and the room vanish in a hail of bullets. But before that, Shawn gets the best line of the movie and Cruise displayed his "crazy yelling face" for the first time: "It's beautiful, man!"

Born on the Fourth of July (1989)

Cruise as Ron Kovic firing an M14 in full auto in *Born on the Fourth of July*. He also carries an M1911A1 pistol, though he doesn't fire it.
Cruise as Ron Kovic firing an M14 in full auto in Born on the Fourth of July. He also carries an M1911A1 pistol, though he doesn't fire it.photo from imfdb.org

Unless you count Top Gun and Cruise sitting in the fake cockpit of an F16, he didn't pick up a gun on screen again until 1989's Bourn on the Fourth of July for another serious role after his turn in Rain Man (1988).

July was part of Oliver Stone's trilogy of movies about the Vietnam War (the first being Platoon (1986) and the last being Heaven & Earth (1993)) and was based on the popular autobiography by the same title written by veteran Ron Kovic.

Cruise stars as Kovic, a role that earned him his first Academy Award nomination, though the film would ultimately go on to win two other awards: Best Director and Best Film Editing. The film starts with Kovic as a small-town kid in 1956 Massapequa, Long Island, New York and follows him as he joins the U.S. Marine Corps straight out of high school.

While serving in Vietnam as a sergeant in 1968, Kovic is critically wounded in a firefight and as a result is paralyzed from the chest down. After a long journey of recovery, Kovic joins the Vietnam Veterans Against the War and travels to the 1972 Republican National Convention in Miami advocating for veterans and for an end to the war as well as improvements to VA facilities and services. The film ends with Kovic speaking at the 1976 Democratic National Convention shortly after publishing his autobiography.

In this shot of the same scene, you can see the casings ejecting from the rifle are blanks.
In this shot of the same scene, you can see the casings ejecting from the rifle are blanks.photo from imfdb.org

While in the Marines, we see Kovic carrying and firing a fully automatic M14 rifle chambered in 7.62 x 51mm NATO (.308 Win.), which could have been accurate for a Marine serving at that time.

The first M14 rifles were delivered to the U.S. Army in 1959, but significant production delays resulted in the 101st Airborne Division being the only unit in the army fully equipped with the M14 by the end of 1961. The Fleet Marine Force finally completed the change from the M1 Garand to the M14 in late 1962.

While the M14, a box-magazine-fed descendant of the Garand, served admirably in Vietnam, it had a number of drawbacks, primarily it’s weight and length. Though troops appreciated the high-powered round’s ability to penetrate cover, the gun was difficult to control during full-auto fire.

The wood stock also had a tendency to swell and expand in the damp jungle climate and throw off the rifle’s accuracy. Fiberglass stocks were made to address the problem, but the M14 was relegated to special uses and replaced by the M16A1 before they could be issued.

Far and Away (1992)

Cruise as Joseph Donnelly in the sweeping 1992 drama *Far and Away* attempting to fire a Snider-Enfield rifle that's a bit more rust than rifle.
Cruise as Joseph Donnelly in the sweeping 1992 drama Far and Away attempting to fire a Snider-Enfield rifle that's a bit more rust than rifle.photo from imfdb.org

The 1990s were a good 10 years for Cruise. One of the early box office hits saw him starring with his wife at the time, Nicole Kidman, in a period drama following two Irish immigrants from opposite backgrounds who find themselves equalized when arriving in the New World.

In the beginning, Joseph Donnelly (Cruise) attempts to fire an ancient-looking Snider-Enfield rifle that’s perhaps a bit more rust than rifle, as part of a revenge plot against the rich landowner who burned his father’s farm.

During the foggy duel scene, Donnelly inexpertly wields a flintlock pistol.
During the foggy duel scene, Donnelly inexpertly wields a flintlock pistol.photo from imfdb.org

Not surprising since it was retrieved from a barrel kept outdoors—in Ireland—near the coast, the rifle explodes in his hands and leaves a decent powder burn across Donnelly’s cheek (which conveniently vanishes) but leaves him otherwise unharmed. It’s probably a good thing he closed his eyes before firing the shot.

Later, after he somewhat recovered from that wound and from a pitchfork to the leg courtesy of Shannon (Kidman), Donnelly is forced to duel against her top suitor for the insult of knocking him down and spitting on his face. He's also the guy who set the torches to his father's house.

In an old-school, standing in a field back to back and marching 20 paces kind of duel, Donnelly is given a handsome looking half of a set of flintlock dueling pistols, but the quality of the pistol doesn’t help much when he can’t see through the fog.

Luckily, Shannon comes along with a wagon, before he can be shot, and carries him off to board a ship to America and to start heir new lives.

Mission: Impossible (1996)

Oddly enough, in his first go round as Ethan Hunt in *Mission: Impossible*, Cruise only held a gun in one scene and he didn't fire it. You can see he uses the teacup grip so popular in 90s action movi
Oddly enough, in his first go round as Ethan Hunt in Mission: Impossible, Cruise only held a gun in one scene and he didn't fire it. You can see he uses the teacup grip so popular in 90s action movies.photo from imfdb.org

The 1990s also saw Cruise break into the action genre full force with the big screen version of the popular TV show Mission: Impossible (1996). Audiences may forget now, but at the time, the movie was something of a gimmicky gamble based on a TV show that hadn't been on the air since 1973. Fortunately, the movie was awesome and the special effects were able to pull off some of the show's best concepts, like the false-face masks, in ways that weren't possible on the small screen.

The movie was more of a spy thriller and a high-tech (for 1996) mystery than an action movie, with most of the action devoted to sneaking through a government installation to get the NOC list, a file containing the real names and information of all U.S. covert agents, and a high octane helicopter vs. train vs. tunnel chase scene with some great looking stunts.

In fact, throughout the entire film, though there’s plenty of gunplay, the only time Ethan Hunt (Cruise) picks up a firearm is when he’s alone and paranoid in the team’s apartment after the disastrous mission that sets the plot in motion.

That pistol is a Beretta 8045 Cougar F, hidden in a vase in the Prague apartment. The pistol is a version of the Italian gun maker’s Beretta 8000 series chambered in .45 ACP. The “F” configuration means the gun has a double-action trigger, exposed hammer, and an ambidextrous safety/decocking lever mounted on the slide.

The gun was produced between 1998-2004 in the D and F configurations. A compact Mini 8045 Cougar was also produced in the same configurations.

Mission: Impossible II (2000)

Hunt fires a Heckler & Koch USP Compact from his back.
Hunt fires a Heckler & Koch USP Compact from his back.photo from imfdb.org

Cruise's next action title was the first in a string of MI sequels, titled simply Mission: Impossible II (2000). Cruise returned as Ethan Hunt in the film, directed by John Woo in his signature over-the-top physics-be-damned action style that was very popular at the time.

It was a departure from the original’s James Bond-ish espionage type of atmosphere and plot to a movie rife with car chases, wild shootouts, and motorcycle stunts, meaning Hunt shooting dudes behind him, from a moving motorcycle, using the side-view mirror to aim. He does that with a Beretta 92 Compact, a scaled down version of the company’s 92FS pistol, which he uses quite a bit throughout the film with a Hogue Handall grip sleeve.

Hunt shoots two Beretta 92FS Brigadier pistols.
Hunt shoots two Beretta 92FS Brigadier pistols.photo from imfdb.org

Woo loves him some dual-wielded pistols, and Hunt indeeds shoots both the 92 Compact and a Beretta 92FS Brigadier with Hogue rubber grips akimbo at one point.

In a memorable fight scene, Hunt kicks up the bad guy’s Heckler & Koch USP Compact from the sand, catches it in mid air, dives and shoots. Yep, that’s Woo.

In the MI sequel, Ethan Hunt also uses a Beretta 92 Compact.
In the MI sequel, Ethan Hunt also uses a Beretta 92 Compact.photo from imfdb.org