Point Break (1991)
First up is the always excellent Point Break from 1991. We don’t talk about the horrid 2015 remake..at all. The story isn’t extremely original—a young FBI agent, with the unlikely name of Johnny Utah, gets assigned to the bank robbery unit of the Los Angeles field office and paired up with a burned out old FBI agent, Angelo Pappas, slightly over-played by Gary Busey. The young agent believes Pappas’ kooky theory—that a high-profile series of unsolved bank robberies have been committed by a gang of surfers—when he lays it out for him after some prodding.
Of course, Utah has to go undercover and learn to surf, but it’s the details that have made this one a classic. First they have Patrick Swayze playing against type as the likable antagonist, Bodhi, who leads the surfer gang and sees what they do as a rebellion against the machinery of modern society. It’s corny, but it’s everything an action movie is supposed to be—and more importantly, it knows that it’s an over-the-top action movie and doesn’t shy away from it a bit, incorporating awesome chases, stunts, special effects, and two legendary skydiving scenes.
Believe it or not, it was directed by Kathryn Bigelow, who directed the Academy Award winning The Hurt Locker (2008) and it was executive produced by James Cameron.
When we first see Utah, he’s going through a qualifying shooting course, in the pouring rain for some reason, intercut with scenes of surfers surfing.
First, Utah shoots a pump action Mossberg 500 shotgun with wood furniture, putting multiple rounds into various wooden targets. Of course, his starting position is sitting in a very cool way on the trunk of a car with the shotgun across his knees, as he puts a piece of gum into his mouth in slow motion—in the middle of a heavy downpour.
So many things like that in this movie feel like cliches now, but this was one of the first action movies stylized in such a way, so it only became a cliche after later movies copied off it.
After the shotgun, Utah switches to the gun he carries through most of the movie, a SIG-Sauer P226, as his FBI-issued sidearm. When the movie was made, the 9mm P226 and the more compact P228 had recently been adopted by the Bureau after it abandoned the 10mm and the Smith & Wesson 1076 when it proved to be too much gun for too many agents and a bit large for every day carry.
This is the gun he uses during one of the movies most memorable and ridiculous scenes. Utah and Pappas catch the surfer gang, nicknamed The Ex-Presidents because of the Nixon, Johnson, Reagan, and Carter masks they wear during their robberies, as they’re coming out of a bank.
A car chase turns into a footmchase with Utah running down Bodhi. This is one of the better foot chases every put on film. Patrick Swayze throws a dog—a dog—at Keanu Reeves, while wearing a Ronald Reagan mask. That’s all I’m saying.
At the end of the chase, Utah hurts the trick knee he has from a college football injury and Bodhi gets some distance from him and is about to scale a fence. Utah has the chance to shoot him as he climbs a fence, but can’t bring himself to kill the guy who has become his friend. Bodhi escapes, and in frustration, Utah empties his pistol into the air and tells his superiors he missed.
The scene is exemplary of the over-the-topness of 90s action movies like this one and the Lethal Weapon sequels. The Point Break scene was also mentioned often and parodied in the British cop comedy Hot Fuzz (2007).
Bodhi (Swayze) carries a Freedom Arms Model 83 single-action revolver in .454 Casull as his weapon of choice during all if The Ex-Presidents’ bank robberies. He finally uses it during the robbery gone wrong in the third act, which he forces Utah to participate.
When a plainclothes police officer surprises them and fatally wounds one of his men, Bodhi uses his gigantic revolver, which was the most powerful production revolver available at the time, to shoot the cop in the chest.
He also uses it to pistol whip Utah into unconsciousness, leaving him at the robbery scene.
After Pappas is shot at the airport, the gang makes Utah get on the plane with them and Bodhi leaves his revolver behind when he and the others make their escape via skydive. Utah snatches up the revolver and jumps without a parachute, catching up to Bodhi in mid air and grabbing onto his chute straps. Bodhi refuses to pull the ripcord, forcing Utah to let go of the revolver and stop them both from falling to their deaths.
Through some movie magic, Utah is able to hang on with only his arms as the parachute opens and slows their descent only meters from the ground. He tweaks his knee again, but is otherwise uninjured, and Bodhi walks away a little dazed, but fine as well.
A few years later, Reeves came back into the action world with a certified blockbuster in Speed starring alongside Jeff Daniels and Dennis Hopper, plus Sandra Bullock in her breakout role as Annie, the passenger who is reluctantly pushed into service driving an LA bus that has a bomb on it. The catch is that the bus can’t go below 50 mph, or it explodes.
The cool thing about Speed is that it’s kind of like two movies in one. The first part involves a deranged man who takes a bunch of people hostage in a high-rise elevator. He severs the cables with a bomb and then tells the police he has another bomb on the emergency brakes and he’ll set it off if he doesn’t get what he wants.
It’s up to LAPD SWAT to diffuse the situation.
During the opening elevator hostage sequence, LAPD SWAT Officers Jack Traven (Reeves) and Harry Temple (Jeff Daniels) are seen using Heckler & Kock HK94A3 submachine guns with collapsing stocks. As per usual for movies of this era, the civilian 16″ barrel versions were chopped down and converted to look like an MP5A3 with Surefire light dedicated forends.
You can tell because the HK94 doesn’t have barrel lugs, a push-pin set, or a paddle magazine release behind the magazine well.
The duo and the other SWAT Officers carry the mocked up MP5s, but Jack has to switch to his sidearms when the close quarters of the elevator shaft make them too unwieldy.
All of the LAPD SWAT officers carry M1911A1 pistols with early model Laser Products brand Surfire 310R flashlights attached. (The light on Daniels’ gun is a 610R.) Despite the fact that, at the time, the LAPD had switched to the 9mm Beretta 92FS as its standard sidearm, LAPD SWAT always used .45 caliber M1911s.
The exact models varied, and legend has it that many of them were confiscated from criminals and tricked out by the SWAT gun cage jockey, a role that got some prominent attention in S.W.A.T. (2003). They were some of the first LEO guns to be fitted with frame mounted flashlights.
Eventually, the department settled on the Kimber Custom TLE II as its standard sidearm. According to imfdb.org, the 1911s in the movie were both M1911A1s and 9mm Colt Series 70 pistols.
In the beginning, Harry and Jack are discussing a scenario in which a terrorist holds a hostage at gunpoint and is 100 feet away. Jack proposes wounding the hostage so they can no longer be used as a shield. Harry tells him he’s crazy.
Unfortunately, this exact scenario plays out soon after, and Harry asks him to “shoot the hostage,” so Jack does, missing his femoral artery of course. It does save the hostage, but the bomber actually escapes to concoct another plan. But now, Jack is in his sights.
When not on SWAT duty, Jack Traven carries a Smith & Wesson 6904 as his off-duty sidearm. The pistol is a third-generation version of S&W’s 69 series, which were compact 9mm double-stack guns designed to be small enough for concealed carry, but with a high capacity that made them also suitable for service guns.
The 6904 has a 3.5″ barrel, a bobbed hammer, and a 12-round magazine with an anodized aluminum alloy frame.
Travers carries the S&W pistol through the entire bus sequence and in the film’s final act when he finally catches up with the bomber (Hopper) in the subway, reminding the world that Los Angeles has a subway. Jack loses his 6904 on the roof of the train trying to avoid the bomber’s gunfire.
Chain Reaction (1996)
This one is as memorable as some of Reeves’ other movies from the 90s, but it’s still worth a rewatch if you come across it and nothing else is on.
The plot revolves around a man (Reeves) forced to go on the run when the cutting edge energy experiment he’s working on is found to have a lot of potential as a weapon. The film also stars Rachel Weisz, Brian Cox, and Morgan Freeman.
Reeves plays Eddie Kasalivich, a student machinist working with a team from the University of Chicago to obtain clean energy from water by efficiently splitting hydrogen and oxygen atoms apart. While working at home, Eddie accidentally discovers the secret to making the experiment work—a frequency that keeps the process stable.
But once the machine gets working, some shady company/government types show up, kill most of the team, steal the secret tot he experiment and destroy the reactor with some…questionable 1996-era computer graphics.
After that, Eddie is on the run and trying to avoid being framed for the crimes committed against them.
We see a Beretta 92FS pistol being used by the Wisconsin State Police, and Eddie also uses on in the third act.
The Devil’s Advocate (1997)
While this one certainly isn’t an action movie, this seminal thriller/horror flick gets a little flack, mostly because of the fake southern accent Reeves is sporting throughout, but after a recent rewatching, I was surprised at how well it holds up. There’s also a great and early performance from Charlize Theron.
Reeves is Kevin Lomax, a small town Florida attorney who is barely scraping by with his wife Mary Ann (Theron), when he gets an unexpected offer from a big time, and super shady, New York City law firm.
SPOILERS AHEAD – even though this movie is 20 years old and you should have seen it
It’s pretty obvious from the beginning of the movie that the head of the firm, the not so subtly named John Milton (Al Pacino), is a bit more than he appears to be—namely the prince of darkness himself. Lomax turns out to be the devil’s son, who he wants to take over the firm after Mary Ann is driven insane and commits suicide.
In the film’s awesome ending, Lomax finally figures out a drastic loophole to the choices presented to him by his ol’ dad, Satan. When the Devil thinks he’s finally coaxed Kevin into having sex with his half sister to create what amounts to the Antichrist—he turns the tables on him by pulling his pistol and shooting himself in the head. Satan flies into a rage and burns the room, and his daughter, to ashes.
It might seem like Kevin’s gun came out of nowhere when he first uses it to shoot Milton a few times, but he actually picked up the Walther PPK from his client Alexander Cullen (Craig T. Nelson), earlier in the movie. Cullen, who was under investigation for a triple murder, revealed he was carrying it when he demonstrated how he picked up a gun at the crime scene. Kevin took it from him for his own good, and apparently began carrying it for protection since.
The Matrix (1999)
Before the 1990s were over, Reeves had one more action hit in him, and it was a big one. The Matrix was perfect for its time. The computer graphics necessary to pull off what the story required were finally advanced enough to look good, and with the explosion of the Internet, the tech-heavy plot resonated with audiences who were seeing their world rapidly becoming more digital.
The plot is a lot to recount here, but let’s just say that Thomas Anderson (Reeves), an IT drone who is secretly a hacker named Neo, discovers that the world he thought was real is actually a computer simulation called The Matrix. He is awoken by a band of rebels who are determined to free humanity from bondage and destroy the machine overlords of a dystopian future.
However, most of the action takes place in the fake computer world, where the characters can bend the laws of physics, have an unlimited armament of cool firearms, and a whole ensemble of 90s cool edgy clothes like full length pleather jackets and super tall goth boots. If it weren’t for the super 90s sunglasses, they’d still look pretty cool though.
Neo spends the first two acts of the movie figuring out what the hell is going on and building his skills, as Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) tries to convince him he’s the prophesied One who will help bring about the end of the war with the machines.
The first time he uses a gun is when he and the others are cornered in a building by The Agents, the superhuman operatives of the machines inside of The Matrix.
When traveling through the building’s wet-wall in an attempted escape, they are given away by a sneeze and Neo shoots through the wall with his CZ99 before Morpheus bursts through and fights the Agents, letting the others get away.
Earlier, when Morpheus is explaining how they interact with The Matrix, he orders racks of firearms to appear, to illustrate how they can upload any kind of equipment they might need for a given mission. They can also program themselves with knowledge and skills, like various martial arts fighting styles and the ability to fly a helicopter.
The most gunfire-packed scene in the movie is of course the assault on the office building in the final act when Neo and Trinity simply walk into the lobby, strapped to the hilt with firearms, and start engaging the heavily armed security guards.
Instead of carrying a few firearms and a bunch of spare magazines, Neo straps himself with like a dozen guns, because hey, it’s the Matrix and it looked cooler than reloading.
First up, he pulls a pair of genuine MP5K submachine guns from Heckler & Koch to take out the first set of guards, firing them akimbo with his arms crossed.
These aren’t chopped down civilian versions but genuine MP5Ks. You can clearly see the paddle magazine release levers in the armory scene when he first inspects the guns and later in the lobby scene.
After the MP5Ks run dry, he tosses them and draws a pair of Yugoslavian made Model 62 Skorpion submachine guns fitted with muzzle shrouds and 30-round magazines.
If you pay attention to the shell cases falling to the ground, you can see they are actually 5.56x45mm shell casings like they should be and not crimped blank casings.
The Skorpion was developed for use with security forces and special forces in 1961. In the 1970s, it got a bad reputation due to its use in various high profile terrorist incidents.
After the Skorpions run dry, Neo pulls a pair of Micro Uzi pistols in 9mm with short magazines. Trinity also uses a Micro Uzi and they all have bent trigger guards.
The Micro Uzi is a largely scaled down version of the Uzi submachine gun that was introduced in 1986. It fires in full auto from a closed bolt, unlike the original open-bolt Uzi and has a cyclic rate of 1,200 rpm.
In 2010, the Uzi Pro, an improved version of the Micro Uzi, was launched by Israel Weapon Industries Ltd. (IWI). It’s a blowback-operated, select-fire, closed-bolt firearm with a large lower that makes up the grip and handguard, and is entirely made of polymer to cut weight. The grip section was redesigned to better suit two-handed operation and facilitate contrul during full-auto fire. It also features three accessory rails and the cocking handle has been moved from the top of the upper receiver to the left side so optics can be mounted.
The Micro Uzis are the last full auto guns Neo has on him. After they run dry, he switches to a pair of Beretta 92FS pistols and uses them in combination with M16 rifles he picks up from the downed guards as he and Trinity progress to the roof.
The Beretta 92 series of semi-auto pistols was first designed in 1972 and has spawned many variants in many calibers.
In 1985, the U.S. military replaced the long-serving M1911A1 .45 ACP pistol with the 9mm Beretta 92FS, which was designated the M9. It served until t
The United States military replaced the M1911A1 .45 ACP pistol in 1985 with the Beretta 92FS, designated as the M9. In 2017, it was announced that the M9 would be replaced by the modular, polymer, striker-fired SIG Sauer P320 pistol, since designated as the M17.
The M16s used in the lobby and roof scenes are a mixture of rifles with three-prong flash hiders and others with M16A1-style birdcage style flash hiders. Neo uses two of these rifles—one while cartwheeling across the lobby and another while taking cover on the roof.
When Trinity and Neo finally make their way to the roof and commandeer the helicopter, Neo opens up on the Agents guarding Morpheus with a GE M134 Minigun mounted on the Bell 212 helicopter. According to imfdb.org, the gun was firing at 3,000 rounds per minute for the shots, which is half the maximum rate of fire for the M134.
Much is made of the slow motion shots of the shell casings and disintegrating belt links falling around Neo’s feet—but unlike other shots of shell casings in the movie, these are clearly bottleneck blanks.
In the real world the M134 Minigun is a six-barrel rotary machine gun that fires 7.62x51mm NATO ammunition at an extremely high rate of fire—normally 2,000 to 6,000 rpm. It uses Gatling-style rotating barrels that are powered by an external source, normally an electric motor. The “mini” in the name distinguishes it from larger caliber designs that use a rotary barrel design and autocannon shells instead of rifle-caliber bullets.
The Minigun is still used by several branches of the U.S. military. Versions are designated M134 and XM196 by the United States Army, and GAU-2/A and GAU-17/A by the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy.
“Minigun” refers to a specific model of weapon that General Electric originally produced, but the term “minigun” has popularly come to refer to any externally powered rotary-style gun of rifle caliber.