Movie Guns of Kurt Russell: 1975-1989
The Deadly Tower (1975) • Escape from New York (1981) • The Thing (1982) • Big Trouble in Little China (1986) • Tequila Sunrise (1988) • Tango & Cash (1989)
Oddly enough, after appearing for years as a child and teen actor in lighthearted Disney TV fare, westerns, and movies like The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, Kurt Russell’s first role using a firearm was that of notorious mass murderer Charles Whitman, also known as the “Texas Tower Sniper.” It was certainly a departure for the still baby-faced actor, but one that would show he had what it takes to play a wide range of characters.
On August 1, 1966, Whitman murdered his mother and wife at home and then went to the University of Texas in Austin. He killed three people inside the tower as he ascended to the 28th floor observation deck, toting a small arsenal of firearms. He then proceeded to shoot at random for 96 minutes, killing 11 more and wounding 31. He was eventually shot and killed by two Austin police officers, ending the senseless attack.
The Deadly Tower was a TV movie that aired in 1975 and was a more or less an accurate dramatization of the real-life events with Russell as Whitman and Richard Yniguez as Officer Ramiro Martinez. While the guns chosen for the TV movie were realistic, they weren’t exactly historically accurate.
Arisaka Type 02 Paratrooper Takedown Rifle
Whitman (Russell) begins his rampage from atop the tower with a sporterized Arisaka Type 02 paratrooper takedown rifle. photo from imfdb.org
In the film, Charles Whitman (Russell) begins his rampage from atop the clock tower with a sporterized Arisaka Type 02 paratrooper takedown rifle, outfitted with a Monte Carlo stock, a scope, and a customized bolt handle.
In reality, Whitman used a 6mm Remington 700 bolt action rifle.
Arisaka is a family of Japanese bolt-action service rifles that have been in production and use since about 1897, when it replaced the Murata family of rifles. The takedown version is exactly what it sounds like, a rifle that comes apart into two pieces, designed to be easier for paratroopers to carry to the ground.
Later, Whitman switches to a standard M1 Carbine with iron sights and a full wood stock. Earlier in the movie, we see him buying the rifle along with six magazines and 600 rounds of ammunition for it. Russell does, in fact, reload magazines for the M1 on camera.
During his shooting spree, we see Whitman has several pairs of magazines taped together “jungle-style” with what looks like white medical tape.
Side-By-Side Sawed-Off Shotgun
We also see Whitman buy a double-barrel side-by-side break action shotgun, which he then proceeds to cut down by chopping a length off the barrels off with a hacksaw.
During the real incident, Whitman had a sawed-off semi-auto shotgun that police described as a “Sears 12 gauge 2.75 chamber automatic shotgun.”
We also see that Whitman has a number of handguns with him as well, though they aren’t used in the movie.
At the dawn of the 1980s, Russell took a chance and appeared in a low-budget science fiction film from burgeoning director John Carpenter, who already had the horror classic Halloween firmly under his belt.
The movie, set in a bleak future 1997, introduces anti-hero Snake Plissken (Russell), a notorious criminal, bank robber, and cult hero (think a futuristic Jesse James or John Dillinger), who has finally been captured by the oppressive U.S. government.
The President of the United States was forced to use his emergency escape pod when something goes wrong on Air Force One and crash lands on the island of Manhattan, which is now a giant maximum security prison cut off from the outside world. There are no guards, just the now-dark Big Apple and the criminals who inhabit it. Automated systems kill anyone who tries to escape through the surrounding waters.
Plissken, who has a reputation for being tough and pulling off the impossible, is blackmailed into taking a glider into the city prison and finding the president before its too late.
The movie became a VHS cult classic and even garnered a sequel a decade and a half later.
Snake Plissken (Russell) with his MAC-10 fitted with a scope mounted on a long suppressor. photo from imfdb.org
It wouldn’t be an ‘80s action movie without an Uzi or a MAC-10. In this case Snake Plissken (Russell) is issued the latter before setting out on his mission.
The submachine gun is fitted with a rifle scope that’s actually mounted on a large suppressor, which doesn’t seem to do anything. It seems EFNY follows the same gun rule of thumb that almost every sci-fi movie did up until the 2000s, make it a “future gun” by adding accessories and scopes. No matter what it is, add a scope.
We see the gun with its various components detached during the panning shot of the big gear table as Plissken loads up, included the scope separated from the suppressor.
Oddly enough, suppressors often make gunshots whisper quiet in movies, while Plissken’s gun is just as loud as can be with the can on. Maybe the foley artists wasn’t sure how a suppressed gunshot sounds.
It’s likely that, with the large suppressor along with the scope and mounts, this was one front-heavy prop gun, especially without a stock. It does include a single-point sling, to help handle the weight, and a custom leather thigh holster.
At one point, when Snake is taken prisoner and forced to compete for the inmates’ amusement, The Duke (Hayes) holds the MAC-10.
Smith & Wesson Model 67
The other gun Snake gets for his mission is a sidearm, a Smith & Wesson Model 67 with a scope (yep, gotta put a scope on EVERYTHING). It can be seen on the gear table with a holster, two speed loaders, and a belt pouch for them.
The adjustable rear sights and lack of an ejector shroud indicates it’s a Model 67, likely chambered in .38 Special, and not .357 Magnum.
Maggie (Adrienne Barbeau) uses the revolver to take a shot at The Duke (Isaac Hayes) before being gunned down.
While technically it’s thought of as a remake of the 1951 film, The Thing From Another World, John Carpenter’s big-budget monster movie classic from 1982 can actually be seen as a sequel to the original. In the old black and white movie, scientists discover an alien spacecraft under the polar ice, and dig into it, extracting a frozen humanoid alien, which wakes up and wreaks all kinds of havoc.
The Thing begins with a Norwegian science team that does pretty much what the people in the 1951 movie do, but all before the movie starts. When we come in, the Norwegian lab is already decimated and the remaining members of the team are chasing an infected dog across the snow, attempting to shoot it from a helicopter.
They miss, and the dog carries the metamorphosing alien to the American science outpost as the Norwegians crash in a fireball. When members of the U.S. team investigate the Norwegian base, they find the spaceship, still under ice, with a big rectangular block missing. The 2011 movie, also titled The Thing, attempted to tell the story of the Norwegian base as a kind of prequel that is best left unwatched.
Carpenter’s adaptation became an action-horror classic, playing on the simultaneous fear factors of isolation and knowing the enemy could be hiding in anyone at any time—plus some truly gross creature effects long before CG was a thing. It also cemented Russell as a pretty awesome badass as the tough and gruff scotch-swilling MacReady.
Colt Trooper Mk III
MacReady with the Colt Trooper Mk III revolver. photo from imfdb.org
As the sole member of the U.S. military at the frozen outpost, Garry (Donald Moffat) carries a Colt Trooper Mk III in a holster mounted on his duty belt. About halfway through the movie, MacReady (Russell) gets ahold of the revolver and carries it with him until the end of the movie.
The Colt Trooper revolvers were a medium-frame double action gun with a six-round cylinder. They were chambered in .22LR, .38, and .357 Magnum and were sold, beginning in 1953, as a less expensive alternative to the Colt .357 and later the Colt Python. It was also, as the name suggests, heavily marketed to law enforcement agencies.
The MK III series debuted in 1969 as an entirely new product line that was intended to jump start Colt’s firearms sales. It also represents the first major advancement of Colt’s designs since the beginning of the 20th century
MK III revolvers used a new “J” frame and had parts that were not interchangeable with older models. They were the first revolvers to use a transfer-bar clockwork system, which meant the guns were inherently safer than previous models, as the trigger had to be pulled entirely to the rear for the gun to fire.
The Trooper MK III was chambered in .357 Magnum and, for the first time, an 8-inch barrel. It was also chambered in .22 Winchester Magnum Rimfire. Other members of the lineup included the Colt Official Police, Lawman, Metropolitan Police, and Border Patrol.
Production of the Trooper ceased in 1985.
Ithaca 37 shotgun
At several points in the movie, MacReady carries a plain-jane pump-action Ithaca 37 shotgun.
When Windows has his episode and kicks in the glass to the gun cabinet, he grabs another Ithaca 37, before Garry disarms him. We also briefly see the HK93 used earlier by the Norwegian on the helicopter stashed in the gun cabinet.
MacReady along with several other members the team use military issue M2A1-7 flamethrowers, which turn out to be one of the best weapons for fighting the vicious and usually super disgusting alien creature.
Palmer uses a different model—a propane-powered flamethrower sold commercially and usually used for burning weeds, removing ice from planes and other equipment, and has a fairly short flame.
However, the other flame-throwers, including MacReady’s, are genuine liquid-fueled flamethrowers that you don’t see used in movies very often, especially these days when they can just add the flames in post production.
While this entry is pretty goofy and you may not have seen it, the image of Russell with a TEC-9 pistol on the brightly illustrated movie poster almost certainly festooned the walls of your local video store for a number of years before Blockbuster and West Coast Video went the way of the dinosaurs.
Russell plays Jack Burton, a truck driver who arrives in the Chinatown section of San Francisco and goes to the airport with a friend to welcome his fiancee Miao Yin from China. Unfortunately, she’s kidnapped on arrival by a Chinese street gang that is in league with an evil sorcerer David Lo Pan. Jack then teams up with a number of odd characters to get her back. Yeah, it’s that kind of movie.
Russell with his TEC-9 in Big Trouble in Little China. photo from imfdb.org
Burton’s (Russell) main weapon an Intratec TEC-9 (along with his Gerber TAC boot knife).
He recovers the TEC-9 from one of the Wing Kong in Lo Pan’s underground dungeon when Jack knocks two of them out.
He acquires the pistol after trading Wang Chi (Dennis Dunn) the Smith & Wesson Model 36 given to him by Wang. Wang then trades the S&W Model 36 to Eddie for a double-barreled shotgun.
The 9mm TEC-9 got an infamous reputation as being involved with street crime and gangs when it came out in the 80s. The ATF came down hard on the pistol, saying it’s open-bolt design was too easy to be illegally converted to fire in full auto. This led to the introduction of the more common, closed-bolt variant, the KG-99.
About 250,000 of the pistols were made before the company was shuttered, and now, a small gunmaker is trying to bring back the TEC-9 as the TAC-9 (a number of states specifically outlaw the TEC-9 by name) with modern components and materials, and a design that accepts Glock magazines.
An odd mix of thriller, cop movie, and heist film, Tequila Sunrise paired Russell with a young Mel Gibson and an equally young Michelle Pfeiffer.
Gibson plays Mac Mckussic, a drug dealer/trafficker who wants to straighten out his life. His oldest and only friend, Nick Frescia (Russell) has become a cop and is actually assigned to investigate Mckussic.
Throw in a restaurant owner Jo Ann (Pfeiffer) that they’re both sweet on plus a Mexican drug dealer who feels cheated and there’s a lot of sneaking around and plotting with constant danger hanging overhead.
Det. Lt. Fescia pulls his Walther PPK. photo from imfdb.org
Det. Lt. Fescia, oddly enough for a police detective, carries a standard Walther PPK pistol as his sidearm. He pulls it when Mac pulls the engraved Walther he obtains earlier in the movie. Apparently the filmmakers thought the preferred handgun of James Bond fit well in this sun-soaked flick. Granted, there isn’t much actual gunplay on screen, so it probably wasn’t a main focus.
After the glut of ultra violent action movies in the early and mid 80s, a number of action stars tried to soften their image a bit by appearing in a new sub-genre of movies, Action Comedies. Arnold did a few, Willis tried his hand, and Stallone and Russell scored a two-fer with this very 80s, very silly buddy cop movie.
The trailer below gives you a taste of the tone. Regardless of its silliness, the ultra quippy jokes and light action appealed to kids who watched it on VHS and cable TV ad nauseam, though very few would admit it today—though we all learned a little lesson about electricity:
Cash carries a Ruger GP100 with a preposterously large laser sight mounted on top. photo from imfdb.org
As action movies of the time were so fond of doing, Gabe Cash (Russell) shows he’s into guns, or at least that he doesn’t settle for department issued sidearms, by carrying a Ruger GP100 revolver with a stainless steel finish and topped with an absolutely monstrous Imatronic LS45 laser sight, which was pretty state-of-the-art at the time—but even when the movie came out, the top-heavy six-shooter still looked a bit ridiculous.
He doesn’t really get to use the gun much—it mostly gets shown off when he and Ray Tango (Sylvester Stallone) both infiltrate the bad guys’ warehouse just before they are framed and taken into custody.
Walther PPK/S Stainless
Cash’s backup gun is a stainless steel Walther PPK/S semi-auto. We see that he keeps it in his bottom desk drawer at the police station. When he retrieves it, he notes that it looks like someone had been messing with it because the sights are off. This is actually possible on the PPK/S, as it has an adjustable rear sight and a fixed front sight.
The gun is later found at a crime scene as part of the plot to frame him and Tango, with a suppressor attached, even though the Walther is not shown to have a threaded barrel.
Dressed up MP5A4
Near the end of the film, when Tango and Cash are gearing up for their big final shootout, they both grab what are supposed to be some kind of ultra-modern assault rifle that they obtain from a less-than-normal arms dealer who also provides firearms to the LAPD in some capacity? I don’t know, he’s a weird dude in some kind of secret warehouse surrounded by guns. He’s made good life choices, clearly.
The “assault rifles” are actually heavily modified Heckler & Koch MP5A4 submachine guns. They’ve been housed in a custom shell to make it look a lot larger than it is, and topped with large scopes, laser sights, and custom grips.
Remington 870 Shotgun
In a memorable scene, Cash uses a Remington 870 pump action shotgun with a top-folding stock to destroy Skinner’s (Michael Jeter) audio equipment. Skinner was an audio expert who gave false testimony against Tango and Cash in court, helping to convict them for a murder they didn’t commit.
You can also see a number of prison guards armed with Remington 870s during the prison escape.