Samuel L. Jackson, perhaps the best cusser in silver screen history, has a lot of film credits to his name. He’s played everything from cops to cowboys, from musicians to soldiers. But it all started with almost two decades of bit parts before he and some of his lines of dialog became pop culture staples.
Here’s a tour through his early career by way of the guns he used on screen from 1988 to 1996.
Coming to America (1988)
Everyone has to start somewhere. Jackson’s early career included more than a decade of roles like “Gang Member No. 2” in a movie called Ragtime (1981) and “Patrolman” in a TV show called “Movin’ On*. His first role using a firearm on screen was no better. He played “Hold-Up Man” in the ultra successful Eddie Murphy comedy Coming to America (1988).
Ithaca 37 with Pistol Grip
The scene is memorable, mostly for Jackson’s deliver and the fact that it’s the only real bit of violence in the comedy (and the only gun), which was released at the absolute height of Murphy’s career. As his character name indicates, he plays an anonymous bad guy who bursts into the McDowell’s restaurant where Akeem (Murphy) and Semmi (Arsenio Hall) are working brandishing an Ithaca 37 shotgun with a pistol grip.
He threatens various people in the restaurant, demanding money, before confronted by Akeem, who throttles him with a mop handle as Semmi picks up his dropped shotgun and turns it on him.
Patriot Games (1992)
Jackson was in near obscurity for the rest of the 1980s, but starting in 1990, he started getting better roles—including characters with actual names, even if they are sometimes his own. One of those roles was as Lt. Commander Robby Jackson in the Jack Ryan movie Patriot Games starring Harrison Ford based on the popular Tom Clancy novels.
Jackson appears mostly at the end of the movie during the big assault on Ryan’s country house during the lightning storm.
Geoffrey Watkins (Hugh Fraser) uses a suppressed Beretta M1934 at Dr. Ryan’s home during the celebration for his daughter’s release from the hospital after a serious injury.
Ryan later takes the pistol and shoots Watkins in the leg with it to try and get him to talk. He then gives it to Lt. Com. Jackson, who uses it during the ensuing fight with the IRA terrorists in the house.
The M1934, as the name suggests, was issued to the Italian armed forces in 1934 and was chambered in 9mm Corto, or what is better known as the .380 ACP. With the characteristic Beretta open slide, the pistol has a reliable feeding and extraction method with an elongated slot in the top of the slide acting as the ejection port. It has relatively few parts and is easy to maintain.
An M1934 was famously used by Nathuran Godse to assassinate Mahatma Gandhi in 1948.
National Lampoon’s Loaded Weapon 1 (1993)
If you don’t remember this one, don’t feel bad. It was part of a slew of spoof movies released in the early 90s—one of the ones without Lesley Nielsen in it.
Loaded Weapon 1 was a spoof on the buddy cop movies of the 80s and early 90s, mostly following the structure and aesthetics of the Lethal Weapon series. It also mocks First Blood, the Dirty Harry movies, Die Hard (Bruce Willis actually makes a cameo), and Basic Instinct, among many others.
Emilio Estevez plays the Martin Riggs/Mel Gibson character, named Sgt. Jack Colt—and Jackson plays the Murtaugh/Danny Glover character called Sgt. Wes Luger. Get it?
While the movie is pretty funny in that schticky, spoof movie kind of way, especially if you’re an action movie nut, but it bombed at the box office and the planned sequel was cancelled.
Smith & Wesson Model 19
During a flashback to his early career in uniform, Sgt. Luger uses a Smith & Wesson Model 19 revolver, along with a serious afro wig. During Erik Estrada’s cameo, in which he reprises his role of Officer “Ponch” from the TV show CHiPs, he also carries a Model 19.
In keeping with the spoof of Lethal Weapon and his parody of LAPD Sgt. Martin Riggs, Sgt. Colt carries a Beretta 92FS, which he draws in almost ever scene in the movie. Every time he does so, we here the sound of the slide being racked.
In one scene, Luger holds the Beretta, but drops it when Jigsaw tells him to.
In the present day, Luger still carries his old school Model 19 revolver in a parody of Sgt. Roger Murtaugh, though the latter also carried a semi-auto in a shoulder holster.
Smith & Wesson Model 15
After an LAPD officer (Corey Feldman) fires his Smith & Wesson Model 15 at the “domestic dispute”. Sgt. Luger takes it from him, saying he’ll hand it back when he listens to orders.
Another gun of note in this goofy movie is the comically huge Wildey Magnum pistol with an 8″ barrel carried by the main villain, Mr. Jigsaw (Tim Curry). The gun was first on screen in the Charles Bronson flick Death Wish 3 in 1985 and showed up a few more times through the 1990s whenever a movie needed a ridiculously huge gun.
The Wildey is a gas-operated, double-action/single-action pistol designed by Wildey J. Moore to fire several high-pressure proprietary cartridges, including the .45 Winchester Magnum and the .475 Wildey Magnum. The pistol is the first gas-operated semi-auto pistol and is built to withstand breech pressures of over 48,000 PSI.
Menace II Society (1993)
Though his appearance in this landmark 90s LA gang flick (officially known as a teen hood film) was little more than a cameo, it was a memorable one. Jackson played Tat Lawson, the father of protagonist Caine Lawson (Tyrin Turner). In a flashback to 1978, we see that Tat was a fairly brutal drug dealer. In the red-filtered scene we see Tat pull a Colt Detective Special, which he uses to kill a man who owes him money during a card game.
The compact revolver hold six rounds of .38 Special, but Tat fires it a total of eight times thanks to movie magic.
Colt Detective Special
We find out that Tat was later killed himself when Caine was 10 years old, leading to him growing up with his grandparents in the Jordan Downs housing project in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. Though his part was small, we got to see some of the explosive violence Jackson would later become famous for.
Pulp Fiction (1994)
Jackson’s career began to pick up after that, with a memorable appearance in Jurassic Park (1993) and a small part in True Romance (1993), directed by Tony Scott (Jackson also says an end to a 15-year drug addiction around this time also allowed to put the necessary work into his career).
The writer on that film was a young man named Quentin Tarantino, who had a critically acclaimed indie movie, Reservoir Dogs under his belt, along with the TR writing credit and the sale of the screenplay for Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers (1994).
When he began working on the movie that would become his claim to fame, he wrote a key role specifically for Jackson, who was surprised Tarantino even remembered him from their limited interaction. It was a role that would launch his career to unimaginable heights and mark the first of several collaborations between Jackson and Tarantino.
Star Model B
Jackson plays Jules Winnfield, part of a duo of hitmen, along with Vincent Vega (John Travolta) who work for L.A. gangster Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames).
Many people assumed Jules and Vincent both carried the same 1911 pistol, which led people to think there was a goof in the dialog later on in the second Diner scene, when Jules refers to his gun as “Mr. Nine Millimeter.”
In fact, Jules is carrying a gun that often stands in for a .45 ACP 1911 in Hollywood, the Star Model B in 9mm. For a long time, movie armorers found it much easier to work up blanks that would cycle a 9mm handgun rather than a .45, so the Model B became the go-to stand in for the easily recognizable 1911 in a lot of movies.
Die Hard With A Vengeance (1995)
Jackson and Bruce Willis actually worked on the third Die Hard movie together before Pulp Fiction was released. In an interview with Hollywood Reporter Jackson says since they were both in it, he and Willis took a break from filming Die Hard and went to Cannes for the world premier of Pulp Fiction. During the screening, Willis whispered to Jackson, “This movie’s OK, but Die Hard’s going to change your life. This movie’s not going to change your life.”
Well, he was half right. And one could argue that the boost to Jackson’s and Willis’ career from Pulp Fiction helped Die Hard With a Vengeance at the box office, considering it had been five years since Die Hard 2 came out.
This Die Hard was set in New York City in the dead of summer, a hard turn away from the previous films, both set at Christmas time, one in LA, the other in a snowy Washington D.C. Jackson played Zeus Carver, a pawn shop and electronics store owner in Harlem who gets swept up in a terrorist/robbery plot with John McClane.
Smith & Wesson Model 36
Jackson’s character essentially becomes McClane’s (Bruce Willis) sidekick for most of the film. When a terrorist forces McClane to walk the streets of Harlem in his boxers wearing a sandwich board bearing a racial slur, it doesn’t take long for him to garner some negative attention from some local residents…and some local gangbangers.
When Zeus sees that McClane is about to be killed outside his electronics shop, he tries to talk the angry crowd down but gets a slice to the forearm for his trouble. He grabs a Smith & Wesson Model 36 that McClane has duct taped to his back (remember that ol’ trick?) and holds off the angry mob until they can both get in a passing cab and speed away.
Zeus: “You have any idea what those guys are doing to my shop right now!?”
McClane: “Look chill out, Jesùs—
Zeus: “Chill out? What’re you trying to relate to me? Talk like a white man.”
McClane: “Ok, look, Jesùs, I’m sorry you got involved—”
Zeus: “Why you keep calling me Jesùs? Do I look Puerto Rican to you?”
McClane: “Guy back there called you Jesùs—”
Zeus: “He didn’t call me Jesùs—he said ‘Hey, Zeus.’ My name is Zeus.”
Zeus: “Yeah, Zeus. As in father of Apollo. Mount Olympus. Don’t f$#@k with me or I’ll shove a lightning bolt up your ass, Zeus. You got a problem with that?”
McClane: “No, I don’t have a problem with that…”
Heckler & Koch SP89 as an MP5K
After that, the bad guy, Simon Gruber (Jeremy Irons) decides Zeus is going to be involved in a game of cat and mouse he has set up for John as revenge for killing his brother, Hans in the first film—but McClane does all of the shooting.
When they board the cargo ship in the third act, Zeus does get his hands on a bad guy’s MP5K submachine gun and holds it on Simon and his henchmen on the bridge for a while, until Simon realizes the safety is on and Zeus doesn’t know how to disengage it.
He takes the gun from him, flips the safety off, and shoots Zeus in the leg while eating a hard boiled egg.
According to imfdb.org, the gun is actually a Heckler & Koch SP89 fitted with the vertical MP5K foregrip and converted to full auto to pass as an MP5K. You can see it’s the civilian semi-auto version just like you can with the full size MP5…it doesn’t have the paddle magazine release and instead has a push button mag release.
A Time To Kill (1996)
This crime drama is based on John Grisham’s novel of the same name and stars Jackson, Sandra Bullock, Matthew MCConaughey, and Kevin Spacey, as well as Oliver Platt, Ashley Judd, and both Kiefer and Donald Sutherland.
Set in Mississippi, the racially charged film involves the rape and attempted murder of a young girl, the arrest of the rapists, their murder by the girl’s father (Jackson), and the father’s trial. The movie was a box office hit and critics liked it as well.
When Carl Lee Hailey (Jackson) finds out from attorney Jake Brigance (McConaughey) that there is a possibility the men who brutalized his daughter could walk free, he decides to take justice into his own hands. He goes to the county courthouse when the men are being moved with a full auto M16A1. He uses the rifle to kill both rapists, but during the shooting, a deputy is wounded from a ricochet and has to have his leg amputated.
In the book, it’s explained that Hailey acquired the M16 from a friend who had served in Vietnam and smuggled the rifle illegally back to the U.S. after his tour ended, but this info didn’t make it into the film (since everyone in Hollywood knows you can just buy a machine gun at any corner drug store).
You can clearly see the forward assists in many shots, indicating that it is indeed an M16A1. However, as Hailey’s trial goes on, something happened to his rifle.
When District Attorney Rufus Buckley (Spacey) holds up the alleged murder weapon during his closing argument, we see that he’s holding a regular M16 (SP1), with an upper receiver featuring no shell deflector and no forward assist and a slabside lower with no magazine fencing.