Movies are full of conflict, and heroes and villains alike often make use of weapons. Today’s topic is some of the most memorable and interesting…
(Incidentally, this is #23 in a series of 47 posts about movies, with topics selected by my friend, each given to me after the previous one is written. For more information, check out #1 here.)
Wielded by: Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Rey and lots of others
In: Star Wars (1977 – directed by George Lucas) and its many sequels
Easily the first example to come to mind, the lightsaber is like many things in the Star Wars saga in that it has truly entered the public consciousness. Described as an “elegant weapon”, the activation of a lightsaber is one of the most memorable images (and sounds) to come out of the popular franchise. It debuted in the original Star Wars movie but has been more impressive in pretty much every film since, having been seen to have many uses in the hands of the skilled Jedi and Sith who wields one. Over the eight movies (nine, if you count the animated Clone Wars theatrical release), lightsabers have have cut robots and enemies in half, deflected blaster bolts, disabled vehicles, sliced off lots of arms and cut open the body of a dead tauntaun.
Wielded by: Indiana Jones
In: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981 – directed by Steven Spielberg) and its sequels
Indiana Jones is one of the all-time great movie creations of any age, and though he has fired many a gun, the bullwhip is his most iconic tool. Not only a weapon, it’s been used for lots of purposes (grabbing things, swinging across things, etc), but these definitely include attacking, intimidating and disarming his enemies. Giving the character a whip was a stroke of cinematic genius, and quickly became part of his defining look, along with his hat and leather jacket.
Smith & Wesson Model 29 (a .44 Magnum, “the most powerful handgun in the world.”
Wielded by: Inspector Harry Callahan
In: Dirty Harry (1971 – directed by Don Siegel) and its sequels
“Dirty” Harry is another one of cinema’s most iconic characters, who helped to usher in a new type of movie cop: the loner committed to his own brand of justice, which has become so common that is now just as often spoofed as played straight. His first film opened with a sequence that ends with one of the best known exchanges in film history, and which cements the gun’s place on this list. In it, he chases down a criminal and than ponders with him whether or not he still has any bullets left in his gun. He says he himself can’t remember, and challenges the guy to ask himself a question: “‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do you punk?” Harry continues to use this gun most of the time over the next four movies, and its the one he is holding when he utters the even more famous line from Sudden Impact: “Go ahead, make my day.”
Wielded by: Thor
In: Thor (2011 – directed by Kenneth Branagh) and its sequel, as well as The Avengers movies
In a world full of superhero films, there are really only two weapons that could have been considered for this list, both from The Avengers franchise, and that would be either Thor’s hammer or Captain America’s shield. Personally, I prefer Cap, but it’s really hard to argue against the iconic and instantly recognizable visual of Thor swinging his big ol’ funky looking giant hammer. The weapon actually debuted in the post-credit scene from Iron Man 2, and since then Thor has used it to control the weather, to fly, and to hit monsters really really hard. It’s a great fit for the warrior-born character, and the whole deal about (almost) nobody else being able to lift the thing just adds to the mystique.
Sandringham Hat (with a sharpened still rim)
Wielded by: Oddjob
In: Goldfinger (1964 – directed by Guy Hamilton)
When thinking of James Bond movies and weapons, it might be tempting to put forward his gun, the Walther PPK, which he uses in 22 out of 24 “official” movies. But I think even more iconic than that is the deadly hat worn by Oddjob, the secondary villain of the only film he appeared in Goldfinger. This flying guillotine, capable piercing metal, breaking a neck or decapitating a statue, helped to cement a staple of the James Bond franchise: the deadly henchman, who seems to take delight in killing his (or her) victims in bizarre but effective ways. And though Oddjob (a large, mute, Asian man) was not the first such character, he is perhaps the best, possibly only matched by Jaws, the crazy giant who killed people with his metal teeth, who appeared seven films later. Bond’s gun was more ubiquitous and might stand out to enthusiasts who would actually recognize it, but Oddjob’s hat is instantly recognizable to anyone who has seen the movie, and is ultimately more influential.
Wielded by: Flynn, Tron, and others
In: Tron (1982 – directed by Steven Lisberger) and its sequel
OK, so maybe Light Discs (or Identity Discs) are not iconic to everyone, but to me they are perhaps the best sci-fi movie weapon ever created, after the Lightsaber. The Discs in Tron are not just weapons, they are a fundamental piece of equipment for the programs in the Tron world, recording all of their knowledge and experiences. But in the hands of a program like Tron, they are also a fearsome weapon. They are used both as a shield or a deadly projectile (well before Captain America’s shield did something similar), able to be bounced around its environment to strike its target and turn them into a bunch of glowy dots. The fact that they look exactly like frisbees doesn’t matter because they’re completely awesome.
Wielded by: Primitive Man
In: 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968 – directed by Stanley Kubrick)
In the narrative of 2001: A Space Odyssey, some sort of unseen alien intelligence influences a tribe of primitive ape-like creatures to pick up a bone and use it to attack another tribe that had driven them from their water hole. And thus, as the story goes, human beings were born. Symbolically and visually, the bone turns into a spaceship (the eventual result of humanity’s newfound creativity. It just appears in one short sequence, but it’s a highly memorable one and the bone itself helps to reflect the entire movie’s themes.
Considered but Rejected: In addition to Cap’s shield and Bond’s gun, I also discounted Batman’s batarangs, Green Lantern’s ring, Star Trek’s phasers (certainly would have been on the list if we were also considering TV), Yondu’s stupid arrow from Guardians of the Galaxy (that thing was one of the worst parts of both movies), The Hobbit’s “Sting”, all the pointy things that murderers use in slasher films, and any archer character’s bow & arrow. I don’t know Rambo well enough to know if some machine gun or bazooka would qualify. I was surprised that I couldn’t think of a sword, but even though there are plenty of good sword-fighting scenes, I couldn’t think of one where the weapon itself was iconic. Even Excalibur doesn’t have an single version that stands out. I considered the One Ring to Rule Them All as a weapon but I decided to just stick with seven examples.
Full Disclosure: I haven’t seen Kill Bill or a lot of martial arts films to know if there’s some example in there. I haven’t seen Walking Tall, which I mention because my friend says that maybe I’d consider the guy’s two-by-four if I had.