I was recently watching the new “Without Remorse” adaption of the Tom Clancy novel. While I’ll save my opinion of the movie for another time, it did remind me just how bad Hollywood gets gunfights. I get it… it’s tough to make a realistic gunfight an interesting gunfight, so we repeatedly see these gunfight misconceptions. For many people, if they’re lucky, their only experience with gunfights will be from movies. So with that in mind, let’s talk about a few gunfight misconceptions you might have and ones Hollywood absolutely does.
You can’t chat during a gunfight
The “Without Remorse” scene that inspired this article featured two SEALs just having a normal conversation about some plot points while bad guys stood ten feet away and sprayed AK-47s at them. This is one of the biggest gunfight misconceptions Hollywood pushes out, and there are a few reasons why.
First, guns are freakin’ loud. Like really loud. An unsuppressed AK-47 being fired at you inside a building is going to make it really tough to discuss specific plot points in a normal conversational tone. Second, in the middle of a gunfight, you don’t care about anything other than winning the fight. If I was slugging it out with the Taliban and one of my squadmates stopped to have a conversation on whether they were Farsi or Pashtun, I’d want to slap the hell out of him.
Communication with teammates in a fight is critical. However, it’s usually done through yelling and limited to tactical decisions; like laying down cover fire, throwing smoke, or when someone yells they are moving, reloading, etc. Save the conversation ’till the fights over.
Ammunition is always a concern
I was a machine gunner, and as such, one of the most important things to learn was ammo conservation. That’s in direct contrast to the fact that it’s a machine gun I was running, of course, but that’s how it goes. That habit of conserving ammunition gives me a little anxiety when I watch movies where the good guys are just blasting away. Firing full auto at every little threat, occasionally reloading, and then doing it over again.
Lots of movies feature reloads, which add some realism. Ammo might not be unlimited in the gun, but the spare magazines seem unlimited. Hollywood is getting better about some gunfight misconceptions, but we’re still a long way out from reality.
In real life, you’d be shocked at how fast you chew through ammunition. A standard rifleman’s loadout in the Marine Corps is 210 rounds. That’s a lot of ammo for one person.
When I carried an M249 light machine gun, I packed 1,000 rounds per patrol. With the M240 medium machine gun, I carried 500 rounds, with another 500 dispersed throughout my squad. You’ll chew through ammunition fast.
Gunfights are usually fast, intense, and short
Movies have this thing called pacing, and pacing drives the movie. That makes it tough to portray how quickly gunfights occur in real life. In a movie, we see John Wick chew his way through bad guys for tens of minutes sometimes. The whole time everything is moving at breakneck speeds.
In real life, things are at breakneck speeds but tend to end a bit faster. This might be the most excusable of gunfight misconceptions because you have to make a good movie first.
When you study combat historically, you see that most violent, armed encounters occur in quick spurts. Battles might last weeks at a time, but in that time, there might be only an hour of actual fighting when you add it all up. In all of the violent encounters I experienced, they would fast and vicious, and then dead silence for a bit, then they’d kick back up. Rinse and repeat.
The famed Miami Shootout in 1986 lasted less than five minutes, but over 145 rounds were exchanged between eight FBI agents and two bank robbers. Four men were killed, and five were wounded. Only one man escaped the event unharmed.
Most of the time, people are injured, killed, or one side pulls back a bit, creating a pause in combat.
Machine guns are not just super rifles
“Rambo’s” 2 through 5 have created some of the most long-lasting gunfight misconceptions throughout Hollywood. In “Rambo 2,” we see him wield an M60 and decimate the enemy. Machine guns have largely been regulated to the role of being a super-powerful rifle, and that’s it. Their massive appearance, belts of ammo, and full-auto capability make them visual stars.
In real life, they are weapons designed to lay down suppressive fire to keep heads down while dudes armed with rifles maneuver on the bad guys. Sadly, that’s not a sexy role for movies, but it remains an invaluable tool for the infantry. Machine guns lay down lots of lead and require them to be in a supported position. Machine gunners utilize bipods and even tripods for stability.
When properly stabilized, machine guns are super accurate and very capable weapons. I hit a man-sized target at several hundred yards with ease from a tripod with iron sights consistently.
Bullets go through most things
Another one of the big gunfight misconceptions is that you can basically hide behind anything and be safe from incoming fire. From cars to dinner tables, we see Hollywood’s heroes hide behind the thinnest of cover and escape unharmed. In real life, bullets cut through lots and lots of things.
Proper cover needs to be hardened materials that are thick and heavy-duty. A car door won’t stop a bullet, but an engine block will. Cover also deteriorates. When fired upon, it will start to fall apart and, with some rounds, will eventually poke themselves through.
Cinder blocks, tables, walls, doors, and most things found in the regular world won’t stop bullets.
Hollywood’s Gunfight Misconceptions and You
Who doesn’t love a good action movie? I’m not the type to sit around and be the annoying guy who points out all of the errors Hollywood makes. However, I like to find the more interesting flaws, the ones most people won’t recognize and provide a little education and have some fun with it. Hopefully, you learned a thing or two, and if you have your own Hollywood gunfight misconceptions, then comment below and let us know.