Tag Archives: movie guns

Movie Guns: Colt Model 733 (Heat, 1995)

I love Michael Mann’s movies. All of them are great. He’s a guy who goes the extra mile to work out all the little details of the story, both in the dialogue and in the details of the scenes. Among his best movies is Heat (1995) starring Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Val Kilmer. This movie features one of the best gunfights ever to hit the silver screen. This scene, a fighting retreat from a bank robbery gone wrong, sees robbers McCauley (played by De Niro) and Shiherlis (played by Kilmer) endeavor to fight off the cops (led by Pacino as Det. Hanna) using Colt Model 733s converted to fully automatic.1

The Colt Model 733 is one of the models that falls under the umbrella term “Colt Commando”, and is based off the old-school CAR-15 projects that saw service in Vietnam. The Model 733 has a collapsible stock, fixed carry handle with A1-pattern sights, 11.5″ barrel, and a carbine-length gas system. They fire the standard 5.56 mm round. These are converted to be capable of fully automatic fire,2 and this is used to excellent suppressive effect.

If you’re expecting lame, cheesetacular gunplay, you’ve got the wrong movie and the wrong director. Mann gets his stars some real weapons training, so they look like they know what they’re doing. And I can find exactly zero, yes zero, faults with the gun handling in this film. Reloads are accomplished using good technique. Guns run out of bullets appropriately. Thirty round magazines hold thirty rounds, not 300. And De Niro and Kilmer fire their weapons in nice, controlled bursts. There’s even a great bit where De Nero, while carrying a duffelbag full of money on his back, supports a wounded Kilmer with one arm, and keeps shooting his carbine effectively with the other.

McCauley and Shiherlis conceal their Colt 733s under their extra-baggy 90s suits with the help of bungee slings. And yes, they’ve got a vest under the suit too to hold a whole bunch of magazines. The (converted) 733s provide massive amounts of suppressive firepower, and are vaguely concealable. At least concealable enough to let them take up positions in the bank without hassle. And the firepower means they can defeat police body armor and outrange the usual mid-90s standard patrol officer armament of handguns and 12 gauge pump-action shotguns.

As a brief aside, Heat was used as the model for several actual, real-world bank robberies, including one that would lead to the 1997 North Hollywood shootout, which would see illegally converted automatic rifles outrange and generally overmatch LAPD-issue handguns and shotguns.

Anyway, let’s look at the weapons choice. Remember, it’s 1995. So most modern bullpups aren’t available when you think ‘compact firepower’. The Steyr Aug is available, but due to import restrictions, it’s a lot rarer than the Colt 733. I would guess an Aug would be harder to convert to full auto, though I have no experience doing that with either weapon. Also, go see all of my previous discussions about the handling issues that come up with bullpups. Reloads are way easier with an AR-15. Short barreled AR-15s are still super popular among entry teams. The Model 733 is a fine choice. One I wouldn’t mind having in my own collection for more legal shooting endeavors.


  1. Presumably illegally. These are bank robbers, after all. 
  2. Generally speaking this is illegal. Obvious disclaimer: We here at the Soapbox are not suggesting or encouraging you to break the law. Conversions are only for dealers. Do not commit federal crimes. We do not condone such things here. 

Movie Guns: Indy’s Revolvers

I’m lumping a couple guns together with this one. Indiana Jones primarily used a Smith and Wesson Second Model Hand Ejector in Raiders of the Lost Ark, a Colt Official Police in Temple of Doom, and a Webley-Government (sometimes referred to as a Webley Green) in The Last Crusade. The Hand Ejector and the Webley were chambered in .455 Webley, and the Official Police was chambered in .38 Special. I’m going to focus on the better movies. Indy barely uses the .38 in Temple of Doom anyway.

Recall that Raiders of the Lost Ark is set in 1936 and The Last Crusade is set in 1938, so choices of sidearms are limited accordingly.

The S&W Second Model Hand Ejector is a double-action revolver where the cylinder swings out to the left side of the gun. Pretty typical for the day. The example here, being a gun for the parts filmed in England, is chambered in .455 Webley. Also note that this is the pistol used to famously and simply dispatch the swordsman in Cairo, so it should have a place in the heart of pistoleros everywhere.

The Webley Government was a popular service revolver often purchased privately by British Officers and used as their sidearm. It’s a top-break double-action revolver, and it’s chambered in .455 Webley.

The .455 Webley is an interesting old cartridge. Interestingly, it’s one of three service pistol cartridges to get an endorsement from Col. Cooper as having ‘acceptable stopping power’.1 It’s rather lower pressure than .45 ACP, but comes from the same sort of ‘heavy and slow’ school of thought. It’s also more closely descended from black-powder loads. In an all-steel service revolver like the Webley Government, the .455 will provide quite tame recoil.

Overall, the .455 Webley gave good ‘man-stopping’ service in British hands in two world wars and a number of colonial actions. It also provided the origin of the term ‘dumdum’. The British had a large stockpile of early hollow point rounds at an arsenal in Dumdum, India around the time when they signed the 1899 Hague Convention outlawing the use of such rounds.

Double action revolvers were generally seen as the police sidearm of choice in the 1930s, though a good bit of this may be due to Depression-era finances and following the lead of the FBI and J. Edgar Hoover, who thought that semiautomatic pistols were tools of ‘criminals’ and not fit for law enforcement personnel.2 In military service, they tended to stick around due to post-Great War budget cuts not leaving room for new sidearms.

Revolvers do provide the advantage of letting you quickly deal with a bad cartridge by pulling the trigger again, rather than having to clear a jam. For this reason, they were commonly seen as the ‘more reliable’ option, despite having intricate, clockworklike internals. They also lack a magazine to go wrong. However, when they do go wrong, it tends to be a real bother to fix.

The biggest difference between the two revolvers is that the Smith has a swing-out cylinder, which you’re probably familiar with from more recent revolvers, whilst the Webley has a top-break design. With a low-pressure cartridge like the .455 Webley, the design choice really doesn’t matter all that much. As more powerful cartridges were developed, the ease of making a sturdy frame with a swing-out cylinder meant that design became the standard. There might be a small reload margin in favor of the Webley, since it automatically ejects spent cartridges, but that’s a minor one. The particular hand ejector used in the film had a shortened barrel, which might be a little handier.

As for the choice of firearms, they’re both pretty reasonable. They are duty pistols in a good caliber, and you could certainly do a lot worse. Of course, my preference during the era would be for an M1911A1. No surprise there. I’m quite fond of Old Slabsides. Despite the capacity disadvantage, I much prefer the handling characteristics, trigger characteristics, and lack of magazine safety of the 1911 when compared to the Browning Hi-Power. Also, being limited to 1930s ammo (i.e. ball ammo), I’d prefer to shoot .45.


  1. The other two rounds are the .45 ACP and the 10 mm Auto. 
  2. Though, of course, plenty of such semiautomatic pistols were used by G-Men, especially in the early days when equipment was less standardized. 

Movie Guns: USP Match (Tomb Raider, 2001)

And now for a fun little segment where I look at various guns used in movies and tell you what I think of the choice. A few caveats: first, when in doubt, imfdb is the source of truth on what the gun is, and second, all criticisms have to be leveled based on the time when the movie was set (so either the historical setting or when it was made).

Tomb Raider is a typical Bad Action Movie that’s based on a videogame. It’s a fun romp, as long as you don’t think too hard. In it, Lara Croft1 dual wields HK USP Match pistols. I won’t discuss dual wielding here, since that’s true to the source material, and really a question of TTPs.2 Let’s talk about the guns.

The USP was HK’s effort to make a ‘wundernine’ service pistol, in order to compete for the Bundeswehr’s service pistol contract and get other military service pistol and law enforcement duty pistol sales. It was released in 1993, and is a double-action pistol with a double-stack magazine. It comes with a proprietary accessory rail, and uses polymer magazines. HK would discover issues with these magazines, and all of their subsequent pistols would end up using excellent metal magazines, first designed for the P2000, and then lengthened for the P30. The USP had a bunch of innovative features, and sold reasonably well, but didn’t set the market ablaze.

The USP Match is a competition version of the USP. Lara is using the 9 mm version, as evidenced by the use of the ‘Jetfunnel’ magwells, only available on the 9mm version. These are smallish magwells similar to the modern crop of ‘concealment’ magwells, like the Freya magwell I have on the Glockblaster. These force the use of longer 18 round magazines rather than the standard 15 round magazines.

The USP Match comes with the match trigger system that HK made for competition use. I like nicer triggers. The stock USP is clearly a service trigger: double action is heavy and gritty with a double action pull weight of about 11.5 lbs and a single action pull weight of 4.5 lbs. The Match trigger drops these weights to about 7.5 lbs in double action and about 4 lbs in single action. Big difference for that double action pull. I don’t have enough experience with one to know if this setup risks light primer strikes, but I’m sure Ms. Croft can afford quality ammo. I approve of these kinds of competition triggers in general, and a 4 lbs. single action pull is hardly superlight. It also comes with an adjustable overtravel stop.

The most obvious external feature of the USP Match is the barrel weight compensator. A nose-heavy pistol will have less muzzle rise than one that isn’t as nose heavy. Also, this one is shaped to try to direct gasses upward somewhat. I suspect it will work, but not as well as a properly designed ported compensator will. This is all that’s available for the USP.

So what do we think of this as a hero gun? It’s not my choice given the circumstances, but it’s a pretty good one. It’s certainly defensible. Let’s break it down:

1) Does it look cool? Movie guns, especially hero guns, should look cool. And, probably look distinctive. This one definitely does. I’m sure its appearance in these movies in the hands of the lovely Ms. Jolie have sold a whole bunch of USP Match pistols. It looks different, but not too different. Good job.

2) Does it suit the character? Lara Croft is a rich adventuress. She would choose a reliable, accurate firearm, but she might not want something common, and she certainly has the money to get something a little unique and chase shooting performance. This fits the bill.

3) Is the choice plausible? While gun folks love to debate which brand is better, when you get right down to it these differences don’t matter much unless you’re a top end competitor. And lots of things boil down to preference. So I can’t knock this gun for being not my choice, as long as it’s not a stupid choice. And it isn’t. The USP Match is a good gun that’s reliable, accurate, and reasonably easy to shoot well. Just because Lara and I don’t agree on guns doesn’t mean she’s off her rocker.

Now, would it be my choice? No. Given the constraints of wanting a unique, effective pistol of circa 2001 vintage, I would look at the Glock 17L with a stainless slide, given my predilection for Glocks. Or a custom 1911 of course. We can always make one of those look good for the camera. Maybe a Wilson Tactical Elite.


  1. Played by Angelina Jolie. 
  2. Awful, awful TTPs. But that’s a rant for another time.