This weekend gun slinging action returns to the big screen in A24’s “Free Fire” which promises to be an entertaining shoot em’ up action flick of apparently epic proportions. In anticipation of the film I put together a list of the top 10 shoot em’ up films to grace the big screen to wet your taste buds for all the gun toting fun.
For this list, I took a look at films where guns take center stage. Shoot em’ up films are movies where the action is heavily driven by the use of these loaded weapons, although they don’t have to be the only weapons used in the movie. These can be in epic one-on-one fights or full on gun-themed mayhem but any film with a lot of guns and shooting and, of course, bloodshed was considered for this list. Films were rated based on how iconic and entertaining their shoot em’ up concepts were. Lets get started.
10. Hot Shots: Part Deux
Alright, this entry is a bit of a cheat because it’s a farce movies, but it literally uses probably more bullets than any movie on this list for that exact reason. In fact, there’s even a scene where the main character, Topper Harley, shoots a ton of baddies to seemingly no end as a ticker counts them off the body count and compares the total to other shoot em’ up films, a few of which will be featured later on this list. Despite the fact that it’s a parody film by nature it’s a satisfyingly ridiculous and purposefully overdone shoot em’ up flick that any gun lover would drool over.
This movie is super heavy on gun action, including one of the most brutal shooting scenes of all time with the attack on Officer Alex Murphy that necessitates his reinvention as the titular Robocop. Once Robocop comes to life he’s a non-stop literal gun wielding, law enforcing machine who also happens to have one of the most iconic fictional weapons in cinema history as well. With impressive and entertaining gun fights and Robocop’s badass skill with a pistol, “Robocop” kind of redefined how violent and gruesome shoot em’ up flicks could be.
8. “Bonnie and Clyde”
(Courtesy of The Film Sufi)
In addition to the titular thieves using loaded weapons to escape their heists, the final death scene in the film is possibly one of the most iconic shooting scenes in all of cinema. It’s an unapologetic and quite overdramatized take on the real-life duo that was revolutionary for it’s time, especially in it’s graphic depiction of its gun fights that bucked many seemingly untouchable limitations, spoken or unspoken, for films at the time. The final scene alone is considered one of the bloodiest death scenes in film history. That in itself earns it a place on this list not to mention the many shootout escapes the rest of the film portrays.
7. “John Wick”
A one man wrecking crew. That’s a good way to describe this film’s protagonist, an expert marksman and assassin on a quest for revenge. John Wick is a beast who knows his way around a gun, shooting through waves of opponents in epic fashion including the now iconic dance club scene where he handles baddy after baddy one by one with the swift and precise pull of a trigger. A modern action classic, “John Wick” is the newest film on this list and it’s delightful one-take scenes and non-stop action sequences have ushered in a new standard for modern shoot em’ up films. There’s a reason this film has spawned a sequel and an eventual threequal, because it’s great gun toting action worth the watch.
6. “The Matrix”
(Courtesy of IMDB)
Keanu Reeves shows up for the second time on this list for yet another gun-heavy iconic film and one that popularized the concept of “bullet time”. In between all the mythology and martial arts madness we get some great shoot em’ up scenes including the iconic bullet time rooftop shootout and the equally iconic lobby scene where Trinity and Neo just completely unload, literally, on a group of cops guarding the entrance to the building where the agents are holding their leader, Morpheus, captive. While the hand-to-hand combat was some of the most impressive choreography of the time, it’s the shootouts that really shined as many different kinds of guns from an endless digital arsenal made an appearance and each one showed their own capabilities and badassery. The popularization of bullet time alone introduced a whole new mechanic to gunfights that, while a cliché today, was a major leap for the film industry at the time.
(Courtesy of Esquire)
Realistic, gritty, and amazingly entertaining, few films are defined by just one scene, but for “Heat” the shootout is what made this movie worth the watch and it’s the one scene anyone can site as the highlight of the film. Showing a much more realistic look at a cop versus robber shootout than many films, some have called that one scene one of the best gunfight scenes in cinematic history and it’s not hard to see why. This scene is the very definition of shoot em’ up and, like “Bonnie and Clyde” changes the way action fans looks at gunfights by adding a more gritty and grounded feel as the bullets litter cops, cars, and criminals alike.
One of the coolest westerns you’ll ever see, “Desperado” is a sequel to “El Mariachi” and features Antonio Banderas a El Mariachi himself, a professional gunslinger with a massive supply of weapons in his guitar case that he certainly knows how to use. The film also features a few of his acquaintances who utilize a rocket launching guitar case and a machine-gun guitar case respectively and the bullets ringing are like music to moviegoers’ ears….poor pun intended. Add in an entertaining bar shootout and gunfight right at the start of the film and you’ve got a movie that literally oozes gun-themed action. For me, this was one of the first shoot em’ up films I ever enjoyed and to this day it’s an iconic modern western that many still turn to when they want some mindless, and in some ways entertainingly excessive, gun slinging action. I mean the guy has a guitar case full of guns…and none of them go to waste…come on!
3. “Hard Boiled”
(courtesy of The Guardian)
A long take is sometimes all you need to drive home a great shootout scene. That’s the case with “Hard Boiled” which included an epic hospital scene where bullets fly, bodies drop, and everyone seems to have endless talent with a gun. It’s just mindless, bloody, gun-themed violence. Then you add in the warehouse scene which puts a few explosions into the mix and the film in its entirety ups the anti for gun-driven action. Director John Woo is well-known for his weapons-heavy action thrillers, but “Hard Boiled” is possibly his bloodiest and, while under-appreciated, it’s a must-watch for any action fan and gives almost every film on this list a run for their money, except for two.
2. “Shoot Em’ Up”
This list wouldn’t be completed without the film that literally takes its name from the subgenre, “Shoot Em’ Up”. Clive Owen stars in this film where the guns are by far the stars of the show. Owen’s Mr. Smith character is an expert sharpshooter. He barely ever misses a shot in the entire film and gives his opponents something to think about in messing with him and the woman and baby he is working to protect. Writer and director Michael Davis was inspired to make this film after watching none other than “Hard Boiled” and this film ups the anti taking the same violent approach as John Woo’s film and turning the action and ridiculously fun gun violence up to a whole new level. It may be over the top, but when it comes to this list it’s over the top in all the right ways.
1. “Hot Fuzz”
(Courtesy of British Comedy Guide)
Taking the #1 spot this time is the second film in Edgar Wright’s Three Flavors Cornetto trilogy, “Hot Fuzz” is a tribute to countless action films, including quite a few on this list, and incorporates mystery, suspense, and action into an amazingly over-the-top action comedy that defies all expectations. The film follows a pair of cops, one hardened and by the book and the other a lazy action film fan, who try to unravel the mystery of disappearing members of a small, seemingly perfect English village. With spectacular gore and some of the most entertaining and insane gunfights in cinema, “Hot Fuzz” earns the #1 spot for being possibly the most unapologetically over the top and ridiculous of these ten. While others may be more stylistically shot and feature more intense shootouts, this film takes everything great about the shoot em’ up concept and throws it all at the wall. It’s fun, it’s bloody, it’s entertaining…it’s just fantastic and it’s everything we could ask for from a great shoot em’ up action film.