Real life and Hollywood rarely correlate. In the world of entertainment, where superheroes are real, Glocks have hammers that are always cocked before they are fired and humans talk to cartoons, the AK-47 has become a menacing indicator of conflict.
Box Office Firepower
In the real world, the AK is a weapon known for its reliability, simplicity of design and ease of manufacture. This admission might cause more than a few Americans to grit their teeth; the AK may someday outlast the M1911A1 in service longevity. To most Westerners, it is the weapon of the enemy. As Clint Eastwood says in “Heartbreak Ridge,” “It makes a very distinctive sound when fired at you, so remember it.”
If you encounter an AK outside of a movie, you are likely in a foreign place confronting disagreeable people or loading out to meet those people. Your AK might be a battlefield pickup. But it will probably function despite its condition and it won’t take long to find ammo. Ironically, the AK is a symbol of liberation for some. In Mozambique, for example, it found its way onto that country’s flag after it gained independence from Portugal. But Mozambique is a long way from Hollywood.
Like time, gravity and disbelief, the AK takes on many forms in the minds of Hollywood storytellers. Primarily, it’s a theatrical device. It’s not a device in the sense that a wrench or a flux capacitor are. Instead, it’s a means by which directors indicate an inhospitable location or menacing character. If someone shows up with an AK, the plot is either in a non-Western location or involves non-Western people—usually those with a grudge and the motivation to resolve it. It’s a cheap and easy message.
Historically, the AK has been a symbol of the Cold War or a locale controlled by a Warsaw Pact country. These days, that footprint has expanded into the Middle East where the AK is a favorite for revolutionaries. All this is aided in no small part by an eternal willingness of Russian, Eastern European and Chinese manufacturers to stamp them out faster than fleas off a burning horse.
But the AK is sometimes a device of the Western protagonist if the plot merits it. Typically, it means our hero or heroine has overcome capture, duress or pacifistic hang-ups to rain discontent on the bad guys. Sadly, the AK is almost always fired with an open mouth or grimace, and from the hip on full-auto. Its sights are rarely used, and the muzzle blasts can be spectacular. Technical accuracy aside, the AK is still a subtler sign of danger than a Hind helicopter gunship and more ubiquitous than an RPG. Therefore, its future in on-screen conflicts is fairly safe.
Recent Hollywood films feature loads of AKs. Ultimately, whether representative of an instrument of doom or a tool of a nascent rebellion by the oppressed or theologically inflamed, the AK’s classic look, reliability and proliferation in hot zones around the world will keep it in movies as long as Hollywood is willing to tell stories.
Scroll through the gallery above to learn about nine films that featured the AK-47 and its variants.
This article was originally published in the 2018 issue of “AK-47 & Soviet Weapons.” To order a copy, visit outdoorgroupstore.com.