“A Good Day to Die Hard” gave us an on-the-nose Russian set and antagonist. Father-and-son AKs showed up in the form of AK-104s in the hands of aging but still formidable John McClane and his deep-cover CIA operative/son, Jack. Jack and John make constant use of their AKs and those of their Russian enemies. Like many Cold War (or post-Cold War) action plots, there are chunks of weapons-grade uranium up for grabs around which the AKs and conflict orbit like electrons about an atom.
AKs make a more serious plot appearance in 2006’s “Blood Diamond,” the action drama based on a true story about the African diamond trade and child soldiers in Sierra Leone. In early scenes, the AK is the tool with which the murdering, kidnapping recruiters of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) force children to execute prisoners, shoot mannequins and use later in the massacre of a village. They uncrate dozens and put them into the hands of the brainwashed children.
Also used to force labor in the diamond mine pits, the Norinco 56-1s are unquestionably the tools of evil people. The film also features Type II and Type III AKs, RPG-7s, and a Mi-24 “SuperHind” gunship.
The film’s protagonist, Danny Archer, a former Rhodesian soldier played by Leonardo DiCaprio, wields an AK in multiple scenes against similarly armed enemies, fighting to save a small boy and his father from the bad guys while recovering a large diamond.
In “Tears of the Sun,” Bruce Willis appears as a U.S. Navy SEAL team commander sent to extract American aid workers caught inside a genocidal civil war in Nigeria. In this movie, the ethnic cleansers use AKMSUs and 56-1s to rake civilians in villages and attack the SEALs.
In one particular scene, the Nigerian troops line up abreast and fire into the jungles as they walk through elephant grass. Though they manage to kill a few SEALs, they are no match for the close air support that comes in the form of an F/A-18 Hornet that torches them in the final scene on the Cameroon border.
In the 2012 remake of John Milius’ Cold War classic “Red Dawn,” the modern redux features AK-wielding teens and twenty-somethings on the movie poster. To their credit, the American characters shoot, throw and actually occasionally aim the AKs throughout the film. Like the first Red Dawn, the AKs symbolize both the imperialistic nastiness of the invaders (the AKMs are modified to look like the North-Korean-issued AK-103s) and the Americans’ will to overcome the enemy and use their weapons against them. The difference from the 1984 version is that the invaders are not Russian, but their weapons are the same.
In the 2012 “Red Dawn” remake, one character uses a stockless AKM to free his girlfriend from capture.
What would a Bond film be without the bad guys and their AKs? Though the majority of Bond movie posters feature Bond with a handgun, 1995’s “GoldenEye” had Pierce Brosnan holding an AKS-74U. Brosnan was new to viewers and perhaps needed some additional gravitas to carry the new role out of the Cold War and into the 1990s.
The current Bond, Daniel Craig, appears to prefer non-Eastern-Bloc weapons in his three appearances but can be seen wielding an AK in “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.”
In 2012’s “Zero Dark Thirty,” the film that chronicled the hunt for Osama bin Laden, we get scenes of angry terrorists rolling through residential compounds murdering civilians in Al-Khobar, Saudi Arabia, with Zastava M92s.
Though multiple good and bad guys carry AKs in the film, we are treated to Afghan National Army soldiers carrying less common East German MPi-KMS-72 rifles with side-folding “coat hanger” wire stocks. The Afghans likely picked these models up from the Turks sometime after the Germans sold them off post-reunification.
Later in the film we get the saddest examples of AKs, particularly in a movie known for its willingness to portray the gruesomeness of terrorist attacks and interrogation. In a scene where burqa-clad Pakistani agents apprehend a terror suspect, they are actually carrying fake, plastic, blank-firing replicas. Known to some as “Bollywood AKs,” these models reflect the strict firearms regulations in India where the scene was shot.
Leave it to director Guy Ritchie to create dark humor with an AK. In 2000’s Snatch, Boris the Blade (aka “Boris the Bullet Dodger”) emerges bloodied and angry from a quiet London house with an AKM with a GP-30 grenade launcher and two 30-round mags taped together. Earlier in the film, Boris had been kidnapped and hit by a car, so the AKM’s presence is as much a measure of his frustration as his will to exact revenge.
The poster for “The Devil’s Double” features gold-plated Tabuk AK-47s. AK rifles are featured heavily throughout the film.
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.
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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.
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by Tactical-Life / Mar 26, 2018