Nowhere else but in the movies can we indulge our love of tools of destruction. The sci-fi, action and adventure genres are replete with examples of the wackiest technology that writers, directors and production designers can think up no matter how unwieldy, impractical or physically impossible.
Looking only at guns would be too easy. Even a list of famous movie guns outside the fantastical genres (Dirty Harry’s Magnum, James Bond’s Walther PPK, etc) would be long, so here for your consideration are the coolest weapon ideas a whole spy agency technology department could only dream of.
The Proton Pack – Ghostbusters
It’s their first emergency call when Venkman (Bill Murray), Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) and Spengler (Harold Ramis) realise they haven’t even fully tested their newly minted weaponry. As Venkman deadpans, each of them wearing an unlicensed nuclear accelerator on his back is nothing to worry about.
The proton weapons seem dubiously slipshod – the streams of fire and light zigzagging every which way towards their quarry. But when they snarl a mischievous ghost, the guys need only bring it down to within reach of a trap. But don’t cross the streams unless you’re hoping to generate an inter-dimensional cross rip to send a demigod back to the nearest convenient parallel dimension.
Realism factor: Neither production designer John De Cuir nor director Ivan Reitman talked much about the scientific feasibility of the proton packs, but that hasn’t stopped a lot of enterprising enthusiasts from building their own replicas. Either way, releasing streams of nuclear particles is probably best left to the staff of the Large Hadron Collider.
Rear View Mirror Poison Dart Gun – Live and Let Die
Chauffer Charlie collects James (Roger Moore) as soon as he lands in New Orleans and takes him to his first appointment investigating local crime kingpin Mr Big (Yaphet Kotto), but the poor guy’s hardly on the highway before the bad guys are on them.
A nondescript car creeps up beside them, and the driver zeros in on Charlie’s neck with a crosshair imaging system straight out of a space fighter to fire a poison dart in the hapless driver’s neck before speeding away. ‘Easy Charlie,’ James smirks, with no idea what’s happened when the now-dead driver slumps over the wheel, ‘let’s get there in one piece.’
Realism factor: The technology from toxicology and ballistics to build a poison dart gun into a rear view wing mirror exists. But it’s hard enough concentrating on a GPS while driving – trying to line up an enemy driving beside you in the HUD crosshairs is probably inadvisable.
Cattle Gun – No Country for Old Men
The Coen Brothers’ alt-western is fondly remembered for Javier Bardem’s performance as cool-as-ice villain Anton Chigurh, and a big part of Chigurh’s mystique was the way he dealt death so callously.
He needs to lay low after stealing a cop car, so he pulls a clueless motorist over on a lonely desert road. As the man asks why he’s been pulled over and what the menacing gas cylinder is for, the Cheshire cat-smiling bad guy whispers for him to get out of the car and hold still. The guy (foolishly, it turns out) does so, letting Chigurh place the nozzle of the cattle gun against the guy’s forehead and blow the back of his head out.
Realism factor: 100 percent real. Though you don’t want to think about it when the waiter brings your medium rare steak, a high-velocity metal projectile through the brain is one of the more humane methods of dispatch in many abattoirs in the western world.
Death Blossom – The Last Starfighter
Alex (Lance Guest) doesn’t want to stay and die in an intergalactic war against Xur and the Ko-Dan Armada, he’d prefer to stay home and play the video game that groomed him for recruitment into the Star League in the first place.
But when Xur’s attack destroys the rest of the fleet, it’s left up to Alex and pilot Grig (Dan O’Herlihy) to take on the entire enemy force. And when it’s one against an army, the spinning laser blast whirlwind of Death Blossom is the only way to fly.
Realism factor: Despite a few decades of love from Hollywood, laser guns of any sort are way beyond current technology. It’s only light, after all, and to concentrate it enough to make it dangerous, you need to keep ungainly apparatus painfully still, hard to do while running all over a space station with it swinging gaily in a holster.
Double-ended Lightsabre – Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace
The most iconic movie weapon ever is still the lightsabre, not only more civilised than a blaster but as easy to pretend you’re using as the air guitar (and frankly not complete unless you’re doing the sound effects with your mouth).
How could the Star Wars universe possibly top it? The rest of the Episode 1: A Phantom Menace sucked harder than the Sarlaac, but when Darth Maul (Ray Park) prepares to square off against Obi Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and Qui Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and deploys the second blade of his double-ended lightsabre, it still gives you chills of excitement.
Realism factor: See above. Laser light can cut solids, but to further complicate the realism, you can’t arbitrarily stop the beam off after a few feet in thin air – theoretically it’d go on forever.
Steel Boomerang – Mad Max II
What more uniquely Australian weapon could be bought to the outback setting of George Miller’s post-apocalyptic exploitation spectacle? A more overtly sci-fi flick, the sequel called for larger than life characters like The Humungus (Kjell Nilsson) and the Gyro Captain (Bruce Spence) and their weapons of choice are appropriately way out.
But nobody figures on the long-haired kid (Emil Minty) who speaks in growls and screams and wields the most dangerous weapon of all – burying itself in foreheads and lopping off fingers with gay abandon.
Realism factor: Obviously it’d be heavier than the traditional model, but given the expertise and science that lifts a 300 ton plane off the runway, why not?
The Death Star – Star Wars
Sometimes bigger really is better, and you can’t beat brute force (unless you leave a 2 metre wide exhaust port right below the main port). Designed by the wasp-like Geonosian foundry workers, the Empire liberates the plans after the clone wars and creates the ultimate power in the universe for itself, capable of destroying an entire planet.
Pick your catchphrase, but the best is still ‘that’s no moon… it’s a space station.’
Realism factor: We’ve already been doing it for half a century, albeit on a massively reduced scale. With personnel aboard, over 90 percent of the mechanisation of a spacecraft is used for life support, so while a moon-sized vehicle would look quite different in real life (it might have an oxygen tank just as big tethered by a cable, for one thing), the only thing holding us back would be the budget (someone get Google on the phone).
Disguise-a-tron – Predator
It’s a defensive rather than an attack weapon, and it gives the interplanetary souvenir hunter the chance to get within striking range to wield more destructive tools, but the Predator cloaking technology is still way cooler than Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak.
Director John McTiernan could’ve been lazy and just have the alien disappear altogether, but the way the image distorts and relays the foliage and background behind the creature makes for an inventive visual effect.
Realism factor: Scientists have been working with polymer surfaces that record and ‘replay’ the scene behind an object to a viewer in front for several years. Though much derided, the ‘invisible car’ scene in Die Another Day wasn’t too far from the technology as researchers see it. Results have been promising in labs using a couple of cells or pixels but large, complex (and moving) objects like cars or people are another kettle of fish.
Shark With Frickin’ Laser Beams Attached to their Heads – Austin Powers in Goldmember
You’d think going to evil medical school for years entitles you to a few perks to go along with your hollowed out volcano lair and bald cat to stroke menacingly while you issue threats to world leaders to flood the earth with liquid hot magma.
But even Dr Evil (Mike Myers) isn’t immune to the winds of political correctness, and when the sharks are put on the endangered species list, he has to make do with ill-tempered, mutated sea bass. It takes a cry for help from son Scott (Seth Green) two movies later in Goldmember to give Dr Evil what he’s always wanted.
Realism factor: Three problems here. First, see above for lasers. Second, making any electronic equipment work underwater is tricky. Third, there’s no conclusive evidence we can train sharks to wear things like dogs with collars or chimpanzees with pants. If you want to volunteer, contact your local marine life research institute. We’re sure they’d get a kick out the email.
Sick Stick – Minority Report
As the only tool on this list with a modicum of truth, the sick stick earns an honourary position. Stephen Spielberg locked a bunch of futurists (including big-haired, smart capitalist poster child Malcolm Gladwell) in a room and told them not to come out until they had a list of technologies we’re likely see in the year 2054.
The sick stick is one of many non-lethal police weapons designed to bring members of unruly crowds to heel in an instant, a single jab causing the victim to violently projectile vomit. Thankfully the cops only use pepper spray for now.
Realism factor: As the more trigger-finger police forces of the world face lawsuits from grieving family members, policymakers are already trying to make technologies like it more widespread. Most state police forces in Australia have a battery of deterrents on their utility belt to resort to before pulling a gun.
The Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch – Monty Python and the Holy Grail
The Life of Brian was Monty Python’s most direct dig at organised religion, but they reserve a quick sequence in The Holy Grail to lampoon the Good Book and the trappings of the Church. Consulting the Book of Armaments, the instructions to use the holy device are revealed, including a prayer to the Almighty that it might blow thine enemies to tiny bits.
Sometimes having the Lord on your side is the only way to defeat the killer rabbit that guards the cave of Caerbannog.
Realism factor: Hand grenades were actually invented in the 8th century Byzantine Empire and predate the Church of England depicted in the film. Thus far however, we can’t find any examples of religious orders sanctioning individual armaments so reverently.