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The 10 Most Common Gun, Knife, and Fist Fighting Movie Mistakes

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Combat movie mistakes

I love movies, bad ones, good ones; I just love them. I can even enjoy movies with dumb gun tropes, but I also know when they are dumb gun tropes. Not just bad gun tropes, but tropes regarding all aspects of self-defense and violence. Guns, knives, fists and more. 

Let’s be real here, these movies are far from accurate. They produce some very dumb situations in which a normal person would be Swiss cheese. We could go a lot of ways with this article, but I want to focus on what I feel are the biggest practical mistakes. 

Sure, no one in real life flies backward when hit by bullets, but that doesn’t affect you or your safety. With that in mind, I picked ten of the most common mistakes in gun, knife and fist fights that apply to real life. 

1. The Noise and Chaos of a Firefight

If you’ve ever been shot or in a running gunfight, you know you can’t plan for the chaos that comes with it. Your brain is firing on overdrive and you are trying to stay alive and keep fighting. Most movies show gunfights like they are some form of pleasant walk in the park. You shoot a couple of shots at the bad guys, they fire a couple of shots at you, no big deal. 

You and your compatriots are talking and planning in volumes barely above normal. Communicating a plan and then executing it flawlessly. Often times taking their eyes off the threat to communicate with each other. In real life, if you dropped your attention for a minute to talk with all your buddies you’d suddenly be under a hail of gunfire as the enemy gained fire superiority. 

Second, the only communication in a gunfight is yelling and radios. No one is having a pleasant conversation in a gunfight. Take a gunfight and put it inside a building and you know what happens? It becomes even more chaotic. It’s massively loud and brutal to the senses. 

2. Cover? What Cover? 

Day one of infantry training is what’s cover and what’s concealment. Back in the day, movies would have people shooting from the hip, standing out in the middle of a field, and be immune to bullets, i.e. Rambo, Commando, etc.

These days, they try to be a little better about it and use “cover,” but the cover they use is more than likely just concealment. 

Concealment doesn’t stop bullets, and both handguns and rifle bullets will easily go through car doors, sheetrock, ceramic pots, a wooden bar in a tiny Mexican town. Bullets will shred them like cheese, and it takes a lot to stop a bullet. In a car, the engine is the best place to hide, in public places thick columns, and concrete of all kinds work. 

Concealment is better than nothing, but it’s never cover. 

3. Reloads? Never Heard of Her 

This is a common movie trope that Hollywood rarely gets right.

In the movies, a gun can hold as many rounds as the director needs it to. Last Man Standing had the awesome dual, infinite ammo 1911s, even though you see him owning tons of mags.

Many a Western has the bad guy firing ten or more shots from a six-gun, and let’s not even mention The Walking Dead. Almost anytime something is full auto it seems to disperse rounds for minutes versus the seconds it would actually last. 

Not only is this a dumb goof, but it’s ridiculous from a tactical standpoint. A big part of fighting is having supplies and whoever runs out of ammo first loses.

Learning to conserve ammo was an invaluable skill I learned as a machine gunner and it’s a skill I learned to appreciate as a lover of shotguns. Take aimed shots because that 17-round magazine gets empty fast. 

4. Handguns Suck at Killing People 

From Die Hard and Lethal Weapon to more modern movies like John Wick, the handgun seems like a powerhouse. Shooting anyone nearly anywhere will automatically kill the bad guy.

Most of these shootings are done by a handgun. Without a doubt, you can die very quickly and very easily from a handgun, but handguns really suck at killing people.

Google: “Man Shot a dozen times,” and read some of the results.

The number of people who live after being shot that many times is outstanding. The majority of people admitted to hospitals for a gunshot wound survive it.

It comes back to shot placement. You have to shoot someone somewhere that matters to stop the threat, that’s why every professional trainer will use the words “Shot placement” so frequently. 

It’s why you train to be precise and not just to hit a target.

5. Bulletproof Is a Relative Term

Bulletproof vests, bulletproof windows, and armor, in general, have made their way into Hollywood hardcore. The problem is that bulletproof armor is never mentioned by grade or level or NIJ levels. In Hollywood, any vest can stop any bullet – heck, even badges or phones can stop bullets in movies and TV. A soft vest can magically stop handgun, rifle and shotgun blasts and the good guy can just keep going. 

Bulletproof is a relative term. There is hard armor and soft armor, and soft armor comes in a few different ratings that determine just what handgun round it can stop. For a rifle round, you are going to be dependent on hard armor only and hard armor can vary in its strength. Even then, different varieties of metals mixed together and amped up enough can go through any kind of armor you can wear. 

In reality, there is no such thing as bulletproof, just different degrees of bullet resistance. 

6. The Punch Conundrum

There are two things you should know about punches, the first is punching someone in the face can really freakin’ hurt. The second is getting punched in the head really freakin’ hurts, too.

If you are doing the punching, you can very easily break your hand on someone’s face. In the movies, Indiana Jones can throw blow after blow to a guys face and be okay. Now, a properly thrown punch can be effective and avoid breaking your hand, but this takes practice and skill. 

A wildly thrown haymaker with your weight and full force can be effective, but can also hurt. 

On the flip side how many movies and television shows show guys duking it out, blow after blow seemingly unfazed by bare-knuckle face punches?

In truth, getting punched in the face is going to stun you and your head isn’t meant to take blow after blow. One punch is likely going to end up with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and several are going to kill you at worst and at best, knock you out. 

Instead of slamming your fist into someone’s face, I’d use an improvised weapon, or find a way to slam their face into the ground, a wall, or another hard surface. 

7. Stand Up Fist-Fights

The movies make fights seem like a planned event. Two guys, squaring off, plenty of space to fight, and a crowd just watching. They trade blow-for-blow, always standing.

Fiction is fiction, though. If you want to see real stand-up, fist fights go to Worldstar. Now, more than likely you’ll see two idiots throwing weak slaps and punches. Real fights aren’t stand-up brawls. 

Real fights go to the ground quickly. Lots of grabbing at clothes and hair, stumbling and tripping into each other. Once fights hit the ground you are in a different world. Here, punches and kicks are tough because it’s hard to use the hips to rotate. Grabs, holds, and chokes are how fights are one once you are tangled up. 

8. Knife Fighting Doesn’t Exist

In a movie or television show, a knife fight is often portrayed as guys taking slashes back and forth at each other for some time. That’s not how knife fights work in most real life altercations.

Plenty of Live Leak videos will show you that knife fights are typically one person stabbing and the other getting stabbed and that’s about it. Everyone at the receiving end of a knife fight gets cut, and it’s a vicious and brutal thing. 

Also, most often a knife fight isn’t two guys with knives; it’s one guy with a knife ambushing the other, or fighting unfair in a fist fight. It’s never two guys facing off in some kind of duel. This isn’t the days of chivalry. 

9. Bad Guys Will Just Wait Their Turn

I enjoy the Jack Reacher novels but can’t say I enjoy the movie, for a variety of reasons. One is seeing tiny Tom Cruise face multiple opponents like its nothing in a hand to hand fight. Regardless of your training, doing something like this is a great way to get your ass kicked.

In movies, often the hero faces multiple attackers who all just wait to attack. That’s far from real life. 

If you ever find yourself squared off with two or three guys you have basically three options.

1. Run. 2. Get your ass kicked. 3. Throw the first punch and attack viciously and violently and then run before they react.

If you choose the third you better have a good background in combat sports or martial arts. Obviously, option 4 of having a weapon applies when it applies. 

Fighting multiple opponents will not work out in your favor. Instead, you should create distance and get out of there. 

10. Avoiding a Fight is Cowardly

The movies always portray the hero as being noble and taking every fight tossed his way. That’s not real life, though. The hero never deals with the aftermath of his decisions in a realistic way. People who avoid fights are cowardly.

Sadly, the movie Roadhouse is the only one that ever preaches this, regardless of its inaccuracies, the “Be Nice” scene exemplifies this trait. 

If you can avoid a fight, any fight, you win it. Real fights have consequences, often long-lasting ones. From fist fights to gunfights, you are going to likely suffer legal consequences as well as physical ones. The key to a long life is avoiding conflict. 

That all being said if your back is in a corner and it’s time to fight, you fight like an animal until the threat is done with. However, if you can avoid a fight you are not a coward, you’re just smart. 

Movies that Get it Right (or At Least Some of It)

I don’t think any movie is perfect, but some do strive for a sense of realism in their films. Most of these realistic movies will have hired a guy or two who knows what they are doing. This is typically a Special Operations dude with some solid operational history. This leads to a sense of realism when it comes to gun handling and combat. There are a few movies that get it right, and I wanted to name some of my favorites. 


I have to mention Heat and its magnum opus to gun fights at the end. The director of Heat, Micheal Mann, is very dedicated to portraying guns in movies realistically.

You can see these touches in most movies, and Heat’s heist scene stands above the rest. At the time it came out it was actually groundbreaking coming compared to the standard action movie at the time. They utilized famed SAS Operative Andy Mcnab to create a sense of realism. 

Most of the gun fighting scenes are portrayed realistically with expert gun handling, good aiming, and more. The running gunfight is the best part. What we see realistically is teamed based tactics against an unprepared police force.

What we see in the movie is basic competence with their firearms handling skills via actually aiming, using short controlled bursts and reloading quickly and smoothly. Team tactics wise we see the bad guys bounding and covering, a common and effective tactic. Additionally, we see the bad guys pick up the rate of fire while their team members reload. 

Not to mention decent use of cover and the noise! It’s so loud and echoes so brilliantly. It gives a real feeling of chaos and terror and shows a good mix of gun handling and tactics. 

Way of the Gun 

Way of the Gun is a very underrated dark comedy, action flick about low lives doing low life things. The movie also sports some excellent gunfighting scenes. It’s more amateur than Heat, but so was the entire crew. However, there was a Navy SEAL brought on board to ensure the action remained grounded and realistic. 

The movie has great gunplay, and the kidnappers utilize excellent tactics, in the beginning, to get away from a couple of bodyguards. The low-speed chase and bounding methods are excellent displays of military tactics applied to criminal endeavors. 

There is also lots and lots of reloading, mostly because it seems like everyone has an aversion to modern firearms besides the bad guy bodyguards. The main heroes love 1911s, and a bunch of old bag men are just packing J frame revolvers cause constant reloads. At a point, we even see a pile of empty mags on the ground. 

There is ample use of cover and plenty of chaos. There are also several scenes of gunfights where people are getting hit and keep fighting, which is a very real thing in a handgun gun fight. 

13 Hours 

13 Hours is the only movie on the list based on real events and the gentlemen that were involved in the situation were also advisors on the film. This leads to a stylish, but mostly realistic film. Micheal Bay had to apply his touch, but lots of the combat was solid. 

The Operators worked together well and did establish some excellent fields of fire, as well as showcasing what most combat operations look like. Long periods of boredom punctuated by loud and vicious gunfights. The guys handling their weapons did an excellent job of it and they look like the professionals they are trying to portray. 

One of the best things was the use of belt-fed guns to suppress their opponents and how they were properly employed within the team. In the movie, you also see proper weapon safety and the guys correct their native allies as well.

While Bay’s touch adds a little flash, the tactics are sound and we do see a variance in tactics between the Operators with their military backgrounds, the DSA agents who are more police like, add the natives with AKs and bad intentions. 

Free Fire

This little indy movie has likely not been seen by many, and it is a little comedic but has some solid shooting points.

First, I love how many times these people are shooting at each other in tight warehouse environments and just missing over and over. The chaos, the lack of training, and fear on top of the normal challenges of a gunfight are all on stark display. 

Also, everyone in this movie gets shot, but they live and fight through their wounds. The movie does an excellent job of showing tension and chaos in a gunfight. Rarely does anyone know what’s happening. You don’t see these guys act like pros with their weapons because they aren’t. They are criminals just trying to survive. 

Additionally, they use cover so much so that most of the movie is crawling rather than running or walking. Everyone is staying as low as they possibly can. This movie doesn’t teach you anything about gunfights, but it accurately represents a gunfight in some ways. Of course, it is still a movie, but it accurately represents chaos very well. 

Fiction and Reality 

Truth can be stranger than fiction, but fiction is always a fantasy.

In the real world gunfights, knife fights, and even fist fights rarely happen, but when they do the consequences reach far and wide. These can be physical, emotional, and legal.

Never take anything from a source of fiction as a representation of reality, and always consider the aftermath of your actions. With that said, train hard, train often and be ready.

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About the author

Travis Pike

Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine gunner who served with 2nd Bn 2nd Marines for 5 years. He deployed in 2009 to Afghanistan and again in 2011 with the 22nd MEU(SOC) during a record setting 11 months at sea. He’s trained with the Romanian Army, the Spanish Marines, the Emirate Marines and the Afghan National Army. He serves as an NRA certified pistol instructor and teaches concealed carry classes.

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