Has a major film ever intentionally used live ammunition to film a scene?

99

13

I was imagining the other day that most war films and scenes are filmed with people faking shooting. Sometimes wars scenes are not even using blank rounds, like in Star Wars. This leads me to wonder if anyone has ever filmed a major movie without using blank rounds, in order to provide some bizarre level of realism. One wouldn't have to worry about acting or special effects to make it appear real, but it would probably be too dangerous and illegal for most. Still Film has a long and crazy history and the human race has seen many movies.

nail gun blanks Has a major release non-documentary, non-simple art film ever intentionally used used live ammunition to film a scene?

Of course, many documentaries have footage of live warfare, and possibly some avant-garde video art exhibits have done so, but I mean just what we might consider a regular movie with at least a TV, VHS, or Theater release.

Mark Rogers

Posted 2017-12-25T20:13:50.980

Reputation: 720

5What's a "non-simple art film"? – Napoleon Wilson – 2017-12-25T21:29:52.243

1I mean sometimes artists or art students film random visual images without much directing or acting to be part of a collage of images and sounds presented with other sometimes non-film art pieces. I've seen a lot of weird art installations sometimes with a film element but its not really a major motion picture. So I could image an artist or art student filming gunfire, but that film would not really be a part of some traditional movie, with a typical cast and director. – Mark Rogers – 2017-12-25T23:12:09.747

Really interesting question. Hopefully it won't be closed for soliciting "list"-type answers. If it looks like that must happen, you could always change it to "What was the FIRST film to use live ammunition?" – BrettFromLA – 2017-12-26T00:10:58.247

Sure, I thought of the question more of a yes or no, but since its a yes, then earliest is my next thought. – Mark Rogers – 2017-12-26T01:50:08.113

22I saw this question and thought "there's no way a whole group of people making a film could be that stupid." Guess I was wrong. – IllusiveBrian – 2017-12-26T02:24:44.703

8Does The Crow count as intentionally ? – Drag and Drop – 2017-12-26T10:06:51.953

I would guess that there are a few propaganda movies from war periods which include documentary-like scenes of real live action. – Bergi – 2017-12-26T11:57:06.703

4@IllusiveBrian To be fair, using blanks instead of live rounds makes film depictions of shooting appear very unrealistic, especially up close, and there are examples where it could be done safely. Drives me nuts when you see an up-close view of an actor shooting at a firing range or the like, obviously using blanks - if there was ever a place where you could safely use live ammunition in film, that would be it, but they don't, and you get a wildly unrealistic close up of a gun firing as a result. – HopelessN00b – 2017-12-26T18:02:43.290

@HopelessN00b Sure, that's a good point. If the director consulted with a professional range master, you could design safe conditions to film live fire. It still doesn't excuse the movies in the accepted answer. – IllusiveBrian – 2017-12-26T18:18:54.400

7Wow, has a major film ever UN-intentionally used live ammunition to film a scene? – insanity – 2017-12-27T06:22:34.573

I assume that this is asking about live rounds being intentionally discharged in the general direction of human beings, and not just, say, shooting at targets at a gun range at a police academy or shooting at a bottle on a stump, right? – PoloHoleSet – 2017-12-27T17:39:10.930

1I hadn't really thought about gun ranges and stumps, in a non-documentary fashion, when I asked the question. I suppose even those would be noteworthy. – Mark Rogers – 2017-12-27T23:29:56.223

3@insanity yes, and people have died. – freedomn-m – 2017-12-28T16:05:52.120

2@DragandDrop - I assume that was not intentional. I was thinking of that case when I asked the question, and assumed it didn't count as 'intentional'. – Mark Rogers – 2017-12-28T21:19:41.643

It seems if there were not a case for intentionally using live ammo, cases of unintentionally using live ammo should be far less common... (why even have live ammo around the set if you are never going to need it for anything?) – Mr.Mindor – 2017-12-29T18:33:22.213

Answers

104

Yes, there were some. To name at least one (the earliest I could find proof link about):

The Captive (1915)

DeMille’s obsession with realism backfired when an extra, Charles Chandler, was shot and killed by a gun used as a prop on set. Later on, Blanche Sweet confessed that DeMille encouraged extras to use real bullets instead of blanks to create more realistic battle scenes.

Source: Wikipedia

Also Angels with Dirty Faces (1938)

While filming Rocky's shootout with the police, one scene called for Cagney to be "right at the opening" as machine-gun bullets took out the windows above his head. At this point in his career, Cagney had experience with the unpredictability of using live gunfire and he later recalled that either "common sense or a hunch" made him cautious. He told Curtiz to "[shoot the scene] in process," and as he got out of the way, "Burke, the professional machine gunner, fired the shots". One of the bullets deflected hitting "the steel edge of the window," and going "right through the wall" where Cagney's head had been. This experience convinced Cagney that "flirting this way with real bullets was ridiculous".

Source: Wikipedia

Mouvier

Posted 2017-12-25T20:13:50.980

Reputation: 1 654

22Though using blanks doesn't guarantee you won't kill anyone. Brandon Lee was famously killed with a blank, and Johann Ofner was killed with a blank at the start of this year. Even more dangerous is if you don't think blanks are dangerous, as apparently Jon-Erik Hexum may not have realised when he fatally shot himself in the head with one. – Jon Hanna – 2017-12-26T22:04:40.153

11Brandon Lee was killed with a real bullet. @JonHanna – Mouvier – 2017-12-26T22:15:14.723

10@Mouvier - while that's true, it wasn't intentionally in the gun's barrel, and the gun was being used to fire blanks, as that was what the directions for the scene being filmed called for. The same thing could have happened with any other foreign debris lodged in the gun's barrel, which is why proper inspections of your equipment before using it are absolutely essential. – Jules – 2017-12-27T00:28:57.697

12@Mouvier - It was a slug from a real bullet, used previously that remained in the barrel, but it's wasn't a live round being fired during scene. Perhaps Brandon would tell me it's a fairly irrelevant distinction. – PoloHoleSet – 2017-12-27T17:37:18.883

The Afghan filmmaker Salim Shaheen routinely uses live ammunition on set. (Although low-budget films produced in Afghanistan probably don't qualify as major releases.)

– Royal Canadian Bandit – 2018-01-02T10:58:33.563

73

In the 1961 Kurosawa film Throne of Blood, actual archers shot actual arrows at the walls next to the film's main star. Any one of the arrows could have killed or seriously injured him.

enter image description here

The process is all described in this short documentary.

Also, there is another example with live firearms ammunition in a movie, but it's not quite what you were asking for. In the 1981 film Scanners, the filmmakers needed to make it look like a person's head exploded from telekinesis. The effect didn't look right when they tested it with an explosive inside a dummy's head. So they set up the dummy and then shot it from behind with a real shotgun. Here's a 12-second clip of that scene.

But since the gun was never seen, I don't think that's a real answer to your question.

BrettFromLA

Posted 2017-12-25T20:13:50.980

Reputation: 11 788

As with the Scanners effects, the Poltergeist house implosion effect was also helped along with off-screen shotguns. – Adrian McCarthy – 2017-12-31T21:49:17.457

3Worth noting it wasn't just Throne of Blood that did this; having real archers fire real arrows used to be a common thing in Japanese cinema. If the script called for you to get hit with an arrow, you would (so I'm told) wear a block of wood under your clothes to take the impact, and pray that the archer hit the wood and not you. – F1Krazy – 2018-01-01T09:50:30.367

46

"Act of Valor" (2012) featured extensive filmography which included actual bullets being fired as well as active-duty SEALs.

per: On Active Duty for the Movies (Real Ammo), The New York Times

“We’ve never had a film where the principals were active-duty SEALs,” said Bob Anderson, director of the Navy’s Office of Operations West, in Los Angeles, the liaison between the Navy and Hollywood. Or, for that matter, he added, a movie that used live ammunition in battle scenes.

Mr. Kennedy

Posted 2017-12-25T20:13:50.980

Reputation: 4 843

31

I was reading about this recently (yes, it's Cracked.com, but it's well sourced).

Not only was this not an uncommon way of getting bullet effects, the crazy didn't stop with guns - The Birth Of A Nation used live cannon.

From 6 Terrifying Ways Films Used To Achieve Special Effects, Cracked.com:

6 - Action Films Once Used Real Bullets

In today's films, shooting effects are usually achieved with blanks, tiny explosives called "squibs," and if that's too much trouble, a dose of computer magic. In Hollywood's early years, they didn't have access to such fancy tools, so whenever gunfights occur in early movies, there's a good chance that they're really shooting at each other. If you lived near a film set, we're guessing you stayed inside that day.

They did have blanks back then, but that only lets you appear to fire the gun. To simulate a bullet hitting a wall/window/etc. next to an actor, well, they simply had a guy shoot it. If you needed some artillery fire for a war scene, same deal. All of the cannon fire in 1915's The Birth Of A Nation (the classic film that paints the KKK as the good guys, because 1915) is the real thing -- the pyrotechnics to fake it hadn't been invented yet.

Morgen

Posted 2017-12-25T20:13:50.980

Reputation: 427

30

In the 1985 Soviet war film, Come and See, live ammunition was apparently used in some scenes.

According to the film's Wikipedia article:

The 2006 UK DVD sleeve states that the guns in the film were often loaded with live ammunition as opposed to blanks, for realism. Aleksey Kravchenko mentions in interviews that bullets sometimes passed just 4 inches (10 centimeters) above his head (such as in the cow scene).

I didn't find a better source for the claim than that, but in the video below, the director, Elem Klimov, mentions "real bullets hissing over their heads" while talking about the film. (The video is in Russian, but there are English subtitles.)

Steadybox

Posted 2017-12-25T20:13:50.980

Reputation: 550

5+1 In the cow scene, Elem Klimov straight up shot and killed the real cow, which makes it pretty clear that the ammunition was real. – default locale – 2017-12-26T16:14:48.000

8

Face/Off used live ammo in some scenes.
Per Face/Off - Beretta 92FS, The Internet Movie Firearms Database :

A bullet leaving a pistol

During the shootout in the funeral home, many of the guns are shown in close ups, except they are at different locations than the scene takes place. This is because they are non-blank adapted guns firing real bullets in front of a high speed camera, to capture the bullet in flight.

Geoffrey Booth

Posted 2017-12-25T20:13:50.980

Reputation: 941

P.S. I can’t find a source, but I also remember seeing a making-of for Face/Off where they talk about using live ammo with in a scene where dozens of automatic rifles (basically modern machine guns) were firing, where they wanted more realistic muzzle flashes. – Geoffrey Booth – 2017-12-31T05:19:42.473