Let the debate begin: What is truly the most famous gun of all time?
Thanks in no small part to the proliferation of social media; we currently live in a world where many people have become famous for being famous. This has created a desire to rate the fame of not just individuals but also objects – from the most famous landmarks around the globe to the best-known brands of cars.
On gun-related groups, including those on Reddit and Facebook, an all-too-regular discussion has been about what is the most famous firearm of all time.
Of course, as is the cast with those landmarks and faux celebrities, it is truly impossible to judge or otherwise gauge fame – yet we could argue there are four firearms that are, perhaps, more well-known than others.
Most Famous Guns Ever
James Bond is arguably the most famous spy in the world – and counting his early debut on an American anthology TV show – a dozen actors have portrayed the suave British secret agent. Even if some of those who played Bond – American TV actor Barry Nelson was the first to appear as “Jimmy Bond” in a live one-hour production of Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale – are forgettable, his primary choice of firearm is also known around the world. It is the Walther PPK, a firearm that wasn’t in Fleming’s original novels.
It wasn’t until a British firearms expert suggested to the author that the Beretta 418 used in the early books was too much of a “lady’s gun” that the change was made to the PPK. The fact that the choice of handgun was also used by Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler to take his own life has only made the PPK even more infamous – but anyone who has heard the words, “Bond, James Bond,” likely knows the PPK.
Smith & Wesson Model 29 – the “.44 Magnum”
Technically most people probably don’t know the Smith & Wesson Model 29, but they do know the important part – that a .44 Magnum could blow your head clean off. Actually, we’d probably debate that latter statement too, because there’d be nothing clean about it! However, it was Clint Eastwood’s now infamous character “Dirty” Harry Callahan who first made the bold claim in the 1972 film Dirty Harry.
It wasn’t actually the film debut for the Model 29, and Harry’s .44 Remington Magnum cartridge had been eclipsed in size and power by the .454 Casull round. Still, ask anyone to name the most powerful handgun, and the answer will likely be Dirty Harry’s famous hand cannon.
AR-15/M16: Most Famous Gun or Infamous?
This one isn’t famous for its appearances in popular culture – and few firearms enthusiasts likely know that the ArmaLite AR-15/M16 made its screen debut in the 1964 film Seven Days in May. Instead, unfortunately, this firearm is now infamous due to its use in a few mass shootings and mainstream media’s reporting on the firearm. Following these tragic events, there are always reports that highlight how these have become a popular choice for those hell-bent on committing these atrocities.
It overlooks that more than 20 million have been legally sold and that the firearm has become popular for law-abiding hunters, sport shooters, and those looking for a firearm for home defense. Yet, the media hates it – claiming it is destroying America – and that fact has made it more famous than the Beatles!
The AK-47 (Most Famous Gun in War?)
About the only firearm perhaps more well-known around the world than the AR-15/M16 would be its primary rival, the Avtomat Kalashnikova model of 1947, more commonly known as the AK-47, or Kalashnikov. It was described in the opening of the film Lord of War by the film’s protagonist/narrator Nicholas Cage as being, “The world’s most popular assault rifle, a weapon all fighters love. An elegantly simple 9-pound amalgamation of forged steel and plywood, it doesn’t break, jam or overheat. It’ll shoot whether it’s covered in mud or filled with sand. It’s so easy even a child can use it, and they do.”
What is noteworthy is that the firearm was completely unknown in the west until it was first seen during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. And despite the fact that it entered service some 15 years before the AR-15/M16, the AK didn’t even make its western movie debut until 1977, when it was seen in the Israeli-made feature Operation Thunderbolt, which chronicled the daring Israeli commando raid on the Entebbe Airport on July 4, 1976.
Yet, by the 1990s, thanks to a wave of Vietnam War films, and mention in hip-hop songs, the gun has become infamous. As Cage’s character in Lord of War also noted, the Soviet Union put the AK-47 on a coin, and Mozambique had it on its flag. More than 70 million have been produced, and the AK now has the kind of fame that rivals a social media megastar.
A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,000 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.
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