Since the first adventure films featured iconic cowboys charging into battle wielding six-shooters, medieval knights drawing swords on the battlefield, and heroes of the future with laser blasters at their side, cinema's love affair with firearms (and the men and women who wield them) has been set in stone. But real weapons could only scratch the itch for so long; eventually, movie audiences began to crave not the guns and heroes of the past, but those of the future.
Over the past century, science fiction and fantasy have done their best to show off technology and weapons just beyond the grasp of modern minds, hinting at the kinds of discoveries that may or may not exist in humanity's future. Not all of them will be attained within our lifetime, but we've decided to shine the spotlight on a few movie and TV weapons that we feel science actually could - and absolutely should - create.
11 Sick Stick, Minority Report (2002)
It seems not a day goes by without a police/Taser story grabbing headlines, which leads us to ask: Isn't there a better solution than running large doses of electric current through a person's body? Luckily, Minority Report holds the answer. It's no coincidence that the 2002 sci-fi thriller is often pointed to as a portent of what may come; when director Steven Spielberg set out to create his vision of the future, he turned to some of the world's brightest and most forward-looking thinkers to see where technology would head in the coming years. And few are more memorable than the aptly-named 'Sick Stick.'
Forget electrocution - as the name suggests, once this baton makes contact with an assailant, suspect, or friendly officer, it triggers a strong vomiting reflex. The thinking here is brilliant: no matter how tough, how large, or how enraged a suspect may be, every man or woman is reduced to a helpless mess when nausea takes over. Think of how many injuries or torment could be spared, and how much more enjoyable a police officer's day would become if the Sick Stick became reality? We feel it's only a matter of time.
10 M56 Smart Gun, Aliens (1986)
The M41A Pulse Rifle used by the Colonial Marines of James Cameron's Aliens (1986) gets the lion's share of attention when discussing the film's most iconic weaponry. But given that it's just an upgraded version of the standard M1A1 Thompson, we tend to think that if forward-looking weapons experts want to tackle one of the film's firearms, then the M56 Smart Gun is a far better candidate.
Overlooking the terrifying size of the gun itself - requiring a servo-powered harness to be worn by the operator just to wield it - the technology driving it is staggering. That same harness actually takes the need to track targets away from the soldier, as the gun's infrared tracking essentially turns the soldier toward the target as it moves. Unloading up to 1200 high-explosive rounds per minute, the M56 Smart Gun would make a one man army out of just about anyone.
9 XZ Pistol, Buck Rogers
It's difficult to imagine the genre of science fiction/adventure without the presence of rayguns, blasters, rocket pistols, or any variation thereof. It's even harder to believe that nearly all of them owe their existence to the character Buck Rogers, bursting onto the comic strip scene in 1926, and leaping to radio, movie serials, and television in the decades to come. And Buck's signature weapon was every bit as famous.
Becoming one of the first fictional firearms to displace the cowboy six-shooter in both design and laser-fueled potency, Buck Rogers' firearms would go on to influence the design of nearly every futuristic blaster designed afterward. So it seems unthinkable that modern weapon designers have abandoned the notion of a pocket-sized rocket launcher completely (honestly, we would settle for any form of 'raygun' at this point). If there's any hope of making it possible by The 25th Century, the experts had better get to work.
8 Sonic Gun, Minority Report (2002)
The Sick Sticks weren't the only non-lethal weaponry on display in Minority Report, but if we were forced to decide between those used by its many branches of law enforcement, there's no question that the 'Sonic Guns' have a far more satisfying impact. The explosive wave of concussive sound and force may not kill its intended target, but it certainly doesn't guarantee their safety.
Granted, the main action sequence featuring the sonic weapons shows a few downsides of the technology. For starters, a single shot can send the target flying through the air, along with any objects in immediate proximity. Making it something of a fire and shrapnel-less explosion obviously reduces its uses as a precision weapon, but for crowd control (or bouncy castles) we can't think of a more appropriate tool.
7 Noisy Cricket, Men in Black (1997)
The range of De-Atomizers may be the most futuristic, sleek, and versatile weapons in the arsenal of the Men in Black, but no gun proved that good things come in small packages like the Noisy Cricket. While small in size (and name), it is more than noisy in the field. Projecting a blast of energy capable of decimating steel, concrete, and just about any other man-made material, it takes precision and physical strength completely out of the equation.
We admit that the rules of physics make the invention of a real-world Noisy Cricket unlikely; if firing the weapon carries enough punch to throw the wielder off their feet, it'd hard to see that problem ever being solved. However, the gun has been seen to fire a controllable shot in other films, and while others might call that a mistake in the films' fiction, we see it as a sign that the technology is already becoming more manageable.
6 Lawgiver, Dredd (2012)
We'll begin arguing our case by first stating that we have no desire to see the world's future resemble that of Dredd in any way, shape, or form. However, those who saw the recent adaptation of the comic book series know that it could certainly hold some promise for fans of no-holds-barred gunfighting and iconic lawmen. As impressive as Karl Urban's turn as the titular Judge was, his signature handgun deserves just as much attention.
The name of the 'Lawgiver' alone leaves a strong standard to meet, but it comes equipped to help every Judge dispense justice as they see fit. Whether that means stunning an enemy, penetrating their armor, or simply burning them to a crisp, the Lawgiver's swappable rounds put a wide range of attacks a simple spoken command away. Luckily, the Lawgiver is also programmed only to fire for its assigned officer - a feature we desperately hope is retained if this ever makes the jump from fiction to real-world policing.
5 Plasma Caster, Predator (1987)
Again, we're not eager to bring the alien race known as 'Predators' (or Yautja to their friends) to Earth any time soon. But we wouldn't mind getting a closer look at their shoulder-mounted Plasma Caster in order to recreate the technology for our own use. So once more, we turn to the brightest scientific minds of the day to aid us in doing the extraordinary: creating one of the coolest movie weapons without needing to be slaughtered by alien hunters to accomplish it.
Any fan of the Predator films (or later Alien spinoffs, for that matter) are familiar with the weapon: a shoulder-mounted cannon tracks targets by linking with the user's helmet before unleashing a bolt of ionized gas, heated to extreme temperatures. The result is a ball of plasma which can be guided to a target and 'shatters' on impact. Several nations are investigating plasma-based weaponry, so it seems only a matter of time until this weapon becomes a reality (even if the alien hunters consider it a less noble weapon).
4 Zorg ZF-1 Pod Weapon, The Fifth Element (1997)
There are too many films featuring a 'weapons demonstration' scene to list, but the one featured in The Fifth Element stands out for several reasons. Depicting Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg (Gary Oldman) demonstrating his 'Zorg ZF-1 Pod Weapon' to a group of alien buyers, the weapon proves to possess nearly every kind of projectile a mercenary or formal army could hope for.
Featuring standard automatic machine gun fire, guided bullet systems, poison darts, small rockets, flamethrower, 'Ice-Cold System' and a mysterious red button (don't ask about the red button), the Pod Weapon stands as evidence that occasionally, one gun really can do it all. Now modern arms manufacturers just have to pull off the feat as well.
3 Lightsaber, Star Wars (1966-2013)
While Star Wars may masquerade as science fiction to the casual viewer, the signature weapon of the film's heroes (and villains) makes its fantasy roots clear. The Jedi and Sith, like the honorable armies of history, cast off projectile weapons and crude explosives for the elegant and graceful technology of the Lightsaber. A single blade of pure energy capable of dropping an enemy with a single swing or thrust.
Initially depicted as a blade of immense energy and power, the weapons were originally wielded as effectively as a rapier (we can only assume Anakin Skywalker... forgot how to use it with speed). Unfortunately, the rise of ballistic technology made swords and sabers obsolete. And if we're completely honest, the kind of technology required to form a single blade of tangible light may remain fiction for all time. But that will never stop us from hoping that the weapon can one day become real, even if it requires an immense generator and small fortune to attain.
2 Phasers, Star Trek
Arguably the most enduring and varied weapon on our list, the Phasers of Star Trek in their many forms have persisted since The Original Series. Over the years, the portable version of the weapons have resembled retro laser pistols, TV remotes, stun guns, and most recently - in J.J. Abrams' reboot - like standard pistols. But while the appearance has changed, the fact remains: the Phaser is as iconic as the members of Starfleet themselves.
To be clear, the Phasers are not the same as traditional laser or plasma weapons. Instead, the firearms are classified as particle weapons, inflicting damage by launching a bolt of radiated particles at the intended target. Unlike standard projectile or even directed energy weapons, the particles could be used to heat, kill, disintegrate, or - famously - stun enemies. Versatility, compact form factor, and a name that never gets old makes the Star Trek Phaser untouchable in our eyes.
The technology may still be more at home in a physics laboratory than a weapons manufacturer, but most of creator Gene Roddenberry's predictions for the future have proven accurate in one way or another. Could the same be true of Phasers? Only time will tell, but our fingers are crossed.
Those are just a small slice of fictional weapons that stand a chance at someday becoming a reality, but there are dozens, even thousands more that live just on the fringes of our scientific knowledge. Which movie and TV weapons do you think might one day be possible, or deserve some credit regardless of how real or unreal they may be? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrew_dyce.
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