Arms dealer movies are often quite good and come in a wide variety of flavors. They can be comedies, dramas, science fiction, horror, or even superhero films. If you think about it, guns, bombs, and landmines have shaped the world in crazy ways, at times seeming to bring people together to blow others apart. So here are 10 of the best movies that deal with arms dealers, and all the thorny subtopics they bring about. Enjoy!
1. Taxi Driver (1976)
VENTS has addressed “Taxi Driver” before, but it belongs on a list yet again. The relevant moment here is when Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) consults with an arms dealer named “Easy” Andy (Steven Prince) about which weapons work best. Of course, Andy is quick to offer other services to Bickle, such as drugs. Basically, Andy is a sleaze-meister, yet Travis is willing to overlook that to exact an inexact vengeance upon a world gone mad. Though Andy’s screentime is brief, the character is a rather strong link in a growing chain of derangement. Again, you may wish to check the other list out. Not only does it contain “Taxi Driver” but a list of classic movies occurring in a big city environment.
2. The Fifth Element (1997)
Luc Besson’s “The Fifth Element” may not be the foremost masterpiece of science fiction, but it’s an undeniably memorable film thanks to its quirky characters. In addition to Leeloo (Milla Jovovich), Ruby Rhod (Chris Tucker) and Diva Plavalaguna (Maïwenn Le Besco) you have the bizarre, villainous arms dealer, Jean-Baptiste Zorg (Gary Oldman). With the help of the alien Mangalores, Zorg plots to retrieve an evil super-weapon. While this film is undeniably silly, it has been dissected by academics regarding what it says about “gender.”
Specifically, one publication says, “Employing an oppositional approach rooted in psychoanalytic, race, and queer theories, we assert that ‘The Fifth Element’ fashions sexual and racial difference in a manner that functions to naturalize and perpetuate existing social structures of inequality and oppression.” What does this have to do with Bruce Willis preventing an intergalactic arms dealer from retrieving strange stones to create a superweapon? It’s hard to say, but this film’s apparently oppressing you, you bunch of hapless fools!
3. Jackie Brown (1997)
Quentin Tarantino’s “Jackie Brown” has a lot going for it. Obviously you have the title character (Pam Grier). Then you have the man she smuggles money for, an arms dealer named Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson), When Robbie kills another courier named Beaumont Livingston (Chris Tucker), we know he’s ready, willing and able to kill at a moment’s notice. Will Jackie be spared, especially when she makes a deal with authorities (Michael Keaton and Michael Bowen) to bust Ordell for smuggling $50,000 of ill-gotten gains? “Jackie Brown” also stars Robert Forster as bail bondsman Max Cherry, Bridget Fonda as Melanie Ralston and Robert De Niro as Louis Gara.
4. Men in Black (1997)
Jack Jeebs (Tony Shalhoub) looks quite human. However, blast his head off with a shotgun and you’ll quickly learn he’s not. His head grows back, but it’s still rather painful for him! Such is the nature of business in Barry Sonnenfeld’s “Men in Black.” Though much of the film focuses on Agents K (Tommy Lee Jones) and J (Will Smith) tracking down the Bug (Vincent D’Onofrio). they stop at Jeebs’ pawnshop to investigate his potential sales of unsavory space weapons. It’s actually one of “Men in Black’s” most memorable scenes, in a movie positively brimming with those. While it was never likely to win a Best Picture nomination, this film manages to stand the test of time, partly due to its inclusion of quirky aliens such as this.
5. Street Fighter (1994)
Technically, Steven E. de Souza’s “Street Fighter” involves an arms dealer named Victor Sagat (Wes Studi). However, let’s face it: Most of the viewer’s eyes will be glued on Raúl Juliá, whose wonderfully over-the-top performance as dictator M. Bison easily prevents “Street Fighter” from being forgettable (or at least not as forgettable as one could imagine). Halfway through the movie, you’ll forget about Sagat’s crimes or the specifics of what makes M. Bison bad. We just know that he pretty much is crime. So dominant is Juliá that you may find yourself asking, “Jean-Claude Van who?”
Yes, Jean-Claude Van Damme’s character barely matters to the story as one wants to see M. Bison do his worst. This isn’t to say Wes Studi doesn’t do a good job, but you really can’t compete with Juliá very easily. For a brief moment in “Street Fighter,” there’s even a twisted nod to serial killer John Wayne Gacy’s artwork, with a “Pogo the Clown-esque” rendering of Bison. Sometimes it’s the little touches that make something unique. “Street Fighter” also stars Ming-Na Wen, Damian Chapa, Kylie Minogue, Byron Mann, Grand L. Bush and Robert Mammone. Also, Andrew Bryniarski plays the delightfully dumb Zangief, Bison’s bodyguard who doesn’t even know what’s going on!
6. Runaway Jury (2003)
“Runaway Jury” probably isn’t the masterpiece Gary Fleder thought it would be, but it’s alright nevertheless. It also makes this list because the whole story is about an arms manufacturer, Vicksburg Firearms. Mind you, it’s a fictional company and this is a fictional story, but it may have real-world implications to some. Although the company is said to operate legally, there are ambiguous moments in the film suggesting otherwise. At the very least, the company seems aware that their weapons are regularly used by criminals.
Other than the firearms stuff, this story’s about a bunch of jury tampering, attempting to delve into just how crooked a high-profile trial can get. There are many crimes in this story, from bribery to blackmail, orchestrated by its main characters. After a while, it becomes harder to root for anybody. Instead, one may simply root against someone less than the others. That ambiguous edge doesn’t make it a bad movie, though. “Runaway Jury” stars John Cusack, Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman, Rachel Weisz.
7. Lord of War (2005)
It may be the greatest movie about a soulless arms dealer ever, but Andrew Niccol’s “Lord of War” never quite got the acclaim it deserved (and still deserves). Though Nicolas Cage often gets trash-talked for his weird career, he is in some good-to-great movies, and this is one of them. He plays the arms dealer in question, named Yuri Orlov. He thinly rationalizes his business approach at every opportunity, even though he never quite believes his excuses either. Quite simply, he knows he’s in a rough business with rough people, but he always knows that warlords, “democratic” governments and common criminals need a steady supply of guns for their bloodshed. Why not be a supplier and get some of the moolah? His ho-hum indifference evil is both mundane and captivating.
This movie deals with other murky topics, too, like when Orlov manipulates Ava Fontaine (Bridget Moynahan) into a relationship with him. Also, his relationship with dictator Andre Baptiste Sr. (Eamonn Walker) is at times funny, which makes for some awkward moments. Cage’s arms dealer character is partly inspired by real-life arms smuggler Viktor Bout, while Walker’s dictator is similar to Liberian war criminal Charles Taylor. The film also stars Jared Leto, Ian Holm, and Ethan Hawke. Also, Amnesty International officially endorsed “Lord of War,” which doesn’t happen to every movie.
8. Severance (2006)
Christopher Smith’s “Severance” is a unique horror film. It starts with a business “team-building” excursion into the mountains. The company in question? Palisade Defence, a military weapons manufacturer. At first, things seem relatively normal. However, they end up being stalked by crazed terrorists – or whatever we want to call them – who use some of Palisade’s own weapons against them!
The story doesn’t need to be more complex than that, right? In fact, it’s probably better than this movie is rather straightforward, as it’s simply a look at the neutrality of warfare and violence, and how just about anybody could be killed by these things which are supposed to keep us safe, “free” (and, in some cases, well-paid). There are plenty of humorous moments thrown in, but the moralistic angle isn’t exactly concealed. “Severance” stars Danny Dyer, Laura Harris, Tim McInnerny and Toby Stephens.
9. Iron Man (2008)
Jon Favreau’s “Iron Man” offered up a different kind of superhero. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) actually has his start as a weapons manufacturer. However, when he learns his weapons are being used by terrorist groups, he decides to halt such production at Stark Industries. This doesn’t sit well with Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges), who not only wishes to continue production but has no qualms about supporting terrorist activity. The end result is a pretty worthwhile superhero movie with plenty of heart (including the one in his chest, which is functioning only due to an electromagnetic implant). “Iron Man” also stars Terrence Howard, Shaun Toub, and Gwyneth Paltrow plays Pepper Potts, his “will-they-or-won’t-they” personal assistant.
10. Micmacs (2009)
Last but not least is Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s “Micmacs,” which is undeniably about the global arms trade. As a child, Bazil (Dany Boon) lost his father, who was trying to defuse a landmine. Years later, tragedy strikes Bazil yet again, this time as an errant bullet from a gun straight in his forehead. He miraculously survives but ends up wanting revenge against the arms companies that screwed up his life. He enlists the help of a guillotine execution survivor (Pierre Marielle), a human cannonball (Dominique Pinon), a human calculator (Marie-Julie Baup) and a contortionist (Julie Ferrier), among others.
Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s films blend the surreal and the mundane, which often makes them difficult to describe. However, they definitely tend to have cartoon-like moments in them. Another Jean-Pierre Jeunet film appears in VENTS’ list of 10 Cyborg and Robot Moments in Film and TV #1 (1927-1999).
What do you think of these movies? Did we miss any good ones? Let us know in the comments!