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The AK-47: A Cinematic History of a Russian Classic

Mikhail Kalashnikov, inventor of the AK-47, has died at age 94—we salute his invention's place in pop culture

“AK-47: the very best there is. When you absolutely, positively gotta kill every motherfucker in the room, accept no substitute.”

So sayeth Samuel L. Jackson’s character in Jackie Brown of Mikhail Kalashnikov’s famed automatic rifle.

Kalashnikov died Monday at the age of 94 in Ishevsk, Russia. The origins of the weapon trace back to World War II, when Kalashnikov, then a Russian soldier, was wounded after his tank was hit by a German shell.

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A Museum With Firepower

In November 2004, Russia opened The Kalashnikov Museum and Exhibition Complex of Small Arms in Izhevsk, where Kalashnikov lived and died. 

Dec 23, 2013 17:58 UTC@elanazak

Mikhail Kalashnikov, inventor of the AK-47 who died today at 94, once dreamed of being a poet. Then came WWII: http://t.co/Fcbkrtzb5J

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To counteract the Germans’ assault rifles, he began constructing prototypes that would later be a boon to the Russians. He completed the Avtomat Kalashnikova (“automatic weapon of Kalashnikov”) in 1947—hence the name AK-47.

Russian general Michail Kalashnikov looks at some of the kalashnikov rifles displayed in the Army Museum in Delft, the Netherlands November 21, 2003. The army Museum exhibits a large collection of the AK-47 rifle invented by the 84-year-old general. - RTXMBR5

According to estimates from the World Bank, 1 out of every 5 available firearms across the globe hail from the Kalashnikov family.

A Lethal Legacy

Jonathan Marcus, diplomatic correspondent for the BBC, said Monday, "If the name of Samuel Colt and his revolver is associated with the 19th Century, then the gun of the 20th Century is undoubtedly the Kalashnikov."

Kalashnikov said he would have been better off designing a lawnmower, given that he didn’t actually make a ton of money off his invention, and in retrospect, he said he would rather “help farmers with their work” than have helped kill people. He didn’t regret building a weapon to defend Mother Russia, but he did regret its later spread into the hands of terrorists.

Osama Bin Laden famously owned one. Damien Hirst famously painted one. Its presence is everywhere in mainstream popular culture, from video games to TV to the silver screen.

Dec 23, 2013 20:30 UTC@LaimMcKenzie

Rest In Peace Mikhail Kalashnikov. Call Of Duty Modern Warfare wouldn't have been the same without your invention.

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Or, y’know, actual modern warfare. The AK-47′s effect on the world has been devastating, but those slideshows are already done.

Instead, to mark Kalashnikov’s death, we take a look at the AK-47′s most infamous starring roles in film through the years, starting with its first appearance in the 1955 Soviet comedy, “Maksim Perepelitsa.”

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Private Ezhikov, played by Aleksandr Susnin, shows off his new assault rifle.

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The original Red Dawn features a Cold War-era United States invaded by the USSR, AK-47s and all.

Kalashnikov Gallery A Team

We pity the fools who have to defend themselves against The A-Team.

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“Damn Soviet gun!” yells the Libyan gunman when his rifle jams.

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Before the fall of the Berlin Wall, Sylvester Stallone’s classic Rambo III featured the AK-47 alongside the actor’s ripped physique.

Kalashnikov Gallery poster

Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond was maybe one of the more dashing fellows to wield an AK.

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The popular weapon transitioned seamlessly from the silver screen to the digital screen with the advent of first-person shooter video games, like GoldenEye 007.

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Also in 1997: Samuel L. Jackson’s beautiful, moving tribute to the deadly rifle in Jackie Brown.

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Fast forward to Y2K, when Jack Bauer used the AK in his counter terrorism activities on Fox’s 24.

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Perhaps the best role Nicolas Cage ever took (it’s definitely not Ghost Rider) was as Yuri Orlov in 2005′s Lord of War, a gun runner who profits off warlords and drug cartels. His brilliant, accurate monologue on the Kalashnikov: 

“Of all the weapons in the vast Soviet arsenal, nothing was more profitable than Avtomat Kalashnikova model of 1947. More commonly known as the AK-47, or Kalashnikov. It’s 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. The Soviets put the gun on a coin. Mozambique put it on their flag. Since the end of the Cold War, the Kalashnikov has become the Russian people’s greatest export. After that comes vodka, caviar and suicidal novelists.”

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Leonardo DiCaprio earned an Oscar nomination for Best Actor in his role toting the AK-47 around South Africa, hunting blood diamonds.

Warning: Author is Armed

Me (Versha, writer) with an AK-47 at a shooting range in Indiana. versha ak47

PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, James Franco, 2008, © Columbia

And just remember, the AK isn’t just for secret agents and spies, but stoners, too.

Respond Now
  • The ATeam pic is wrong. Those are Ruger Mini-14s, not in the same family as AK’s.

    2 Replies - Reply Now
    • Yep I thought the same

    • That’s because a girl wrote this fluff piece.

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