August 10, 2022


From a really young age, I should have been able to guess I’d end up working with film/video somehow. I’ve loved movies ever since I could remember, being able to quote my favorite films from beginning to end. Going to the movie theater still makes me feel like a kid again and, as a result, it’s one of my favorite activities.

Man dressed as The Terminator with SPAS-12 shotgun
This is clearly Hollywood’s preferred shotgun when something “tactical” or “sci-fi” is needed.

As a kid, I remember watching a ton of the 80’s- and 90’s-era action movies on cable television. You might recall back in the day when we used to watch cable television as streaming services were still a thing of science fiction. Watching edited versions of popular movies on cable allowed me to watch quite a few movies that I was probably too young to see in the movie theater.

High Tech Movie Shotgun

The 80s and 90s were home to several groundbreaking films, a true golden era of Hollywood action movies that today fill many of us with a lot of nostalgia. One common theme in several of them that shows up over and over is the guns. In fact, some of the best movie guns were in this era of filmmaking.

SPAS-12 shotgun
Without a doubt, the SPAS-12 has one of the most aggressive-looking forms around.

Obviously, the venerable M16 and its laundry list of variations show up across films but what I’m talking about is something much more specific. There is this iconic, instantly recognizable shotgun that has made numerous appearances on the silver screen and in video games and other pop culture mediums. The shotgun I’m referring to is the SPAS-12.

The SPAS-12 is a very famous shotgun, mostly because it is unique in its look and nature. The aggressive cheesegrater look of the metal on the SPAS-12 makes it one of the meanest-looking guns in existence. No doubt that the aggressive bad boy look of the SPAS-12 is what earned it so many roles in Hollywood films.

Hollywood’s Scattergun: The Details

Now when it comes to its operation again, it’s truly unique. The SPAS-12 was designed for law enforcement use and, as a result, it has a unique factor that made it very appealing to many agencies. The SPAS-12 can function in both semi-automatic and manual “pump” action modes.

SPAS-12 shotgun poster
“The Terminator” movie features the SPAS-12 heavily, with hero shots of the weapon throughout the movie.

What this means is that the shotgun can shoot in either semi-automatic or manual action, all with the press of a button. This is great for law enforcement officers because with one shotgun purchase you could have a shotgun capable of both lethal and less-lethal firing. Less-lethal rounds, like bean bag rounds, don’t have enough “oomph” to cycle the action in semi-auto. But, if an officer used the same gun in pump-action mode, it would. So, for one price and one shotgun, police departments would be able to shoot kill two birds with one stone.

Movie Shotguns in Practice

In theory, the SPAS-12 was an ideal police shotgun. But from what I can tell, it was depicted in films more than it was ever truly used. Truth be told, that’s why most of us would even want one today — because it was an iconic movie shotgun, not because we have heard fabled stories of its fantastic tactical usage.

Man demonstrating how to fold the SPAS-12 shotgun stock
The famous movie shotgun had a folding stock. To fold or lock open the stock, you had to press in a button behind the pistol grip.

By all accounts and in my own testing, the SPAS-12 was a reliable shotgun and it served well. But, it really earned a name for itself on-screen being used by the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Kevin Costner. Let’s look at some of the movie appearances that left many firearms enthusiasts and collectors star-struck with the SPAS-12.

SPAS-12 on the Big Screen

When I think of the SPAS-12, I immediately think of two movies. One of them is “The Terminator” (1984). Arnold Schwarzenegger stars in this movie as a murdering assassin robot sent from the future by the evil Skynet to kill Sarah Conner, who would later give birth to the leader of the resistance who battles Skynet in the future.

Arnold Schwarzenegger shooting the SPAS-12 one-handed while playing The Terminator
Arnold Schwarzenegger plays The Terminator and shoots the SPAS-12 one-handed. The SPAS-12 weighs around 10 lbs., making it a heavy gun to hold this way. Image: Cinema ’84

They send this cyborg back in time to 1984, covered in human skin and hair and disguised as a 6’3”, 220-lb. Austrian bodybuilder, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Yup, it doesn’t make a ton of sense, but we didn’t watch these movies to be wowed by the plot — we wanted to see stuff blow up!

Schwarzenegger goes into a gun store pretty early on and asks for a “12-gauge auto-loader”. Enter the famous Terminator movie shotgun: the SPAS-12. Later in the movie, there is a famous shootout scene in a police station with Schwarzenegger shooting two long guns one-handed for the entire duration of the scene. One is a full auto AR-18 and the other the SPAS-12, but now with its iconic folding stock removed.

Man holding SPAS shotgun
The SPAS is one of the most iconic movie weapons, appearing almost always unaltered in its original form as opposed to other movie guns festooned with optics, lights or lasers.

The other movie scene that always comes to mind is not a shootout, but it is one of the first suspenseful “jump scares” I remember seeing. In the 1994 film “Jurassic Park”, directed by Steven Spielberg, we see the iconic “clever girl” scene. You probably of course know what I’m talking about, so I won’t set up the plot for you.

This scene did a great job of showing off the SPAS-12 and a feature that is almost single-handedly the reason it’s chosen so much in the media, the stock. The stock is for sure one of the biggest cool factors of the SPAS-12, and in this scene we see actor Bob Peck unfold the stock as he is trying to quietly take aim on an escaped Velociraptor that he has been tracking in the jungle. When he is unfurling the SPAS-12 quietly and just as he is about to take aim, the intelligent Velociraptors reveal the trap they had set for him. A second Velociraptor had flanked him.

Actor Bob Peck holding a shotgun in Jurassic Park
Actor Bob Peck is seen holding the SPAS-12 in the opening of the “Jurassic Park” film. The iconic shotgun is used throughout the film by him. Image: Universal Pictures

Really, the SPAS-12 is represented well in all of these mentioned films, except for the Terminator shooting the shotgun one-handed like it’s a pistol. Then again, the point was to show his absolute strength so, I get that. A poorer representation of the SPAS-12 happens in the movie “3000 Miles To Graceland”. In this cops versus robbers shootout in a Las Vegas hotel, Kevin Costner is sporting the SPAS-12 and he’s working the gun in pump-action while shooting high-powered lethal rounds. The SPAS-12 is a very reliable shotgun in semi-auto when using shells such as this, so there would have been no need to run it in pump other than to give the scene some Hollywood flare.

Conclusion

The SPAS-12 is easily Hollywood’s favorite shotgun, having earned tons of appearances. I can tell you after having gotten to shoot one quite a bit recently, it’s not as “tactical” as the manufacturers would have us believe. Today, there are many better-performing shotguns for far less money, but absolutely none of the other options command attention like the SPAS-12.

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