Whether one looks at comic books, fiction or film, firearms play a huge part in geek culture. In fact, there’s an entire web site dedicated to document who carried what.
This feature takes a look at some of these weapons – focusing on their real-world performance rather than in-universe function. If there’s something you want to know more about, be sure to mention it in the comments.
This week we’re going to look at an otherwise unremarkable firearm immortalized by the timeless Christmas film Die Hard: John McClane’s Beretta 92.
Die Hard (1988) Trailer #1 | Movieclips Classic Trailers
The Age of the Wonder Nine
The 1980s saw a quiet revolution in handgun design, particularly in autoloaders. The decades-old concept of ‘combat pistols’ gave way to more ergonomic and flexible designs, which incorporated new materials (such as polymer) and more variety in safety features. This was reflected in the controversial decision to finally retire the venerable Colt 1911 as the primary US sidearm in favor of a new design chambered in 9mm Parabellum.
The Beretta Model 92 ultimately prevailed and entered service as the M-9. Everyone in the shooting community – particularly law enforcement – took notice.
While not as innovative as some of the other designs (notably Glocks), the Beretta 92 combined sleek aesthetics with comfort and function. Whereas the 1911 was large, blocky and functioned only in single action mode with a single stack of 7 rounds (albeit .45 ACP), the Beretta was lighter, handier, capable of single or double action employment and had a standard magazine capacity of 15 rounds. While .45 enthusiasts derided the 9mm cartridge as inferior, a century of wartime use had vindicated its employment and when one is in a firefight, having twice as much ammunition in the magazine can be a decisive advantage.
The Default Choice for Heroes and Villains Alike
While the Desert Eagle gained a certain amount of notoriety, the Beretta 92 (and its derivatives) has an arguably larger footprint popular culture – so much so that we no longer notice it. I chose to highlight it’s use in Die Hard, but I could just have easily chosen Lethal Weapon or Demolition Man. Indeed, it might be easier to list movies not featuring a Beretta 92 since it pops up so often.
If the Desert Eagle became shorthand for ludicrous power, the Beretta 92 was a restrained rebuttal, a popular and relatively inexpensive service pistol. Certainly its military and police applications favored its incorporation into prop departments throughout Hollywood and once it was in the inventory, it was easy to give it to characters whose choice of firearm was irrelevant to the plot.
This is true in Die Hard, where the type of McClane’s pistol is secondary to the fact that he has one at all.
A Comfy Service Pistol
Beretta handguns have always been stylish and comfortable in the hand, and the Model 92 is no exception. Its adoption by the US military heralded a new era of comfortable shooting service pistols. As one would expect, it is easy to field strip and clean. Recoil is unremarkable for a 9mm handgun, and the Beretta’s trademark open slide reduces the possibility of ‘stove piping’ by spent casings that fail to fully eject.
Like all modern military/police handguns, the Model 92 has continued to see development and a number of “tactical” upgrades are now available that considerably alter its smooth lines.
They are not difficult to find and by virtue of its widespread service, parts, magazines and other accessories are plentiful and cheap.
The only real knock against the design is that there are other, more advanced designs on the market that use alloys and polymer to lower their weight. Certainly the US military concurred, replacing the Beretta with SIG Sauer’s P320 in 2017.
Still, the Model 92 is a tested design, so if you think Hans Gruber might crash your office Christmas party, you should consider bringing one along.