Follow TV Tropes


Revolvers Are for Amateurs

Go To
Just because someone is packing a six-shooter, that doesn't automatically make them Dirty Harry.

"Revolvers tend to be easier to use than automatics, especially for amateurs. Their mechanism is simpler, and it's easier to learn how to operate them, and you're less likely to make mistakes with them."
Tamaru, 1Q84

If a character who has little combat experience needs to kill someone or defend himself, chances are he's going to be packing a revolver, especially a snubnosed revolver, instead of a semiautomatic. The less advanced design, smaller ammo capacity, and the shorter barrel are a good visual metaphor for the character's vulnerability and inexperience in combat.

One reason for this is that revolvers are simple and reliable firearms compared with more modern designs. There's a minimum of moving parts compared to a semi-automatic, they are less picky about what ammunition they'll take, and they don't jam under normal circumstances, so they're lower maintenance and more reliable for someone who doesn't have a lot of experience with firearms in general. Revolvers on the whole are usually cheaper, and therefore something you're more likely to find on an amateur rather than a professional who has more money invested in his firearms. Additionally, because of their inherently simpler design, a low-end revolver will outperform a cheaply-made automatic pistol in a walk, making them all the more attractive to those on a limited budget.

It doesn't count for characters who live in a time where semiautomatic handguns were rare, unreliable, or non-existent, or for those who still venerate weapons from such periods as embodying the Good Old Ways. From The Wild West through World War II, revolvers were the default sidearm, but even as late as The '70s American police officers still relied on them over semiautomatics. It doesn't count for characters experienced in gunfighting who use small revolvers as backups to other, larger weapons or for easy concealment, nor does it count for characters who use a Hand Cannon, unless they're specifically called out as being out of their depth and unable to handle it.

See also Little Useless Gun, if it's the gun itself that's perceived as non-threatening, rather than the person holding it — there may be considerable crossover, of course.

Compare and/or contrast Revolvers Are Just Better, where someone who does know what they're doing decides to pack a wheelgun.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • City Hunter: Although many professional gun users featured in the series tend to use revolvers, and they know how to use them, revolvers appeared also in the hands of amateurs, who tend to get humiliated when going against professionals (whether those professionals are using revolvers themselves or not), or even a disarmed Ryo.
  • Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex has the Laughing Man, a hacker with clearly limited fighting experience, holding Ernest Serano at gunpoint with a six-shooter. This is an interesting contrast to Togusa, who uses a revolver across the series more out of a preference for the old-fashioned than any sort of lack of experience compared to his automatic-packing partners.
  • The first gun Takashi is able to use in High School Of The Dead is a snubnosed revolver, which he uses for point-blank shooting. He later passes it off to his friend Kohta and uses a shotgun for the rest of the series. Kohta himself ditches the revolver once he gets his hands on a high-power police rifle.

    Films — Animation 
  • In Sausage Party, Darren takes out a large revolver when the final battle starts. Between his gangly, nebbish frame and the art style, the revolver’s barrel is thicker than his own arm, and he proves himself to be comically inept with it.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • David Della Rocco in The Boondock Saints is given a "six shooter" when his mafia bosses Papa Joe and Vincenzo set him up to be killed — unbeknownst to Rocco, he was being sent to kill nine guys instead of the two guys they told him he would have to kill. He later uses the gun in his first vigilante murder, killing two of his ex-associates before emptying the gun into the bartender.
  • Averted in The Brave One. Erica has no experience with firearms whatsover but uses a Kahr automatic. She does however get instruction on how to load and fire it; plus that model has an internal safety device, not a safety catch that she might forget to release which is one of the advantages of a revolver for an inexperienced shooter. The trope is played straight with the first man she kills, who is holding a snubnose revolver in a manner that would seriously injure himself if he fired the gun.
  • Ray Ferrier in The War of the Worlds brings one with him when fleeing from the alien invasion.
  • Seen in Reservoir Dogs where Mr. Orange and Mr. White try to carjack a woman. The woman hastily pulls a snubnosed revolver and manages to shoot Mr. Orange.
  • In Death Wish, Paul Kersey's first gun is a Colt revolver.
  • Pre-Batman Bruce Wayne wields a snubnosed revolver in Batman Begins when he plans to kill Joe Chill. He later throws it in the river after Chill is gunned down by the mob and he is harshly chewed out for his intent by Rachel.
  • In Lethal Weapon, cautious family man Murtaugh carries a revolver, while the hot-shot badass Riggs carries an automatic. Riggs constantly calls him out on it. Lampshaded in Lethal Weapon 2, where Leo correctly guesses their weapons based on their personalities. Subverted in that Murtaugh is capable of doling out headshots with frightening accuracy and later carries a semi-automatic pistol alongside his revolver as a backup weapon.
  • Big Trouble in Little China: When Jack, Wang, and Eddie arm themselves after breaking into Wing Kong territory, a humorous sequence has them trading guns, each attempting to get rid of the snub-nosed revolver in favor of the shotgun or SMG.
  • Nicholas Cage's character in Knowing decides he needs a gun, and appears very inexperienced, to the point of methodically reading the manual, and then proceeding to run around with his finger on the trigger, in direct violation of the many, many safety warnings in the manual. It appears to be a stainless N-frame Smith & Wesson with rosewood grips, so at least he has good taste.
  • Little Shop of Horrors: Seymour, a man clearly not predisposed to violence, carries a revolver when he goes to kill Orin. He's so lacking in confidence with the firearm that he never actually uses it, Orin instead accidentally killing himself.
  • In The Godfather, Clemenza provides Michael a .38 snubnosed revolver to kill Sollozzo and McClusky. While he is a former Marine and World War II hero, this is his first foray into the "family business".
    Sonny: You think it's like in the army, you shoot 'em a mile away? You gotta get right up close and bada-BING! You blow their brains all over your nice, Ivy-League suit!
  • Clarence from True Romance, is just a comic store employee who is venturing into the drug trade. With only a snubnose revolver as his weapon of choice. While all of the career criminals tote pistols, submachineguns, and shotguns. The only time he's ever able to kill someone with it, he was brutally beaten beforehand. Then when he tries to partake in the final shootout he gets put out of commission before he can fire a shot, although he does survive.
  • In Atomic Blonde, the only character to have a revolver is Delphine - the out-of-her-depth French operative (although as a .357 magnum, it's actually a more powerful gun than most others in the film).
  • The first weapon the titular character of Joker (2019) gets his hands on is a snub nose revolver, which he stores loosely in his coat and proves very careless with in handling.
  • In Halloween (2018), Laurie Strode, who's grown up into a Crazy Survivalist with a Wall of Weapons, gives Ray a snub-nosed revolver to defend himself with because he lacks the weapons experience that she and Karen have, specifically pointing out that they don't jam. Laurie herself prefers revolvers and generally has very old-fashioned tastes in guns, but she actually knows how to use them.note 
  • Adam's Rib: Doris wields an owner's manual with her revolver as she prepares to shoot her philandering husband at the start of the movie.


  • 1Q84: The cops in the alternate reality carry modern semiautomatic pistols instead of revolvers. Aomame learns that this is because of a highly publicized incident in which several cops lost their lives fighting off cultists, so the department upgraded their weapons to save face.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Noah Bennet in Heroes uses a snubnose revolver the first time he tries to kill a person with special abilities.
  • Perseus, a computer programmer, defends himself with a snubnose revolver in NBC's Chuck.
  • Threshold Shortly before going on a dangerous mission, Cavanaugh (who is experienced with guns) gives a revolver to Caffrey, who is not experienced with guns. She initially complains that he gave her "a girl-gun", but he clarifies that a revolver is more reliable and won't jam. He goes on to state that he'll give her shooting lessons when they have more time. While she doesn't use it on that mission, she does use it to save his life later.
  • Both Walter and Jesse of Breaking Bad seem unfamiliar with guns, and both end up buying small-to-medium-sized revolvers when they need to arm themselves. Possibly subverted because Walter does so for a specific reason and on the advice of a competent-sounding dealer (who suggest a revolver specifically because Walt is inexperienced).
  • In the second season of Bones, Dr. Brennan acquires a S&W Model 500 revolver to use as her personal sidearm. Unfortunately, being chambered for .500 magnum, the pistol is ludicrously overpowered for her. Booth later uses the gun to shoot a bad guy through a solid metal door.
  • Spencer Reid from Criminal Minds switches to using a revolver sometime in series 4, possibly because of his issues with the standard-issue semi-automatics that he once failed his shooting qualification with in the first series.
  • Family Ties: Steven and Elyse don't like guns, but they decide to buy a gun after getting robbed. The gun they buy is a snubnosed .38 special revolver.
  • The teenager Jonathan Byers from Stranger Things takes a revolver when he starts looking for the Demogorgon.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Necromunda features plasma cannons, grenade launchers, web-shooting pistols, and even an average gang member can expect to be armed with a laser rifle. Your gang's raw recruits however are so ineffective and disposable that they are often armed with only a stub revolver....

    Video Games 
  • Probably why Alan Wake, a thriller writer with supposedly limited experience with firearms, primarily uses a revolver. He even mentions to the local sheriff that he'd never used a gun until the first time he picked one up during the game.
  • Invoked in the first The Godfather: You are a newcomer to the mob and the first gun you get from your mentor is a snubnose. You only get better weapons, including a genuinely better magnum revolver, later. In contrast, the sequel has you established as a high-level made man from the start and your starting weapon is an automatic.
  • Receiver, a game that simulates using a gun as close as possible, features a Smith & Wesson Model 10. It is the easiest gun to use, because it has the least amount of mechanics that you can operate (no safety as on the 1911 or fire selector as on the Glock, no need to load bullets into individual magazines, etc.), thus making you less likely to screw up.
  • In the Resident Evil 2 (Remake), 19 year old college student Claire Redfield starts off armed with a snubnose 9mm revolver. Notably, Claire is one of the few protagonists in the franchise who has no formal combat training, the closest thing she has to that is being informally taught by her brother Chris in at least the basics of self-defense. That said, when she gets her hands on a .45 ACP clone of a Colt Single Action Army, she fan fires the gun and loads it with ease.
  • A rather odd example in Girls' Frontline, as the entire playable cast consists of Moe Anthropomorphisms of various firearms, but a new Commander will always start out with a Nagant M1895 in their roster. As a 2-star doll, her ubiquitousness from map drop and construction means she is extremely easy to upgrade, and her skill set makes her very useful for any kind of echelon cobbled up in the early game. She eventually loses effectiveness as the Commander gathers better and rarer T-Dolls, including other revolvers of higher rarities (for instance, a 4-star Single Action Army, which you can get already at level 65 for completing all of Chapter 4's emergency missions), but this trope can be subverted if she is raised all the way to Level 115 for her MOD 3 upgrade, upon which she remains competitive all the way to endgame stages.

    Real Life 
  • While the general point holds that revolvers are easy to fire and reliable, aiming a small snub nose revolver is actually rather difficult and requires some practice to hit anything at more than point-blank range. Of course, the entire point of a snub-nose revolver is to be a small backup weapon only used in emergency self-defense at point-blank range. Decent accuracy (i.e. all shots inside the 10-ring) out to about 50 feet is certainly possible but, again, it does take practice.
  • While it is true that revolvers generally have fewer controls for a user to interact with, internally, they actually have MORE moving parts than modern autoloading pistols, and thus more potential points of failure. Additionally, some of their failure states are far more severe, such as a timing issue causing a round to fire while not properly lined up with the barrel.
  • The 1986 FBI Miami shootout is what convinced most law enforcement agencies in America to switch from revolvers to semi-auto pistols. The underwhelming stopping power of snub nosed revolvers, combined with a frankly amazing amount of Blasting It Out of Their Hands, which makes loading without speed loaders impossible, is what allowed the shootout to spiral like it did.
  • China was drawing on this trope when the government decided to begin arming police officers with revolvers after a devastating terrorist attack in March 2014. The Ministry of Public Security specifically noted that the revolver was "simple to operate, reliable, and durable", considerations which were particularly important for a police force where the majority of officers had zero experience using firearms.