Joining the AK-47, the Israeli-made Uzi arguably stands among the most infamous firearms ever produced. To gun-grabbing activists and anti-Second Amendment politicians, all submachine guns take on the description of Uzis. Yet, the fact remains there might be similar looking weapons, and even variations based on the original, but there is really only one true Uzi.
The History of the Uzi in Hollywood
Developed after World War II by Major Uziel “Uzi” Gal of the Israel Defense Forde (IDF), the compact submachine gun (SMG) became one of the first domestically designed and produced firearms in the newly independent Middle Easter state. Certainly not the first weapon utilizing a telescoping bolt design, allowing magazine placement within the pistol grip, the Uzi became the first gun to successfully incorporate the design.
The open-bolt, blowback-operated SMG, first issued to IDF special forces in 1954, became general issue two years later with paratroopers and tank and armored vehicle crews. However, due to its compact size, the Uzi never became standard issue for the IDF. Yet it proved ideal for close-quarters combat and in special operations.
Best-Kept Military Secret
First used in the Sinai desert against Egyptian forces during the Suez Crisis, the weapon’s compact size helped lead to its international success. From the 1960s through the 1980s, more Uzi SMGs sold and went to the military, law enforcement and security forces than any other SMG ever made.
A surprising fact is that despite its success and international popularity, it wasn’t actually until 1976 that the mainstream American public ever likely even knew of the gun’s existence. It was featured in no movies, and apart from some footage of the IDF engaged in combat during the Six Day War in 1967 or the Yom Kippur War in 1973, it rarely appeared in the media and might just have been the best-kept secret in firearms.
That changed on June 27, 1976, when an Air France Airbus A300 jet airliner with 248 passengers was hijacked by Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine terrorists and members of the German Revolutionary Cells.
The Entebbe Raid
It was on July 4, 1976, while across the United States bicentennial celebrations were underway, that a daring raid by IDF commandos took place at the Entebbe airport in Uganda to free those hostages. It became known as Operation Thunderbolt, conducted under the command of Lt. Col. Yonathan “Yoni” Netanyahu–younger brother of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The operation ultimately killed all seven hijackers/terrorists, along with upwards of 45 Ugandan soldiers and three hostages. Lt. Col. Netanyahu also fell during the operation–the only member of the IDF killed during the raid.
The Uzi received its closeup, chief among the firearms used during the raid. Three different films completed production–two for American network TV–within months of the daring operation.
The first, Victory at Entebbe, aired on ABC in December 1976, less than six months after the raid. It featured a surprising number of stars including Kirk Douglas, Anthony Hopkins and Burt Lancaster, but unfortunately it didn’t feature any Uzis. However, the NBC production, Raid on Entebbe, aired just a month later and its cast included Peter Finch, James Woods and Charles Bronson. More importantly, it was the first movie to feature IDF soldiers armed with the Uzi.
First of Many
While it wasn’t technically a “big screen” debut, the Uzi had its moments. In the film terrorists/hijackers and the IDF alike are armed with the SMG, an inaccuracy as the terrorists were reported to be armed with Czechoslovakian-made CZ Vz. 61 E Skorpions and later were equipped with AK-47s provided by the Ugandan forces.
TV character actor Stephen Macht, who played Netanyahu, has the notable distinction of being the first “star” to carry the Uzi in a movie. He certainly wasn’t to be the last. Nor was Raid on Entebbe to be the final word on the operation.
A third movie, Operation Thunderbolt, produced in Israel and released int he summer of 1977, elevated to the best of the bunch. It proved vastly superior to the 2018 Seven Days in Entebbe.
Operation Thunberbolt lacked in marquee stars–Klaus Kinsi and Sybil Danning served as the biggest international names. But the productions utilized full-sized exterior sets, including three of the Hercules transports used during the actual raid. The IDF commandos correctly carry the Uzi. Of note: this film marks the first to use actual Soviet-made AK-47s as well.
Despite appearing in two of the three early films about the Entebbe raid, the Uzi wasn’t quite a star. The word “Uzi” truly entered the modern vernacular by the 1980s. But in 1976, the SMG appeared in the film Two-Minute Warning, starring John Cassavetes. A year later, sex symbol Raquel Welch wielded an Uzi in Stuntwoman. Robert Shaw’s character in Black Sunday–the final role before his death–used an Uzi as well. In this film, the Uzi takes on a suppressor in film for the first time.
In subsequent films, the Israeli SMG remained largely in the background such as in the 1978 film Midnight Express, and few apart from firearms enthusiasts likely could have identified the weapon by name.
The first time the gun appeared in extended combat scenes came in the 1978 mercenary film The Wild Geese, used alongside the L1A1 SLR (FN FAL) and Sterling L2A1 SMG. A total of five identical Uzis saw action in the production, filmed in South Africa. Both Richard Burton and Roger Moore carry one during the film.
Arguably the first film to even use the name of the weapon came in another mercenary-themed film, 1980’s The Dogs of War, starring Christopher Walken, Tom Berenger and Paul Freeman. All three of the soldiers of fortune carried one in the film’s climactic raid.
The process of buying the firearms and ammunition made up a significant part of the story as does the smuggling of the contraband weapons out of France. In Frederick Forsyth’s novel, German MP40s from World War II saw action in the armed coup in Africa. But the filmmakers changed it to Uzis–finding enough functioning surplus MP40s for the production likely proved impossible.
In fact, there weren’t even enough Uzis! In addition to real Uzis that the principal stars carried, in some scenes Military Armament Corporation Model 10, more commonly and erroneously known as the MAC-10, were dressed up to look like the Israel SMG. Those faux MAC-Uzis, as they have become known, showed up again in the films Stripes, Raw Deal and The Killer Elite, as well on TV’s The A-Team.
During the final act of The Dogs of War, Walken’s character carries an Uzi fitted with a Sionics Two Stage Sound Suppressors and Star-Lite scope. Accurately depicting a night vision scope, the suppressor produced the near silent “pop, pop” sounds common with movie “silencers.”
Decade of the Uzi
It could be argued the early to mid-1980s were the “golden age” for the Uzi, as it was seen in numerous films including Death Wish 2 (1982), Uncommon Valor (1983) and even in Scarface (1983), where Al Pacino’s character Tony Montana used one after he dropped his “little friend.”
The firearm featured a call out directly in the 1984 teen horror comedy Night of the Comedy, which humorously depicted the death of most of humanity. In once scene the two teenage female survivors discuss their jamming-prone MAC-10s. So one suggests there Green Beret father–if around–would get them Uzis!
Perhaps the biggest shout-out to the Uzi to date occurred in James Cameron’s 1984 science fiction classic The Terminator when Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T-800 character asks to see various firearms at a Los Angeles gun shop and simply utters, “Uzi 9mm.”
Not Quite Right
However, there were a few notable problems with that scene. First, the Uzi had a short barrel rather than the 16-inch barrel fitted to the civilian semi-automatic Uzi carbine. Moreover, it is clearly an open-bolt Uzi, meaning the fully-automatic version and not the semi-automatic Carbine. Director Cameron had later tried to suggest that the T-800 may have converted the Uzi, but without the right tools, not to mention parts, such a conversion would be nearly impossible. Still as the gun shop owner (played by Dick Miller) noted, the T-800 knows his guns and the Uzi was a “fine choice.”
By the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Uzi practically became a household name, and it appeared in more than two dozen additional movies and was carried by such actors as Mel Gibson (Air America),Kevin Spacey (The Usual Suspects), Harrison Ford (Patriot Games), John Travolta (Face/Off), Hilary Duff (War, Inc.) and Colin Farrell (Seven Psychopaths).
The Uzi has also appeared in countless TV shows including Doctor Who, Knight Rider, Miami Vice, The Sopranos, Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead.
Small Gun, Big Screen
The Uzi was much like the Baldwin family—there was more than one that appeared in the movies. This included the semi-auto Uzi Carbine, which has even stood in at times for the original Uzi including in 2004’s Hotel Rwanda, which depicts the firearm in use with UN forces, who wouldn’t have carried the semi-automatic civilian weapon.
In addition, there are the Mini and Micro Uzis. The former was introduced in 1980 and was largely employed with security forces and paramilitary forces that required a compact and even concealable SMG. It was first seen in the 1986 action film The Delta Force, starring Chuck Norris and Lee Marvin. Filmed primarily in Israel, the Mini Uzi was readily available to the armorers, but it subsequently appeared in more than a dozen films including several Hong Kong action films of the late 1980s and early 1990s.
The even more “compact” Micro Uzi introduced in 1986 has also been a staple in action films beginning with 1985’s Commando. Chuck Norris also double-carried Micro Uzis in the 1985 remake of Invasion U.S.A. However, many of the weapons seen in these films aren’t actually the mil-spec versions, but rather the civilian versions imported and sold by Action Arms. Regardless of the model, few weapons have been as iconic as the Uzi.
This article originally appeared in the April-May 2021 issue of Ballistic Magazine. Get your print or digital copy or subscription at OutdoorGroupStore.com.