Renowned for their effectiveness at psychological warfare on the battlefield, snipers are considered one of the coolest military units around. It didn’t take long for Hollywood to pick up on the idea and create a string of films and franchises featuring snipers with pinpoint accuracy and a cool demeanor to match.
Given the extreme amount of skill required to become a sniper, there’s a certain mystery and allure attached to the specialized characters in film. Whether they’re illegal assassins or military heroes, these snipers are one-person armies who can dish out significant damage with just a single rifle, and a handful of bullets.
The Caller – Phone Booth (2003)
It’s hard to deny the cool factor of a villain capable of remaining so calm in the face of so much chaos. The mysterious caller, played by acting veteran Kiefer Sutherland in one of his best roles, terrorizes the character of Stu Shepard by trapping him in a phone booth and cutting off all his options for escape.
Clearly, he’s got a beef with Shepard and he backs it up with a high powered Remington 700 rifle equipped with a tactical scope. It’s just one part of a series of elements that leads up to a wonderful plot twist at the end of the film, which practically begs for a sequel.
Miguel Bain – Assassins (1995)
Few movie bad guys are as cool and suave as Miguel Bain from Assassins, written by the Wachowskis a few years before they created the Matrix films. Played expertly by Antonio Banderas, Bain is equal parts sadistic, and charming, depending on the scene.
He’s clearly an unhinged man, but his skill on the job is exemplary. While he’s usually seen getting in close with a pair of pistols, he’s also an expert sniper who can pick off targets at nearly any range with uncanny accuracy.
Agent 47 – Hitman (2007)
The Hitman video games were successful enough to spawn a movie adaptation starring The Mandalorian’s Timothy Olyphant in the role of the bald-headed assassin. The character is beloved by fans of the games, primarily for his intimidating look, and his expert knowledge of assassination techniques.
A renowned sniper, Agent 47 is capable of taking out multiple targets in succession, without rousing suspicion. This skill is focused on less in the film, but seeing as how it was made primarily for fans of the games, the connection is undeniable.
Bob Lee Swagger – Shooter (2007)
In this action film directed by Antoine Fuqua, Mark Wahlberg plays Bob Lee Swagger, a Gunnery Sergeant for the U.S. Marine Force Recon team, and an acclaimed sniper. The film was criticized for its plot, but the actual sniping techniques were fairly accurate, thanks to the on set presence of U.S. Marine scout sniper Patrick Garrity.
The film is notable for one scene in which Wahlberg’s character is camouflaged in white on top of a snowy glacier and proceeds to take out enemy snipers before turning his attention to Jack Payne (Elias Kotias). He shoots a weapon out of Payne’s hand, then dismembers him with another round.
Léon – Léon: The Professional (1994)
Léon was a master assassin who worked with a variety of weapons over the course of his career. He viewed sniper rifles as the first weapon that an assassin should learn, due to the fact that it maintains a healthy distance between shooter and target.
It’s for this reason that he trains young Mathilda in the art of sniping during the film. Léon takes her up onto a rooftop and loads his sniper rifle with a paintball round, which Mathilda uses to mock-assassinate a high ranking VIP during an early morning photo op. It was scenes like this that helped Leon: The Professional inspire other crime thriller movies with a similar feel.
Isabelle – Predators (2010)
Isabelle was a member of the Israel’s IDF forces, and her specialty as a sniper was considered of the highest rank. In Predators, she uses a Blaser R93 bold-action sniper rifle with a highly specialized ELCAN Optical Technologies DigitalHunter scope, which aids her in her shots.
Cool and calm at all times, Isabelle was capable of picking off targets at vast distances, and she was also exceptional at shooting fast-moving targets, as well. Even under the influence of a powerful narcotic, she was able to steady her rifle long enough to critically injure the Super Predator at the end of the film.
Thomas Beckett – Sniper (1993)
The character of Thomas Beckett was one of the original sniper heroes of the action movie genre, beginning with the titular Sniper way back in 1993. A Master Gunnery Sergeant with impeccable accuracy, Beckett led numerous missions behind enemy lines to assassinate various bad guys.
In the first film, he’s paired with Richard Miller, a SWAT team sharpshooter and Olympic medalist with no combat experience. Beckett and Miller develop an antagonistic relationship that almost leads to the former’s death. Beckett would later star in a string of Sniper sequels where he continued to demonstrate his aptitude with a rifle.
Private Jackson – Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Few snipers in action films are as cool and collected as Private Jackson in Saving Private Ryan. His pinpoint accuracy comes in handy several times throughout the film, particularly during a scene when his unit is pinned down by a German sniper in a tower.
Later, he is shown to be an instrumental fighter in the final battle of the film, though he meets his unfortunate end at the barrel of a large Panzer tank. Even his own unit members are amazed at how easily he sleeps, night after night, which they contribute to his clean conscience in the face of evil.
Vassili Zaitsev – Enemy At The Gates (2001)
Loosely based on the events of a real life Russian sniper during World War II, this story features Jude Law in one of his best roles as Vassili Zaitsev, a man turned into a hero for the sake of Stalin’s propaganda effort against the Germans. Trained from a young age in the art of sniping, Zaitsev is deployed as a specialist who soon makes life hell for the invading Nazis at Stalingrad.
To compensate, the Germans bring in their own expert sniper with an even deadlier technique. Zaitsev must try to stay one step ahead of an opponent who knows all his moves, and then some. Only by exercising all of his ingenuity and psychological tactics is he able to survive the ordeal.
Chris Kyle – American Sniper (2014)
This action movie biopic directed by Clint Eastwood was based around the life of Navy S.E.A.L. Chris Kyle, a remarkably gifted sniper who served on the front lines during the Iraq War. The real Chris Kyle is considered a legend within the sniping community, with a blistering 255 kills to his name.
American Sniper explores the trauma endured after so many years of killing on the battlefield, and how it affects his attempts to readjust to normal life at home. As such, it’s one of the few films to touch on the subject of what happens after the chamber is cleared, and there’s nobody left to kill.
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