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Collecting Cultures: M41A ‘Aliens’ Pulse Rifle


James Cameron, the director of Aliens, was a bit of a geek himself. He was quite into his weaponry, not a fan of violence, but he knew his weaponry. He designed – in fact, it’s on my t-shirt here – This futuristic military rifle. He called it the M41A, he made up a fictional designation implying there were weapons that had come before and others that would come later. So he did this based on real military practice. He called it a pulse rifle, it’s not quite clear what he meant by that, but we believe it’s how it’s meant to function in some way. The key thing about it is that while it looks futuristic it’s not firing laser bolts – it’s firing bullets. That means you can relate to it a bit better and the movie works as a war movie in space so the props were designed along those lines. So the concept was to create a compact, 10mm carbine, and under the barrel you have a grenade launcher. That’s a real thing that’s happened since, most military rifles can now be fitted with an under-barrel grenade launcher. You simply pump the grip underneath to load each shot. The rifle itself is automatic. So, it’s really just a heightened-reality version of a modern military weapon. To create this fictional weapon, often the best way to do this is to combine real parts and that’s what they’ve done in this case. Bapty & Co, the armourers were given a design and tasked with making that a reality. You could make it all out of plastic and animate in the effects but far better was to have a real firing gun inside so you get the muzzle flash and the impression of it firing. It gives the actors something to react to as well, and they still do that today. In this case, what you’ve got hidden inside this M41A Pulse Rifle is actually a World War Two Thompson – Tommy Gun – Sub Machine Gun. Parts of shotguns were welded to the front of it to act as the grenade launcher. Then over the top just to disguise the lines for people like me is this casing painted a suitably military olive drab. There are a couple of custom parts as well – something to disguise the barrel and make it look more futuristic and at the back there is a sliding metal stock. They’ve changed the grip as well, but if you look really closely you can still see the Tommy gun. These things have a history once they leave film production. Sometimes they’re kept hold of for future use. Sometimes they’re sold off as in this case. This was one of half a dozen functional versions of the weapon. There were stunt versions that didn’t do everything this one does but this was once a firing gun – deactivated for sale. It entered the market and we were able to put in a price and secure it for the national collection.

10 thoughts on “Collecting Cultures: M41A ‘Aliens’ Pulse Rifle

  1. 10mm explosive tipped, caseless.. standard light armour piercing round. Designed to rupture cooling systems in the sub basements of Weyland-Yutani atmosphere processors.

  2. Sad to hear its deactivated, but an interesting piece of film history nonetheless. I wonder by what standard it was done? My understanding of US law (which is limited) would mean that the receiver of the "machine gun" would have to be destroyed, if this is the case I assume you have a dummy receiver (I know they sell them in the USA as "display receivers") in place?

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