Professional bowhunter Cameron Hanes knows his way around a bow. That’s why GQ called on him to review archery techniques used in movies and TV shows. Hanes dug into the archers’ form in each scene, and didn’t fudge his opinions. He fully approved some scenes and characters, but said others missed the mark.
Some movies and TV shows that Hanes reviewed benefited from homework, and represented archery well. They took time to train their actors, and turned them into credible archers. In fact, in at least one case, they went beyond belief. Consider:
Rambo: First Blood Part II
Hanes smiles as a familiar scene appears on the screen, showing the villain confronting Rambo with a pistol as Rambo wields a bow. “A pistol at this distance is tough to be accurate,” Hanes said. As Rambo nocks an explosives- tipped arrow, Hanes sees Rambo tilt his bow even though it has sight pins. In real life, that would render the sights useless. But this is Rambo, so Hanes predicts he’ll make the shot.
Yep. The arrow hits the target and explodes. Hanes re-created an exploding arrow based on that scene. “I shot an arrow through a propane flame, into a paint can,” Hanes said. “I said, ‘Hey, just testing out the new Rambo broadheads,’ and people thought that’s what it was. There were flames and explosions everywhere.”
Verdict: Rambo is more machine than man.
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
In this clip, the characters discuss who can nail a 175-yard shot, which Hanes knows something about. He once shot a balloon at 237 yards, which beat the previous world record of 219 yards. Matt Stutzman now holds the world record at 310.15 yards, but Hanes’ shot remains impressive.
The movie character who’s in charge of the test proves he can do it by landing two straight arrows on a target beyond some trees. Hanes notes the shot’s difficulty, which requires shooting over the trees and then dropping into the target.
When it’s time for the movie character to make the big shot, he first coats his fingers in resin. Hanes said that helps the bowstring slide in a straight line off the fingers. The character steadies his aim and blocks out the surrounding noise, which Hanes agrees is vital to a good shot. Once released, the arrow goes straight through the intended target—the villain—and sticks into the wall behind him. Hanes confirms that would happen with a razor-sharp broadhead, which he has experienced firsthand.
Verdict: The actor’s skills and techniques were tested, and he passed.
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Legolas is one of the first fictional characters people recall when thinking of archery in the fantasy genre. The classic longbow and this classic movie franchise inspired many Halloween costumes.
The scene Hanes reviews shows Legolas rapidly firing arrows from a back quiver, impressing Hanes with his speed and accuracy. “It’s going to take reps to get that good,” Hanes said.
Hanes confirms that the sound of arrows leaving the bow is accurate, especially when released with such speed. “The broadhead and the feathers are essentially cutting air,” Hanes said. “Anytime you cut air like that, it’s making noise.”
He noted, however, that at such close range the arrow’s speed would probably carry it through the target and kill two bad guys at once. Still, he approves the scene.
Verdict: The classics get it right.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
A review of fictional archers requires examining the character who inspired a generation of youngsters worldwide. “[Jennifer Lawrence/Katniss] is responsible for more young girls getting into archery than any woman in the history of women,” Hanes said. No wonder this character is nicknamed “The Girl on Fire.”
Katniss’ character has incredible confidence in herself and her skills. Hanes notes she doesn’t flinch between shots. She smoothly draws one arrow after another to her anchor point. “That’s the key to bow-and-arrow shooting; finding that anchor,” Hanes said. Lawrence’s on-target archery skills developed from being coached by Olympic archer Khatuna Lorig.
Katniss uses a two-blade broadhead with a cutting tip, which Hanes notes starts cutting through targets upon impact, no matter the bow’s draw weight. He said a broadhead with three blades causes more hemorrhaging, but we’ll give JLaw a pass on that one.
When the clip shows Katniss doing a barrel roll and then immediately launching an arrow, Hanes is impressed. “I’ve always said the best bowhunters are athletes, too,” Hanes said. He asserts again that confidence is the hallmark of good archers. “Good job, Jen,” Hanes said.
Verdict: Valid inspiration for an entire generation.
“The Hunger Games” might inspire girls’ interest in archery, but Disney fanned the flame with Merida. The scene Hanes reviews shows Merida entering a competition for her own hand in marriage. Again, Hanes notices the character’s self-confidence. “She’s got that fire in her eyes,” he said.
The scene shows Merida stretching out her shoulders and ripping her dress at full draw. Hanes appreciates her need for a full range of motion. “She’s being bound down,” he said. A subtle, accurate touch shows the mechanics of a perfect shot.
Merida nails three straight bull’s-eyes, the last one a Robin Hood. Hanes notes her excellent release. Somebody at Disney did their research. “That is money right there,” Hanes said after seeing Merida’s arrow grazing her face in slow motion and then leaving the bow. “You don’t want to be affected at all on the release,” he said. “You don’t want to flinch. You don’t want to do anything. You want to stay exactly consistent and watch that arrow hit the X, just like she did.”
The slow-motion clip also shows the arrow moving side to side, or “flexing,” as it leaves the bow. Hanes confirms that’s what archers want. Over-spined arrows are too stiff and don’t flex, while under-spined arrows flex too much. The goal is to find the sweet spot by balancing your arrow to its “front-of-center” point, which pulls some of its weight forward. You must match the arrow’s spine to your bow’s poundage for peak results.
“This is animation, but this is a great representation of archery,” Hanes said.
Verdict: Animation can mimic real-world excellence.
Not every actor can be a talented archer, even when cast in a role where archery is the character’s chief strength. Most actors must receive archery training to make their shots and techniques look accurate. But sometimes training fails to make them good on-screen archers. The following scenes weren’t terrible, but the actors didn’t resemble Team USA archers, either.
Game of Thrones
Hanes reviews a gruesome scene from the “Battle of the Bastards” episode. Ramsey, an ultra-villain, uses a longbow to try arrowing a fleeing boy. Hanes notes that a longbow is more forgiving. “With a short bow, the wrist position is going to affect your accuracy,” Hanes said. “Back in the day, a longer bow maybe gave them a little more leeway.”
Hanes likes Ramsey’s bow, but notices Ramsey tilts his head in a way that puts his nose in the bowstring’s path. That would leave a mark! It also changes Ramsey’s eye position, Hanes said. Sure enough, he misses the shot as the boy runs farther away.
“Bowhunting, in general, is a close-range endeavor,” Hanes said. “For the general archer, a 40-yard shot is not 100% guaranteed. The best in the world can shoot 100 yards.” As the boy keeps running, it looks like a harder and harder shot for Ramsey. But in “Game of Thrones,” logic often doesn’t apply. After failing repeatedly at close range, Ramsey’s last shot is fatal, even though the boy was far away. “I don’t know about that one,” Hanes said.
“Killing Season” features the legendary De Niro bowhunting elk. “I never thought I’d see Robert De Niro shooting an arrow at a bull,” Hanes said. He watches De Niro set up for the shot, grades his form as good, but not his equipment.
Just as De Niro gets ready to shoot, sharp radio static makes the elk run away. Hanes confirms that radio static would spook an elk. “That’s going to sound like a garbage can falling from 30 stories and hitting the ground,” Hanes said, noting that animals have keen hearing. They can also remember where they heard a sound when passing through the area later.
Soon after, an arrow streaks past De Niro’s head, causing him to fall from the stand when he moves to avoid it. The fall crushes his bow. “That’s why you wear a safety belt in a treestand,” Hanes said. Hanes said he would not sacrifice his bow if he fell. He would take the impact’s full brunt before risking his bow. After falling, De Niro crawls in the direction the arrow came from, endangering himself. “I’d say that’s a double fail,” Hanes said.
Verdict: Great acting, but unrealistic hunting scenes.
Hawkeye from “The Avengers” has been at the forefront of archery scrutiny since the movie’s 2012 debut. A promotional photo from Disney Cruise Lines showed Hawkeye drawing the arrow on the bow’s wrong side, hurting the franchise’s case. It wasn’t Jeremy Renner in the promo, however, so we’ll let it slide.
In the clip, Hawkeye shoots an exploding arrow, but the villiain catches it in midair before it can strike. “He needs to have a little more oomph on that arrow,” Hanes said. “It would have got to his target a little faster with a little more poundage.”
Hanes is also skeptical about Hawkeye’s anchor form because his fingers aren’t on his face. “If it works for him, then that’s fine, but that’s going to be a tough one to be consistent,” Hanes said.
Verdict: Cool effects, dubious form.
The Walking Dead
Hanes watches the character, Daryl, struggle to free his crossbow from his bag even though it’s the character’s signature zombie-killing weapon. “See, this is why you practice in crunch time,” Hanes said.
He also questions the reality of shooting a zombie’s rotting skull. “That arrow is only sticking in his skull,” Hanes said. “It should blow clear through that.” True enough, given the short range.
Hanes also mentions that the crossbow was already cocked and loaded with an arrow, which is unsafe. Crossbows, by nature, are easier to master than other bows, so Hanes doesn’t like that the character didn’t even take time to load the arrow in the moment. He likes, however, that the character of Daryl has sparked interest in archery, so he scores it a positive for the sport.
Verdict: Disappointing for a character whose calling card is his crossbow.
Hanes’ biggest takeaway was the archers’ confidence in every clip. Confidence and focus are vital to archery, and should be acknowledged. “You’re not hoping that arrow hits its target,” Hanes said. “You know for a fact it’s going to hit it.”
These fictional archers all brought archery to viewers, possibly inspiring many to pick up a bow. Some characters displayed perfect form and overcame realistic obstacles, while others fell short. Whether they hit archery’s technical bull’s-eye or not, each character represented archery in ways that made their mark.
If you’re inspired to hit the range, visit an archery shop.