Handguns > Semi-Auto

The Magnum Research Desert Eagle .50

The Desert Eagle’s star continues to shine on the range and the screen.


Subtlety is a quality that's rarely found in modern action movies or television programs, and Magnum Research is well known for its anything-but-subtle handguns. Not everyone who has seen an action show in the last 25 years knows its name, but just about any movie fan will recognize the profile of a Desert Eagle. With roughly 500 appearances in film and television, as well as roles in several video games, the Desert Eagle has a resume many famous actors can only dream of.

It’s rarely noted that the Desert Eagle, known for its brawn, is also brilliant. Magnum Research’s dedication to a unique design and constant innovation over the years have kept this pistol on the cutting edge as well as on the silver screen. With the recent conversations on AmercanRifleman.org about popular guns in movies and television, it seems like the perfect time for an interview with one of shooting's biggest stars.

Production History
The Desert Eagle was first conceived in 1979, and became the founding idea behind Magnum Research, Inc. of St. Paul, Minn. The goal was to create a gas-operated, semi-automatic pistol capable of firing magnum caliber ammunition. Its basic design was patented in 1980, with working prototypes completed in 1981. Final touches to the pistol were completed under contract with Israel Military Industries (IMI). The earliest variant to go into production was the Mark I, first available late in 1983 and chambered in .357 Mag. With the design finally perfected in 1986, the Desert Eagle premiered again as the very first successful semi-auto handgun chambered in .44 Mag.

The physical characteristics that demark the early models are the single-step slide release, the teardrop-shaped safety lever and the absence of an integral slide rail. The Mark I made its film debut in 1985 in the hands of Captain Stanley White, played by Mickey Rourke, in the movie “Year of the Dragon.” That same year, it was further popularized in the movie “Commando,” starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Though the Mark I is the dominant model in movies made prior to the 1990s, it has continued to make appearances in more recent films.

The .357 Mag. chambering represented just the first step in the Desert Eagle’s history of continuing enhancements and improvements. In 1987, the pistol was chambered in, what was at the time, the innovative .41 Mag., although it is no longer in production. By 1989, the Mark VII model became the next standard for the Desert Eagle. All subsequent pistols contain the changes to the Mark VII, which include a two-stage trigger, an enlarged slide release and a re-designed safety lever. This is the model most likely to be seen in movies during the 1990s. Film appearances include “Predator 2” (1990), “Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man” (1991) and “Escape from LA” (1996).

It was in the mid 1990s when the Desert Eagle became a super star, in more ways than one. Magnum Research released the Desert Eagle chambered in .50 Action Express. Once thought to be an impossible handgun to build, this was the first .50 caliber semi-auto to reach the market, and the only one still in production. It was during this time that the Mark XIX specifications were added to the design. This involved the adoption of a single-size frame for all calibers in order to allow for quick caliber conversions. Trading out the barrel, magazine and bolt allows the Mark XIX to shoot the full range of currently available calibers, from .357 Mag. to .50 Action Express. The Mark XIX update also includes one of the most noticeable changes, an integral sight rail.

The powerful .50 Action Express was quickly hired to appear in several movies, including “Desperado” (1995), “Bad Boys” (1995) and “The Boondock Saints” (1999). It was also cast in one of its most famous rolls as the side arm of The Agents, namely Agent Smith, in the 1999 to 2003 “The Matrix” trilogy. And the list goes on from there.

But the Desert Eagle is much more than just hired muscle. Under all of that gleaming 4140 chrome-moly steel is a smart design. The polygonal rifling of the hammer-forged barrel does not foul as quickly as tradition rifling. All barrels are manufactured with a hard-chromed chamber, which helps to prevent rust and scratches from forming in the chamber. The multi-lug rotary bolt improves accuracy and aids in the extraction of spent brass. Optics are much more likely to stay sighted in because the sight rail is integrated into the fixed barrel. The recoil is managed with two heavy recoil springs, both made of three-braided wire, making them some of the most durable springs on the market.

At The Range
For this review, a Mark XIX .50 Action Express model in a brushed chrome finish was provided. Some companies have let their names continue to sell its products while allowing their quality to slip. Magnum Research, on the other hand, has been careful to not let fame go to its head. The fit and finish of the pistol was superb. The single-action trigger was crisp, with a clean breaking weight of 4 pounds, 9 ounces. The latest sight rail has been modified with additional grooves to facilitate a greater variety of optics options.

The Desert Eagle Mark XIX in .50 Action Express is a handful. The grip frame is large and the controls are a bit spread out. Having smaller hands, I had to modify my pattern of operation to successfully work the pistol. This included using the thumb of my non-firing hand to manipulate some of the controls. Once I got the hang of it, the gun was relatively easy to run.

Despite its 4-pound 7.4-ounce weight, the pistol is surprisingly well balanced. This particular Desert Eagle's Hollywood appeal was enhanced by the addition of an optional, removable muzzle brake and a set of custom aluminum Bone Yard grip panels from Hogue's Extreme Grip series to swap out with the existing rubber grips. Both of these additions proved to be functional as well as good-looking.

In movies, suited super agents can rapid fire a .50 Action Express pistol single-handed. Not to be outdone by the men, snappily dressed actresses can launch two-fisted barrages with a matched pair of gleaming, golden Mark XIXs, one in each hand. It may be that I'm not paying my special effects crew enough, but I found the Desert Eagle to be strictly a two-handed shooting affair.

The Magnum Research.50 Action Express 300-grain jacketed hollow point yields 1,531 foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle of a 6-inch barrel. This places its performance somewhere between a hot .44 Mag. (240 grains, 1,350 foot-pounds) and a .454 Casull (300 grains, 1,813 foot-pounds). However, don't let the movies fool you. The recoil is stout when shooting .50 Action Express ammunition. Folks at Magnum Research refer to the Desert Eagle as a "hand rifle," and advise shooters to use a firm, two-handed grip right in the owner’s manual.

The newly added muzzle brake worked well to significantly reduce felt recoil and muzzle flip. Tests were also conducted at an indoor range with a standard, no-brake Mark XIX .50 Action Express from its handgun rental case. Shooting the same ammunition in both guns, the difference in felt recoil was clear.

The Desert Eagle proved to be accurate. The gun was fired from the bench with targets at 25 yards. The Magnum Research brand .50 Action Express ammunition, loaded with 350 grain jacketed soft points, produced the best 5-shot groups with an average of 2-inches. Hornady's Custom 300-grain jacketed hollow points came in second with 2.5-inch groups, followed by the Magnum Research 300 grain hollow points, with an average of 2.85-inch groups.

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18 Responses to The Magnum Research Desert Eagle .50

jeff wrote:
February 03, 2014

I have had an X1X in my safe for a few years and as bad as I wanted it to be a fantastic pistol, It has the absolute worst trigger I have ever seen. It feelsa like an inch of creap, then a 9 lb. pull followed by 3/4' over travel. Any one of those would make an ill pill tyo shoot. Put the 3 together and it feels like shooting a water pump off a diesel engine. I glued a piece of rubber to the trigger guard behind the trigger and removed the over travel but it's a long way from being a top shelf gun I paid for. I am not giving up, I want to use it bear hunting if I can find some one with tools large enough to work on it

John wrote:
November 24, 2013

I have a Model XIV in .50. It has trigger and slide work. It was Magna-ported, and a Zeiss 10X scope. There are also red and green lasers. It is sighted at 100 and 200 yards. It is a good as any rifle. No, it is not for sale.

Fred wrote:
November 05, 2012

i own a desert eagle 44mag and i hand load all my rounds and let me tell you the bad boy rocks ! 300gr hornady xtp hollow points,20gr's of h110 and you got a freakin large hand cannon! it is the largest semi-auto handgun in the world.."get some "...and for the 2" groups ...lol. if just one lands ...Game over

Paul Cooper wrote:
October 16, 2012

I have a Mark XIX DE 50 and that is MAN's gun. Shoots great and very manageable recoil so long as u are not limp wristed. Obviously its not ideal for certain uses but really anyone who complains about this gun is either someone who is too weak to control it's power or can't afford it. Everyone has their practical and extremely accurate go-to pistols but there is no denying that the DE takes its place as one of the most hand canons you can own. So to those who are hating or over-compensating, stop your crying, man-up Putting down something you can handle or afford may help you sleep better at night but makes you look like a sore loser. My 2 cents

Greg wrote:
May 16, 2012

My wife got me a Desert Eagle .50AE for my 50th Birthday this month. Thank you dear, I love it!

Mike wrote:
April 18, 2012

I just purchased a .50 DE in black. I have always been a fan of that amazing hand canon... I have been looking to a lot of feedback on this particular piece as I find it special and amizing work of art.

big boss wrote:
April 17, 2012

desert eagle .50 is the best gun and sexiest one ever made

Shan wrote:
January 25, 2012

Im about to purchase a slightly used. 50 AE bbl thats 10 inches for hog hunting. I own a DE in 44 mag and can out shoot my glock all day with the thing. Ive put 300 rounds though mine in 1 afternoon and I just dont understand the people who complain about recoil with this gun. Ive found short 45s with +P+ ammo to have more felt recoil then the big eagle. I have largish hands and am 6ft 210. The 50 is notoceably more recoil than a 44 but also has almost 60[%] more energy! Seriously if a DE is too much gun for you then you should follow the Viking proverb which states if your sword is to heavy then you must grow stronger! If your used to shooting a springfield XD in 9mm or. 40 than a DE will feel like a massive piece of steel for sure. But get used to the DE and that XD feels like a pellet gun! My personal experience after a couple hundred rounds through my 44 and firing a .40 XD. Off topic I think I like the trigger on the XD way better than my glock, but for comfortably sending large chunks of copper and lead down range its tough to beath the DE!

deathmetal44 wrote:
January 18, 2012

had a mark 7 in 44 magnum and a mark 19 in 50ae a couple of years ago. loved those things. tons of fun but had to pay some bills and since you can't use a semi auto to hunt with in PA:'( i ended up selling them. but i just put a new usa made model in .50ae on layaway :D very happy!

Owns actual guns wrote:
January 10, 2012

Lots of Mall Ninjas on this site. The DE is a neat gun, but in no way practical for use as a PDW. Too heavy, too ridiculous. The .50 action express is fun to shoot, but like most Lol caliber pistol ammo is expensive. Also it hurts your damn hands. One weekend with this writst rocker and the s&w .500 and I was sore for a week at least. But for laughs, it's fun to shoot.

NADIR wrote:
November 05, 2011

Have the knowledge of how can we have the desert Eagle

JLP wrote:
July 12, 2011

Anyone who says that a 2 inch group at 25 yards with a 50 cal is inaccurate is ignorant. Their also liars if they tell you that they can consistently shoot 2" groups with 12 gauge slugs.

J Gus wrote:
June 29, 2011

I own two Desert Eagle Mark XIX in 44mag., one in 24kt gold plate and the other in black matte. 24kt is for my collection and black matte and the black matte for shooting on the farm. The 44mag is a very manageable recoil and very accurate. I have 44mag revolvers with more recoil. And you can shoot it one handed without problems. My 14 year old son has no problems shooting it. Of course, the 50AE would be a different story. I own over 40 handguns and the DE 44mag is in my top 5 favorite to shoot.

jimmyjet wrote:
June 19, 2011

I work at a very large gunshop. The only folks to show any interest in a Desert Eagle have always been minorities. Seems as if a D.E. in your waistband makes you a big man.

mp45c wrote:
June 19, 2011

Considering that this weapon is a .50 caliber semi auto pistol, 2" is great at 25 yards. I would be more than happy to have the ability to place two .50 caliber bullets within 2" of each other in the chest of an attacker. Talk about stopping power!

xd(m) wrote:
June 16, 2011

that is not a handgun though.

shooter wrote:
June 08, 2011

Two inches at 25 yards with a handgun is accurate. I'll bet you couldn't do it AM.

AM wrote:
June 07, 2011

2" at 25 yards is accurate???? Hahahahahaha. My 12ga slug gun is more accurate.