When the Desert Eagle .50 AE made its appearance in the hands of bad guy Agent Smith as he chased Neo (Keanu Reeves) in 1999’s movie The Matrix, it permanently cemented the big-bore semi-auto into science fiction lore. The pistol was already a familiar one to enthusiasts, though, and it’s big-bore charm in various chamberings was already a silver-screen favorite. Its first appearances were in 1985, with roles in Commando, Year of the Dragon and—believe it or not—Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment. The unusual handgun went on to play in RoboCop, The Punisher, La Femme Nikita, Austin Powers and dozens more.
The innovative design and real-life performance of the Desert Eagle.50 AE is every bit as impressive as its movie credits, though. The first patents for the gas-operated semi-automatic were granted in 1983 and further improvements were registered two years later.
The piston-driven self-loader uses a three-lug rotating bolt, similar to those found in many of today’s semi-automatic rifles. The stainless steel barrel is fixed and doesn’t move during cycling. It’s chambered in .50 AE and magazine capacity is seven cartridges. All come with a recoil-taming, integral muzzle brake.
Pillager, MN-based Magnum Research, which is has been part of Kahr Firearms Group since 2010, produces the guns here in the United States. Flat-black versions are the least expensive in the current lineup with an MSRP of $1,900. They come with a 5-inch barrel and 1:19-inch rifling. Sights are fixed, overall length is 9.69 inches and it weighs 3 pounds, 0.6 ounce.
The frame is aluminum and the slide, which features a rail for optic mounting, is constructed from steel. Trigger pull on the single action comes in at four pounds and the manual safety is ambidextrous.
Models wearing stainless steel slides are among the most popular, though. Barrel length increases to 6 inches, and weight goes up to 3 pounds, 7 ounces. Rifling rate stays the same and MSRP for versions with a black aluminum frame come in at $2,255.
As for accuracy and performance, testing and a full review by American Rifleman found the “…single best group was fired with MRI’s 300-gr. JHP and it measured just 0.95". Average group size for the three loads tested is just about 1½", and I think that’s pretty darned good for a production pistol chambered for the teeth-rattling .50 AE cartridge. Reliability throughout my testing was flawless—there were no stoppages of any kind.”
The company offers a variety of versions, with different features and color patterns today, including one with a gold finish reminiscent of that Austin Powers appearance. There are even different chamberings available for those a little timid about giving .50 AE a ride.