The Cup-Spinning Scene: How Did They Do It? World champion gun handler Joey Dillon breaks down Tombstone’s most famous scene.

cup-sceneThe cup-spinning scene in 1993’s Tombstone is still a favorite among Western movie aficionados.

When Johnny Ringo shows up at the gaming tables, a drunk Doc Holliday tells him in Latin, In vino veritas (“There is truth in wine”). Ringo responds in kind, eventually patting his gun and saying, Juventus stultorum magister (“Youth is the teacher of fools”). In pace requiescat (“May he rest in peace”), Holliday responds, to which Sheriff White interjects, telling them both to cool down. Holliday won’t let it die though, saying, “Evidently, Mr. Ringo’s an educated man. Now I really hate him.”

Well, who wouldn’t be ticked off at that? Ringo whips out his Colt .45, and the games begin. He points the pistol at Holliday’s face (1), but relaxes and pulls the gun back, only to point it back at Holliday once more. Now Ringo’s ready to roll. He performs a series of forward-backward spins: one flat spin in forward rotation to the right of his body, then a single forward spin, a single backward spin (2) and another single backward spin with a twist of the arm (3) so he can end with the single flat spin to the right of his body (4). Over and over again, Ringo attempts to antagonize Doc with this trick. Here’s how to do it (using an unloaded gun, of course):

Forward Spin: Move your lower three fingers straight and out of the way as you let the barrel fall forward, twirling on the middle of your index (trigger) finger. Keep the momentum going by moving your rigid hand in a circular motion. The handle will come back around.

Backward Spin: Move the barrel up and back, then straighten your fingers out of the way and let the barrel fall backward. Again, your rigid hand makes a circular motion, but in reverse this time, to keep the momentum flowing. At the end of Ringo’s scene, this spin is used to let the barrel come backwards and into the holster.

Forward Flat Spin: Hold the gun  horizontally, pointing inward, and move your arm outwards, straightening your fingers out of the way and doing a very fast circular motion like waxing a car. Let the gun twirl around on your crooked trigger finger. End by catching the handle with the gun in a vertical hold.

Reverse Flat Spin: Start with a vertical hold and begin a backward spin. Just as the barrel falls back, have your wrist make a circular motion (waxing opposite this time) and catch the gun by the handle in a horizontal hold, pointing inward (the start of the forward flat spin).

Holliday’s response to Ringo is truly a classic moment in Western film. When Ringo is done with his gunplay, Holliday simply picks up his silver cup and spins it by the handle, repeating the motions Ringo performed with his Colt .45. But what magic did Val Kilmer conjure to perform such a trick? It’s simple: The production crew put a weight in the cup.

What do you think?