Brandishment Bluff

"You had nothing, but you used it well."
Teurac, Farscape ("PK Tech Girl")

The act of threatening someone with a weapon you do not have, or telling others to back off or you will use a hidden weapon when no such weapon exists. A few variants of this trope include:

Please note that this trope is for instances when someone is pretending that they have a weapon, so if they are threatening to use something that is completely recognizable as a weapon (be it empty, an antique, or even a fake or toy that looks extremely realistic), then it's Weapon for Intimidation.

Also note that doing this trope in real life is a felony offense: Threatening with a weapon, even a non-existent one, is considered Aggravated Assault. Do Not Try This at Home.

Super Trope of Stick Em Up, for when this trope is used in conjunction with the element of surprise and a sharp poke in the back.

See also Finger Gun, He's Got a Weapon! and Shoot Him, He Has a Wallet!.

Sometimes, it turns out that the bluff isn't that much of a bluff: see This Banana Is Armed, Improvised Weapon and Improbable Weapon User.


    open/close all folders 

     Anime and Manga 
  • Vash the Stampede does this in an episode of Trigun. He'd didn't have his gun with him, and so he stuck his finger in his jacket pocket and extended it to make the bad guy of the week think he had a gun on him.
    • Subverted when one realizes that Vash was armed the entire time.
  • In A Certain Scientific Railgun S, Shinobu pretends to have an esper ability that allows her to kill anyone she touches with a thought in order to frighten some thugs into leaving her alone. She pulls this off through the use of a tiny needle of anesthetic on her palm and acting.

    Comic Books 
  • Tintin The Black Island: The exchange is:
    Tintin: Hands up! (Two Mooks Tintin is standing behind put their hands up.) Put your guns down on the ground. And don't turn around, or I'll shoot... Come on, I said put your guns down!
    (Mook 1 puts a gun on the ground.)
    Mook 2: I... I...haven't got one.
    (Snowy picks up the gun and walks toward Tintin.)
    Tintin: Don't try turning round! Make just one move, either of you, and it'll be the last thing you do! (Tintin slips and falls.) Oh!
    (The two Mooks turn around.)
    Mook 1: Tintin! (The Mooks run toward him.) And he wasn't even armed!
    • He does it again in Tintin Tintin In America, when two gangsters are seeing if they've actually killed him after throwing a dummy in the lake:
    Tintin:"Hands Up! Put your guns down and slide them behind you"
    (Gangsters comply. Tintin collects guns.)
    Tintin:"Much obliged, seeing as I didn't have one of my own."
  • In Power Girl, Starrware employee Nicholas Cho confronts Karen Starr about her secret identity. In order to force a confession, he levels a device that looks very much like a ray gun at her and counts to three. During the count of three, Karen grabs the gun from him and changes into her costume. She then notices that he was wielding a handheld vacuum cleaner.
  • In a classic Stan Lee / Jack Kirby Human Torch story, the Wizard confronted the Torch with photos of him in his civilian guise of Johnny Storm (early in his career, the Human Torch briefly tried to keep a Secret Identity, but it didn't stick). The Torch countered by using his previously unrevealed "telekentic powers" to retrieve the photos from the Wizard's hands. Turns out it was just his sister The Invisible Girl taking the photos while invisible.
  • In the Golden Age of comics, Magneto faced off against the Fantastic Four and Mr. Fantastic wound up threatening him with a gun even his magnetic powers couldn't influence. Magneto surrendered, and we all learned it was a gun made of cardboard. This was animated as well.
  • Spider-Man combined this trope with Large Ham in one scene, by pretending to have powers he didn't have when a bank robber takes a hostage.
    Spider-Man: I'm summoning the spiders...I'm Spider-Man. And you're making me mad. I'm summoning the spiders. They will come to my call. Hundreds of them. Thousands. And all at my command. [Beat] Because I'm SPIDER-MAN!
    Thug: I give, dude! I give!
  • During the '80s, a recurring Batman character named Joe Potato worked as a private detective in Gotham. Occasionally he would threaten suspects with his Potato Peeler, a six-inch knife with a narrow hole along the blade. Batman once saw him brandishing the Potato Peeler and angrily confronted him. Joe then revealed that the knife was rubber and that he only used it for intimidation.

    Fan Works 
  • Lupine Tree has Jack aim a crudely made bow at a unicorn named Clear Glass. Jack knows his aim is terrible and that the bow is too poorly made and likely would snap instead of firing. Jack knows that he couldn't reliably hit Clear Glass, but was counting on the fact that the latter didn't know that.

    Films — Animated 
  • In Ratatouille, one of the stories Horst tells of why he was in prison is that he once "robbed the second biggest bank in France using only a ball-point pen."

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Falling Down: William Foster fools the police into believing he is about to pull out a pistol, when it is a water pistol in his pocket.
  • Field of Dreams: Ray, out of desperation, tries to kidnap Terence with a finger in his jacket. Terence isn't fooled for a second.
  • In The Phantom of the Opera (1925), when Erik is cornered by the mob, he appears to hold something in the air and brandishes it to hold them back, even turning to make those behind him retreat, then he laughs and shows an empty hand, prompting the mob to move in for the kill.
  • In See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Dave breaks into the hotel room of the woman trying to kill him and rifles through her bag, only to find her showering, and blinded by the soap. When he accidentally makes a noise that makes her run out, he sticks his hand in his pocket and pretends that his erection is a gun in order to escape.
  • John Dillinger's prison escape was parodied in Woody Allen's film Take the Money and Run. Woody's character carves a bar of soap into the shape of a gun and paints it black with shoe polish in order to escape from prison. He gets caught out, though, when it starts to rain during his escape and his "gun" turns into a bunch of bubbles.
  • Used by The Three Stooges in the short "Dizzy Detectives", and revealed by Moe poking his finger through a hole in his pocket.
  • True Lies: Jamie Lee Curtis' character brandishes a lipstick holder to the head of a wannabee spy, making him pee all over himself.
  • Bandits: The first bank they rob is with a highlighter, pressed against the back of the bank guard's neck, in order to steal the guard's actual gun and rob the bank.
  • In Batman Begins, Batman sneaks into Gordon's office to introduce himself for the first time. To keep Gordon from turning around and seeing him, he imitates a Dramatic Gun Cock using a stapler pressed to the back of Gordon's head.
  • In Armor of God: Operation Condor, a pair of goons approach Jackie with one pointing what looks like his finger through the pocket of his coat. An unfazed Jackie rolls his eyes and returns the threat, claiming to also have a piece. Of course, the goon isn't bluffing. Whoops.
  • Sunset features a scene in which a Hollywood actor standing in the shadows cradling some kind of pipe in his arms manages to convince two mobsters that his mop is a shotgun long enough for their hostage to take the only real gun in the room.
  • In The Chase, Jack (Charlie Sheen) takes a heiress (Kristy Swanson) hostage in a convenience store and sticks something in her back to force the officers confronting him to drop their guns. Once Jack and his hostage hop in her car, though, he holds up the Butterfinger he used to fool her.
    Natalie: You kidnapped me with a candy bar?
  • A borderline case is discussed in Pulp Fiction, where two criminals talk about a story they heard of someone robbing a bank by walking in with a phone, and saying on the line was a little girl they were going to kill if the teller didn't hand over the money. One of them points out there was probably never a little girl in the first place, but it proved that you could rob a bank with nothing more than a cell phone.
  • In The 39 Steps, a tobacco pipe in a coat pocket gets a woman to play along.
  • Both played straight and subverted in the Burt Reynold's movie Malone (1987). The villains suspect Malone is a Professional Killer after he beats up local thug Dan Bollard, so to find out they fill up his brother Calvin with beer, give him a gun and sic him on Malone to see what will happen. Malone is having his hair cut, and claims he's got a gun under the barber's gown. Calvin says it's just his finger, but when Malone dares him to find out the hard way, Calvin flees. Malone then reveals to the others in the barber shop that it is his finger after all. Outside the man who gave Calvin the gun taunts him for being a coward, so he charges back inside, gun blazing. Malone however has gotten to his coat that's hanging behind the door and removed the .44 Automag from his shoulder holster which he promptly uses to kill Calvin. The incident becomes a Brick Joke at the end of the movie. Malone has single-handedly destroyed the villains when he comes across a corrupt sheriff, who cowers away in fear when Malone makes a threatening move, only to reveal he's holding a Finger Gun.
  • In Godzilla vs. Gigan, a man gets held up with an ear of corn pressed against his back, making him think it's a gun.
  • In Vabank, two crooks are robbing stores by threatening their assistants with a silencer, alleging they also have a gun (they don't). Quinto instantly sees through this and counter-"threatens" them with a (detached) nozzle from his trumpet, making it look like a gun muzzle, revealing the bluff when this works to show he's not interested in them.

  • Downplayed in the second book of the Leviathan series. Count Volger briefly threatens Deryn with a sword to get the truth out of her, but once he puts his sword down it's revealed it's a fencing saber, no sharper than a butter knife.
  • Attempted in Good Omens in order to break into a military base. The plan works. Complete with an Exact Words threat—the person tells the soldier not to move, or she will regret what she will have to do, and her inner monologue continues that what she really means is she'll regret having to be shot.
  • Used in Incarnationsof Immortality by Satan himself to hold power over the demons of hell.
  • In the Dashiell Hammett short story "The Man Who Killed Dan Odams," the eponymous Man bluffs his way out of jail with a gun made of soap and covered in the aluminum foil from his cigarette packs.
  • A variation in Discworld. Carrot forces co-operation from unwilling witness Dr Whiteface by regretfully informing him that if he doesn't give them the information they want, Carrot will have no choice but to carry out the order Sergeant Colon gave him before they entered the building. The order in question was something to the effect of "If Whiteface doesn't give us what we want without pressure, leave immediately and peacefully." Whiteface ends up caving in under the "threat" and telling them what they want. Colon thinks to himself in admiration that he had "seen a man bluff with a bad hand, but never with no cards."
  • In Death Masks, Harry holds up and interrogates a professional thief with a wind-up toy duck in this manner.
    • He pulls the same trick on a professional assassin in Small Favor.
  • In the first Op Center: Net Force book, an FBI Agent (the Love Interest of one of the main characters) has reason to think that the character's life is in danger, and storms into the room holding a pen to resemble a gun. He is immediately shot dead by the would-be assassin, providing just enough of a distraction for the main character to overpower her.
  • In the X-Wing Series novels Yag'Dhul station was equipped with three hundred proton torpedo targeting sensors. While they had no actual missile launchers, the threat of this attack was enough to make a Super Star Destroyer retreat and a Star Destroyer surrender.

     Live-Action TV 
  • Doctor Who:
    • In "The Time Meddler", the Doctor jabs a branch into the Monk's back and claims it's a Winchester '73. The bluff works till he is interrupted by Vikings.
    • In "The Faceless Ones" he threatens to blow an entire airport to smithereens, throws the bouncy ball he was bluffing with at the authorities, and runs off.
    • In "The Face of Evil" he threatens to kill a savage with a jelly baby (which works for a minute because they're already convinced he eats babies), but they eventually call his bluff and he is captured.
    • In "The Fires of Pompeii", he threatened a fire/rock creature with a water pistol. The Pyrovile's subordinates manage to read the Doctor's mind and determine the "weapon" is harmless, but as the Doctor points out, cold water will still "sting a bit" if you're made of fire.
    • In "Victory of the Daleks" the Doctor convinces the Daleks that a jammie Dodger (a type of cookie) is a TARDIS self-destruct button.
    • In "Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS", the Doctor sets a timer on the TARDIS for 30 minutes, and convinces three scavengers that the TARDIS will self-destruct when it goes off unless he deactivates it.
    • Averted in "The Visitation". A highwayman who's teamed up with the Doctor tries to use his empty flintlock pistols to frighten off a couple of villagers working for the alien villains. The Doctor points out the villagers are under Mind Control, so can't feel fear, or do anything about it if they did.
  • In Lie to Me, Torres scares the hell out of a man in the rough part of town by walking aggressively, wearing a hefty jacket, and then shoving her hand into her pocket to grab something. She talks to the man, mentions how he's scared that she has a gun (which is intentional on her part), and then stops the charade and pulls out her card.
  • In one Star Trek: Voyager episode, the Doctor threatens the bad guys of the week with "The PHOTONIC CANNON!!!!" Naturally there is no such thing, however because he imagined that it existed earlier, and the bad guys' main method of collecting data on Voyager was by examining the Doctor's dreams (thinking them to be memories), it's a very effective one. In addition, the "memory" that they saw showed said cannon destroying a Borg Cube in one shot.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series, "The Corbomite Maneuver:"
    Kirk: This is the Captain of the Enterprise. Our respect for other life forms requires that we give you this... warning. One critical item of information that has never been incorporated into the memory banks of any Earth ship. Since the early years of space exploration, Earth vessels have had incorporated into them a substance known as... corbomite. It is a material and a device which prevents attack on us. If any destructive energy touches our vessel, a reverse reaction of equal strength is created, destroying—
    Balok [voice]: You now have two minutes.
    Kirk: —destroying the attacker. It may interest you to know that since the initial use of corbomite more than two of our centuries ago, no attacking vessel has survived the attempt. Death has... little meaning to us. If it has none to you then attack us now. We grow annoyed at your foolishness.
    • Corbomite was apparently a popular choice for Kirk. In a later episode, he successfully bluffs an attacking Romulan fleet into withdrawing by sending a transmission home in a code the Romulans had already broken, detailing the effects of the detonation of the ship's corbomite device for them in the guise of a warning to Starfleet.
  • In Star Trek: The Next Generation, Riker and Geordi pull a version with the "Crimson Forcefield", which supposedly depowers the Pakled ship's weapons. It's actually blowing hydrogen back through the Bussard Collectors. Helps that the Pakleds are, as a species, dumber than a sack of hammers.
    • In "The Survivors" the away team is confronted by an old man wielding a phaser that they've already determined is inoperable. Worf tells him he appreciates his gall.
  • Star Trek loves this one. In the pilot episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the heap of junk space station has zero guns and six photon torpedoes. It's a sitting duck for the Cardassian warships outside. Their captain is missing, and so is another Cardassian ship. It's on not-so-ex terrorist Kira to get the Cardassian warship to stand down. So, she exploits O'Brien's engineering genius to make it look like the station is armed to the teeth, shoots every torpedo they have to make it look like a warning shot. And when they get the Cardassians on the line, Kira dares them to fire back. The Cardassians, who can't tell one way or another if the Bajoran is telling the truth or just plain nuts, decide to stand down.
    • Reappears again when another hostile fleet ( Klingon, this time) fails to fall for the same bluff, knowing full well that the station is essentially defenseless. This time, it's not a bluff.
  • Subverted in The Muppet Show: in a cowboy sketch, Fozzie has "a loaded pickle". It goes off.
    • A similar example occurs in Looney Tunes, where Bugs Bunny threatens two gangsters with a carrot held like a pistol. The gangsters start laughing, until Bugs shoots them with it. Double Subverted when Bugs reveals that carrots only have one shot.
  • Ziggy is introduced attempting this on Dillon in Power Rangers RPM. Thanks to his cybernetic enhancements and knowledge of cars, Dillon recognizes that it's a car part merely being held as a gun without even looking at it.
  • Firefly: In the beginning of "The Train Job", the crew is being held at gunpoint, when Wash appears in the completely unarmed Serenity: "Every man there go back inside, or we'll blow a new crater in this little moon!" Quoth Jayne, after they all follow orders, "Damn yokels can't even tell a transport ship ain't got no guns on it."
  • In episode 1.01 of Sherlock, the killer threatens Sherlock with a handgun. Sherlock calls his bluff, and the killer pulls the trigger, revealing it to be a novelty cigarette lighter.
  • In an episode of Taggart, a detective bluffs an IRA terrorist into putting down his gun by jamming a metal pipe in his back. When he realises he's been fooled, he just laughs.
  • In an episode of Breaking Bad, Walter White warns the people he's threatening that trained snipers are watching and ready to open fire, and on cue, a pair of laser dots appear on their chests. Once Walt's left the house, it's revealed the "snipers" are really a couple of numbskull acquaintances with laser pointers.
  • The Flash (2014): In "Going Rogue", Cisco forces Captain Cold to back down by pointing something at him that he claims is a prototype cold gun. It is actually the STAR Labs vacuum cleaner with a bunch of LEDs stuck on it.

     Video Games 
  • Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker features several missions where you have to "hold up" every guard in the area and convince them to surrender... armed with nothing but a banana. You have to do so without being seen - should anyone notice what you're really holding it's game over (and Snake is presumably gunned down).
  • In I Am Alive, you have a gun, but bullets are hard to come by. They are so rare that finding even one can count as a huge windfall. For the most part, the main use of your firearm is to point it at other survivors to buy yourself some time. Eventually, though, the people you have at gunpoint will speculate that it's not loaded, and attempt to rush you.
  • Halo ODST's intel sub-plot has a moment where Sadie and Mike break into a police station to reactivate Superintendent AI Vergil after Kinsler had him shut-down and holds up a desk officer with a stapler. The desk officer knows immediately that it's really a stapler, but plays along because the "hold-up" gives her a plausible excuse to do the right thing and reactivate Vergil.

     Web Comics 

    Western Animation 
  • Happens during The Simpsons episode "The Seemingly Never-Ending Story", as Moe, Mr. Burns and Rich Texan are facing off:
    Rich Texan: (taking the gold from Marge) I'll take that gold...
    Mr. Burns: No so fast, Shady Bird Johnson!
    (Burns steps out from behind a stalactite)
    Burns: I'll take that gold...
    Moe Szyslak: (enters from the shadows, holding a baseball bat) Yeah, you'll take it, and then you'll give it to me if you know what's good for ya.
    (Burns and Rich Texan aim their guns at Moe)
    Moe: You guys have guns?! Well, so do I! (steps back into shadows, making gun-cocking noises) Heh? Heh?
    • In The Simpsons Movie, Homer tries to scare off the rioters outside by claiming to have a chainsaw, and then making unconvincing chainsaw noises.
  • Thunder Cats 2011 has the Drifter, a Badass Pacifist, pulling this on an attacker who's an experienced swordsman. The Drifter first parries an attempted In the Back, then continues to mock-attack while relying on his opponent's own startlement and reflexive movements to trip him up. The "weapon" the Drifter uses is a harmless willow reed he usually keeps in his mouth.
  • Jonny Quest pulls this off in an episode of Jonny Quest The Real Adventures, convincing a Mook that he had him covered with a gun, allowing Jessie Bannon to disarm him. When Jonny reveals that he was wielding a fire extinguisher, the Mook turns to attack him, only to find that Jessie is now holding his own gun on him, and that she "doesn't have a problem with them."

     Real Life 
  • John Dillinger escaped from Crown Point in March 1934 after carving a fake pistol from a piece of wood. He used it to trick a guard into opening his cell, then locked all of the guards into his cell, and escaped. Also seen in Public Enemies, the movie that loosely depicts Dillinger's bank robbery spree. Of note, while the movie has him taking three guards hostage, in reality he managed to disarm and capture 17. This was changed for the film because it was thought that nobody would believe it.
    • After Dillinger's death, two of the colleagues on his first bank robbery spree (October 1933-January 1934), Pete Pierpont and Charles Makley, attempted to escape death row by carving fake pistols from bars of soap and painted them black with shoe polish. The attempt failed: Makley ended up being gunned down by the guards, and Pierpont survived, and was later executed.
  • The Ghost Army during World War 2 (not to be confused with Germany's Ghost Division under Rommel). Composed of artists and armed with inflatable tanks and prop weapons, they have been known to scare the enemy to surrender.
    • Similarly, maskirovka on the Eastern Front. For examples, the 1942 attack at the Rzhev-Vychama salient involved over 800 false tanks, vehicles, and logistics systems operating at a railhead over 200 km to threaten a separate area of the salient, distracting the Germans and causing them to redeploy their forces, while preparations for the Soviet counterattack at Stalingrad (Operation Uranus) were facilitated by the construction of 17 false bridges and the development of massive fall-back trench lines never intended to be used.
  • Many years ago, two women behind the counter at a liquor store were stuck up by a lone robber doing the "gun in the pocket" routine (actually a banana)...who they proceeded to beat up with whiskey bottles. When the banana was revealed, they just started beating him even harder!