How did you know I was wearing a bulletproof vest? Macgruber:
You're wearing a bulletproof vest? Awesome
, after using Dixon as a human shield
Bob is sneaking into the villain's secret base when he's suddenly spotted! As the enemies open fire with their automatic weapons, Bob grabs the nearest mook
and lets him take the shots instead. While the hapless henchman soaks up the bullets and twitches like a spastic marionette, Bob drags him along and heads for safety.
Fictional works love this trope, giving the hapless Mook
the stopping power of twelve inches of reinforced concrete. It's popular with anti-heroes
, as it serves to show off the hero's cold-blooded resourcefulness. It's also a trope used by a Jerk Ass Technical Pacifist
; they aren't supposed to kill people, so they grab the nearest enemy and let their opponents take out a few for them. "I didn't kill anybody," says the blood-covered pacifist, after dragging numerous enemies into the paths of other people's bullets.
In Real Life
, a Human Shield
would probably work against small calibre weapons like handguns. On the other hand, army engineer manuals state that it takes 60 cm (2 feet) of soft wood to stop an M-16 and 120 cm (4 feet) to stop an M-60note
. But that wouldn't look very cool without some big guns blazing, would it? This trope almost always involves at least one automatic weapon, and the more there are, the cooler it looks. So in Real Life
, Bob is likely to find himself in serious trouble; while some shots might
stop inside his co-opted mook
, the automatics being fired would have enough power for others to pass through and into Bob. And considering the number of bullets usually taken by the mook, some would miss him and hit parts of Bob that are unprotected because Bob is now standing in one place, and his Mook is unlikely to be bigger than Bob to cover him completely.
The trope can be justified somewhat if the Mook
is wearing protective gear like a Bullet Proof Vest
- the vest stops or slows the bullets on entry, they're slowed more by the body and stopped by the back of the vest. Unfortunately this only works for the areas covered by a vest; furthermore, a Mook wearing full body armour would probably survive as well, and won't appreciate being used in this fashion. It might also be somewhat justifiable if a mook is only being used to block one or two bullets instead of the usual fusillade of fire, though this would still entail an element of chance.
A Sister Trope
to Human Shield
, but while that trope talks about using bystanders as psychological protection, this trope covers the bullet-stopping tendencies of the bystander. Related to Concealment Equals Cover
, with the mook serving as the eponymous Concealment.
If this results from a video game
making units immune to fire from their own team
, think of it as a Good Bad Bug
Contrast with One-Hit Polykill
, where the bullets do go through the Mook
to hit Bob, Grievous Harm with a Body
, for when the mook is used as a weapon, Shoot the Hostage
and Shoot the Hostage Taker
. Compare Taking the Bullet
. Also see Annoying Arrows
, Concealment Equals Cover
, Improbable Cover
, Magic Bullets
and Pocket Protector
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Anime & Manga
- Lucy does this more than once in Elfen Lied, including the memorable opening scene where she uses the Dojikko's decapitated corpse as said shield.
- Subverted in that she's perfectly capable of catching/deflecting bullets, and only uses a shield because she's Ax-Crazy and believes it will hurt Kurama, whom she despises.
- Double subverted since the bullets could be high-powered ones that the Diclonius in general have some trouble deflecting. Plus there's just so many bullets.
- Although it's not really a 'human shield' scenario, Samurai 7 subverts viewer expectations about the ability of the human body to stop bullets at close range when Katsuhiro in one of his berserk periods near the end, having lost his sword grabs a machine gun from a fallen mook and fires repeatedly at point-blank range into an enemy. Kyuzo is on the other side of this enemy, and becomes very dead. This is why you should not be careless with guns.
- Averted in Hellsing. The whole reason Seras becomes a vampire is an Emergency Transformation because Alucard shoots through her in order to kill the vampire priest using her as a shield.
- In One Piece, Buggy The Clown used his own Mooks to shield himself from a cannonball.
- Luffy himself isn't above using mooks or Buggy The Clown to shield himself from attacks.
- When Luffy uses Buggy to shield himself from Mihawk, he wasn't trying to block Mihawk's attacks. He was using Buggy to break Mihawk's line of sight so Mihawk can't see where he's dodging. Mihawk's attacks still go through Buggy like butter and Luffy still needs to dodge it.
- He also had no problem using one of Arlong's mooks to shield himself from Arlong's attack. Suffice it to say, Arlong was not happy.
- Hody Jones does this to a fellow fishman, what contrasts his personality to Arlong's.
- Done in the opening of Mobile Suit Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket with humongous mecha, one of the cyclops quickly grabs a GM so that another GM shoots him then hesitates. The Cyclops then shoots him through the GM.
- Exaggerated in Fullmetal Alchemist. During the Ishballan War, Kimblee uses one of his own Mooks to shield him from an explosion, although the explosion killed the solider instantly, the only thing Kimblee complained about was that his uniform was messed up.
- In Ghost in the Shell, Batou casually stops high velocity, very penetrative shots from an SMG using a silent, nameless civilian appearing onscreen for about one second, which is the only screen time of the civilian during the entire franchise. The shots could be interchangeable with shots that passed through a police car door. By the way, the protagonists are all cops.
- In an episode of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, members of an anti-cybernetics terrorist/revolutionary group scale ropes during an attempt to stop Section 9's assault on their base. The first group are easily gunned down in large numbers trying this and hang limp on the ropes. The second group to scale the ropes simply pushes the corpses of their allies in front of them to act as shields, drawing surprised reactions from the Section 9 team. A comment suggests this may have been the terrorists' plan all along to level the playing field against the small number of heavily armed Section 9 agents.
- Code Geass: Apparently, Cornelia has no qualms about using one of her own subordinates as a Knightmare-flavoured shield should the need arise.
- In Naruto, Danzo once used the corpse of a slain assassin attacking him to block spears thrown by several others.
- Gantz as the picture above demonstrates. A barrage of full auto can be easily stopped by holding a random corpse in front of you.
- Noir features this VERY often. Kirika is probably the one who pulls it off the most, but Mireille and Chloe have used meat shields as well.
- Mina uses this against two human attackers in the very first volume.
- in MD Geist II - Death Force Geist uses a soldier for this purpose. Then he pushes his own gun through the man's chest and returns fire.
- In a heroic example, Tita from Plastic Little uses herself as one to protect Elysse during the final confrontation against Guizel. It helps that she's wearing a bulletproof unitard (something Guizel was careless enough to mention while she was still barely conscious after he shot her earlier in the film). Tita isn't able to block the rest of the bullets, though (one did strike Elysse hard enough to possibly result in a permanent scar).
- At the end of the Oniwabanshu arc of Rurouni Kenshin, Shikijo uses himself as one to protect Aoshi... against a gatling gun.
- Played ridiculously straight in Gokukoku No Brynhildr. When Chisato is Taking the Bullet for a fellow villain, Hexenjagd fill him with what probably is a few magazines' worth of More Dakka. Despite showing no signs of wearing any armour, not a single shot gets through.
- In the third Berserk movie, Guts uses an unfortunate mook as a crossbow bolt proof shield which is more realistic than usual (apart from the fact that Guts is lifting said mook with his BFS and running upstairs at the same time).
- In Total Recall (1990), when Arnold Schwarzenegger's character is attacked by goons while on an escalator, an innocent bystander catches a bullet while next to him. Ah-nold grabs the man and uses him as a shield. He even spins the dead man around to block more gunfire from the other direction.
- I'm Gonna Git You Sucka. After an innocent bystander is killed by machine gun fire, John Slade grabs his body and uses it as a shield against the incoming fire. Watch it here, starting at 2:00.
- In Thunderball, James Bond is dancing with villainess Fiona Volpe when one of her henchmen attempts to shoot him in the back. Bond spins her around at the exact right time that the bullet kills her instead.
- Bond also does it in The Spy Who Loved Me, quite disturbingly as the woman may have been meant to be working with the bad guys, but it isn't made clear.
- Subverted in Tomorrow Never Dies. Bond kills a guard, then dangles his lifeless body out of a doorway. Sure enough, the henchmen mistake the dead man for Bond and empty their guns into him. However, Bond wasn't hiding directly behind the man, and in this case, he WANTED the villains to think he was dead.
- Spoofed in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. Austin uses Robin Swallows (one of Dr. Evil's agents) as a shield against a thrown knife, submachine gun fire, a bazooka round, and breaking his fall from a five-story building. Justified in that she's actually a robot assassin.
- In a deleted scene, Austin and Felicity are driving around when Dr. Evil's hitmen drive up and spray their car with bullets - but Austin grabs Robin's body out of the trunk to block the salvo.
- Happens in the martial arts action movie, The One, with the Big Bad using a Red Shirt cop as a shield from incoming bullets. It actually shows a close-up of the bullets clearly failing to penetrate said shield's bulletproof vest.
- Subverted in The Shadow. At the beginning of the movie, a rival opium producer, desperate to escape a confrontation with Ying Ko, grabs Ying Ko's accountant and uses him as a human shield, noting that Ying Ko's men "aren't marksman enough to shoot around him". It doesn't work, since Ying Ko orders his men to shoot through the accountant, which kills him as well as the opium producer.
- At the end of the post-bank robbery running gun battle in Heat, Michael Cherito (Tom Sizemore) picks up a small girl to use as a human shield. Didn't do him any good for protection because Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino) was already behind him and drawing a bead.
- Happens in Sherlock Holmes during the first fight scene, when Sherlock spots a mook coming towards him with a revolver and uses some fancy martial arts technique to maneuver the mook he is currently fighting into taking the bullet for him.
- In The Adventures of Pluto Nash, the protagonist wanders into a trap, at which point he grabs a mook and tries to use him as a bulletproof shield and a deterrent. The bad guys simply choose to shoot both of them. Despite their futuristic guns, they still fail to kill Nash. Possibly, because everyone seems to wear thin Kevlar-like undershirts that protect against any weapon.
- In Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Powell grabs one of his Mooks to block a thrown spear. One he could easily have dodged.
- South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut had "Operation Get Behind The Darkies". Subverted in that Chef quickly realizes what the plan is and commands his troop to duck.
- V for Vendetta: V uses this tactic to outmaneuver the constables in Jordan Tower.
- In Crank, Chev Chelios uses his friend Kaylon's dead body as a shield.
- During the Omaha Beach scene in Saving Private Ryan, medics use the body of a dead soldier to successfully shield a wounded man from machine gun fire. The wounded soldier's helmet, however, is completely ineffective.
- In the film version of Sin City, a federal agent is used as a shield while Sociopathic Hero Marv hacks up his teammates with a wood ax. This actually seems to be unintentional on Marv's part since he was busy killing one of the agents when the human shield basically ran into the path of the bullets.
- Done literally in MacGruber to escape some thugs who are about to gun them down MacGruber uses Piper as a human shield, and they both survive as Piper was wearing bullet proof vest, but MacGruber didn't knew that.
- Subverted in Die Hard 4.0 where John McClane while being held as a human shield forces the Big Bad to shoot through a previous bullet hole McClane had already taken and kill himself.
- Played straight in A Good Day To Die Hard when our heroes use a mook as a shield — he's wearing a bulletproof vest which adds to his protective ability, but so are the other mooks who are quickly knocked down by our heroes bullets.
- Subverted in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. When Perry moves in front of harry while being shot at, the bullet passes through him and hits Harry anyway.
- Subverted and played straight in Django Unchained during the same scene. During a gunfight, Django shoots through a mook to hit another mook. Moments later, he is shown using the corpse of mook for cover.
- In a sickening example in New Jack City, drug dealer Nino Brown uses a little girl as this when the Mafia tries to assassinate him at a party.
- Shoot 'em Up. During a skydiving battle Smith grabs a mook and uses him to protect against submachine gun fire as well as borrowing his pistol for a mid-air reload. When the gun gets shot out of his hand, Smith opens the man's parachute to envelope the shooter.
- Granny Weatherwax implies doing this with an unconscious Diamanta when fleeing Fairyland in Lords and Ladies. She gets praised for rescuing the girl by carrying her over her shoulder, but instantly claims it was to shield herself from fairy arrows. (Since this is Granny Weatherwax both interpretations are probably equally correct.)
- An interestingly realistic subversion happens in a Lonely Winds story: a powerful villain known as the Crown of Thorns grabs a soldier to protect herself from a volley of bullets fired by the rest of his squad. When she drops his mangled remains, it is clear that some of the bullets did indeed pass through the soldier's body and hit her — but any sense of victory the soldiers might have felt is immediately quashed when the Crown races forward to attack them, only slightly injured.
- Subverted in Alistair MacLean's novel The Satan Bug, where the protagonist points his gun at a suspect, and then tells him not to "worry" about the Scotch tape over the barrel, since the bullets from this gun are strong enough to pierce, if necessary, even throw two persons standing one behind another.
- Subverted in the book The Bourne Legacy, as a terrorist attempts to use a fallen guard as a human shield, but is mowed down when the blast go right through the body anyway.
- In one of the Drizzt Do'Urden books, a drow weaponsmaster uses one of his own men as a shield when a dwarven battlerager launches himself at him from a small siege engine pointy helmet first. While the weaponmaster is still injured by the attack, the bulk of the damage was absorbed by the mook.
- In Septimus Heap, when Queen Etheldredda tries to shoot Jenna and Alice Nettles jumps in between, the bullet stucks in her heart. Justified, since the bullet was primed for Jenna but the tag (the initials: IP for "Infant Princess") worked for Alice as well (since her actual name was "Iona Pot").
- In Mossflower, Tsarmina uses an unlucky Mook to shield herself from arrows.
- Inverted in Captain Corelli's Mandolin, when the Italian soldiers are executed, Carlo Guercio deliberately steps in front of Captain Corelli and holds him there, saving his life. Also justified, as Guercio is big enough to shield Corelli completely, and his body doesn't completely stop the bullets, only absorbing enough of the force that the Captain's injuries aren't fatal.
- In The Girl Who Would Be King, Lola uses a mook named Albert as one.
Live Action TV
- One of the many Tropes Examined by the MythBusters. Long story short, the MythBusters found that doing this is far too unreliable to be effective as a defensive technique. More often than not, it would just produce two gunshot victims instead of one.
- Lampshaded in the Human Target episode "Victoria", when Guerrero uses a startled mook as a human shield against a sniper on a nearby roof. When the EMT they're protecting at the time manages to drag the mook in for inspection, he comments that the bullets passed straight through the mook's bulletproof vest, and that Guerrero's lucky they didn't hit him as well.
- Happens again in the episode "Run," when Chance uses a mook both to shield himself from a guy who's firing at him from across the room, and to fire at said guy via the mook's gun. There's no lampshade this time, though.
- John Crichton from Farscape, during an Enemy Mine situation with Magnificent Bastard Scorpius, grabs him and uses him as a walking talking piece of cover. Justified as Scorpius is half Scarran who are bulletproof to anything smaller than anti tank weaponry, even before taking into account his body armor.
- Scorpius even compliments John on remembering this fact.
- Bryce Larkin uses a human shield to get into the Intersect room in the pilot of Chuck.
- Shaw uses poor Morgan as a shield to absorb a Taser strike in Season 3. Was anyone actually surprised he turned evil?
- Subverted/shown correctly in Spooks when Jo Portman manages to restrain a terrorist who is trying to blow himself and everyone else up. The only way to avert the explosion is for Ros to shoot the man, however (as both Jo and Ros realize) the bullet will go straight through him and kill Jo as well; which is what happens.
- In the final episode of Starsky & Hutch, Hutch is ambushed by two hitmen, one with a gun and one with a knife. He manages to take advantage of this by maneuvering the knifewielder between himself and the gunman, just in time to take the shot.
- Subverted in NCIS, when the Genre Savvy human shield gives Gibbs permission to shoot through her. And he does. Repeatedly.
- Played ridiculously straight in an episode of Walker, Texas Ranger. A young woman has been taken hostage and placed in front of a shotgun set to go off at a certain time. Walker finds the villain's hideout, beats him up, and drags him in front of the gun just in time to protect the girl and make the bad guy take the blast. Of a shotgun. True to form, only the bad guy is killed, when in real life, the shot probably would have gone through him, Walker, and the poor girl.
- Burn Notice takes great pains to avert this. In one episode a mook has grabbed Michael, and Sam and Fiona have no way to reach him so Jesse takes a shot through Michael to kill the mook. In a later episode, Nate has the latest arc villain at gunpoint when a sniper round goes through the villain, through Nate and blows a hole in the wall behind both of them.
- The Walking Dead:
- In "Home", Carol uses a dead body (mainly, Axel's) this way after they're killed by the Governor; Played Straight as it blocks multiple rounds from an automatic rifle without her being hit. Although they were shot in the head, and may have been wearing a bulletproof vest, since they were in one of the former guards' uniforms, but this still probably wouldn't stop all of them.
- In "Too Far Gone", Daryl uses a zombie he shot to provide cover from weapons fire from the Governor's forces when they were assaulting the prison in the mid-season finale for season four, as he ran from one shielded area to another.
- Bonus points in this case, as shortly before that, another Character (Bob) catches a shot which goes right through him and he explicitly demands Maggie to examine the exit wound. Obviously that only happens if you're not an enforcer of Rule of Cool (as Daryl).
- Played amusingly straight in indie Roleplaying Game @ctiv8, which has a section listing how much damage is stopped by various forms of cover. A human body used as a shield provides more protection than bulletproof glass.
- In Dungeons & Dragons, merely crossing swords with somebody grants you cover from anybody behind them. Justified, as the most powerful projectile you're likely to encounter is a crossbow bolt, but the person PROVIDING you said cover doesn't actually take damage from the attack they stopped.
- "Cover" is defined ambiguously enough that it could be interpreted as "they're aiming at the tiny bits of you that show around their ally, whom they're deliberately trying not to hit." As opposed to "concealment", which means they're shooting through whatever is between the two of you, but are not quite sure exactly where your voonerables are.
- This happens in an early episode of Madness Combat, despite the characters being usually Made of Plasticine.
- Also happens many more times in future installments. Bullets can't seem to penetrate bodies very well, but can tear through cover easily.
- Agent South in Red vs. Blue picks up a soldier's corpse at one point and uses it as an impromptu shield against snipers. None of the bullets end up hitting her anyway, but even with the body armor soldiers wear, you have to wonder what good it would have done against a sniper.
- This happens very early on in Looking for Group, but rather than a hero using Mooks, the Chaotic Evil character Richard smugly drags an innocent peasant into the path of several of Cale's arrows (even though he wouldn't be killed by them anyway, being undead), and enjoys the expression on his face when he realises he's killed an innocent. He even suggests going after the son and wife to make the complete set.
- Cale'Anon has recently pulled this trick using Maikos. Too bad Maikos is turning mortal again.
- The Rifters: Rod uses Egmont as a shield when they are on the battleship, here http://www.indoorempire.com/18-flushed-away
- Terra: On page 243 a mook grabs the corpse of one Alex already shot and killed and uses him to block her fire while he returns it. This set off a brief bout of Wild Mass Guessing in the comments. Eventually Holly put her foot down and pointed out that Alex never actually shot the human shield because the mook holding it was quicker on the trigger; therefore whether her rifle fire would or would not penetrate was a moot point.
- In True Villains, Xaneth uses an innocent bystander as a shield against The Necromancer's attack. It's played humorously.
- Aside from calibre and type of firearm, different types of ammunition have characteristics that may or may not allow them to fully penetrate a human body. For example, a full metal jacketed 9x19mm Parabellum bullet may be able to go straight through a human torso, while a wadcutter .45 ACP bullet is more likely to lodge itself somewhere inside an organ (although the possibility of the bullet going out the back shouldn't be ruled out).
- Expanding ammunition flattens on impact to increase the size of the wound (and therefore its lethality) while reducing its penetration, which would allow for a human body to better absorb the bullet. Soft Point Ammo has the jacket removed from the nose while Hollow Point has an internal cavity. Cruciform ammunition has an X shaped incision in the tip, causing it to split and expand in a controlled fashion. While the Hague Convention prohibits the use of expanding ammunition in warfare, it is permitted or even required in certain circumstances such as hunting or law enforcement, where quickly disabling the target may prevent loss of life and over-penetration may put bystanders at risk (though the latter point isn't nearly as significant as people make it out to be - even if your bullet won't over penetrate, many of the other bullets you shoot can still easily miss and hit a bystander—a source of civilian casualties more common than over penetration by orders of magnitude).
- Frangible bullets are designed to disintegrate into tiny pieces when they impact a hard surface; this can protect against the danger of ricochets in close quarters, and limit the chance of, say, shooting through the skin of an aircraft, as well as do more damage to the body, as most criminals can't afford body armor. Air marshals would be likely to carry such ammunition.
- MythBusters once did a test to see how much tissue a bullet went through (based on myths that a very fat or very muscular man survived a gunshot). 16 Inches of fat couldn't stop a bullet, nor could 14 inches of muscle. They were using a .223 round.
- The reality is a little different; 12 inches of penetration in ballistic gelatin is considered the absolute minimum for a law enforcement pistol round, simulating passing through a target's arm at an angle and still wounding the heart sufficiently to incapacitate them. This is because Michael Platt survived such a shot.
- Considered the minimum by the "stopping power does not exist" faction of ballistics theorists, known as the Jello Junkiesnote . Their opponents counter with examples of subdued—specifically dead—opponents with much less penetration; since they cite coroner data they're known as Morgue Monsters.
- a .223 Remington, a rifle round, could easily penetrate non-plated body armor, so the results aren't surprising.
- Of course, even if the bullet or fragments of the bullet do make it through a human shield, it could still reduce the lethality of the shot.
- Or increase it, as the bullet will likely be tumbling when it comes out of its first victim.
- Or, in the case that it pencils straight through tissue, still retain sufficient velocity to wound and possibly kill.
- BBC reporter Kate Adie was in Tiananmen Square when the army started shooting into the crowd of demonstrators. She was slightly injured by a bullet that had just killed the guy in front of her (and possibly others).
- In David Simon's Homicide: A Year On The Killing Streets, Simon relates the story of detectives who were called to investigate the death of a man shot thirty-five times and the wounding of a man shot four times. It was ultimately revealed that a drug dealer and his muscle had gone to meet with another man. When an argument occurred, the dealer ordered his muscle to open up on the man with a MAC-10. Thinking fast, the man grabbed the dealer as a human shield, and the muscle ended up riddling his own boss with bullets. Only four passed through to wound the man, who survived the ordeal.
- The FN 5.7×28mm bullet (used by the sci-fi looking FN P90 and Five-seveN) deserves mention because it was designed to expend all its kinetic energy in the first person it hits, so if it hits your human shield in the center of mass, you're going to be okay.
- Some soldiers will attempt to do this in certain situations, with results being varied.