Dead Man's Trigger Finger
If you are a fan of the action genre (particularly the Heroic Bloodshed subgenre), you’ve probably seen it. A character, typically a mook, is shot and reacts by firing his gun randomly as he falls. The victim is almost always lethally wounded and dead as soon as he hits the ground, and he is usually equipped with a one-handed automatic weapon to make his erratic death-spasm shooting more visually impressive. Redshirts killed this way are prone to accidentally offing any comrades standing too close and/or hitting nearby metallic surfaces for the sake of Bullet Sparks. Seldom does anyone manage to kill his attacker in this fashion; if he does, it’s also an inadvertent example of Taking You with Me. The trope was once exclusive to film and television due to technical limitations, but certain video games have included Dead Man’s Trigger Finger animations since the late 1990s. Now you, too, can enjoy forcing mooks to spray bullets indiscriminately as they’re killed! Sister trope to Last Ditch Move and Last Breath Bullet, differing from both in that the Dead Man's Trigger Finger occurs whenever the weapon discharge is (at least mostly) involuntary and not deliberately aimed anywhere. Deadfoot Leadfoot is the vehicular version. Compare with visually impressive but functionally pointless action maneuvers such as the Unnecessary Combat Roll. Combines well with something like a Wilhelm Scream. Slow Motion is optional.
As a Death Trope, all Spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
Film - Animated
Film - Live Action
- During the bathroom fight in True Lies Harry shoots one of Aziz's mooks several times in the chest in the middle of wrestling with the other one for control of the gun. The shot mook spastically lets off a burst from his submachine gun that goes nowhere important.
- A year later, in the movie Heat, the exact same thing happens to the exact same actor (Max Daniels) with the exact same weapon.
- Parodied in ¡Three Amigos!. When El Guapo's men desert him he calls out "Come back, you cowards! You traitors!" His second-in-command Jefe says "I'm still here, El Guapo!" and is shot off his horse. He ends up on his feet, fires one shot in the air, and falls on his face, dead.
- A variant in Predator. The title creature blasts Dillon's arm off with its Shoulder Cannon. The arm falls to the ground, with the dead hand still pulling the trigger of the weapon it's holding and the gun still firing.
- Dick Tracy. When Big Boy's minions try to break past the police cordon, Flattop comes out of his car shooting a tommy gun at the cops. He's riddled with bullets, and as he falls to the ground he continues to fire his weapon in the air.
- Displayed by some of the dozens of random Triad mooks gunned down in John Woo’s spectacularly violent (and awesome) Hard Boiled, a classic of the Heroic Bloodshed subgenre.
- An early source of conflict (and Dark Comedy) in Starship Troopers, a recruit is shot in the back by a Stun Gun during a (very dangerous) live-fire exercise, and spaz-fires a burst that ends up hitting another recruit in the head, right after he had removed his helmet.
- A rather horrifying example in All Quiet on the Western Front, where a solider wielding a flamethrower is hit and ignites a couple of his companions as he jerks and spins in a panic.
- In Big Game, when Morris dies, his finger stays on the trigger of his Uzi and he ends up taking down his own helicopter.
- Some of the AK-wielding Russian soldiers killed during Bond and 006’s raid on the Soviet chemical weapons plant in Golden Eye’s pre-title credits action sequence.
- Performed by one of the mafia goons Leslie Nielsen shoots in The Naked Gun 33⅓'s Untouchables parody opening scene.
- A machine-gun toting American Marine in Invasion USA (1985), gunned down while stupidly standing still in the middle of the huge climactic battle and firing from the hip on full-auto.
- During the gun battle at Candie's mansion in Django Unchained, Django pulls a One-Hit Polykill on two mooks, who reflexively then blast each other again for good measure.
- Cash manages to clear a hallway full of mooks in Cyborg 2 by throwing a knife at one them, who then proceeds to mow down everyone behind him in his death throes.
- Odd example where the shooting mook is dead to begin with: After a shootout in Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels, there's a face down dead guy holding a shotgun. When Rory turns him over, the dead guy's shotgun is pointed at him. Rory shoots the dead guy and is then promptly killed by the shotgun, due to the movement of the corpse.
- Johnny Ringo in Tombstone has one after Doc Holliday beats him to the draw and plants a round in the Cowboy's brain pan.
- Riddick. Riddick forms an Enemy Mine alliance with two Bounty Hunters, Boss John and Diaz, riding on their hoverbikes to retrieve the power cells that for the spacecraft that can take them off the planet. But once they've done so, Diaz knocks out Boss John and tries to kill Riddick, only to get a blade in the face. His pistol continues to fire, shooting up one of the hoverbikes. Boss John informs Riddick he's no intention of riding with him now that they've got the nodes...until Riddick points out that Diaz sabotaged John's hoverbike first, intending to abandon him out there. So they both have to fight their way on foot past hordes of lethal alien creatures.
- Millers Crossing has a Black Comedy version as a gangster pours bullets from a Tommy gun into another gangster's back, and the other gangster, firing his own Tommy gun in a wide arc, shoots bullets all over the room, including into the chandelier above him and his own feet.
- RoboCop (1987): A random henchman gunned down by RoboCop during the drug factory shootout takes out his own boss as he falls.
- Underworld has one in the climax, when the vampires assault the Lycan base in the sewers. Selene shoots the last Lycan, and he falls to the ground spraying bullets.
- In the Nick Carter story "Marked for Death", Nick shoots a gangster named Mike in the back, and initially thinks that he missed because Mike fires while spinning in place. But no, he was just reflexively pulling the trigger as Nick's shot turned him around, and Mike is already dead.
- At one point in The Thrawn Trilogy, a stormtrooper cut down by Luke Skywalker's lightsaber is mentioned to have squeezed down on the trigger as he died, randomly firing his blaster. Fortunately no one gets hit by it.
- Lensman: Specifically First Lensman. Inverted. The bullet that kills the assassin Mook smashes through his brain before he finishes pulling the trigger, causing his hand to twitch and spoiling his aim. He still delivers the shot and it's still a hit, but it's off target and his intended victim survives.
- One mook in Role of Honour accidentally shoots an another, and the shot mook keeps firing his submachine gun as he falls over dead, killing the other as well.
- In Quake II, the Enforcer may have a muscle spasm upon death that makes his arm-mounted Gatling gun fire off a burst that first goes straight ahead and moves upwards. There's a half-second delay between the actual kill and the shots firing, and a wary player can use that to strafe or crouch out of the way.
- Enemies may rarely do this in Perfect Dark, although it could be a bug due to their shooting animation not terminating properly as they die.
- Medal of Honor has had this since the first game. Luckily, you never have to worry about the bullets hitting you.
- Can happen in both Max Payne 2 and Max Payne 3 to mooks wielding a single one-handed weapon, particularly if you shoot their legs out from under them just before they fire at you.
- Occasionally occurs in Deus Ex: Human Revolution to enemies armed with the machine pistol or assault rifle.
- Stormtroopers gunned or chopped down in Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast sometimes shoot their blaster rifles into the air while spinning. Enemy Sith in the sequel Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy occasionally do a variant with their lightsabers, flailing wildly when struck with a fatal blow; it is quite possible for Jaden to perish by standing too closely.
- Happens in Halo. An enemy killed by shooting often fires a couple rounds into the floor before dying.
- In Blood, cultists who burn to death fire off their Tommy guns in a short burst while their burning flesh falls from their bones.
- Enemy soldiers in FEAR frequently do this. It's not just for show; these stray bullets spraying can hurt and even kill you, especially in the first game. It crosses over with Reliably Unreliable Guns too, in that sometimes these bursts will happen even if the enemy lets go of the weapon, it firing off a couple rounds entirely on its own.
- Ork grunts in Dawn of War II occasionally put a couple rounds in the ground when shot to death.
- Some of the shotgun-toting soldiers in Alpha Protocol will fire off a burst of assault rifle rounds if you gun them down while they charge to close the distance.
- All NPCs in S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series able to pull this off, more apparent with NPC carrying automatic weapon.
- A non-fatal variant is in PAYDAY: The Heist and its sequel, where players stunned by a Taser will uncontrollably fire their weapon as they're being shocked. It's both a blessing and a curse, as you're likely to accidentally kill a civilian and take a hit to your earnings if you're near one when getting stunned, but it also means that if the Taser is close enough you can hit him with your wild burst and free yourself.
- A possibility in real life, if a person is shot while holding his finger on a gun trigger and jerks it back due to some combination of pain, surprise and instinct. It falls under the general umbrella term “accidental discharge”. This makes it dangerous to Shoot the Hostage Taker and is why police don't use tasers against people holding firearms.
- This is why police snipers are trained to target the brain stem. Destroying it results in no nerve signals being sent out to the muscles. Which is in turn why true Dead Man Switches exist - there's very little one can do to reliably prevent a muscle from relaxing.
- One edition of Ripley's Believe It or Not! recounts the tale of a dead man who won a duel - he died with his finger on the trigger, and then rigor mortis set in and killed his opponent.