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- In the opening of Princess Mononoke, Yakul does this as the demon that curses Ashitaka rushes at him. Despite Ashitake shouting at him to run, he just stands there, staring and trembling slightly—finally running away when Ashitaka shoots an arrow in his direction.
- Happens in Puella Magi Madoka Magica when Mami thinks she's gotten Charlotte (who takes the form of a tiny plushie) beat, when suddenly Charlotte pukes out a giant carnivorous worm towards Mami. Mami freezes, and loses her head.
- Happens on separate occasions in Digimon Adventure and its sequels Digimon Adventure 02 and Digimon Adventure tri. with Taichi Yagami. First he froze up when found out he could die in the Digital World. Then in 02 he freezes up again when he is attacked by his own partner who was being controlled by the Digimon Kaiser. Finally in tri. he freezes up during the fight against Alphamon.
- In Dragon Ball Z, Gohan is frozen with fear when Freeza No Sells his vicious attack. Vegeta yells, "Don't just stand there kid! Look out!" Too late, Freeza beats the shit out of him.
- In A Certain Scientific Railgun, Tsuzuri Tessou does this when she is attacked by the AIM Burst. Mikoto pulls her out of the way and berates her for freezing up.
- Early on Fullmetal Alchemist, Edward and Alphonse are warned by a soldier that a serial killer known as Scar is targeting state alchemists. The soldier is promptly blown up right in front of them and the brothers are paralyzed by shock. Thankfully they're literally saved by a clock's loud bell, which gets them to return to their senses and flee.
- Arachnid begins with heroine Alice finding her abusive uncle being hanged by a assassin, who then moves to kill her. She freezes at the sight, but concludes that she must kill to survive and jumps at his neck. She later becomes feared for being able to remain concentrated even in such dire situations.
- Happens a few times to various characters in Attack on Titan, such as Petra just before she is crushed underfoot by the Female Titan. Honestly if this trope happens to someone in Attack on Titan, you can be sure that someone's about to die.
- In A Certain Magical Index, Thor shows off his newly acquired Teleport Spam ability and beats the shit out of Touma, with the hero helpless to fight him. Eventually, Touma gets an idea and stands in a certain spot. Thor appears behind him to deal the final blow... then finds that he's materialized in the path of a train. He becomes so shocked that he just stands there and gets run over (though this doesn't kill him).
- In Soul Eater, Maka freezes in this way after Soul takes an attack meant for her. Only a well-timed Big Damn Heroes moment saves her from Crona.
- In Magi Alibaba has this response on a very regular basis. Usually after an Obviously Evil character has revealed that they're doing something evil. It typically falls to Aladdin or Margiana to snap him out of it.
- Kagerou Project: The most oft shown version of Hiyori's death inside the Haze is her running out onto the road after a cat without looking and this trope happening. It is also implied that this is how both Hibiya and Hiyori died outside of the Haze in the real world in every timeline◊.
- Happens in the the Batgirl (2011) comic book series. Since in the new continuity the paraplegic Barbara Gordon had a complete recovery over a three years period, when she gets a gun pointed at, at the exact spot where she had been shot by the Joker, in the first issue Batgirl froze in terror and could not prevent the bad guy from killing the man he was there to kill. Actually, the sheer risk of accumulating new, unhealable spinal damage seems to lock Barbara into an instant Heroic B.S.O.D..
- One Calvin and Hobbes arc had Calvin making a safety poster for a contest at school. When asking Hobbes for advice on a slogan, Hobbes suggest, "Don't look into car headlights and freeze, because you'll either get run over or shot!" Calvin points out that doesn't happen to most people, to which Hobbes responds that there's more to this world than people.
- Lampshaded ◊ in The Far Side.
- Judge Dredd: In "Necropolis", a group of student Judges led by Cadet Giant try to escape the hellworld that Mega-City One has become after its takeover by the Dark Judges. When they're pursued by the skull-headed Judge Mortis, several of them simply give up in the face of the undead abomination. Giant has to blast off Mortis's head to shake them out of their coma.
- Played with in The Keys Stand Alone: The Soft World. Paul, both awed by Lord Equus and trashed out of his mind, simply stares at the approaching horse mecha until it kicks him over the valley.
- Also, when Paul is grabbed by the Octo-Bot and slammed around in the cave, George and John can do nothing except fall over laughing.
- When Izuku finally recognizes Aizawa in Waiting is worth it, he becomes paralyzed with terror. He knows that Aizawa's quirk is to be able to rob others of their quirks, and as someone who relies on his quirk to maintain a slim facade of normalcy (like going anywhere without his wheelchair or telekinetically cooking and cleaning around the house), this horrifying possibility nearly reduces Izuku to tears.
- Parodied in Austin Powers with the guard who gets run over by a steamroller, too terrified to get out the way even though the steamroller is coming at him veeeery slowly from a looong ways away. What makes it even worse is a cut scene that can be played later on the DVD, where the Mook is shown to have friends who hear about the accident and mourn his death. They probably never realize that the guard's demise was, in a way, largely his fault!
- Occurs in the film Gojira. A crowd of humans can only watch as Godzilla first shows up and looms over the hills before he starts to make his way towards Tokyo.
- How Lambert dies in Alien. She just stands and stares at it quivering in fear as it slowly advances on her. This inaction winds up costing Parker his life too — he's unable to fire as Lambert is in the way.
- In the infamous 1977 PIF Apaches, Danny, the posthumous narrator, just stands there with a dumb look on his face each time one of his friends falls victim to another completely avoidable farm-equipment-related accident. Mocked mercilessly here and here.
- In Spider-Man, Green Goblin knocks over a giant globe and the crowd scatters out of the way except for a boy who stares at it blankly. Spidey goes, "Come on kid, move!" but is forced to dive in and carry the boy out of the way.
- Withnail & I: Marwood is unable to move and just stares for a few very, very long seconds when he realizes that Withnail's uncle Monty has come to his room. Monty is gay and thinks that Marwood is too, and he wants to have him, even if it must be a burglary. Poor Marwood.
- In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indy freezes in shock once he realizes the German tank he's standing on is about to roll off a cliff (the driver and all other passengers having been killed). We see a close-up of his bugging eyes (and his trademark fedora blowing off for some reason) and then a shot of him tumbling over the side of the tank. Indy's father, Marcus Brody and Sallah think he's died, but Indy manages to grab onto the rocky cliff face and laboriously make his way back up (though his clothes get shredded in the process). His hat also magically reappears.
- In The Thing (1982), Windows freezes in horror when the Palmer-Thing drops off the ceiling in front of him. The Thing uses his moment of indecision to maul him to death.
- As it's set in Africa, Black Panther (2018) uses "antelope in the headlights" instead, referring to T'challa's sudden brain freeze on encountering his ex-girlfriend after he'd singlehandedly beaten up a human trafficking ring.
- In Watership Down, the rabbits have a term in their Fictionary for this: tharn.
- A literal version occurs when the rabbits are pinned by carlights while raiding Nuthanger Farm. They get out of it by closing their eyes and running blind, which gets them out of the immediate area.
- The Stand by Stephen King: A character was in a quarantine with one particular guard who, he somehow sensed, would be the one to kill him if things went bad. The character had read Watership Down and was so scared of this guard he compared it to the "tharn" concept.
- Naturally played with in Terry Pratchett's Guards! Guards!. While Vimes is being shot at, his mind goes into this state. His legs act of their own volition and throw him out of danger.
- The Animorphs can only stare in horror when Visser Three devours Elfangor alive in the first book.
- In Mercedes Lackey's Brightly Burning, Lavan Firestorm's mentor has to be physically dragged away when Lavan gives full rein to his powers (killing himself and an entire army in the process) after his Companion dies.
- Sisterhood Series by Fern Michaels: This trope pops up a few times. Sweet Revenge has Isabelle Flanders freeze up when reporter Ted Robinson asks her questions about Rosemary Hershey and apparently is getting too close to finding out Isabelle's intentions towards Rosemary. Razor Sharp has lawyer Cosmo Cricket meet a client who has this sort of reaction upon seeing him, but that could be because she is afraid for her life.
- In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, after chasing Bellatrix through the Ministry of Magic because she killed Sirius and having Voldemort appear, Harry goes into a state of shock.
'I have nothing more to say to you, Potter,' he [Voldemort] said quietly. 'You have irked me too often, for too long. AVADA KEDAVRA!'Harry had not even opened his mouth to resist. His mind was blank, his wand pointing uselessly at the floor.
- The Restaurant at the End of the Universe:
The sun of Kakrafoon loomed terrifyingly large on the vision screen, its blazing white inferno of fusing hydrogen nuclei growing moment by moment as the ship plunged onwards, unheeding the thumping and banging of Zaphod's hands on the control panel. Arthur and Trillian had the fixed expressions of rabbits on a night road who think that the best way of dealing with approaching headlights is to stare them out.
- In Blindsight, it's claimed that to look into the eyes of a vampire triggers evolutionary ingrained responses to predation in humans that causes them to freak out and stand paralysed. This is why Jukka Sarasti wears sunglasses at all times when interacting with his crew.
Live Action TV
- Game of Thrones: Part of Hodor's refusal to fight is his good nature but also that he is simply too scared to act coherently. When a wight jumps on him, he just didn't know what to do and when the mutineers picked on him, he can just scream Hodor and run left and right.
- Happens to Roy in an episode of The IT Crowd, when he figures out the robot Moss is fangirling is actually a bomb-disposal robot. He's stuck there for hours, until it's finally confirms to be a balloon. It gives him "a small fright".
- In "Commencement", the town is bombarded by a kryptonite meteor shower. As everything is being destroyed, a boy stares at a meteor coming right at him. Clark Kent runs up and carries him to safety.
- In "Bizarro", a boy stares at a Giant Wall of Watery Doom coming at him. Clark Kent runs up and vaporizes it with his heat vision.
- In the Haven episode "Sparks and Recreation", a boy stares at a lamppost falling at him, until Audrey pulls him out of the way.
- In the Star Trek: The Original Series episode, "Obsession," both Capt. Kirk in his younger days and a young officer spend some time kicking themselves for doing this instead of instantly shooting a vampire cloud attacking their comrades. As it turns out, phaser fire has no effect on the creature so even if they did, it wouldn't have made a difference.
- In the Doctor Who episode "The Stolen Earth," Jack Harkness just stands there shaking and holding his (remaining) team members tight when he first hears the Daleks' EX-TER-MIN-ATE. It takes a Get a Hold of Yourself, Man! from an authority figure to snap him out of it. Sarah Jane Smith isn't much better off.
- Michael Emerson is very good at this, the most prominent examples of this are during his roles of Ben Linus and Harold Finch (especially when Locke or another character surprises Ben or when Finch sees a gun).
- Horatio Hornblower mini-series:
- "The Even Chance": Midshipman Archie Kennedy is alone, grabbing his hat and preparing for a night raid, when his tormentor Simpson comes in, and says ominously and sleazily: "Jack's missed you, boy." Archie just freezes and goes pale, unable to move or talk. The menace is palpable, and this scene is frequently cited as a proof of implied sexual abuse.
- In "Mutiny", Mr Midshipman Wellard got beaten unjustly as Crazy Captain Sawyer simply didn't appreciate Wellard's doing his duty. Sawyer later concludes that Wellard is conspiring against him and orders to have Wellard beaten once again. Poor Wellard has a pure Deer in the Headlights stare when he hears it as the beatings hurt like hell.
- This happens to Samus in Metroid: Other M when she encounters Ridley. Many fans were not pleased.
- In The Fool's Errand, The Grim Reaper grudgingly spares The Fool after mistaking his "deer in the headlights" reaction for a fearless, unflinching one.
- In a somewhat unusual example resulting from Artificial Stupidity, we have XCOM: Enemy Unknown, in which enemies will typically end their turns without taking any actions when Suppressed, which is a near guaranteed death sentence if said enemy is flanked or out of cover, compared to the possibility of taking damage from the reaction shot attempting to move under suppression triggers. This is particularly bad with enemies who have abilities that can be used without penalty under suppression–such as Mutons' grenades or blood call, thin men's poison spit, or any of a sectoid commander's psionic abilities–but don't bother to use them. However, the expansion quickly corrected this behavior, as they'll now always relocate if flanked.
- In Yoshi's Island and Yoshi's New Island, the stork, tasked with delivering Baby Mario and Baby Luigi, stops in midair when Kamek finds and ambushes him.
- In The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, as the Bulblins who invaded Link's home and kidnapped the children there arrive in Kakariko Village, Beth is too scared to move, unlike her friends. Colin notices it just in time, grows a backbone, and pushes her out of the way just in time, leading to him getting kidnapped instead. Beth is quite grateful for it after Link saves Colin.
- Minecraft: Story Mode:
- Lukas is frozen in place during Petra/Gabriel's capture, which leads to Axel holding him accountable for the incident.
- Similarly, Ellegaard freezes in shock when she sees the Wither Storm for the first time. Jesse and Olivia had already described it to her, but she hadn't fully understood how big the threat was until then, so all she can do is stare at it and stutter out a terrified apology to Jesse.
- Alien Dice: Vic has just been informed that he might get Promoted To Parent here. At least she's cute.
- In one comic of Kevin & Kell, deer being frozen by headlights happens on occasion. In one comic, Kell shines a projector in a deer's eyes to illicit this reaction.
- In the first comic of Nebula, Earth freezes in place while a meteor hurtles straight towards her instead of trying to duck out of the way. Fortunately for her, Jupiter was there and Took The Bullet for her (non-fatally).
- Played for Laughs in the Paradox Space "The Inaugural Death of Mister Seven;" Die is terrified into silence when Number Seven, Crowbar, walks in on his chickens. Crowbar remarks that Die does this constantly, and that he's "like a deer in the head-lights of a parked ass car."
- In Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, Penny freezes during "A Man's Gotta Do" as the out-of-control van bears down on her.
- The Angry Grandpa gives us an epic one here.
- Lizzie Bennet from The Lizzie Bennet Diaries has a terrified look in her eyes when her sister Lydia sneaks up behind her with big scissors in hand. Cue arm with scissors being wrapped around Lizzie's neck, Lizzie giving this look and Lydia having a Slasher Smile on her face. It's from Episode 17.
- Played with during an Invader Zim episode where a cute Godzilla-sized hamster is terrorizing the city; rather than stare in terror, the townspeople stare in awe at the monster's cuteness until they're crushed.
- Parodied in an issue of Radioactive Man with the innocent bystander saying, "That wall is falling towards me! No time to get out of the way, only to talk about it!"
- Happens regularly to Wile E. Coyote, who is often too flabbergasted or exhausted to move out of the way when his plans backfire on him badly. That little umbrella he often pulls out as a shield doesn't help things at all.
- In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "Feeling Pinkie Keen", when Twilight Sparkle, Applejack, and Spike run away from the Hydra in the Froggy Bottom Bog, Pinkie is almost paralyzed in fear. Twilight pulls her tail to get her out of it.
- Regular Show has a half-deer half-human do this just before he gets run over by a truck in "Camping Can Be Cool".
- House of Mouse: In "Mickey vs. Shelby", Baby Shelby is stricken with stage fright when out on stage, and he just stares blankly into the audience.
Bambi: Gosh, he looks like a deer in the headlights.Benny the Cab: (shines his lights on him) You said it!
- The basic reason for this trope stems from the response commonly called "fight or flight", which has an oft-unmentioned Third Option — freeze. Freezing is meant for a scenario where you're confronted by something dangerous that will harm you if it notices you, but isn't aware of or interested in you specifically. What's dangerous is ending up in a scenario where that's not true, but freezing anyway because your instincts have misjudged the situation — if you're consciously aware that you need to override this response, but not actually able to, it becomes terrifying.
- Deer exhibit this behavior because of the internal defense mechanism the species has developed to deal with predators. note This method fails, however, when it comes to motor vehicles, since motor vehicles (and the humans operating them) A) usually don't have deer high enough on the list of concerns to avoid them from far off (i.e., going off the asphalt pavement - in many cases this would be impossible anyway, like in wooded areas), and B) are already moving at high speeds (25-50 MPH) when they get close, so by the time the deer's defensive circle is broken, there's too little time for the deer to get out of the way and avoid a collision. The "deer in the headlights" look comes when the deer picks up the approaching car but has yet to get close enough for its internal GTFO alarm to trip.
- Many Curb-Stomp Battle defeats in sports happen because once the team suffers the first blow, they get so lost the adversary takes full advantage to raise the score.
- In this Planetside 2 video a player is so surprised by a grenade suddenly landing next to him (thrown by his own team) that he just stands there staring at it until it explodes.