An affront has been committed!
The hero has been affronted. Or the villain has. Or someone has dragged the Damsel in Distress into some dangerous situation against her will. Or someone in the cast hasn't realized that they're in Cloudcuckooland and that it's a serious crime to offer Cheesy Poofs to the daughter of the mayor. Or it's a rival situation and "this town ain't big enough for the both of us."
Whatever the situation, sitting down rationally and talking out the differences is just not going to settle things. No, the only way the offended party feels they can have satisfaction is with a Duel to the Death — nothing else will do! So, after striking the offending person upside the head with a glove [horseshoe, brick, or rock optional] to announce your intent, possibly doing so in public, it's time to choose your weapons!
Weapon types can include:
...and it usually is considered bad form to use your superpowers if either or both parties has them. Villains, of course, will try to do so anyway. If one character lacks a weapon, Give Me a Sword may ensue — and other characters may use this to try to stop the duel. Generally, it is the right of the challenged to choose the manner of combat, and it is considered highly improper for the challenger to object to the choice.
Sometimes it's a formal "pistols at dawn" duel. Sometimes it's something dictated by The Government of the city, town, planet or dimension in which the scene takes place. Sometimes it's just a fight where there's an unspoken certainty that the loser will not be getting up again. Sometimes the location and circumstances of the duel are quite outrageous.
When the hero wins, he will almost always show mercy to his opponent, much to the opponent's humiliation (unless he's an Anti-Hero out for revenge, in which case all bets are off). In such cases, the villain may taunt the hero for cowardice or weakness; or he may try to take his own death blow after the duel has officially ended and the hero is walking away, in which case, fifty-fifty, the result will often be the villain getting killed in self defense (a form of Karmic Death) or the hero or one of his friends stopping the villain Just in Time.
When the villain wins, you can count on the villain to strike mercilessly. The other party will die or may have to be rushed to whatever works for first aid/resurrection in this instance. On the other hand, this may be the point of which you learn the other character is not a villain (Get It Over With is common).
And several duels in media end with the loser having to get out of town.
Honor may (theoretically) be satisfied with first blood, or first serious injury. However, because it will be fought with real weapons, any duel can end in death.
Commonplace in westerns, naturally, with the Quick Draw shoot out Showdown at High Noon as the duel type. Jidai Geki or chanbara movies also tend to end this way, with two samurai engaging in a Single-Stroke Battle over a matter of honor, and the outcome of this is usually the death of one or both of the samurai involved.
May overlap with Fight Clubbing, where the duel is, arguably, for fun. At least the spectator's fun. Compare Ten Paces And Turn. Often enforced in Gladiator Games and a Deadly Game. A situation where the combatants don't have a choice in the matter is an Involuntary Battle to the Death.
There are lesser variations, and greater ones beyond simply "to the death."
A lot of Card Game Anime actually end up with duels for The Fate Of The World rather than just the lives of the two involved. Serious Business, you know.
See Wizard Duel for the magical equivalent. Compare Combat by Champion, and Trial by Combat.
The video game version of this, of course, is the Duel Boss.
Since this trope frequently involvesdeath, fair warning: Spoilers beyond this point.
open/close all folders
Anime & Manga
Anime probably have tons of examples, but the one that comes to mind right now is Rurouni Kenshin... Kenshin is a Technical Pacifist who refuses to kill under any circumstances, but quite a few antagonists have tried to force him into breaking that vow in order to fight a true Death Match with them. The most noticeable one was probably Udo Jin-e, a psychopathic killer who was a fellow assassin (though on the opposite side) during the revolution. After Kenshin prevents an assassination, he tries to put Kenshin in a situation where he HAS to kill him in order to save Kaoru, but when it doesn't work and he's left defeated but alive, he simply commits Sepukku, all while stating the he's going to watch Kenshin from hell to see him kill someone.
Mazinger Z featured several memorable duels in all series of the franchise: the Final Battle between Kouji Kabuto and Dr. Hell in Mazinger Z (manga version), the final dog fight between Duke Fleed and The Dragon Blackie in UFO Robo Grendizer, the battle between Kouji Kabuto and a mechanized Baron Ashura in Mazinkaiser... but the most famous and most memorable was the Sword Fight between Tetsuya Tsurugi and The Dragon Great General of Darkness / Ankoku Daishogun in Great Mazinger. Not only it counted like a CMOA in that series but it also was a Dying Moment of Awesome for Ankoku Daishogun, who was ready to die without regrets as long as got the chance to fight his Worthy Opponent for last time, thus redeeming his honour.
In Street Fighter, Akuma always fights to the death, though it's somewhat averted in that he never challenges anyone (he only takes challenges from worthy opponents), and ends up sparing loads of people anyway.
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya - in perhaps one of the most unusual duels ever; Yuki Nagato faces off against Ryouko Asakura, both of them interfaces/agents of the Integrated Data Sentient Entity, in order to protect Kyon from Asakura's attempts to kill him in order to get a reaction from Haruhi. Asakura seems to terminally injure Yuki with the latter having apparently made no attempt to attack. It transpires that Yuki has been on the attack in a different way, breaking through Asakura's data barriers in order to terminate Asakura's data link, effectively deleting her from the world.
In Corsair, Shirokko hates Canale, who is a blind pacifist and therefore useless as a pirate, and keeps trying to challenge him to one for any reason, hoping to be rid of him. When Canale finally is forced to duel him and beats him (being a former assassin), Shirokko is rather stunned.
Mendou Shuutarou in Urusei Yatsura is not adverse to challenging people who annoy him to duels, the first with two very large cannons.
Yu-Gi-Oh!'s "Shadow Games"—duels to the death decided by children's card games. Variations of this pop up across the spinoffs Yu-Gi-Oh! GX, Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds, and Yu-Gi-Oh! ZEXAL. Typically, a Shadow Game causes the pain and injuries from the duel to become real, with terrible consequences for the actual loser.
Not all losers of these competitions die; some are condemned to a Fate Worse than Death which, even if they are rescued from, can cause long-lasting trauma (as the case was for Mai). Basically, these contests tend to have rules that are put in place by whoever has the power to start them. (Unfortunately, his opponent almost never has any say in that part.)
And in Season 0 of the original, it's a lot less easy to mock; if someone hears Yami say "Game time", it is not going to end well for them. There are few in the series that don't cheat in the game, and even fewer that miss the subsequent PenaltyGame; it goes without saying that nobody ever beats him (though the series incarnation of Kaiba did manage to tie with him in their first match). Again, the games in Season 0 are a lot less easy to mock.
In Space Battleship Yamato/Star Blazers, there are two different versions of the same Duel To The Death between Wildstar and Desslok near the end of the Comet Empire arc. In both versions, one dueler collapses due to shock from an injury from an explosion on Desslok's ship, rendering a duel unnecessary.
In One Piece, this is what happened between Akainu and Aokiji during the Time Skip. The two had the first ever feud between Admirals, and it was over the Fleet Admiral position. The conflict escalated to the point of a death match on the barren island of Punk Hazard, lasting ten days and permanently altering the climate of the island, making one half a frozen wasteland, the other half permanently on fire. In the end, the winner was Akainu, but, in a rare moment of sympathy, spared Aokiji's life, and the latter proceeded to ditch the marines, not wanting to serve under Akainu.
In SD Gundam Force, this trope is the source of conflict between Bakunetsumaru and Ashuramaru. In the past, the two dueled and Baku won, but spared his opponent. Outraged at being this perceived dishonor, Ashuramaru would later join the Dark Axis and track Bakunetsumaru down in Neotopia, this time making sure their next duel's for keeps. Bakunetsumaru wins, of course, but does not spare Ashuramaru.
Although many works of art depict duels to the death, William Hogarth's Marriage à la mode is a rare early example of "serial art" which features the trope. The six paintings show the disastrous Arranged Marriage between the son of an Impoverished Patrician and the daughter of a Nouveau Riche alderman; in the fifth painting, the husband has found his wife and her lover in bed together, challenged the lover to a duel, and lost. In the sixth painting, the lover has been executed for the nobleman's murder, and the wife has poisoned herself out of grief and shame.
In Lucifer, Christopher Rudd gets into a duel in hell and manages to manipulate his demonic opponent into fighting him in human form. After the demon boasts that he is still stronger and faster than Christopher; Christopher shows him it is about SO much more than just speed and strength.
Lucifer himself has a significant duel with the angel Amenadiel later in the series, where Rudd acts as Lucifer's second.
Superdickery shows several examples of Superman challenging other people to duels to the death, usually Batman.
In Marvel Universe, the title of The Lord of Vampires can be obtained by killing its current holder in a duelto the death. Count Dracula gains it in the pages of Dracula Lives, and has to duel for it again near the end of the original run of The Tomb of Dracula after losing it due to being temporally turned into human.
The Mummy Trilogy - In The Mummy Returns, Evy and Ankh Su-Namun, both reincarnates from Ancient Egypt, have one to settle old scores. Ankh runs off when she starts losing, though.
The final showdown in The Scorpion King (2002) between the protagonist Mathayus and the tyrant king Memnon. Two words: "Catch this."
Serenity: The Operative vs. Mal. The Operative is so devoted to his job that he happily dispatches honorable death without anger in the name of the Federation. Until Mal makes him angry by unleashing the Reavers of Miranda on Mr. Universe's moon. Then It's Personal — sort of. But Mal wins, and settles for temporarily crippling The Operative so he can see what his bosses have done, which leads to a My God, What Have I Done? moment on the part of The Operative.
The Man in Black vs. Inigo Montoya: Inigo is a man of honor and spares The Man In Black's life until he can pull himself together. After mutual I Am Not Left-Handed, The Man In Black spares Inigo's life after defeating him.
The Man in Black vs. Fezzik: The Man in Black succeeds in besting the giant, but does not kill him.
The Man in Black vs. Vizzini: Inconceivable! The Man in Black has built up an immunity to iocaine powder.
The movie Rob Roy about 17th century Scottish freedom fighter Robert Roy MacGregor features a duel between Rob, a highlander with a heavy, basket-hilted claymore and Archibald Cunningham, an English fop with a gentleman's small sword. Archibald proves the vastly superior swordsman, but drops his guard at the moment to victory to gloat. Rob grabs Archibald's blade and uses his last ounce of strength to cleave him nearly in two.
The 13th Warrior (1999) (based on the novel Eaters Of The Dead) features a lethal duel between two Norsemen warriors. Each warrior is granted three shields to use during the combat. The larger, younger Norseman splinters all three of his opponent's shields and appears to be on the verge of victory. The smaller Norseman, however, isn't as weak or exhausted as he let on, and immediately decapitates the larger man. The ruse was all part of a ploy to intimidate the heroes' enemy with their strength and cunning.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon features a duel in which a father and daughter challenge an old villain who slew their wife/mother. Later, Jen, armed with Green Destiny, fights Yu Shu-lien, armed with a variety of weapons, though the duel is not lethal.
Hero (2002) features several duels. The film opens with a duel between Sky and Nameless. Later, Nameless duels and defeats Flying Snow. The true outcome of both of these duels varies with each version of the tale. Broken Sword also duels the King, but spares his life.
Also, Flying Snow challenges Broken Sword to a duel, only for him to drop his sword instead of parrying her strike. As he dies, she impales herself on her own sword, essentially nailing herself to his body.
The Quick and the Dead is about a series of quick-draw competitions - in effect, pistol duels. They only officially become 'to the death' after the first round, though.
Prince Caspian has one of these, Peter vs Miraz. It underlines how badass Miraz is, because he is at least equal to Peter, whereas his traitorous second in command gets killed by Peter in around two seconds flat, despite Peter having dislocated his shield arm.
Unsurprisingly, Ridley Scott's movie The Duellists is about a series of duels, ostensibly to the death, between two Napoleonic-era French soldiers. A slight subversion, in that despite their best efforts they consistently fail to kill each other, and in the end one of them just walks away.
Equally unsurprisingly, the film Duel to the Death centers around a duel to the death: a recurring duel between the top warrior of Japan and China for their nations' honor. Although the Chinese swordsman is a nicer guy, both characters are treated sympathetically when they puzzle out a sinister Japanese plot to fix the fight. They still end up dueling, however, with lethal results.
Robot Jox portrays a dystopic future where nucular armageddon is averted by resolving all battles with duels between Humongous Mecha, which are consumed through the mass media like sporting events. The trope is hilariously averted in the final duel when the villain and hero spontaneously decide to stop fighting and give each other a thumbs-up knuckle-bump.
In The Karate Kid Part II a man who lost face before Miyagi waited his whole life to have this with him. Because as Miyagi says, "In Okinawa, honor VERY Serious Business." Miyagi avoids the duel by saving the man's life before it happens; the man is willing to consider the debt paid because of that.
In The Man with the Golden Gun, James Bond and Scaramanga have a formal duel ("take ten paces, turn and fire") with Nick Nack as the referee. Subverted when Bond turns around to fire and finds that Scaramanga has vanished into his maze to have a cat-and-mouse game with him.
It is Star Wars film tradition to have a lightsaber duel between two Force-users at some point in the movie, usually near the end. Just as often as not, the duel doesn't end with someone's death — Qui-Gon Jinn of Episode 1, Count Dooku of Episode 3 and Obi-Wan of Episode 4 all met their ends in a lightsaber duel, but the rest usually ended in some other fashion, sometimes with one character losing a hand.
Plunkett And Macleane features a duel to the death pistols at dawn style between Plunkett and General Chance. Both survive however.
The silent classic Flesh and the Devil (1927) has one of these between John Gilbert's character and the husband of Greta Garbo's character, after the latter discovers an affair between the two.
Boris Grushenko: Well, we can say it. I don't know what it means, but we can say it.
Kill Bill has a series of them, leading up to the one implied by the title.
Happens at the end of Lethal Weapon between Martin Riggs and Mr. Joshua.
In the climax of By The Sword, Villard reveals to Suba that his father died this way to his best student, not realizing that Suba was the student who killed his father and has come back to make amends.
A military man is brought to a secret meeting by Napoleon supporters hoping to recruit him. Instead, his bickers and trades insults with the group over their differences in politics. Finally the leader of the group feels that he has been insulted once too many times and challenges the man to a duel. Although he is wounded several times, the leader kills the military man and throws his body off of a cliff, leaving his family none the wiser of his fate for many years.
The Count himself casually states that we will agree to a duel under any circumstances, whether swords or pistols or even drawn lots. He's that sure of victory.
The Three Musketeers series features a number of duels, some more lethal than others. Of particular note, D'Artagnan meets and befriends the title trio when each of them challenge him to a duel on the same day.
Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin series: Stephen Maturin is an accomplished duellist: he claims to have gone out twenty times in his first year at university. There are two particular examples in the canon: he is shot in the chest by Cannings in a formal duel, and while he only aims to injure, due to his injured hands shoots him in the throat and kills him instead. In Sydney, he fights a soldier who insults him in a very fast Crowning Moment Of Awesome. Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin nearly duel in the second book of the series.
In fact they nearly duel in the first book. It's how they met.
They also nearly "go out" for a duel again later in the series. Captain Aubrey, iron man of the Royal Navy, victor of many battles, fierce battler of many boardings, is sure that Maturin will slaughter him.
C.S. Forester's "Hornblower and the Even Chance", one of the stories in Mr. Midshipman Hornblower, features a subversion. Hornblower knew that his opponent was both a better shot and a better swordsman (and being somewhat suicidal at the time), Hornblower chose to have a 50-50 chance duel. Two pistols, one of which was loaded, chosen by duellists at random. He was perfectly happy to kill his opponent, in fact that was the whole point of challenging him to a duel to begin with. The captain ensured that neither of the pistols were loaded however, causing the duel to be declared null and void, and arranged for Hornblower to get a position on another, better, ship. It was played differently in the Mini Seriesadaptation. (See the Live-Action TV section for details.)
The fourth novel of the Honor Harrington series goes as far to allude to it in the title, Field of Dishonor. Dueling is legal in the Star Kingdom of Manticore, and tends to be used by the aristocracy more often than the commoners. On Grayson it goes far enough you can request a trial by combat against the protectors champion.
Honor engages in two of these in Field Of Dishonor, the first being against a professional duelist who killed her lover in a duel to goad her into challenging him, on the assumption that, as a Naval officer, she wouldn't have the same level of skill as he does. Unfortunately for him, her uncle's involvement in the Manticoran Society for Creative Anachronism made her very familiar with the chemical-propellant guns used in duels, and her genetic enhancements sharpened her hand-eye co-ordination to the point that she could simply shoot from the hip. The end result was the she hit her opponent four times before he could even raise his gun.
The second duel in Field of Dishonor was against the man who hired the previous duellist, a cowardly, amoral aristocrat. He was so terrified that he turned and fired early...but failed to kill Honor. He was promptly splattered by Honor, her bodyguard, and the marshall of the field.
In Flag in Exile, Honor, badly injured in a shuttle crash, is forced to engage in a sword duel against a Grayson Steadholder. Despite his greater experience in swordsmanship, she cuts him down with contemptuous ease - he had the mindset of a sport fencer, not a hardened killer like Honor, and wasn't mentally prepared for a battle to the death.
In Anne McCaffrey's novel Dragonflight, Lessa goads the bronze dragonrider F'lar into one of these against the corrupt Holder named Fax, since Fax murdered every one of Lessa's family.
Harry Turtledove's "Southern Victory" series has an alternate-historical version of General George S. Patton so outraged by a viewpoint character's comments that he challenges the character to a duel and requests his choice of weapons. The character gets out of it by clever choice of weapons, as with the Abraham Lincoln case below.
Sharpe: Sharpe fights several duels in the books and films, most formally in Sharpe's Revenge against Captain Bampfylde, a Royal Navy captain who abandoned his men to the French. In the novel Sharpe's actually trying to gut-shoot Bampfylde, but unfortunately the smoothbore flintlock doesn't quite shoot straight. In the adaptation he knows Wellington wouldn't tolerate him having killed the man, so deliberately shoots him in the backside.
Terry Pratchett's Nation features a battle between Mau and First Mate Cox, with the stakes being whether or not a tribe of cannibals will feast on Mau's tribe.
In Dorothy L Sayers's Gaudy Night, Lord Peter Wimsey recounts that he's been challenged to a duel three times and fought twice; the third time the police intervened, and Lord Peter suspects that the other man disliked Lord Peter's choice of weapons, swords.
In Teresa Edgerton's The Queen's Necklace, Wil is readying himself for a duel when the novel opens. The authorities intervene. It proves to be The Plan to keep him out of the way; as the queen's guard, he would have prevented her having done something foolish.
In The Man Who Was Thursday, at one point the police infiltrating an anarchist organization set up a duel between one of their number and an anarchist, to delay him. As a consequence, the policeman demands they fight to first serious injury, not first blood, because he can delay him long enough that way.
In the Father Brown story "The Duel of Dr Hirsch", Dr Hirsch issues a challenge to a duel.
The entire setup of The Ball and the Cross is that an old-fashioned Catholic and militant atheist flee from the police across the English countryside to try and engage in an (illegal) duel to the death, but are thwarted at every turn in increasingly hilarious and bizarre ways.
In Sandy Mitchell's Ciaphas Cain novel The Traitor's Hand, when Beije insults the regiment's colonel, Cain declares they will duel over it if they survive their situation and he does not apologize. They do, but he does.
In Poul Anderson and Gordon R. Dickson's Hoka stories, once Alex Jones challenged the Pirate Greenbeard to a duel — when Greenbeard was the persona he adopted to infiltrate the pirates. Staging it behind a wall, he convinced the Hoka pirates that he had actually fought it.
A Song of Ice and Fire features a number of "trials by combat" in which people are challenged to a duel in answer for their perceived crimes or to settle a dispute. Each of the "Dunk and Egg" short stories ends with a duel as well.
Note that their laws allow for the trial by combat to be fought by a champion on behalf of the accuser/accused, the reasoning apparently being that the gods will not allow the innocent party to lose. However, the fact that all the trials by combat involve each party trying to get the most dangerous warriors they can find to do the fighting, and are often unsatisfied by the outcome, it is clear that nobody really believes the gods have any say in it.
Joffrey is found of ordering people who come to him seeking arbitration to fight to the death to resolve the matter. This and the other cruelties he calls justice don't do much to improve the public's opinion of him.
In James Swallow's Warhammer 40,000Blood Angels novel Red Fury, the Flesh Tearer Noxx gets Kayne into a situation where he can challenge him. Rafen, being Kayne's sergeant, breaks his fingers and says that since Kayne can not face him, he will take his place. The resultant fight is not supposed to be to the death, but Rafen realized he intends to kill him and overpowers him.
In Ben Counter's Warhammer 40,000 novel Chapter War, Eumenes challenges Sarpedon in the opening; Sarpedon insists on its being to first blood. They fight such a challenge again at the climax, and this time, Sarpedon realizes he must kill.
Harry Dresden was once formally challenged to a duel under the Unseelie Accords (something like the supernatural equivalent of the U.N.) by a duke of the Red Court. It was decided that it would be a duel of wills, whereby a ball of matter from outside of reality would be encased in a spell that reacted to willpower and each of the two would have to try to force it against the other. Harry ultimately won by summoning Heroic Willpower after the vampire threatened that his friends would be murdered if he won (although the vampire did try to cheat by drawing a gun when it became apparent he would lose). The vampire wasn't killed (as he fled the duel) but Ebenezer McCoy saw to that. Using a disused Soviet satellite.
Harry himself later challenges the Duke's widow, Arianna Ortega, to a more traditional Wizard Duel To The Death in Changes.
In White Night, Harry and fellow Warden Carlos Ramirez challenge White Court vampires Madrigal Raith and Vittorio Malvora to a two-on-two duel in front of practically the entire White Court due to a string of serial murders of weaker magically-talented humans, in an effort to prove how weak the White Council of Wizards was. Since this is on the tail end of the two vampires trying to claim that the string of murders was their idea (instead of them stealing the thunder from another vampire noble house), the White King pretty much forces them to go along with the challenge, telling them they have to deal with the consequences of their actions. Harry and Ramirez proceed to kick some incubus ass.
The juris macto comes with an interesting caveat: The challenged can have a champion fight on their behalf, but the challenger cannot. This serves to radically shrink the number that happen, since a High Lord or elite metalcrafter might well step in on behalf of the defendant if they're convinced of his innocence.
One epic duel we don't get to see was the legendary one between Aldrick ex Gladius and Araris Valerian. These two Master Swordsmen went for ten hours in Alera Imperia, where something like 50,000 people turned out to see it.
The juris macto has an interesting legal implication as well: A non-Citizen can become a Citizen by challenging and defeating them, as we learn in the backstory of High Lady Placida, who killed the brother of a High Lord to gain her Citizenship. A juris macto can also be non-fatal, as witnessed in Academ's Fury and the duel between High Lord Kalarus and his son Brencis, which gained Brencis his Citizenship. This seem to be a pro forma method of granting Citizen's kids their own Citizenship without killing their parents.
The finale of the Belgariad is a duel between The Hero and Chosen One, Garion, and the Dark God Torak. To address the seeming impossibility of a farmboy killing a Physical God, both are acting as proxies of the competing Purposes of the Universe, with control over fate itself going to the victor.
Similar things happen in another series by David Eddings, the Elenium, at least twice. One duel is between Sparhawk and Martel (who acts as an evil god Azash's champion). Another duel is between Sparhawk and a Physical God Cyrgon - there they both act as champions of counteracting cosmic forces.
In 1632, a bar fight nearly turns into a duel, until MacKay is informed that dueling is illegal in Grantville. In a separate incident, Tom Simpson states that if challenged to a duel, his weapon of choice would be the 10 pound sledgehammer, the announcement of which probably guaranteed that he would never be challenged to a duel.
This is Colonel Mustard's shtick in the Clue books. He challenges everyone left and right for the slightest infraction, though only once in the entire series does he actually duke it out with someone.
In Fredric R. Stewart's Cerberon, after George punches Aladavan, and he's convinced Aladavan plans terrible retribution, George suggests they have a duel to get it over with. Fortunately for George, Aladavan considers the idea ridiculous.
Aladavan is forced to duel the son of a wizard he killed in a Trial by Combat. Aladavan is not allowed to use his sword or magic in the fight, while his opponent is fully armed.
George offers to duel Captain Mayhew to settle their differences. He tells Mayhew about the special ammunition his pistols are loaded with and lets him pick which one he wants to use.
The Shadow of the Torturer features a duel between the protagonist and a mysterious army officer that's fought using flowers. The flower in question, the avern, has poisonous leaves that the combatants pluck off and throw at each other like darts.
Another bizarre duel takes place in The System of the World - it's fought with cannons. (Not quite as odd in context - the challenged party, who has the right to choose the weapons, is an officer of a merchant ship, and more familiar with cannons than swords or pistols.)
In Poul Anderson's "Holmgang", Bo and Lundgard stage this in space, after Bo learns he killed Johnny and is going to seize the ship for his rebellion.
In Julie Kagawa's The Iron King, when Ash and Puck meet. Meghan asks Puck not, because of the danger, and Puck says that duels to the death tend to end in it.
In Dune the Fremen fight duels with their traditional Sandworm-tooth crysknives, that are always to the death. The first time Paul is challenged to one he is reluctant to kill his opponent, which the onlookers initially mistake for "toying with him".
The Firefly episode "Shindig" has Mal dueling Atherton Wing as a result of Mal decking the aristocrat for essentially calling Inara a whore. Mal wins, and lets Atherton live — albeit perhaps a bit scratched up.
"Mercy is the mark of a great man." *Stabbity!* "I guess I'm just a good man." *Stabbity times two!* "Well, I'm all right."
Although the Doctor rarely picks up a weapon, he did duel with an alien spaceship captain in "The Christmas Invasion" special, in a "this town ain't big enough for the both of us" scene. After beating the alien, he graciously decided to let him live (despite the fact the aliens had come to enslave humanity and had previously killed two diplomatic aides in cold blood), but when the humiliated alien captain attacked the Doctor from behind, the Doctor finished him off by dropping him off the edge of the spaceship hovering over London. By throwing a piece of fruit at the release button.
In The King's Demons, Hugh insists on taking up the king's champion's gauntlet, to protect his father. He is highly insulted when the champion, having unhorsed him, comes to finish him off and the Doctor intervenes, saving his life.
In The Curse of Peladon, The Doctor is forced into a duel with the champion. Even though he's an old man, the Doctor wins anyway.
Discussed when Buffy and Webs, a former classmate who was turned into a vampire, fought in "Conversations With Dead People".
The Middle Man had the title character forced into a vastly outnumbered Duel to the Death on behalf of his mentor, Sensei Ping.
The first season of Blackadder had the title character challenge someone who revealed him as a bastard to a duel, and was shocked when the man enthusiastically replied, "To the death!". Luckily, he was just messing with his head.
The third season ends with a Blackadder in a duel to the death with cannon against the Duke of Wellington. Lucky thing he had that cigarette case on him.
Babylon 5 has one in the second season episode Knives, though it's more a Suicide by Cop gambit to save one Centauri's family from being tainted by a charge of treason.
Minbari duel with hollow metal quarterstaffs(probably sharpened at the edges). As a duel is presumably consensual it is considered by them to be "suicide" and hence it is not Minbari killing Minbari.
The most dramatic example of this is Marcus dueling Neroon, to prevent the latter from assassinating Delenn. Marcus loses, but he gets better.
Neroon: Den'sha, you said. "To the death". And death there was. The death... was mine. To see a human invoke the name of Valen — to be willing to die for one my kind, when I was intent on killing one of my own... the rightness of my cause... disappeared.
James May's Man Lab has an entire segment dedicated to the art of dueling, culminating in James and his producer Will dueling over a parking space with flintlocks the first time (resulting in the death of an errant sound man), and paintball guns the second time. Will wins the second duel, and as James lays "dying," his life flashes before his eyes.
Surprisingly, there are several in Stargate SG-1. After finding out that La Résistance leader K'tano is actually a minor Goa'uld named Imhotep, Teal'c challenges him to a duel. However, instead of traditional Jaffa weapons, they use wooden training staffs in the shape of the staff weapons. When K'tano is about to finish Teal'c off after breaking his staff in two, Teal'c uses a broken piece of the staff to impale K'tano as he lunges for the killing blow.
Later on, Cameron Mitchell engages in several sword duels with holographic knights. He wins one by beating the knight. The other one can't be beaten normally and almost kills Cameron, but Daniel ends up shooting the holo-projector. Also, Cameron is captured by a secretive tribe of Jaffa, who have developed their own form of martial arts. As Cameron is accused of killing one of their tribesman (the guy is actually alive at SGC), he is told that he will be executed by allowing a family member of the deceased to fight him. Being fair, they send one of their own to teach Cameron their martial art. When it comes time for the duel, Cam finds out that his teacher is the brother of the "deceased" and his opponent. Despite his military training and the new skills, the brother easily beats Cam and pretends to kill him.
In Stargate Atlantis, John Sheppard finally kills off Acastus Kolya with a quick draw, after Kolya refuses to surrender.
In an episode of the re-imagined Flash Gordon series, Flash is enamoured with Princess Aura under the influence of a Love Potion. Barin, the leader of a local tribe, whom Ming wants to marry Aura (despite both being unwilling) happens upon Flash and Aura. Right at this moment, Ming walks in and sees the three of them. Gleefuly, he forces them both to publicly duel to the death for Aura's hand using poisoned flail-like weapons. The problem is that Barin is a warrior and has been trained to use the weapon, while Flash is a marathon runner from Earth with few hand-to-hand combat skills. Quickly disarming Flash, Barin prepares to finish him off, but can't. Instead, he throws the weapon at Ming, who goes down from the poison. Aura then reveals that she has replaced the poison in the weapons with a fast-acting sedative meant to simulate death and that Ming will be very angry when he wakes up.
Interestingly, Ming was angry at Aura not for replacing the poison with a sedative but for not finishing him off when she had the chance, implying that only a Klingon Promotion could make her worthy to rule in his stead.
Deconstructed in a Castle episode, where the victim of the week was found with a musket ball in his chest. Of course, Castle immediately spun off a theory about a time-traveling pirate. When the apparently murder weapon, an antique pistol, was found, Beckett and Castle proceeded to test it at the firing range, before realizing that there's no way to hit a specific target at range with it (even steadying the weapon and using a laser sight). It turns out that the victim and his friend specifically used two antique pistol to settle their dispute because they didn't want to hurt each other but wanted to keep their honor. Unfortunately, a rival of the victim's found out and shot him with a rifle loaded with a musket ball.
The inaccuracy of dueling pistols was grossly exaggerated for that episode. The reason that specially crafted sets of weapons were used for duels is that they were carefully engineered to be as accurate as possible, and the majority of 19th Century dueling pistols could put a half-dozen shots in a three-inch ring at 20 paces. Doesn't keep that montage from being hilarious though.
Parodied in the Red Dwarf X episode "The Beginning", which opens with a rogue simulant claiming that Lister has killed his brother, and challenging him to a duel across space and time. It turns out that "Hoagey the Roguey" has been challenging the crew to duels across space and time on a regular basis, and they're getting sick of it. Evidently, they're not actually to the death.
Hoagey: You say I'm obsessed with duels across time and space? You insult my honour! I challenge you to a duel across time and space!
JAG: In "Dog Robber (Part 1)", Mac deals with two Naval Academy pledges (fictional descendants of Burr & Hamilton) who staged a failed duel.
Hornblower, episode "The Even Chance" AKA "The Duel": Horatio challenges Simpson because he accused him of cheating in cards. The real reason was to either kill their bully or to die, not having to face his torture any more. His friend Clayton clubshim and fights Simpson in his stead. Unfortunately, poor Clayton is shot. However, when Simpson and Hornblower meet later, they are to face each other yet again. Simpson fires early and claims it was a misfire, giving Horatio a free shot. Being the Dirty Coward he is, he begs for his life and Horatio fires into the air, saying he's not worth the powder. Humiliated and furious, he tries to stab Horatio In the Back. Captain Pellew shoots him dead, exhibiting some fine Improbable Aiming Skills.
By The Sword Divided features two of these, both involving Cavalier officer Tom Lacey. In the first series he fights a fellow Cavalier to defend his sister, Anne. In the second, he deliberately provokes the Roundhead Major General Horton into challenging him to a duel at dawn.
Several ancien regime-style duels are featured in the video to Wolf Parade's "I'll Believe in Anything." The final duel involves cannons (possibly inspired by the one Kaiser Wilhelm II was involved in; both the officer in Wilhelm's case and the challenged guy clearly think of the whole duel thing as ridiculous).
Common among the Imperium, Chaos, and Dark Eldar in Warhammer 40,000. Extremely common, if informal, among the Orks.
"Informal" in this case roughly translates to "only when shooting them in the back with your favourite gun doesn't kill them instantly".
This was given an explicit rule, "Challenge", in Sixth edition: if two squads each have an upgraded/attached unit such as a sergeant, or if one squad is an independent character all on their own, then when they close for melee combat the attackers can issue a challenge to the defenders. If the challenge is accepted, each duelist can ONLY affect the other (useful when one tends to make a lot of attacks per round and could wipe out a squad); if rejected, the defending champion can't take part in that round of combat (still potentially useful, in cases where one unit can't take out the attacking character but the whole squad can).
Lucius the Eternal tends to only fight to his full ability when he's called one of these. With a sword and whip. Likely against someone with a big gun.
Warhammer Fantasy isn't too far behind, with Empire, Dark Elves, Orcs, Chaos and Ogres all engaging in this to some extent.
Ogres in particularly are big believers in it; leadership of a tribe only changes with the death of the current Tyrant. Sometimes this is of fairly natural causes (the legendary Tyrant Olflab Stonecruncher Fatgut Deathcheater choking to death on his great-grandson's skull after ruling for over 90 years, for example). Most commonly, a "guts out pit-fight", where two ogres fight to the death with their bare hands and the winner eats the loser, is what determines a change of power.
Rokugan's culture favors contests of iaijutsu when it comes down to two bushi having a personal clash. That said, the parties involved require special dispensation from their lords in order to fully realize this trope—their lives are not for themselves to choose to throw away, after all. Normally, such duels are thus merely to first blood.
A deeply rooted part of Clan warrior culture in the BattleTech universe. Not only is it fairly common to settle disagreements with duels (not always to the death, but few Clanners blink an eye if it happens as long as nobody cheated), but it also constitutes the appeals process in the courts, is essential to the promotion process, and is mandatory to participate in the political process, where earning the right to vote requires you to be the winner of a 24-man dueling tournament. The attitude goes so far that ganging up on a single enemy in actual combat is considered a breach of the rules of warfare, to the point where an odd man out will wait until his comrade is killed, and then engage the now "free" enemy. In essence, a properly fought Clan v Clan war is the sum total of numerous individual duels.
Chaosium's Stormbringer! supplement Stealer of Souls. After 4 merchants have Elric of Melniboné kill Nikorn, one way for Nikorn's daughter Freya to get revenge is to challenge each of the merchants to a duel. If she takes too long dealing with them, one of the merchants will seek her out for a duel. In the sequel Black Sword, Freya can duel Elric himself.
Car Wars features these, both with and without cars being involved.
In Shakespeare's Henry IV part 1, Prince Hal challenges Hotspur to single combat in lieu of their two armies meeting. The offer is more or less rejected, the armies fight, but Hal and Hotspur eventually have their duel, which becomes the "this town ain't big enough for the two of us" version.
Hal: Two stars keep not their motion in one sphere, Nor can England brook a double reign of Harry Percy and the Prince of Wales.
Some of the games in the Gundam Vs Series use the concept of the Duel to the Death for Mission Mode stages. Alliance vs ZAFT 2 Plus has a literal duel with Andrew Waltfeld, where both he and the player start back-to-back with one hit point, meaning first blood wins. Gundam vs Gundam Next Plus has a particularly annoying variation where you and an ally fight two enemies at the same time, again so low on health that one hit means death...except both enemies have a "second chance" ability that sacrifices a nonessential limb for extra health, meaning whomever you kill last needs to be killed three times. And the whole fight takes place on a stone platform in the middle of a volcano, so if you miss your jump...
Per the above BattleTech example, a memorable mission in Mechwarrior 4: Mercenaries has the player square off with the leaders of a Clan Jade Falcon invasion force to settle the matter like true badasses. It's not one on one (the Clanners 'bid' a Binary (10 mechs), and the PC answers with an eight mech bid and tells them to bring it) but otherwise plays "pistols at dawn" very straight, taking place at first light on a deserted beach.
The best part, of course, being that it isn't to the death (unless you lose, of course)- after winning the challenge you cite Clan law to force the enemy commander to become your bondsman and join your company with the callsign Falcon. She's one of the best pilots available too.
In The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind the arena is used for settling matters of honor rather than prizefighting, as it is in Oblivion. Becoming leader of the Mages' Guild and/or Imperial Legion involves duelling the current one, and there are some duels involving lesser NPCs as well.
In Dragon Age: Origins, the player character can be challenged to a one-on-one duel by a knight who believes they are responsible for the death of the king. The player can agree to fight him fairly, send their entire party after him, talk him out of the fight, or force the fight to a draw by retreating into the market, causing the knight to call off the fight and swear vengeance later.
You also get to fight Loghain in a duel to the death, though you can choose a champion in that duel.
In Dragon Age II, if you have Fenris in your party and/or if Isabela comes back at the end of chapter 2 you get the option to resolve the qunari uprising by fighting the Arishok alone in a duel to the death. (Whether or not you'll want to is another question entirely.)
Towards the end of the level The Ark of Halo 3, the Master Chief runs into a pack of brutes, led by a hammer-wieldingChieftain. Unlike most engagements with Brutes, where the player has to contend with the mooks first, in this encounter, the bodyguards form a semicircle while the Chief engages the Chieftain.
World of Warcraft has the "Mak'Gora". This is a challenge to the Warchief of the Horde. The two fight each other without any armor and one single weapon. If the challenger wins the duel, he becomes the new Warchief. During Thrall's reign, the Mak'Gora wasn't fought to the death, but Garrosh re-established the rule "Lok'tar Ogar", Victory or Death. There have been two Mak'Gora known to players:
Garrosh challenges Thrall: the fight wasn't finished because the Scourge attacked the city, but Garrosh would probably have won.
Cairne challenges Garrosh: While it doesn't happen in-game it's widely referenced in-game. Garrosh's weapon was poisoned by a Evil Chancellor, so Cairne was paralyzed as soon as Garrosh barely scratched him. He was then killed by Garrosh. He would likely have lost anyway, as his weapon was destroyed.
In Empire: Total War, a Western faction's gentleman character can challenge or be challenged to duel another character (not necessarily another gentleman). The cutscene shows a duel either using swords or pistols. Interestingly, the duel is not always lethal, meaning both character can survive with their honor satisfied. The cuscene will then show both character walking past each other (one of them bandaged), nodding in respect.
The intro to Total War: Shogun II shows a Combat by Champion between a samurai from an army besieging a city with the city's champion. The invading samurai wins. As he walks away towards his general triumphantly, he falls dead revealing that his back is now a pincushion from arrows fired by city guards.
This is the final boss fight in Metal Gear Solid 4, between Solid Snake and Liquid Ocelot.
In Escape From Terra duels are legal on anarcho-capitalist Ceres, but most of the residents are sensible enough not to do them. Unfortunately when Guy's Napoleon-obsessed cousin Pierre arrives on the asteroid he challenges someone who gropes his butt at a gay bar. Guy and the other guy's second conspire to set up a seriesof conditions to make Pierre withdraw.
Fate Nuovo Guerra has developed a system allowing for "Servant Skirmishes", i.e. battles where it's possible for both combatants to get out alive, and "Servant Duels", which are this trope. The former allows for typical Play By Post Game free-form roleplaying, while the latter uses a dice to determine the winner while minimizing accusations of God Modding.
86. May not challenge anyone in my chain of command to the "field of honor".
188. May not challenge officers to "Meet me on the field of honor, at dawn".
The Death Battle web series takes two similar characters and pit them against each other, analyzing their respective strengths and weaknesses to see who would win a... Duel to the Death.
Sword duels are a standard piece of Imperium Nova, over insults or for money. Whether the loser survives or merely suffers injuries depends on their skill and fighting style.
Avatar: The Last Airbender - The Agni Kai among Firebenders. Not necessarily an automatic Duel to the Death, but given that Firebenders are temperamental and frequently portrayed as aggressive, arrogant and violent...
Zuko vs. Fire Lord Ozai - how Zuko got his scar. Rare occasion of a villain showing mercy...but not really, given what comes after.
Zuko vs. Zhao: Zuko wins, but refuses the Kill Shot. Zhao, disgusted at being defeated by someone he considers inferior, attempts to take a kill shot on Zuko, but Iroh steps in and shoves him across the deck of the ship with a casual flick of the wrist.
Iroh: Even in exile, my nephew has more honor than you.
Zuko vs. Azula: Azula wins, but only by cheating. And both Zuko and Katara show her mercy, even though she's gone nuts by this point.
Ozai vs. Aang: Ozai plans to kill Aang. Aang knows he's supposed to kill Ozai, but he finds another way.
After a fashion, the Earthbender battle arena also counts, but death is not intentionally a consideration, as it's done for showmanship and entertainment.
In various Looney Tunes cartoons taking place in a Western setting, Bugs Bunny is challenged to a duel, usually by Yosemite Sam. Needless to say, Bugs doesn't play fair.
The Chuck Jones-directed Tom and Jerry short "Duel Personality" centers around one of these between the title characters.
Futurama, "Why Must I be a Crustacean in Love?": Zoidberg challenges Fry to Claw-Plagh after catching him with the woman he was trying to mate with in a spoof of the "Amok Time" episode of Star Trek.
During the same episode, Homer runs into Jimmy Carter. The encounter swiftly goes sour thanks to Homer's rudeness, and Jimmy Carter tries to challenge Homer to a duel. Homer freaks out and drives away before Carter can slap him with a glove.
Dueling (of the type we think of today) originates from the time period when a squabble between two men could easily and rapidly blow up into a huge, ruinous family feud (no, not that kind). Dueling contained the dispute between two/four men, and kept collateral damage to a minimum. Further rules included men of superior social status being able to refuse challenges by lesser men, as well as a social stigma around forcing one's inferiors into accepting challenges. The practice died out around the end of the 19th century, as societies began getting tired of their most educated and powerful men killing each other off.
American history has the Alexander Hamilton vs. Aaron Burr duel. This one is so steeped in personal enmity and political rivalry, and is of such importance to the history of the United States, it gets its own article on The Other Wiki.
Abraham Lincoln was also challenged to a duel at one point. He requested that it be fought in a pit with cavalry broadswords. Lincoln particularly insisted that the pit have a plank across the middle that neither man could cross. Then, just before the duel, Lincoln cleared some branches with his sword. Realizing that Lincoln had at least six inches' greater reach, his opponent ended up chickening out.
Andrew Jackson was involved in several duels and carried multiple bullets inside him for many years. In one particular duel, Jackson knew his opponent was a better shot, and let him fire first. The bullet lodged in his chest, but was not fatal. Because pistols back then could only be fired once before reloading, Jackson had all the time in the world to aim his shot.
British history has the duel between Castlereagh and Canning (1809, two cabinet ministers, fighting over military strategy) and between the Duke of Wellington and the Earl of Winchilsea (1829, the Duke was Prime Minister at the time, and they were fighting over the emanicpation of Catholics).
Endemic in most of Europe for quite a while, roughly from the Middle Ages to the nineteenth century.
A particularly famous 16th century French duel was waged after the young, minor nobleman Guy de Chabot, Baron of Jarnac, quarrelled with the Dauphin. Because the Dauphin was too important to duel himself, the veteran soldier and highly skilled duellist François Vivonne stood in his place. Knowing that he had little hope of defeating Vivonne, Jarnac hired the services of the Italian fencing master Captain Caize, who trained him to perfect a little-used cut to the back of the knee. On the day of the duel, Jarnac quickly landed two blows on Vivonne's legs, crippling him. The enraged king ended the duel immediately. Vivonne refused medical attention and eventually bled to death. The duel shocked the French court due to the unexpected result, the ease at which Jarnac seemed to win, and the bad implication it had on the royal family. Dueling was quickly outlawed in France thereafter. To this day, a Coup de Jarnac is a tricky or unexpected attack.
In his youth as acting editor of the New York Sunday Mercury, Mark Twain challenged the editor of a rival newspaper to a duel. The duel itself was narrowly averted after Twain's second exaggerated his marksmanship, prompted the rival's second to advise him to call off the duel.
Ridley Scott's The Duellists was based on a true story - in France, 1794; a young officer named Dupont was ordered to deliver an insulting message to Fournier, a fellow officer. Fournier took out his rage over the letter by challenging Dupont to a duel, which ended without a clear victor, as did the next, and the next and so on. They fought thirty duels over the next nineteen years. Eventually Dupont grew so irritated at repeatedly being challenged that he refused to fire in a pistol duel, instead telling Fournier (who had fired and missed twice) than if he ever challenged him again he would first fire his two reserved shots.
Mathematician Évariste Galois died in a duel at the age of twenty, leaving behind writings that provided much of the foundation of group theory.
The great Russian poet and writer Alexander Pushkin fought a number of duels over his wife Natalya. He was eventually killed by Natalya's brother-in-law Georges d'Anthes, over rumors that d'Anthes was having an affair with Natalya.
A few years later, another Russian poet, Mikhail Lermontov, met his end when, while serving in the Army, one of his fellow soldiers didn't like a joke he had told. They dueled, and Lermontov was shortly dead.
The last recorded judicial duel in France was fought in 1386. Interestingly it was allowed, not because The Government at the time thought it appropriate practice but simply because they hadn't bothered to take it off the books! A French noblewoman conceived while her husband was away at war. She claimed it was rape by a political rival of her husband's. Her husband appeared as plaintiff and slew the defendant.
In 1818, an Englishman was accused of murder and claimed the right to trial by combat. To everyone's surprise, the law granting him that right was still valid, and he was acquitted when his accuser declined to appear on the "field of honor." (Trial by combat was abolished the next year.
Germany's last Kaiser, Wilhellm II, was a very temperamental that often challenged people to duels. One of the main ways his opponents avoided them was by setting very strange rules. One rather intelligent army officer proposed a duel using field artillery, at 30 meters.
Otto von Bismark once challenged Rudolf Virchow to a duel over a political dispute. Allegedly, Virchow chose sausages as his weapon: One was infected with deadly botulism, one was not. The Chancellor decided that he didn't want to risk eating a toxic sausage and withdrew the challenge.
Two rather famous hunters once challenged each other to a duel at 400 meters with rifles with each fighter at the other end of a cliff split by a deep river. The duel lasted over a month since each would carefully camoflauge themselves after firing.
Preston Brooks gained fame for bludgeoning Senator Charles Sumner half to death on the floor of the Senate after deciding that the man was not his social equal and did not deserve to be called out to a duel. Another congressman, Anson Burlingame of New York, accused Brooks of cowardice for his actions and received a prompt challenge by Brooks. Burlingame, a marksman, accepted the duel and chose rifles. To avoid anti-dueling laws, he demanded that the duel be held in Canada. Brooks claimed that he did not want to go into "hostile territory" to reach Canada, so he withdrew the challenge. The North mocked him for a coward for the rest of his life.
Frederick The Great's father once almost challenged the King of England to a duel, commenting that it was a personal quarrel that should be handled personally rather then risking the lives of their respective subjects.It was unseemly-a bit of Common Sense which very few monarchs seem to have for some reason. The diplomats scotched that plan.
Master Swordsman and Olympic fencer Aldo Nadi engaged in a legitimate and very illegal duel with a rival in his youth, sometime in the 1920s. Both participants were wounded several times, and Nadi refused repeated requests from his friends to end the duel. Finally his opponent simply lowered his sword and walked forward with arm extended, as you would at the end of a fencing match, to bring the episode to a close before someone got seriously injured.
Two Frenchmen once fought a duel in hot air balloons over Paris. The winner punctured his opponent's balloon, causing the loser and his second to fall to their deaths.
Two other Frenchmen fought a duel in which they threw billiard balls at each other. The outcome of the duel is unfortunately, unknown.
At one time in his career Theodore Herzl the founder of the Zionist movement wanted dueling to be legal in the new state to emphasize that Israelis could be as, well, Badass as any Proud Warrior Race around.
In one part of the United States, people have been known to be disenfranchised simply for engaging in a duel.