It appears most good guys are Genre Blind. When military personnel or the police encounter the Monster of the Week, they invariably attack it with small arms fire. Unfortunately, this never works. The monster is always Immune to Bullets. This gives our heroes an opportunity to save the day with some Applied Phlebotinum.
An important part of this trope is that, in almost all cases, the good guys will only ever use small arms fire. Rockets, tanks, air support, artillery — all the things the military is known for — are hardly ever involved (unless the monster is a Kaiju, Robeast, or similarly gigantic). Not only are they more expensive for the producers to incorporate in to the film/show, in most cases, they might actually work, thereby stealing the thunder of the heroes of the story.
If the monster in question is absurdly slow moving, expect the soldiers to remember what their mommy told them about how you Do Not Run with a Gun. If, after they discover their guns are useless, the good guys still won't stop wasting ammo shooting the baddie, it's I Will Fight Some More Forever.
Very often in instances of this trope, a Technical Pacifist will urge the army/police/whomever to try and understand the monster before trying to kill it. Depending on the attitude of the series, they may either be considered a naive idiot or a paragon of virtue.
If the army just wants to Nuke 'em, the heroes' job will be to find a solution with less collateral damage before it's too late.
Named for a line in the Doctor Who episode "The Daemons," where Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart orders a UNIT soldier to shoot the Monster of the Weekfive times, quickly.
Compare with Shooting Superman.
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Both played straight and averted in the manga Parasyte. The creatures are tough enough to completely ignore bullets, but that doesn't stop a few police from opening fire and getting butchered. The main character takes them on by knowing their weaknesses, though, and the government soon learns their weaknesses and kills them off by the dozens with high-powered shotgun ammunition. Quickly Double Subverted by introducing a super-parasite that ignores THAT ammunition and massacres an entire platoon.
Invariably, however, they will still unload all sorts of ordnance on the Angel Of The Week before the EVA's are called in, long after the Angels are shown to be invulnerable to such attacks. Commented on in Rebuild:
Ritsuko: "A waste of the taxpayers' money."
Misato: "I guess the military types just won't be satisfied until they've fired all their bullets."
To be fair, the missiles and such serve an actual purpose at one point in 1.0: at the beginning of Operation Yashima, they are used to distract the Sixth Angel while Shinji gets ready to fire the positron rifle.
In the series, by the last handful of angels they've gotten so strong even the Eva tactics and weapons no longer work. Instead they usually require a miraculous last minute unexpected save, usually Eva 01's berseker mode. The final two (not counting the actual last one, who wasn't really fought) were too much for even that, needing Nerv's strongest one shot weapon, which really was needed for other things wasted on the former, and an Eva selfdestructing, for the latter.
Happens way to often in Gravion Zwei. The Military will ignore all requests to kindly sit the fuck down and let the giant robot handle it. The Gravion itself partially follows this trope, for some reason they always try the tiny machine guns first, when even in a real robot show, that weapon would do jack shit.
Lampshaded in Fullmetal Alchemist. Late in the series, Hawkeye, who specializes in firearms, expresses frustration as she runs into more and more enemies that are immune to bullets. The army does possess tanks and artillery, but they are rare or hardly used, since it is assumed that State Alchemists will do all the heavy lifting (they do).
Hawkeye: They [guns] don't work on anything these days...
Averted though in the first battle with Sloth. After he makes the terrible mistake of accidentally burrowing into the Badass Army's base, they proceed to rapidly evolve their response to him, starting with guns, then a bazooka, then tank rounds. When that doesn't work, they douse him with chemicals, ram him with several Tanks, and knock him out of the base, the chemicals combined with the frozen weather freezing him near instantly. In the end, Sloth is defeated without an ounce of alchemy being used on him.
The military police in The Big O arrive just before Roger and Big O every time a giant monster or robot attacks Paradigm City and fire a massive barrage that does absolutely nothing. But they have to try each time, or else they'd have to admit they need his help.
In the Gundam metaseries, essentially every universe has some form of tanks, MLRS, and other modern artillery weapons. They are never useful against mobile suits unless a named character is at the controls. One such example comes in Gundam SEED CE73 Stargazer where Retired Badass Edmond Du Clos takes down a GINN with a tank (though he dies in the process).
UC Gundam sidestories tend to avert this: notably, in The 08th MS Team, a group of Zeon tanks uses clever tactics to defeat a Gundam in combat (though they don't manage to actually destroy it). And then there's MS IGLOO 2, which is pretty much all about the Earth Federation forces somewhat successfully battling Zakus with weapons like missile launchers and tanks. Though all of them do die in the process.
In a sense, Gundam has another example with vulcans/CIWS. About half the mobile suits ever made have them, but all they're good for are missile defense and occasional lucky shots to enemy cameras, and even then they aren't used all that often.
Vulcans are extremely useful as anti-personnel weapons (Amuro used them that way a couple of times). Of course, they are rarely used that way since showing the hero pulping enemy soldiers with vulcans would look really bad, and might raise the show's rating too high (though Stargazer does show Alliance mobile suits using foot-mounted CIWS for exactly this, complete with graphic detail).
A good example comes from the second episode of the original series. Char sees the new Gundam mobile suit destroy some Zaku's and sorties in his own machine to take it out. He effortlessly dodges its attacks and hits it with a burst of machine gun fire. From his facial expression, he was obviously expecting that salvo to take it down; he looks very surprised when the Gundam isn't even scratched. To his credit, he switches tactics from this point on, trying to take out the Gundam with physical attacks from his superheated battleaxe (which can get through the Gundam's armor), only using the guns to distract and intimidate Amuro.
In One Piece, Marines consistently fire their round musket-ball like projectiles at Luffy, even though it is proven time and again that it doesn't work.
In fact, Luffy often turns their bullets back on them, using the elasticity of his body to rebound the bullets toward their origin.
Even more so when they fire on Logia-type Devil Fruit Eaters, who are known to be invulnerable to conventional weaponry as even the Marine's own ADMIRALS employ this type of Devil Fruit.
Subverted in Those Who Hunt Elves. Our heroes are summoned to defeat the dragon because they have a tank. Dragons don't stand up very well to ammunition designed to take out other tanks and fortifications.
In Preacher, Starr attempts this against The Saint Of Killers, several times. It does not go well, ever, but Starr refuses to learn his lesson and just keeps upping the ante; After waves of the Grail's elite troops have fallen without even slowing the Saint down, Starr commandeers a Tank Battalion, getting them all killed in the process. When that fails, Starr orders a Nuclear Bomb dropped. In the heart of the mushroom cloud, the Saint looks around, spits contemptously, and growls "Not Enough Gun."
When he firsts encounters Imhotep in The Mummy, Rick shoots the undead monster with a shotgun, before fleeing the room. Ardeth says it can't be killed by mortal weapons, but Rick insists, "I got him."
In Robocop, Robocop launches an assault into a drug warehouse. All of the drug dealers shoot at him with small arms, doing precisely nothing. He simply picks them off one by one as they fire uselessly at him.
In Robocop 2, the police have the same problem with the new, evil robot. Robocop must use an inventive solution to defeat it.
In the Starship Troopers movie, the Mobile Infantry seems to have forgotten everything we've learned about combined arms warfare. The MI's only tactic is to attack in massed numbers using small arms and the occasional nuke. At no point in the movie is there any evidence of artillery or close air support, tanks or armored personnel carriers, special weapons squads with mortars or heavy machine guns. Nor do the ships seem to possess the capability of the orbital equivalent of shore bombardment, despite the fact that one scene has several bombers do a strafing run on the surface (which it's implied they could do at will if they weren't Jerk Asses). We get the barest of a glimpse of such things in a flashforward near the end, where a trooper has what is functionally a grenade launcher.
Subverted in Monsters vs. Aliens. At first it looks like the US military is trying to attack the enormous alien robot with just a few infantrymen with small arms. Then the camera pulls back and you see them throwing everything they've got at it. Tanks, attack helicopters, jet fighters, the works. To cap it off, even after all that, the President fires a few rounds at the robot just for show.
Independence Day follows this trope on a larger scale when the human resistance limits itself to air-to-air missiles when firing on the miles-wide alien mothership.
Most Godzilla and Kaiju movies feature at least one scene where the army rolls in with tanks, infantry, bombers, and the kitchen sink, and rarely ever even scratches the monster they're trying to take out. The conventional military arms are just a courtesy before they roll out the special anti-monster laser tanks, giant robot, etc. As part of its Early Installmnt Weirdness, the original film Gojira has Godzilla driven off by an air strike.
In the British kaiju film Gorgo the military is particularly bad about this. At the beginning, when the monster is still in the ocean, they actually do use some pretty heavy duty weapons on it (with use of Stock Footage to keep costs down), like battleship cannons, bombs, and rockets. These have no effect. When the monster comes ashore they use tanks and machine guns on it, even though these are far less powerful than the naval and air weapons that had already been proven useless.
In Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, apes are successfully taking over the country, and the humans only respond with riot police armed with rifles and shotguns.
Played straight in Sandy Mitchell's Warhammer 40000: Ciaphas Cain novel The Traitor's Hand, where the sergeant commanding a squad of Valhallan soldiers orders his men to fire on a World Eaters Chaos Space Marine, shouting "Big red thing, five rounds rapid!" It's implied that if the squad had all managed to connect they probably would have killed the Marine, but he's a Marine and thus leaps directly over the two meter tall Cain at a speed the Guardsmen are unprepared for. Other instances of lasgun fire against Marines tend to play it straighter. It will be interesting to see how Cain's laspistol fairs in the upcoming Emperor's Finest when starring opposite bolters.
Completely and totally subverted in Everworld: Mystify the Magician, in which a warband of white supremacists (the "Sennites") armed with small arms and hand grenades (not to mention a very healthy dose of ammunition) are brought into Everworld. The Bronze/Iron Age civilizations of Everworld prove little match for the modern weapons and sheer ruthlessness of the Sennites, despite the fact that said civilizations have the assistance of mythological gods, magic, and mystical creatures. The Sennites manage to slay a dragon and a Celtic giant relatively easily. They also succeed in slaughtering an entire troop of the Fianna, an elite order of renowned Celtic warriors before besieging and eventually conquering their fortified town. They then hold that town against Loki's grand army, killing Fenrir in the process. The protagonists in the series fear that even without the guidance and limited magical assistance of their witch leader, the Sennites are still one of the most dangerous forces in all of Everworld, even in the face of aliens and gods.
In the Warhammer 40000 novel Grey Knights, Alaric becomes aware that bolter shells, armour-piercing and explosive as they are, aren't going to do much good against the reanimated body of Saint Evisser. Before him, Grand Master Mandulis recognised that bolter shells also wouldn't do any good against the true body of Ghargatuloth.
Played straight with the Dead in Garth Nix's Old Kingdom books. When firearms even work, they can only damage the bodies of the Dead; it takes Charter Magic to harm their spirits, and a necromancer (or Abhorsen)'s bells to send them back into Death.
The words, albeit not the spirit, are quoted (almost certainly as a shout out) in the Horus Heresy novel Fallen Angels - faced with an enormous mob of zombies, a squad of Dark Angels loads up their weapons, and beings doing a pattern of 'One step back, Five Rounds Rapid' until they run out of ammunition and are forced to go hand-to-hand.
Averted in E.E. Cumming's series of novels titled The Vampire Earth. While the reapers are immune to most small arms fire, heavier rounds push them around and fifty caliber bullets can actually pierce their cloaks. Unfortunately the series is set After the End so any weapons heavier than of bolt-action rifles ones are exceptionally rare.
In The Dresden Files, this is frequently used, though the level of results vary. Many monsters or bad guys (such as Nicodemus) are completely Immune to Bullets, but just as many, particularly the iron-vulnerable fae, find out humanity's come a long way since the Middle Ages. Special mention goes to Gentleman Johnny Marcone at the end of White Night, whose squad of elite mercenaries armed with assault weaponry shoot the regenerating uber-ghouls to shreds (although they do need an explosion to be completely disposed of, since they heal from pretty much anything). In the short story Even Hand, Marcone and his bodyguard Hendricks prove that a pair of illegally modified automatic shotguns beats a small army of Fomor monsters.
Named after the following Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart quote from Doctor Who, spoken as the Brig reacts cheerfully unfazed to a stone gargoyle which is running around, disintegrating his Redshirts: "Jenkins! Chap with wings, five rounds rapid." (It is also the title of the first autobiography of Nicholas Courtney, who played that role.) This partly avoids the trope, since bazookas and a grenade are also used against the monster, which break it apart. But it reforms.
A particularly hilarious example was in the second Ice Warriors serial, The Seeds of Death. Despite being set centuries into Earth's future, apparently the only gun used by security forces are turn of the 20th century broomhandle Mauser pistols. Sure, the Ice Warriors are Immune to Bullets, but that's not even trying. In the last episode, one character does suggest arming the guards with flamethrowers instead, but (presumably for reasons of budget) the Doctor saves the day before this happens.
Notably, in the new series episode "Doomsday", British military forces are seen to deploy a rocket launcher against attacking Cybermen after small arms fail.
The Brigadier calls for tank support in Robot, but the titular menace disintegrates the first tank before it can get into firing position.
Brigadier later tried shooting it with the Robot's disintergrator, but the energy used enabled it to grow into a giant instead. At least the Brigadier is man enough to admit he made a mistake to the Doctor.
He even lampshades his own trope: "You know just once I’d like to meet an alien menace that wasn’t immune to bullets."
This line is also used in an anime episode based on Doctor Who.
Double subverted in the Ninth Doctor's final story "The Parting of the Ways", where Captain Jack Harkness gives a group of volunteers under his command "bastic" bullets he is convinced will "blow a Dalek wide open". However, he fails to take into account the Daleks' new bullet-dissipating forcefields, which render the rounds useless. Bitterly lampshaded when a minor character despairingly declares "They're not working!" moments before she gets Exterminated.
Brutally played straight in the Tenth Doctor episode "The Poison Sky", where the Doctor's frantic pleas to UNIT to listen to him when he says no matter how many troops are deployed, guns will not work against Sontarans (due to their sonic waves that cause copper to expand, jamming traditional bullets in their chambers) fall upon deaf ears and the Doctor and UNIT command wind up being forced to listen to their troops being slaughtered over the comm system. Needless to say, the Doctor is less than impressed.
In what may be a television first, a foe of the Tenth Doctor's attempts to lift off from London without enough power to activate her energy shield defences—and is taken out by a single round from a British Army tank! Even TV series set in World War II (Combat and Rat Patrol, for example) traditionally avoid spending money on tanks.
In The Scarifyers: The Nazad Conspiracy, an audio starring Nicholas Courtney, his character Inspector Lionheart utters the line "Sergeant, chap with fangs there, five rounds rapid!"
And finally averted in the episode Battlefield, where it is revealed UNIT has invested in specialised rounds for different alien threats, which work just fine. The new series adds 'rad-steel' rounds for counteracting anti-bullet fields. It's probably a subversion in the sense that said bullets are only deployed after normal bullets fail. On top of that, guess who gets to put the fatal Five Rounds into the Big Bad?.
Lampshaded in the Easter special "Planet Of The Dead", when Captain Magambo is heard to shout "I don't believe it! Guns that work!" as rocket launchers tear apart aliens.
Inverted in Stargate SG-1, where the advanced weapons of the Asgard have no effect against an enemy, but the relatively low-tech bullets of the SG team work quite nicely.
Particularly against the Replicators. The only reason bullets work is because the Replicators can't ignore physics. They may or may not take physical damage, but they still get shoved around, which can buy you precious seconds when they're chasing after you.
The Replicators can ignore physics just fine, they just hadn't gotten to it yet at that point. The humanoid versions can only be killed with Applied Phlebotinum.
In one episode, O'Neil trains some Jaffa in the use of Earth weapons and holds a demonstration at the firing range to compare them to the Jaffa's energy-based staff weapons. They're flashier than the P90s but are less accurate, have a lower rate of fire, and are unable to penetrate cover as well. Jack summarizes:
This (the staff weapon) is a weapon of terror. It's designed to intimidate the enemy. This [holds up P90] is a weapon of war. It's designed to kill the enemy."
Of course, the staff weapons being weapons of terror is more or less Justified: the Jaffa are an army of terror, whose primary enemies are the terrified populations of the planets they patrol (if you want to look godlike to what amounts to an ancient or medieval peasant village, a few dozen Jaffa in full armor with 2.5-meter-long staff weapons will do the trick) and the armies of other System Lords, which by convention are similarly equipped. Better staff weapons do show up later.
And of course, the trope is played straight with the second users of "killing" staff weapons, the Ori, whose ships (again) require Applied Phlebotinum to kill.
In Star Trek, The Borg shields adapt to normal phasers and other energy weapons, but prove ineffective against bullets. Sometimes it seems the Federation could have quickly ended the Borg threat by replicating a few million tommy-guns, or designing other impact weapons, they instead concentrated on randomized versions of their Zap Gun technology.
The novels of the Star Trek expanded universe (particularly Star Trek: Destiny) actually give Starfleet guns made around the same concept of Picard's idea. One character even refers to them as 'old technology given new life' as he sprays down a few dozen Borg drones.
Let's not forget that, like much Sentai, Shōnen, and Monster of the Week stuff, ALL Power Rangers shows focus on the rangers going through their own private counterpart to the Sorting Algorithm of Evil. See that monster? Think you can actually just defeat it with a punch? Why not just whip out the combined 'Zord and stomp it into jelly to start with? Because then the show would be over before the first commercial break. A Hand Wave in the first episode of the first Power Rangers series mentions that they're not supposed to fight unless provoked, and not to escalate a confrontation unless absolutely necessary. To be fair, the Power Rangers aren't really a military force in the strictest sense.
There's a logic to this. First of all, think about the scale of the Rangers' mecha. How long do you think the people of Random City A would put up with the Rangers if they called out a skyscraper-crushing giant robot to step on a human-sized monster like a grape? Secondly, if the villains saw that the Rangers were going to bust out the heavy artillery straight away, they'd feel compelled to escalate their own attacks...
In the Lost episode "The Shape of Things to Come," at least one of the ex-military mercenaries fires at the monster, which is composed of thick black smoke. Naturally, it doesn't do much except get the guy killed.
Stargate Atlantis had a recent episode that actually subverted the trope; a soldier with a personal shield held off an entire Marine squad doing the Five Rounds Rapid treatment... for about thirty seconds, until the shield failed. Thus proving that whatever the situation, something will die if you shoot it enough.
Though our hero did not die in truth, as the shield failed AFTER they had stopped firing. Fortunately then, reinforcements arrived.
A standard tactic for the Eldar Dire Avengers used to be steadily retreating while pouring a hail of small-arms fire into the enemy (primarily because Dire Avengers don't have anything else). It worked very well against most infantry, mostly due to the sheer volume of fire a Dire Avenger squad can get into the air (which would make this more like severalbillionrounds rapid). And then the new rules came along and made basic infantry fast enough to catch the Dire Avengers, rendering this strategy totally obsolete.
The Necron small arms' special ability that lets them blow up the most heavily armored thing in existence if you get really lucky might count. Except for the fact that it would take an average of around 160 shots from a basic Warrior squad to actually blow up a fully-upgraded Land Raider Crusader, so either you have eighty Warriors in rapid-fire range of the thing, you keep up a sustained bombardment over multiple turns, or you get really, really lucky.
This is also the sadly-default strategy whenever heavy weapons/support gets taken out. "You now have forty Imperial Guard soldiers with flashlights and t-shirts against three daemon-possessed main battle tanks." "Welp, let's see how many 6's I can roll out of these eighty shots to try and chip away at them... What do you mean just surrender? I still have soldiers left!"
Justified Trope: There's not time for a SWAT team to come in before Sonic arrives.
Final Fantasy VII: The Shinra Army attempts this with bazookas and artillery fire when the naval base Junon is attacked by Sapphire Weapon. They succeeded when they fired the second shot of the Mako Cannon (the huge main gun of the base) at the Weapon point-blank range.
And later when they fire a single, mako-powered round (from the Junon Canon that had been relocated to Midgar) at the Northern Crater, shattering Sephiroth's protective barrier, while simultaneously landing the killing blow on Diamond Weapon. who merely happened to be standing in the way.
Lampshaded with the E1s (Reverse-engineered Mega Man-style units used by the government) versus Spike Man in MS Paint Masterpieces.
E1:Targets sustain no damage from shot. Calculating...
E1:Conclusion: cannot retreat. Keep firing out of spite.
Averted in the Internet novel The Salvation War where human weaponry proves devastatingly effective and it's the demons who are stuck with the pathetically outmoded and virtually useless weapons. Every time the demons try one of their "classic" weapons, it fails miserably and the humans hit back with something unimaginably more lethal. For instance demonic lightning bolts are countered by massed salvoes from multiple-launch rocket batteries, brimstone is countered by Sarin nerve gas. Though early on humanity does find out that standard 5.56mm isn't very good at stopping demons and has to adapt to using larger calibres.
Averted in the web RP, Insane Cafe: The Curse of the Haunted Hotel. When the characters have to fight a huge demon, they use everything from small arms to Molotov cocktails to anti-tank rockets. And it works.
Played with in the SCP Foundation. Most of the SCPs are fought with mundane, albeit powerful weapons – for example, SCP-076 is contained with what's heavily implied to be a Phoenix CIWS (basically, a computer-guided 20mm gatling gun used to shoot down antiship missiles), and it's working so far. However, the fact that SCP-096 appears to be immune to everything up to AT4 antitank missiles doesn't stop them from chasing it down and trying to kill it with a sniper rifle when things go wrong.
In Generator Rex, Providence takes down EV Os by shooting at them with guns from regular Providence grunts. And, sometimes, heavier weaponry. It is implied several times that they are good at what they do. They seem limited when Rex usually has to come in and save everybody.
Fridge Logic : Maybe sometimes the fact that they can't handle them is the REASON they call him in the first place.
Captain Fanzone's attempting approach to fighting Professor Sumdac's roach monster in the pilot episode of Transformers Animated. When bullets don't work, he tries rockets. The monster just absorbs them. Luckily, they are soon saved by alien shipwreck survivors — the Autobots.