: (holds a gun to River's head and uses her as a shield)
"I'm not playing anymore. If anyone so much as moves-" Mal
: (walks in and shoots Dobson in the eye)
A shield is a protective device, meant to intercept attacks. Attacks are usually accomplished with things such as bullets and swords, both of which are designed to penetrate flesh. So using a shield made out of flesh would seem like a fairly silly idea. However, make sure that the flesh belongs to someone important to your attacker
, and all of a sudden, they become strangely reluctant to attack you.
If your attacker is heroic
enough, then any old Innocent Bystander
will do; their contract states that no matter how evil you might be, they can't even hurt the poor victim in order to get to you
. For less idealistic opponents
, you might need to go one better and capture their Sidekick
. If you want to make really sure
, make it their Love Interest
If you've chosen wisely, then The Hero
will now be unable to attack you without risking harm to your hostage. Hold a knife to their throat, and they can't even risk looking like they're going to attack. You now have the power to demand the hero disarms themselves
, hands over anything you demand
or even to die to save the hostage
. And all you had to do was use some good old Cower Power
. Hey, whatever works.
Don't let the power go to your head though. The Anti-Hero
might just be tempted to shoot you anyway, even if it means a little collateral damage
. And if The Hero
is skilled enough or a good enough shot
, they might just be able to take you out
without harming your hostage. Also, actually following through with your "stop or I'll shoot" threat is seldom a good strategy, as this might lead to unfortunate
repercussions; not only have you enraged the hero even more, but now you've literally wasted the one thing keeping him at bay (though for some reason the hero will almost never call your bluff on this one). And last, but not least, keep in mind that your "shield" is actually a living and usually hostile being, eager to bite you in the back of the hand or kick you in the groin the moment you lower your guard.
Villains aren't the only ones who make use of Human Shields — Antiheroes
are prone to using Mooks
this way, especially as cover during the heat of a shootout, and the most vicious of them will use their enemy's loved ones to stay their hand long enough to get a shot in. A hero who tries this is apt to use it to try to defuse a villain's use of this by taking one of the villain's associates hostage, but as villains are a callous and vicious lot, expect the villain to put a bullet through the skull of the hero's hostage, just to illustrate just how evil he or she is
A Sister Trope
is Bulletproof Human Shield
, where your attacker(s) callously open fire anyway
— only to have their shots blocked by the victim you're holding. The distinction is psychological protection ("You wouldn't dare hurt this innocent victim!") versus physical protection. See also Safety In Muggles
, where the mere presence of non-Masquerade
persons stops a confrontation cold.
You don't have to be directly hiding behind someone for them to be a human shield. For example, filling your Supervillain Lair
with kidnapped orphans
is a good way of stopping the good guys from bombing it, so long as you remember to tell them about it. And if you want to pull a Wounded Gazelle Gambit
against The Hero
to turn the forces of good against him, you might use your own
civilians as shields for something the hero cannot afford to let stand.
If someone suddenly volunteers to be a human shield by flinging themselves between what's shooting and what's being shot at, it's Go Through Me
. This trope is the less deliberate cousin to Hostage Situation
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Anime & Manga
- Subverted in Cowboy Bebop, where one of Vicious' henchmen thinks he can convince Spike to surrender by using Faye as a human shield, without realizing Spike has no qualms about such things. He ends up with a bullet in his head mid-sentence. It happens again at the beginning of the movie.
- Subverted in Hellsing. The first baddie we're introduced to takes future co-star, Seras Victoria hostage as a human shield... only to have Badass Longcoat Alucard blast a gaping hole through her chest to kill him, and then turn her into a vampire afterwards.
- Granted, he did have to confirm that she was a virgin first. If she wasn't, she would've become a ghoul instead.
- Subverted in Fullmetal Alchemist, where a weakened Envy tries to take over Yoki's body, but finds that everyone else simply does not care about his fate, with even the cheerful Al and May Chang cheering his "heroic sacrifice".
- Also used twice in later chapters as a subterfuge, with Scar pretending to run off with Winry and Edward's 'bodyguards' taking him hostage in front of soldiers who couldn't recognize him. ("How could you involve such a small child!")
- Used twice in Deadman Wonderland: Shiro is Ganta's human shield during the Dog Race (he doesn't realize it and is shocked when he sees how much damage she took for him); Minatsuki uses her own brother as a human shield during her Carnival Corpse match against Ganta.
- Subverted in the manga Black Cat. Eve (a nanomachine bioweapon who also happens to be a 7 year old girl) convinces a criminal to let go of an infant and take her hostage instead, quickly saving the day.
- A Flash Back in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha shows a desperate knife-wielding thug using a little girl as a Human Shield to hold back the police. The police do the smart thing and lets the sniper with Improbable Aiming Skills secretly take him out with a bullet that does Magical Damage. Unfortunately the guy turns at just the wrong moment and the sniper hits the little girl in the eye. Worse, the hostage was the sniper's little sister, causing much emotional trauma.
- One of the key combat moves of Afro Samurai is to grab one enemy, throw him into oncoming attacks, and then charge the now-distracted attacker. In the manga, lacking enemies at hand, he uses a random boy and, later, his disabled sister.
- In the manga of Elfen Lied, Lucy uses the Dojikko secretary Kisaragi in this fashion just before decapitating her. In the anime, it's reversed: she kills poor Kisaragi, then uses her corpse as a shield. Of course, in both cases this is merely an act of cruelty, as her vectors protected her from gunfire.
- During the Kyoto Arc of Mahou Sensei Negima!, Chigusa tries to use a kidnapped Konoka as a human shield. Unfortunately for her, it backfired in a rather spectacular fashion, as threatening Konoka just so happens to be Setsuna's Berserk Button.
- It happens again much later in the manga when Tsukiyomi Attacks the crew on Haru's airship, but is stopped by Negi, fresh from his training to complete Magia Erebia. She escapes Negi's grip by trying to cut his arm off, which he dodges by turning into lightning. She then tries to use Nodoka as a Human Shield, but before the can follow through is punched in the gut by the arm she just tried to sever.
- In the manga of Berserk Guts has used a child as a shield and/or hostage in at least 2 seperate occasions, such as when he was fighting with The Count and used the apostle's daughter to ward off an attack.
- An interesting twist in City Hunter. Ryo Saeba gets the drop on a bad guy in a resturant with his 357 Magnum. The Mook opens the curtains behind him, pointing out the crowded tokyo street and taunts Saeba with the fact that if he opens fire, the bullet will cut through the mook and undoubtedly hit a passer by. Ryo proves how badass he is by shooting THROUGH his own hand, slowing the bullet down just enough to kill the bad guy and still not hurt any bystanders
- The first episode of Black Lagoon has Revy using some mook as a shield, then killing him as they flee. Judging by the fact he was apparently uninjured until that point, the slightly-more-bad guys were probably reluctant to shoot him, or had poor aim.
- During the Final Battle of Code Geass Lelouch uses a large group of world leaders he had kidnapped during a peace meeting (including women and children) as human shields to prevent Schneizel from using his super weapon on him right from the start of the battle. The twist is that while Schneizel couldn't care less about the hostages, his new allies, The Black Knights, do. In the end, The Black Knights get Schneizel to refrain from using his super-weapon in favor of more conventional tactics, while Lelouch is sitting on the bridge of his flagship sneering with glee.
- Subverted in the beginning of Beet the Vandel Buster Beltorze grabs Beet during a battle with the Zenon Knights. They think he's trying to use Beet as a hostage. Beltorze dismisses that notion rather quickly when he mortally wounds Beet right off the bat and uses the distraction to launch a powerful attack against the Knights.
- Gunslinger Girl. Marco finds himself facing a Padania terrorist holding his ex-girlfriend, knowing that Marco's eye damage will prevent him risking a shot. Angelica blinds the terrorist with a torch attached to her handgun, providing a distraction so the hostage can break free.
- When Dante uses Jean as a shield, Jean orders Rico to kill him so she can get her shot at killing the most wanted man in Italy as well in the process.
- Played for laughs in Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo, Bobobo usually uses his own allies as the human shields, and the villains, more often than not, aim directly for their faces or completely ignore them and punch bobobo (Usually the former, since the two he uses are the butt monkeys).
- Luffy from One Piece is a rare example of a protagonist who has done this on occasion. But then again, he IS a pirate. Even one of his attacks is called Gomu Gomu no Human Shield, where he grabs someone by random to block an attack.
- Ayano uses Ren as a human shield against Kazuma in episode 7 of Kaze no Stigma. However, the scene is largely played for laughs, and neither Ren nor Kazuma take her seriously.
- In the Dragon Ball anime, Goku once went to rescue the leader of a village. At some point, the villain used the leader as a human shield. Said leader then delivered a "Don't mind me" speech but changed his mind upon seeing Goku's reaction.
- Saint Seiya: During the Poseidon arc (at least in the anime), every time Seiya tried to hit Poseidon with an arrow, the arrow came back at him. At some time, Shaina volunteered herself as a shield but he switched positions so he'd be her shield. Shiryu then served as a shield for both while complimenting Seiya for refusing to use a woman as a human shield.
- Hougen does this in Ginga Densetsu Weed by using another dog from his pack as a shield to stop Weed's Battouga. Hougen survives the attack. His packmate, however...doesn't.
- Cattleya of Queen's Blade often uses a small boy as her shield. Said small boy is her son Rana. The weird part is that Rana agrees to this tactic.
- A favorite tactic against Mikoto in A Certain Scientific Railgun, who is sufficiently idealistic that people have successfully used their own Mooks
- J. Geil in Jojos Bizarre Adventure is somewhat fond a variation on this tactic. Since his stand, the Hanged Man, can only manifest and attack people through reflections, he causes his stand to jump into the reflections in people's eyes, holding them hostage and allowing him to attack his victims with impunity unless they're fine with killing innocent people. Fortunately, when he tries the same stunt on Polnareff and Kakyoin, they eventually just kick sand into the hostage's eyes, causing them to close their eyes and forcing the Hanged Man to jump to a different reflection (while being vulnerable in-between reflections.)
- Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Destiny had the unusual twist of Shinn Asuka using himself as a Human Shield during his attempt to defeat Kira Yamato. Shinn's friend and teammate Rey, after studying data from past battles, realized that Kira has a no-kill policy, instead trying to disable enemy mecha. Shinn takes advantage of this by deliberately positioning his Gundam so that Kira's attacks would become deathblows if they connected, which forced Kira to constantly second-guess his actions and contributed to his defeat.
- In Elfquest, Big Bad Winnowill uses the main character's child this way. Amusingly, she goes on insisting her elfin shield is foolproof even after series badass Strongbow has proven otherwise in a fairly significant manner.
- In Judge Dredd, the Judges' standard sidearm has a special ammunition for this situation, Ricochet, which is specifically designed to do special trick shots to hit a hostage taker by bouncing the rounds off a back wall to hit the assailant. Depending on the writer, they might not even care. Taking down a perp is more important than not hurting a bystander (most judges consider non-judge citizens "potential perps" anyway). And, of course, its usefulness depends on the judge. While Dredd is able to get this trick to work every time he tries it, to a point where it's considered a trademark shot of his in the department, other judges are not guaranteed to pull this off. Judge Heller, for example, totally messes this up and hits a seemingly random bystander, who turns out to be the perp's accomplice by sheer luck. Judge Anderson is so concerned about protecting innocents that she didn't dare it when Judge Death (who requires some extraordinary firepower to take down to begin with, being undead) used a mother and her baby as a meat shield, which ended quite badly.
- Morbius the Living Vampire did this once when he faced off with the X-Men. He snatches Jean Grey and threatens to snap her neck unless Cyclops backs off. Scott just adjusts his glasses a bit and fires behind Morbius, striking a mirror and causing his eye-beams to re-direct into the vampire's back.
- The situation was reversed in Ultimate X-Men, when Cyclops was taken as the Human Shield. This time, he bounces the beam off of Colossus' face.
- Another baddie tried to use Cyclops' brother, Havok, as a hostage which resulted in Cyclops blasting both of them without hesitation. The brothers are immune to each other's powers.
- One of the superheroes trying out for the team in Wildguard: Casting Call is called Human Shield, an invulnerable man who can create powerful forcefields.
- Subverted in the back story of the Saint of Killers from Garth Ennis's Preacher. When the Saint (not yet known as such) tracks down the gang leader indirectly responsible for the death of his family, the gang leader shields himself with an Innocent Bystander. However, by this time the Saint has become so completely consumed with hate that he shoots the bystander anyway. Doubly subverted when it turns out that was his last bullet, and the gang leader shoots him dead, sending him to Hell to become the Saint.
- When he comes back as the Saint he butchers the entire town. One guy even shoves his own daughter in front oof him, begging the Saint to take her and let him live. Doesn't save any of them.
- Garth Ennis' run on The Punisher featured two notable instances: the first from "Welcome Back, Frank" where a mook in a morgue hides behind a dead body (Frank shoots up both), and later when facing the Russian on a skyscraper and Spider-Man keeps trying to intervene, getting knocked out. Frank grabs Spidey and uses his Made of Iron body to absorb the Russian's blows until he can get him off balance.
- Nexus's beam power has a special property to deal with a human shield: the beam can literally steer around any obstacle to hit its target.
- Played straight and subverted in the Astro City "Confessor" story arc. Kevin, the protagonist, is working as a busboy when a C-rate villain attacks and grabs him as a Human Shield. The patrons (who are all superheroes in civilian guise) hesitate to attack, but Kevin breaks free and knocks out the crook with a roundhouse kick.
- In the Batman story arc Lovers and Madmen, Jack, a new and upcoming criminal, and his gang are robbing a fundraiser when Batman arrives. Jack rushes to find a human shield, taking care to choose. By complete coincidence, the person he finally chooses is Bruce Wayne's current Love Interest. Batman backs off, but Jack stabs her anyway, then flees. Batman doesn't give chase, instead rushing to the injured woman's side, but, in a fit of rage, he uses a Batarang to give Jack a large Glasgow Smile. Guess which well-known villain Jack soon becomes?
- Victor Ray from 100 Bullets uses the dying body of one of his criminal partners as a human shield while fighting off numerous armed thugs.
Films — Animated
- Inverted in The Incredibles, where Mr. Incredible takes Syndrome's right hand woman hostage in retribution for the "death" of his family. Syndrome, being a narcissistic and sociopathic villain showed his true colours and called his bluff, saying she meant nothing to him. Of course being a hero Mr. Incredible didn't kill her, and she went on to betray Syndrome for total lack of caring by helping Mr. Incredible and his family escape. When she calls Syndrome out on this his response is basically to shrug and say that he knew Mr. Incredible wouldn't really hurt her, but his callous attitude cements her later decision to betray him.
- In South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, the General of the American forces reveals that he's planning to use all colored soldiers as human shields to protect them from the Canadian forces. Chef obviously takes offense at that and commands his men to duck.
- In the Transformers: The Movie, Megatron does this with Hot Rod when he foolishly tackles the bigger and stronger Decepticon leader to prevent him from pulling a concealed weapon on Optimus Prime. This causes Optimus to hesitate and allows Megatron to fatally wound him.
- In the IDW Transformers graphic novel Autocracy, an almost exact duplicate of the above scene occurs, except that this time Hotrod simply transforms into vehicle mode and easily escapes, leaving Megatron wide open for Optimus to shoot.
Films — Live-Action
- Played with in The Naked Gun movies. In one scene, the villain grabs the hero's girlfriend and places a gun to her head prompting Leslie Nielsen (the hero) to grab a random woman and place a gun to her head, as if such an act would stop the villain. In another scene, the heroes interrupt a formal banquet and announce their intention to capture the villain. This prompts about a half a dozen suited men in the audience to stand up and grab the women closest to them to use as human shields. When the suited men finally realize the heroes aren't talking about them they release the women and sheepishly sit back down.
- In RoboCop: The Series, the titular hero has a great targeting system to deal with this kind of situation. For instance in the first film when a male assailant is using a woman as human shield, Robocop carefully shoots the crook between the hostages' legs in a successful gamble to hit his groin with just enough clearance with female human anatomy to miss her. The second film has him dealing with the similar situation by arranging a ricochet shot to hit the assailant from behind.
- In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indy's love interest (Dr Elsa Schneider) is used as a human shield by one of the Nazis, prompting Indy to drop his gun and surrender. She is immediately revealed to be a 'Nazi Stooge'.
- No list of this trope's examples would be complete without Speed, where, when one of the main characters asks what Keanu Reeves's character would do in a Human Shield situation, Keanu replies, "Shoot the Hostage, take her out of the equation." He later faces the human shield situation twice in the movie, and one of those times he actually does shoot the hostage, but only in the leg, which surprises the villain enough to get the drop on him. It's worth noting that by the second human shield scenario, the villain's put explosives on the hostage and is carrying a dead man's switch to stop him from doing this.
- One of the most brilliant subversions is Blazing Saddles. To escape the bigoted mob of the town that he has just been appointed sheriff of, Bart takes himself hostage. The townspeople, of course, believe that he'll actually do it and stand down. "Ooh, baby, you are so talented! And they are so dumb!"
- In the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, the Shredder holds a spearpoint to Leonardo's throat and forces the other turtles to throw aside their weapons. After they do so, he says, "Fools! The three of you might have overpowered me with the loss of but one. Now your fate... shall be HIS!"
- Pirates of the Caribbean':
- Subverted in Iron Man; when Tony starts laying into the terrorists attacking Gulmira, a bunch of them grab some nearby unarmed women and children and hold them at gunpoint. Unfortunately for them, Tony designed his armour with such a situation in mind, and, in one of the movie's many Crowning Moments of Awesome, promptly uses his targeting system to shoot them all without touching the hostages at all.
- What about Lieutenant Sheckil, using Princess Leia as a shield during The Empire Strikes Back, while she screamed, "Luke, don't, it's a trap!"
- Subverted in Lethal Weapon when Riggs is taken hostage during a drug bust by one of the dealers. Riggs immediately starts shouting at the officers to just shoot him, which caused the situation to get chaotic enough to distract the dealer enough for Riggs to take him down. (Of course, it bears mentioning that Riggs is suicidal...)
- Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. Alotta Fagina captures Vanessa Kensington off-camera and brings her along to use as a shield while facing off with Austin. Austin retaliates by taking Dr. Evil's son Scott Evil as a hostage, whereupon Dr. Evil tells Austin to "Kill the little bastard. See what I care".
- Simon Skinner from Hot Fuzz tries this by grabbing a random child and pointing a gun at his head. The kid promptly bites him on the hand, whereupon Angel jumps him.
"Don't move or the ginger nut gets it...ARRGH, YOU LITTLE FUCKER!"
- There's a couple of these. Angel tries taking Danny hostage when the truth about the NWA is revealed, but Danny's father the Chief Inspector calls his bluff. After his Face-Heel Turn the Inspector does the same thing to his son. Angel also doesn't think he'll do it; instead CI Butterman tries to shoot Angel, giving Danny a chance to disarm him.
- At the end of Dirty Harry the Ax-Crazy Scorpio Killer uses a boy as a human shield. Detective Callahan simply shoots him in the shoulder (given the range and the fact that the boys was too small to provide a lot of protection, Callahan could've put a bullet in Scorpio's chest). Callahan then proceeds to give Scorpio one last chance to surrender, and then puts a bullet through him.
- And in The Enforcer the terrorist leader tries using the Mayor as a human shield, dragging him up a guard tower on Alcatraz. Fortunately the Mayor refuses to go all the way up the ladder, enabling Dirty Harry to blow the terrorist up with a LAWS rocket.
- Cornelius ends up being one of these in The Fifth Element. He was saved by Korben's Improbable Aiming Skills.
- "Anybody else want to negotiate?"
- Played with by Phoenix in Demolition Man. Rather than let the militaristic LAPD of the time just blow up his absurdly conspicuous mansion hideout, he takes a Bus Full of Innocents hostage. He uses this to stay Spartan's hand when they encounter one another. When Phoenix blows the building, Spartan gets the blame for killing the civilians. Turns out the hostages were already dead. But given that it just results in Spartan being available to release and fight him in the future it didn't go so well for Phoenix.
- Escape to Athena (1979). During the uprising in the village, the SS officer seizes a young Greek boy as cover, only to have him saved by the German officer played by Roger Moore.
- At the end of Taken, Mills's daughter Kimmy is being held hostage by an evil old rich dude who had her purchased from the Human Traffickers; Mills has a handgun aimed. The old man tries to say "We can negotiate.", but Mills puts a slug in his head mid-sentence.
- While not exactly a Human Shield, in 48 Hours, Ganz gets Jack to drop his gun by threatening a wounded cop. Since Ganz kills the cop anyway, when he uses Reggie as a true Human Shield at the end of the movie, Jack just kills him.
- In the Kurt Russell movie Soldier, someone tries to use a woman as a shield, but the titular, emotionless soldier empties his machine gun into both of them, then moves on.
- Very much subverted in the Three Ten To Yuma remake, where a Pinkerton Detective Faking the Dead attempts to use a member of Magnificent Bastard Ben Wade's gang as a human shield. Since Wade figures that the mook should have checked to be sure the Pinkerton was dead before he started looting and made himself vulnerable, he calmly shoots them both.
- The Green Mile - a well done adaptation from its entry in 'literature', below. It features Tom Hanks as the guard captain (who also receives a Groin Attack to ensure his aim is spoiled) and David Morse as "Brutal" Howell.
- In a notable action scene from the original Total Recall (1990) Douglas Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger) uses one of these to protect himself against enemy fire.
- A minor criminal tries this at the start of The Shadow. He even points out that the guards aren't good enough shots to hit only him. Ying Ko's response is to complement the human shield on his years of service, then says "shoot through him".
- The leader of the raiders in The Road Warrior decorated his vehicle with a pair of living captives, both as a show of power and human shields. One of the captives defiantly attempts to subvert this trope, calling for his comrades in the compound to fight on, while the other is more cowardly and begs them not to shoot.
- In Heat, Michael Cheritto attempts this as a means of last resort during a chase. Lt. Hanna shoots him anyway.
- Men In Black. In the morgue the Bug grabs Laurel (the medical examiner) and uses her as a shield to prevent being shot by Agents J and K.
- The Fugitive. While the U.S. Marshals are searching a house for one of the fugitive prisoners, the prisoner grabs one of them and uses him to prevent Gerard from shooting him. Gerard uses basic tactical skills to flank the hostage taker and shoot him from the side not covered by the hostage.
- Beverly Hills Cop. Axel Foley finds the Big Bad Victor Maitland holding Axel's friend Jenny Summers in front of him.
Maitland: Be careful, old boy. You might hit me.
- Evil candidate Stillson in The Dead Zone does this by holding a baby in front of himself to stop Johnny from assassinating him (in an attempt to save humanity, as Stillson was going to start World War III once in office). This both saves and dooms him, with an iconic photo of the incident appearing on the cover of Newsweek under the headline "No Future for Stillson", leading him to commit suicide.
- In Die Another Day, James Bond is using a virtual reality training simulation where a terrorist uses M as a Human Shield. His solution is to shoot M in the arm, causing her to jerk out of the way enough for him to get a clean shot at the terrorist.
- Cato manages to do this with the implied intention of invoking a Taking You with Me to Peeta against Katniss in the film adaptation of The Hunger Games near the climax.
- In District 9, Wikus grabs a scientist who was about to eviscerate him around the neck and keeps him there under the threat of cutting out his eyes with a scalpel. The guns that are trained on him are put down.
- An interesting variant in Captain Kronos Vampire Hunter, in which Kronos finds himself in a swordfight with a vampire while his opponent's mesmerised daughter is standing, motionless, nearby. After losing his sword, Kronos dodges behind the daughter and uses her as cover.
- Discussed and applied in Con Air by Cyrus during the shootout between him and the DEA agent on board.
Cyrus: "You know, the next time you choose a human shield, you're better off not picking a two-bit negro crackhead."
- Lampshaded in Fear is the Key (1973). The Villain Protagonist is in a parking lot with the woman he's just taken hostage. She gets her hopes up when she sees two policemen checking out the cars. The villain promptly does a Fakeout Makeout, whispering in her ear, "First I'll shoot the fat one. And when the other's trying to figure out how to shoot me without hitting you, I'll shoot him." As a result she doesn't shout for help.
- The 1988 film Deadly Pursuit (aka Shoot to Kill). The antagonist has the elderly wife of a jeweler hostage, threatening to kill her unless he gets a cache of diamonds. FBI agent Warren Stantin walks over to make the exchange, tossing the bag towards the door, but only a short distance so he'll be forced to leave cover to get it. Instead the villain picks up the small, frail woman and carries her to the bag. This has the added advantage of preventing the police (and the audience) from seeing his face, saving The Reveal for later on in the film.
- Played for laughs in Sleepy Hollow, in which Ichabod Crane — who is something of a Lovable Coward — has a tendency to subtly position himself behind other people or gentle manoeuvre them in front of him in times of crisis. This includes women and children. And did we mention that Ichabod is the hero?
- Horribly subverted in Hive Series book eight with Tom and Nigel. Tom takes Nigel hostage and threatens to kill him unless he is let out of the Glasshouse. Unfortunately, he overestimates his own value to Anastasia Furan, who just shot Tom in the chest.
- In Stephen King's novel The Dead Zone, the protagonist tries to assassinate an evil politican, Greg Stillson. He fails, because Stillson uses a child as a human shield; however, a photographer makes a picture of this, and publishes it, ending Stillson's career.
- In The Green Mile, psychopathic prisoner William Wharton plays drugged during an interprison transfer until his new guards fail to pay attention. At which point he jumps up and starts beating the crap out of them. The guard captain draws his service pistol, so Wharton uses a guard as a human shield while continuing to wreak havoc. The stalemate is broken when an additional guard appears on the scene and ambushes Wharton from behind with a baton to the head. Extra balls points to Brutal Howell for advancing into his boss's gun.
- From the Deryni works by Katherine Kurtz:
- Deryni Checkmate: While fighting his way out of St. Torin's shrine to rescue Morgan, Duncam grabs Gorony, holds him at swordpoint and demands Warin unlock the door. Warin refuses, so Duncan uses his Deryni powers on the lock, and he and Morgan take Gorony with them, leaving Warin and his remaining men locked inside.
- The Bishop's Heir: Dhugal MacArdry leads a band of men to investigate another band of armed trespassers on Transha land. The two groups get into a skirmish and the leader of the other group, Brice of Trurill, grabs an injured Dhugal and holds him as a shield with a sword to Dhugal's throat to end the skirmish and allow him to escape with his men. Brice brings Dhugal all the way to Ratharkin, where he's held captive by Loris and the Mearan Pretender.
- Also in The Bishop's Heir: Dhugal uses Sidana as a shield, taking her before him on horseback as he's fleeing the city of Ratharkin after Judhael's consecration as bishop. Her father and brothers lead some of their troops in pursuit until they unexpectedly encounter Kelson and his forces.
- In ''Outbound Flight', Commander Thrawn is coldly angry to see that his newest enemy likes to station captives in clear bubbles on the outsides of their ships; despite the pleas of the Wide-Eyed Idealist who likes him, he fires anyway.
"Understand the reality of the situation. The Vagaari have killed them, all of them, if not in this battle then in battles to come. There's nothing we can do to help them. All we can do is focus our resources toward the Vagaari's ultimate destruction, so that others may live."
- Notably, he despised having to go through with it - so in his rematch with the Vagaari, he arranges for an entire swarm of Trade Federation droid starfighters to close to point-blank and shoot between the cells.
- In Allegiance, the corrupt administrator being confronted by five stormtroopers tries to pull this with one of his subordinates. Grave, the sniper, just shoots past the hostage's ear.
- In Dan Abnett's Warhammer 40,000 Gaunt's Ghosts novel Blood Pact, Xomat takes Elodie hostage against Daur. Daur declares his indifference and that he just might shoot Xomat through Elodie — which distracts him enough for Daur to get off a head shot. Elodie is muchly upset; Daur tries arguing before resorting to a "Shut Up" Kiss — their First Kiss.
- A captured enemy officer tries to pull this one on Sergeant Jackrum in Monstrous Regiment after he tricks Blouse into making Polly untie him. Using Blouse as his human shield, he tries to force them to let him go ... However, he underestimates Jackrum, and the sergeant puts an arrow into him—barely even wounding Blouse in the process.
- In the climax of Gone, Caine realizes he is losing the fight, so he uses his telekinetic powers to move Astrid between himself and Sam. He tells Sam to kill him, but he'll have to kill Astrid, too, because she is in the line of fire. Litterally, the line of fire, considering his powers.
- In their final fight against the mercenary unit Avanti's Angels in the BattleTech novel Double Blind, the antagonists' leader and two of his underlings chain captive members of said unit to the outsides of their BattleMechs, gambling that the mercenaries won't fire on them for fear of killing their comrades. The tactic works painfully well, too, until the mercs' native allies show up and manage to swarm and climb the 'Mechs (at considerable cost to themselves, but that's a price they're already used to paying for a shot at capturing new war machines for their own tribes) and free the hostages.
- In the climactic battle in Star Man's Son, the hero is used as this, tied to the barricade the mutant Beast Things have set up for their Last Stand. He manages to get loose and crawls to rescue another fellow in the same situation, but finds the man already dead.
- Someone Else's War: The LRA uses Child Soldiers to do the bulk of their fighting because they know that most people will hesitate to hurt a child. Sad case of Truth in Television.
- In The Kingdom and the Crown when the bandit Moeshe Ya'abin's raid on a traveling camp is interrupted by an arrow announcing the presence of Zealots, he holds the girl he was dragging to a tent in front of him.
- In Naked Empire, the eighth book of the Sword of Truth series, the Hero has a problem. He has to get a MacGuffin from a fortress that the Bad Guys are occupying, but it's surrounded by unarmed "peace protesters" from a society of Straw Pacifists that the Bad Guys have persuaded to act as human shields. After all, a hero wouldn't kill unarmed civilians, right? Wrong! The hero decides to take the small group of soldiers he has with him and mount a surprise attack on the fortress, killing any of the "peace protesters" who don't get out of the way in time. Which, as it happens, turns out to be nearly all of them. The resulting slaughter is portrayed not as a tragedy, but as the morally correct outcome: they chose to side with the Bad Guys, so they deserved to die along with them.
- In Mockingjay, President Snow puts a shield made of Capitol children around his mansion to deter attack. It didn't work out too well...
- In Woken Furies, when the villain Anton comes under fire, his first reaction is to grab one of his own allies and use her as a human shield.
- In Alloy of Law, multiple baddies do pull this on Waxillium, with various women.
- A serial killer in the beginning pulls this on his wife, Lessie. Wax takes the shot, and the killer twists Lessie in the way, killing her and traumatizing Wax. He then shoots the killer in the head.
- Marasi also gets a gun to her head multiple times. It never really stops Wax from taking action. Especially the second time, when Wax just ricochets a bullet off another bullet to kill the man holding her.
- In Last Sacrifice, when Tasha Ozera is exposed as the new main suspect for regicide, the guardians present are ordered to arrest her. She manages to take possession of a handgun and chooses a hostage (Mia Rinaldi) to use as her Human Shield. This works well enough to make the guardians stop moving. But Mia knows self-defense and manages to get out of Tasha's grasp.
- The signature martial arts style of the Infernal Exalted, Infernal Monster Style, includes the charm Screaming Meat Shield, redirecting even magical attacks.
- The Dread Emperor in Dungeons & Dragons has a version which goes significantly beyond this trope. That's right, he's taken one of the most contemptible things people can do and made it worse. How so? Not only is he hauling around children chained by the neck to his armor, he drains their health when he's injured.
- Sentinels Of The Multiverse plays with this for resident evil alien overlord Grand Warlord Voss. For each Minion he controls, Voss takes 2 less damage on his front side (Conquering Alien Warlord) and 1 less on his back side (Super-Thoranian Warrior). However, Voss's minions are capable of attacking the heroes so it's less like Voss is using them as a shield and more like Voss simply standing behind them while still allowing them to soak the hits for him like meat shields until they die and Voss has to fight on his own.
- In early editions of BattleTechs Clan Invasion, BattleMechs could carry friendly BattleArmor into battle, at the cost of being unable to fire their torso-mounted weapons, and the battlearmor were vulnerable to being shot off. Players quickly realized that you could pile battlearmor onto your mech and use them as free torso armor, because the mech's torso would take not damage until all the battlearmor were shot off. Rectified in an Obvious Rule Patch, which placed a limit on battlearmor carrying capacity.
- Justified in the Day of Sigma OVA in the remake of the first Mega Man X game, Mega Man: Maverick Hunter X. Although more like "robot shield", Big Bad Sigma used Zero as a shield and even taunted The Hero X about it.
Sigma: If you really want to stop me, you'll have to shoot, destroying Zero in the process!
- The Big Bad took advantage of X's tendency to hesitate in attacking due to circumstances that can destroy an ally/innocent one if he does so. It's also some sort of test that proves that he really is a special reploid, capable of worrying and portraying other various emotions that a common reploid can't.
- Taken Up to Eleven in Devil May Cry 4. It's more like "monster shield" actually. Nero can use a demon as a shield. Although since demon mooks are mindless, they don't care about the "hostage" and still attempt to attack him. The demon shield takes the damage instead.
- Fire Emblem Tellius in Ch. 22 (Solo) of Path of Radiance, the enemy pulls this off by using priests as these.
- Possible to pull off in Gears of War with the meat-shield function. Your enemies don't take kindly to it.
- Amusingly enough, in respawning gametypes you can easily come up against an opponent using you as a human shield.
- Mass Effect 2 in Lair of the Shadow Broker, Shepard has to deal with a hostage situation against Tela Vasir, another Spectre agent. You can do what she says(drop your thermal clips and power cells), harm the hostage and Tela, gloat about your accomplishments and ask if her plan involves hesitating to shoot a hostage, or to use faux racism against her.
Shepard: Is that it?
Shepard: Vasir, I sacrificed hundreds of human lives to save the Destiny Ascension. I unleashed the Rachni on the galaxy. So for your sake, I hope your escape plan doesn't hinge on me hesitating to shoot a damn hostage.
- Metal Gear use both this trope and Bulletproof Human Shield, depending on who you capture. In Portable Ops and 3, attempting to shield yourself with a higher-ranking officer gave you a better chance of success, as the enemies would hesitate for a lot longer - and shielding yourself with a scientist does nothing and they'll still shoot you freely.
- However, in Portable Ops Plus, they pull out a knife and slash you, freeing their comrade and knocking you down.
- Interestingly, you can interrogate your hostage while you're staring down other goons. And, in some cases, you can gun down the other mooks without retaliation if your hostage is of a high enough rank!
- In a cutscene midway through 4, Snake pulls off a decidedly elaborate variation. He chicken-wings a mook by threading a rifle through the guy's arm. Not only that, but he has a knife to the mook's throat using his other hand. He's thus able to compromise his balance and advance on the other mooks, remaining a deadly threat to everyone concerned.
- All of the Splinter Cell games. Though for some reason, guards never hesitate to shoot you when you have one of their own held hostage.
- With one notable exception: the end of Pandora Tomorrow requires Sam to sneak into a TV studio and capture the terrorist leader while he's recording a speech in front of his own goons. This audacious act causes all the goons to point their guns, but not fire...unless Sam makes the mistake of turning his back on them to see where he's going.
- Hitman: Blood Money lets you use anyone, including Innocent Bystanders, as human shields. However, the ability to take a human shield is far more useful to the stealthy player as a way to knock someone out when you want to take their clothes without taking their life. That is, it's not very common to use your shield to, you know, actually shield you.
- Many of the levels in the Silent Scope games require you to take out Bosses who have taken Human Shields with a single headshot.
- Similarly, the Boss of the 2nd Mission of the arcade game GHOST Squad requires you to take him out with a single headshot while he's holding the President of the USA as a Human Shield.
- In the FPS version of XIII, the titular character will use human shields without missing a beat.
- In the Reservoir Dogs video game (based on the film), you can take human shields and hit or threaten them to disarm cops. An even more notable example is when you are confronted by multiple cops and your adrenaline meter is full you can preform a special torture (offscreen of course) called a "Signature Move" (which range from Pistol-Whipping the hostage to cutting off the hostage's ear) that is so brutal that it will cause every cop in the area to drop their weapons and surrender.
- In Drakengard 2, during one scene, The Hero, Nowe, is about to stab the Big Bad, when he pulls Eris, The Hero's Unlucky Childhood Friend, directly into the path of The Hero's attack, causing him to kill her instead. (However, considering her name, and who makes the game, it was expected that poor little Eris would die...)
- Saints Row 2 allows you to use just about anyone as cover. Taking a civilian (or a cop) hostage generally means the cops will look for a way around you. Gang members treat the hostage as a Bulletproof Human Shield instead.
- The Bourne Conspiracy allows you to more subtly use a human shield when engaged in melee - enemies with fire discipline will cease fire if you put a friendly between you and them. Enemies without fire discipline use the Bulletproof Human Shield trope instead.
- In Nexus, the titular hero's main blast power is steerable which means the beam can maneuver around a shield person to hit the target cleanly.
- In Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World, Hawk attacks Emil and just as it appears Brute is going to use the opening to kill Emil, Emil actually throws Hawk at Brute's sword. The result is that Brute has just killed Hawk and there is an opening for the heroes to escape.
- A quest in World of Warcraft sends you off to rescue some webbed-up friendly soldiers being used as "living shields" (not all of them being human, you see.)
- It gets worse - the webbing they're trapped in is opaque and disguises silhouettes, and many of the "shields" are fakes, i.e., genuine hostiles. The only way to discover this is to open one up...
- Call of Duty 4 has the last terrorist grab the anonymous VIP as a shield at the end of Mile High Club. The player has a few seconds to shoot one of his exposed body parts as he jerks around, and if you're playing on the hardest difficulty, you have to go for the headshot.
- A few players have had this happen in Dwarf Fortress. One story goes that one of their best soldiers GAVE BIRTH, quite literally whilst still fighting, they then promptly held up the child and used it to block an incoming arrow.
- The Spider-Man 2 game you could use the grapple ability to perform this.
- Toad serves as one (apparently unwillingly) for Princess Peach in Super Smash Bros. Brawl.
- In Cla Dun, party members serve as human shields for your Player Character, providing an extra layer (or two, depending on the layout of the Magic Circle) of HP protection. Once they're all defeated, the player takes direct damage, and will lose if he/she is incapacitated.
- The Getaway plays this trope to the letter. Mark Hammond can grab anyone as a hostage if he is close enough, and if you grab a gang member or PC their faction will cease fire and plead for you not to shoot - until you start picking them off like a coward. Once the hostage has outlived their usefulness you can choose to shoot them, snap their neck, or let them go.
- The Umbrella Security Service, in Operation Raccoon City, are bad enough dudes to use zombies and Army Specialists like this.
- Thuris from Soul Nomad & the World Eaters attempts this in both the Normal Path and the alternate Demon Path. Both fail spectacularly, the former being ruined by an Applied Phlebotinum and in the latter, the protagonist couldn't give two shits about the hostage.
- Parodied in Borderlands2. A Nomad variant called the Torturer wields a riot shield with a hole in the center, which their idea of repairing involves tying a midget to the front. It's totally unnecessary-bandits are capable of metalwork-they just have it in for midgets. If you manage to shoot off the chains holding down the midget, they will immediately go after the Nomad, leaving him vulnerable as he's distracted by the angry midgets.
- In Uncharted 2, Drake decides to take a Mook as human shield when cornered by Lazarevic. It doesn't work.
- Now that guns are standard by the time of Assassins Creed III, this becomes a tactic to use. Whenever soldiers with muskets line up in a firing line or a commander or Jäger pulls out a pistol, you can run up to a different enemy, grab them, and let them take the bullets. Since this is instant, unavoidable death for the poor sap you grab, this is a great way to kill stronger enemies.
- While feeding, Rayne in BloodRayne can turn her victims around to shield herself from attackers. In Blood Rayne 2 she can do this while refilling her blood guns, can flip over the victim in either direction or even slide underneath the draining body for more defensive coverage.
- In Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, Marluxia teleports Namine into his arms to try to ward off Axel from attacking him, but Alex laughs and says he doesn't care. At that moment, Sora, Donald, and Goofy show up to stop Axel.
- In The Gamers Alliance, quite a few characters—heroic, villainous and anything in between—have no problem using people (whether humans or other races) as shields to get out of sticky situations. Sometimes it works, sometimes it...doesn't.
- Completely subverted in "Boston Brawl 2" in the Whateley Universe. The heroes (a bunch of teenagers from the Super Hero School Whateley Academy) are fighting a Big Bad, his hardened super-criminals, and some mercenaries the Big Bad brought along too. One mercenary with flying power armor grabs the weakest-looking heroine (Generator is 14, but looks like a short 11-year-old girl) and threatens her with a knife. Generator's powers are a phenomenal healing rate and the ability to cast a psychokinetic copy of herself into objects. She embeds herself on the knife and casts a copy of herself into Ironhawk's armor, taking it over and using it as a weapon against the other badguys.
- Used by Basilisx in Super Mario Bros. Z episode 8. He uses Luigi, whom he turned to stone earlier, to stop Hammer Bros. Mario from striking him.
- Occurs early on in Survival of the Fittest v4, where Gracie Wainright attempts to rob Anna Chase (who is not wearing her glasses) and Kitty Gittschall, and after being threatened by Kitty and hit by Kyle Portman, Gracie is just distracted enough for Anna to attempt to run away. However, she is quickly caught and held by the hair by Gracie, as an attempt to get Kitty and Kyle to stop attacking her and to rob Anna in peace.
- Used as a stalling tactic in the appropriately named "Fight Scene" chapter of Fine Structure.
- Used in Drawn Together by Captain Hero, after shouting "Activate Hero Shield!" He probably could have survived the gunfire anyway.
- While not exactly "human", Hot Rod tried to tackle Megatron in Transformers: The Movie during Optimus' fight with him, with predictable results.
- In a flashback in Gargoyles, Gilcomgeigne uses Gruach as such a shield to force MacBeth to surrender.
- When in the Christmas episode of The Boondocks, a mall Santa uses a little girl as a human shield against Riley, who shoots at him with airsoft guns in retaliation for several Christmases of poverty. "Why, Santa, why? You're ruining my childhood!"
- A more harmless version on The Fairly Oddparents, Chester uses AJ for one to guard against a barrage of spitballs.
- Happens in World's Finest, the Batman / Superman crossover film. After being knocked out by Harley Quinn, Mercy Graves is briefly shown tied up with her mouth taped shut, and taped to some strange object. During the movie's climax, we discover that she has been strategically taped to a killer android so that Superman cannot destroy the machine without killing Mercy as well.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: Prince Blueblood uses Rarity to shield himself from a falling layer cake. Rarity, her last nerve snapped, chews him out for it and then shakes herself at him so he ends up Covered in Gunge anyway.
- Batman: The Brave and the Bold: In "The Last Patrol", the Doom Patrol broke up after the supervillain General Zahl took a woman hostage and threatened to shoot her if the Patrol didn't let him go. The Patrol refused to let him go, and he followed through. The Patrol felt so guilty about letting an innocent person die that they went their separate ways and resigned themselves to languishing in obscurity.
- Monsuno: Early in the series, Bren once hid behind Jinja, who stated she always wanted to be a human shield.
- In Futurama, Zapp does this with Kif when some aliens hold them at gun point. Kif is so lightweight that Zapp easily picks him up and holds him in the air.
- A three-way battle in Transformers Animated at one point features Optimus Prime and Megatron fighting as Back-to-Back Badasses until Megatron grabs Optimus and uses him to absorb a hail of laser fire.
- Countless Truth in Television examples during bank hold-ups and various hostage situations. Also, unfortunately, used by terrorist groups, who will occasionally launch attacks from civilian areas in the hope that the attacked nation will withhold retaliation.
- Or just as often in the hope that they will retaliate; the deaths of civilians gaining them sympathy and recruits for their cause.
- Also a favored tactic of dictators facing superior air power and/or artillery. They grow fond of parades and refugee camps, trusting the other nation to become enough of a Slave to PR to not simply bomb them.
- There is also a more sympathetic version of just keeping your troops so close to enemy forces (especially while engaging) that the enemy can't risk the use of air strikes or artillery as it'll get just as many friendlies as hostiles. This has led to the occasional subversion of Shoot the Hostage where the "hostage", about to be overrun, requests an artillery strike of his own position, knowing that he can take a great deal of attackers down with him.
- Probably the weirdest example was various American and British anti-war activists volunteering as human shields during the Iraq war. They gave up on the idea when it became clear Saddam Hussein was only prepared to let them shield military and government facilities rather than civilians, almost as if he was some kind of evil dictator.
- Doing this with civilians under your control (either physically forcing them or ordering them in a situation where they must obey) in a war situation is a war crime; people have been tried for it before the Yugoslavia war crimes tribunal. Of course, so is shooting them from the offending side, making the whole deal Dirty Business for everyone involved.
- Similarly, any otherwise protected place (hospitals, churches, etc.) lose their protection when armed forces are based in them (such as putting an anti-aircraft gun on a hospital).
- Early reports soon after his death indicated that Osama bin Laden tried this with one of his wives just before he was killed. Later clarified that while there were two women present they apparently were trying to protect him, though they may also have just been trying to give him enough time to grab the two guns next to him. When the SEAL's burst in, the women were just pushed aside and bin Laden was shot.
- Lifeguards and rescue divers who work in choppy waters are supposed to resort to this trope if they're about to be dashed against rocks or other obstacles, while hauling an unconscious person to safety. It makes sense in theory — if the rescuer gets knocked out also, both of them will surely drown — but most people in that line of work admit that they doubt they could go through with it.
- Addressed in an episode of Baywatch, a lifeguard in training did this, and had trouble dealing with it afterwards.
- When advancing on a city, a tactic the Mongols often employed was to force hostages to march ahead of their regular forces. From a distance, they just looked like part of the army, thus confusing the city defenders as to the size of the force advancing on them. And those hostages were pretty handy when it came to absorbing the first round of arrows...
- One of the techniques taught to the Russian Spetsnaz is how to use their rifle's sling to disable and use someone as a human shield.
- The Westboro Baptist Church employs these, usually children, because they know vigilantes can and will try to kill them whenever they demonstrate. Innocents tend to get caught in the crossfire, anyways. Many of the documentaries about them point out this only victimizes the civilians, not demonizes the attackers.