In works of fiction, guns behave in strange ways. Often, and especially in gritty action films and old-timey westerns, guns seem to fire not bullets but death itself. Mooks, Red Shirts, heroes, and Big Bads alike can die instantly from a single bullet fired in their general direction, and the kill may even be bereft of blood. In some works, this is employed slightly more realistically with bloody headshots, but are just as instantly deadly as their weakly aimed counterparts.
In some works, this end is saved for mooks and actual villains, while a hero gets the benefit of a long, painful Dramatic Death complete with tears and sad music. Don't be surprised, though, if an instant death bullet finds its way to the hero's skull in the end just for shock value.
This trope is largely responsible for the tendency of mooks and red shirts to come from the Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy. If the hero or villain were killed or critically wounded early on in the story, it would have a drastic effect on the story's outcome. Additionally, heroes and villains alike may just be wearing Plot Armor to avoid being shot at only until their part in the story is completed.
Contrast Only a Flesh Wound and Almost Lethal Weapons where instead of instant death, gunshot wounds are merely inconvenient. There is also Rasputinian Death and Made of Iron. Often goes hand-in-hand with Bloodless Carnage. See Arbitrary Gun Power for actual implications of being shot.
Not to be confused with Shot to the Heart.
This is a Death Trope. Unhidden spoilers ahead.
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Anime and Manga
Black Lagoon: Used a number of times usually with Mooks. This trope is playfully lampshaded when Revy meets some kids playing with toy guns. Their deaths, like most kids'-game deaths, were drawn-out and ridiculous. Revy demonstrates the proper way of dying from a bullet. The kids point out how uncool it looks.
Code Geass: Unusual for the show, it happens when C.C. shoots and kills Mao with barely even a sound effect.
End of Evangelion: Ritsuko meets her end this way. She dies half a second after being shot.
Ginga Densetsu Weed When the humans start exterminating the dogs of Futago Pass, most of the canines fall to a single bullet.
Normally deliberately subverted by Vash as he does not want to kill anyone and uses his extreme level of shooting skill to avoid killing anyone outright.
When Vash Is forced to kill Legato. Legato takes one shot to the head and falls over.
Preacher: Usually uses this straight, especially with the Saint of Killers, whose guns are forged from the sword of the former Angel of Death and can kill the Devil and God himself, there are at least two subversions. In the first, a hulking cannibal takes a head shot, continues advancing and takes a second before dying. In the second, Herr Starr gets his head blown open. He has time to glance up and utter a final "shit" before expiring.
Diamonds Cut: Pretty much the way every gun works in this James Bond fan film. A notable exception being the double-crossing informant, who was wounded in the leg by Bond before finally getting shot to death.
Revenge RoadHikaru shoots Madoka in the head, killing her instantly. She believes that Madoka has to die for stealing Kyosuke from her, but since she was her friend for so long, she deserves a degree of mercy, which she does not show to Kyosuke when torturing him to death with knives.
Back to the Future: Part III: Subverted when Marty and Doc both assumed that Doc will be shot on Monday, because that's when he dies. Turns out he got shot on Saturday in the original timeline, and didn't succumb to his wound for another two days.
Blood Diamond: Happens in copious amounts. When Danny Archer pretends to be a prisoner to trick some guards, he shoots both in quick succession and they drop down immediately. Later, when covering Vandy and his son's escape, Archer again kills several approaching mooks with a sniper rifle, to the same effect. But there are three exceptions: Colonel Coetzee, Kapanay, and Danny.
Blood Simple: Seemingly played straight when the private eye shoots Marty, but is ultimately subverted when he regains consciousness just in time to be buried alive.
Boys Don't Cry: When Candace, Lecy Goranson from Roseanne, is shot she goes down like a sack of potatoes.
Collateral: Subverted in one scene where Vincent is menaced by two thugs with his briefcase. He uses a double tap with point shooting to drop the first guy note Point shooting is a type of reflex based shooting training in which aiming is done reflexively with the shooters position relative to their target in close range., then he performs the full Mozambique Drillnote A shooting technique that fires two shots to the chest in quick succession just like a double tap followed up with a aimed head shot. Used to ensure the target is taken down. on the second. The one shot in the chest is still twitching as Vincent retrieves his briefcase before casually firing the finishing shot into his head.
The Dark Knight: In the opening sequence several robbers are insta-killed by bullets.
Dead Man: Thel is shot in the chest by Charlie and she immediately falls over dead without any final death throes.
The Departed: Played straight; even main and other important characters aren't safe from this end.
Subverted with Mary Corleone who is shot through the stomach and doesn't realize it. When she does, she just drops on her knees, says "Dad?" in a perfectly normal way, then dies.
The Assassin disguised as a priest in the scene is killed instantly in one shot.
Subverted in the orginal. Vito took five shots and lived. It took dozens to bring down Sonny.
Vincent kills two assassins sent by Joey Zasa with a single bullet each. The first one he executes to scare the other assassin who after he divulges the information Vincent needed is shot through his hand and is hit the head killing him.
Once Upon a Time in the West: The slaughter of the McBain family plays out as this, as does the shootout at the railroad in the opening scene.
Pineapple Express: A humorous subversion in Red's case. The first time he's shot, he actually appears to die... Only to wake back up seemingly fine. They shoot him again, and he appears to die again. It's only later in the movie that it's revealed he was still alive.
Raiders of the Lost Ark: Used for comic effect when confronted by a swordsman all clad in black, instead of being intimidated by his fancy swordplay Indy just rolls his eyes and shoots him dead. Never bring a sword to a gun fight.
Tears of the Sun: Subverted in a sequence where a soldier takes a sniper bullet through the shoulder and falls down. After a few tense seconds, it's revealed that he dropped down to avoid getting hit by another bullet.
The World Is Not Enough: While mooks and bystanders die this way as a matter of course in the movie, a notable instance is when Bond shoots the alternate Big Bad Elektra in the face. She simply falls back onto a bed, dead.
The Man with the Golden Gun: Every single person shot by Scramanga dies immediately. This is made more notable by the fact that Scaramanga's gun uses custom made bullets of an absurdly low caliber note 4.2mm, making them less likely to kill anyone they hit than bullets fired from a normal gun... unless the man firing it is a spectacularly skilled marksman, which it is established that Scaramanga is. There are places on the human body other than the head where a bullet will indeed kill instantly, and presumably Scaramanga would know of them.
Skyfall: Averted with M's death. M is mortally wounded by gunfire but doesn't dies until after Bond manages to kill Silva a considerable length of time later.
Witness: When McFee is shot at point blank range in the chest with a shotgun, he appears to take only moments to die.
X-Men: First Class: Erik Lehnsherr's mother is shot dead with a handgun right in front of him to try and force the young Magneto to manifest and draw on his mutant powers.
Taken: Features three kinds of shots: bad guys miss, Bryan shoots a few people in the shoulder for interrogation purposes, and anyone Bryan wants dead dies instantly.
Of Mice and Men: This is an important point in the finale, when Curley in revenge for Lenny's accidental killing of his wife, plans to shoot him in the stomach, so that he would die slowly and painfully. To prevent this, George shoots him in the back of the head, which was instantly fatal.
George Orwell's short story Shooting an Elephant: A horrible aversion, where he finds to his horror that he cannot get the elephant to drop dead, but only cause it more pain.
Get Smart: Notably, this only happens to the KAOS agents. If a CONTROL agent is shot, they tend to say so.
Gimme a Break!:Invoked when Carl shot and killed a perp. He is extremely depressed about this, and when his youngest daughter acts like he was a hero for doing it, he explodes angrily at her that it was not like the movies. The perp died slowly and in pain, calling out for his mother.
Highlander: 'The Darkness'. Tessa pretty much dies instantly after Rozca shoots her. Richie, too, though he doesn't stay dead.
Hornblower: In the episode, "The Even Chance", After Jack Simpson is spared by Horatio in their duel, he tries to kill Hornblower with a dagger, but is then dropped with a single Musket shot from Captain Pellew.
The Vampire Diaries: Jeremy is accidentally shot by Liz Forbes in the season 2 finale and dies on the spot.
Dungeons & Dragons: Specifically Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. A gun could, in theory, deal endless damage. Much less can kill most NPCs and PCs alike, instantly.note If a ten was rolled on a ten-sided die, the die was rerolled until anything besides a ten was rolled, and the sum of all the dice was added together. In theory, a single bullet could deal a thousand damage - at odds of a googol to one against.
GURPS: Hits to vital organs or the brain are liable to kill someone instantly. Even a gunshot not aimed at vitals can kill instantly if it does enough damage.
In Ironclaw it is very easy to score an Overkill when using a gun.note Normally, damage is equal to the number of attack dice that roll higher than the defence plus a weapon based modifier. Guns deal "Slaying" damage meaning they do two points of damage for each successful dice and a pistol has a +2 modifier, fusil +3, blunderbuss +4, and musket +2 with an extra d8 to the attack roll. In the Cardinal system five points of damage in one attack kills and six invokes the Chunky Salsa Rule, when shooting a character rolls their Speed stat dice and their Ranged skill dice, at least two dice if they have any marks in Ranged combat. Fortunately, given the Renaissance-level setting, guns are expensive and often illegal for commoners, and fairly unreliable wheellocks.
Ace Attorney: There are several cases where a victim is killed instantaneously from a shot, case 2:2 and 4:2 specifically. Although these lean towards the more justified examples, seeing as how in both instances, the shot was to the head. And in one of these instances, the victim had been stabbed prior to the shot, making his instantaneous death seem more realistic.
Assassin's Creed: For the games that include them, firearms in general are typically instantly fatal. There's some larger enemies that require multiple shots, but most Mooks will go down with just one. Muskets in particular are instantly fatal.
Borderlands 2: At the end of the mission "Where Angels Fear to Tread" in , Handsome Jack kills Roland with a single shot to the back from a pistol.
Perfect Dark: The golden DY-357 LX magnum is a one hit kill.
Persona 3: Subverted with Junpei Iori, who goes down almost immediately to one shot and would have been dead within seconds without supernatural healing that Results in the death of the healer.
Rainbow Six In the early games, any hit can be instant death for you or an enemy.
''Red Dead Redemption: Enemies sometimes die from a single shot depending on weapon and where they are shot. More powerful weapons against some of the weaker enemies frequently one shot the target. Shotguns and rifles also have a tendency to one shot at least weaker enemies. Headshots of course are usually fatal for the Mooks.
STALKER: Because of how damage is handled it can subverted or played straight. Weaker weapons can wound an enemy or player causing either to bleed to death. Sometimes when the enemies go down and are near death they will lay on the ground and cry out for help. Powerful guns like shotguns and sniper rifles for example can one shot weaker enemies or if the player lands a head shot.
Team Fortress 2: A fully charged shot from a sniper rifle does 150 damage, enough to kill anyone weaker than a Demoman instantly without a headshot.
Umineko no Naku Koro ni: In EP6 where Shannon and Kanon have a duel using duel pistols with one magical bullet each, which will kill instantly the opponent regardless of where the bullet hits, as long as it does hit.
Wolf: Hunters flying in helicopters and planes always manage a One-Hit Kill. Hunters on the ground will get you in one or two. It's not stated whether this is due to a difference in rifle calibers or aiming skills (and, at least as far as the wolves are concerned, doesn't matter anyway).
morphE opens with 8 captives being forced into 1-on-1 battles to the death. When a pair are not producing the right results Amical executes them with a bullet each. They are dead before they hit the ground.
In "Grey Dawn", an elderly person shoots a hostage in the head at point blank range, killing him instantly.
In "Something Wall-Mart This Way Comes", a man shoots himself in the head, also killing himself instantly.
In "Night of the Living Homeless", one character is killed with a shotgun blast to the head and a few others are killed by single shots in a burned out town the boys visited. Also subverted in "Night of the Living Homeless". With the homeless people closing in on him, the scientist decides to kill himself by putting a bullet through his head. It takes four or five tries to finally get the job done, all Played for Laughs.
In another episode, a Russian terrorist was shot by a sniper and killed instantly with the body falling off of a ladder and exploding all over the ground into several pieces.