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, Heros 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 Villians, or Mooks alone, 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 in their first gun fight early in the story it would have a drastic effect on the outcome of the story. Additionally, Heros and Villians alike may just be wearing Plot Armor to avoid being shot at only until their part in the story is completed.
Constrast Only a Flesh Wound and Almost Lethal Weapons where instead of instant death, gunshot wounds are merely inconvenient as well as Rasputinian Death, 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 HeartThis 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.
Unusual for the show, it happens in Code Geass 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 in the manga version when the humans start exterminating the dogs of Futago Pass: most of the canines fall to a single bullet.
Noir expresses this trope with a vengeance. Most episodes features several cold blooded instant deaths, often at the hands of the Professional Killer heroines.
Trigun: When Vash Is forced to kill Legato. He takes one shot to the head and falls over.
While 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.
Pretty much the way every gun works in the James Bond fan film Diamond's Cut, with the exception of double-crossing informant, who was wounded in the leg by Bond before finally getting shot to death.
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 ends up going down like a sack of potatoes.
Justified in the movie Collateral as Vincent, the hitman, shoots people using a real life technique called the Mozambique Drill. This involves first a double tap, which is two successive shots to the center of mass to immobilize the target (one alone won't do it), allowing him the opportunity to put a third bullet in the brain without fear of dodging or retaliation. With his years of training, he can pull the whole thing off in a fraction of a second.
Subverted in one scene where Vincent is menaced by two thugs with his briefcase. He shoots one twice in the chest, then performs the full Mozambique Drill on the second. The one shot in the chest is still twitching as Vincent retrieves his briefcase before Vincent casually shoots him in the head.
In the opening sequence of The Dark Knight several robbers are insta-killed by bullets.
The Departed: Played shockingly straight, even main and other important characters aren't safe from this - sometimes completely unexpected - end.
In The Godfather Part III, Mary Corleone 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.
Used for comic effect in Raiders of the Lost Ark. 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.
Legends Of The Fall: Although a guy is riddled with dozens of bullets from a German machinegun, Brad Pitt (the guy's brother) then shoots the gunners a few times with a pistol, killing them both instantly before rushing to his brother, who's still alive.
Plays a major part throughout 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.
The Rundown: The Rock, as a Mr. Beck, takes down several henchmen this way using dual shotguns just before the place blows up in the ending shootout.
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.
Witness: When McFee is shot at point blank range in the chest with a shotgun, he appears to take only moments to die.
Legolas' arrows in The Lord of the Rings films fit this trope since every shot he takes almost invariably results in the immediate death of whatever he happened to be aiming at. Boromir, of course, averts this trope since he was still alive — temporarily — even after taking three arrows to the torso.
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.
Invoked in Gimme A Break, 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 in 'The Darkness'. Tessa pretty much dies instantly after Rozca shoots her. Richie, too, though he doesn't stay dead. Possibly justified, at least in Tessa's case, as the shot hit square in the chest, likely tearing up her heart badly.
Hornblower, "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.
A gun in Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 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.
Can happen in 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.
Persona 3 Subverted with Stupei 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.
In the early Rainbow Six games, any hit can be instant death for you or an enemy.
A fully charged shot from a sniper rifle in Team Fortress 2 against any class with less health than a Demoman or a Soldier kills them instantly, headshot or not.
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).
Higurashi no Naku Koro ni is a horror series with a lot of scary scenes. The murders often have alot of suspense and buildup which strangely makes this trope absolutely terrifying. The best case of this is Minagoroshi-hen where the main cast are talking with the murderer, Takano, and seconds after everyone is dead.
In the Anime Keiichi's death takes quite a while, and he urges everyone to continue on before he expires. Rena's and Mion's deaths are offscreen, and we don't know how much time passes before we're shown they're dead, and seem to have been hit in multiple places. Shion and Satoko both take bullets directly to the head at point-blank range.
In the Manga on the other hand Everyone dies directly after being shot and unlike the Anime, everything is onscreen!
Ace Attorney has 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.
A few scripted sequences in Max Payne 3 boost the damage dealt by Max so that one shot kills any enemy, regardless of where the bullet hits. This also happens in Last Man Standing, so that the player that take down the enemy that killed them faster.