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Knee-capping

Zoe: Preacher, don't The Bible have some pretty specific things to say about killin'?
Book: Quite specific. It is, however, somewhat fuzzier on the subject of kneecaps.
Firefly, "War Stories"

The act of deliberately damaging someone's knees to incapacitate them or limit their mobility. This can be performed by shooting the victim's kneecaps, or by striking them with kicks, melee weapons, or other up close and personal means.

Since this is an extremely painful type of injury, knee-capping can be used as a brutal form of Mutilation Interrogation. This can kill two birds with one stone for the savvy torturer, as the permanently debilitating nature of the injury makes it much more difficult for the victim to escape. Tearing up all that muscle, those sinews and those complicated bones with a bullet would in Real Life probably leave you crippled for life, if you weren't killed by blood loss or shock.

Knee-capping can also be used as a tactic in combat to drastically hamper the mobility of an opponent. Needless to say, this type of fighting is a bit too dirty for most upstanding protagonists, so it is often reserved for villains, Anti Heroes, and Combat Pragmatists.

In real life, it is often not the kneecap itself that is the target of these attacks, as opposed to the joint and tissue beneath it. A piece of Common Knowledge is that kneecaps don't repair when broken/shattered. They do when treated properly, it just takes a very long time. Additionally, unlike in film and television, you would never actually aim to shoot out someone's kneecap or leg to disable a target in such a manner (see the Real Life section below).

A sub-trope of Trying to Catch Me Fighting Dirty. Compare Agony of the Feet for other mobility hampering injuries, and An Arm and a Leg for occasions when the legs are lost completely.

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • In the first episode of Black Lagoon, Revy reveals herself to be a fan of the act, and suggests performing it on Rock just for the hell of it.
  • Chinatsu from Jormungand brings us a particularly zealous example: When she's not gunning people down as part of her hitman duties, she apparently likes to build complex mechanical torture devices... including one designed to shoot a bound captive in the knee. In the same spot. 27 times.
  • Ibitsu: When the Strange Lolita corners Hikari and a classmate in the gym after school one night, she takes the classmate out of the picture by smashing her kneecap with a sledgehammer.
  • In Rurouni Kenshin, Kaoru ends up fighting Kamatari in a one-on-one matchup after Misao is taken out. Her final move (after her bokken and Kamatari's scythe are both broken) is to break Kamatari's kneecap with the handle of her wooden sword.
  • Bleach: Happened to Hiyori after she did a Groin Attack on Urahara. He was unhurt, she was hurt instead.

    Card Games 
  • The Munchkin card game gives us the Hammer of Knee-capping, usable only by dwarves.

     Comic Books 
  • In the Spawn comic, Twitch shoots Spawn in the knee to stop him from escaping. He is rather shaken when Al doesn't even slow down — Hellspawn have amazing regenerative abilites.
  • In Batman: No Man's Land, Jim Gordon does this to The Joker after he kills his wife, Sarah Essen.
  • Impulse is once shot in the knee-cap by Deathstroke in Teen Titans. And, given the accelerated healing abilities of The Flash Family, the doctors in the ER have to re-break it repeatedly because it keeps healing automatically but incorrectly.
  • Batman's Battle Butler Alfred once threatened to knee-cap Nightwing in his good leg to stop him running back into battle with a bad leg.
  • Used twice in The Far Side: one is two goons threatening to "persuade" a guy with a wiffle bat (captioned "Ineffective tools of persuasion"), while another has goons waiting outside a guy's window, one doubting they're up to the task, as the guy has "kneecaps from hell" (they're each about the size of his head).
  • This seemed to be Bucky Barnes's preferred method in dealing with enemy agents during his tenure as Captain America.
  • In Ultimate X-Men, Magneto was disappointed with his children for weakening the Brotherhood in his absence. So he knee-caps Pietro, his own son, with a shotgun and forces his daughter Wanda to watch.
  • During the finale of NYX, Bobby Body Surfs into one of Zebra Daddy's mooks, and forces the guy to shoot himself in the knee. And oh yeah, he feels everything that the people he takes control of do.

    Fanfiction 

    Film 
  • Django Unchained: Django does this to Stephen in the climax. BOTH knees.
  • In Undead or Alive, after the protagonists find out that the zombies pursuing them can't be killed with a bullet to the brain as one would expect, Sue opts to shoot out the zombified sheriff's kneecaps to make it much harder for him to catch up. This leads to a humorous scene later in which Cletus is forced to carry him piggy-back while chasing the heroes.
  • There's an ensemble knee-capping scene in Terminator 2: Judgment Day. The Terminator has promised John Connor he won't kill anyone. But they still need to get into heavily guarded areas, so he starts shooting people in the knee instead.
    T-800: He'll live.
  • The protagonist of Nobody Will Speak Of Us When Were Dead gets her knee corkscrewed during a torture scene.
  • Casino Royale ends with Bond locating and knee-capping The Man Behind the Man.
  • Die Hard with a Vengeance: "Have to take the safety catch off." Dakka
    • In the next film, the Big Bad again does this to the sidekick.
  • A new and unusually intelligent mook looking to join Bucho's drug gang in Desperado gets put into a savage Gang Initiation Fight against an established member of the cartel. He gets his knee cap completely smashed during the fight, (prompting Bucho to quip "He'll never dance again") but manages to win and earn a spot anyway. For the rest of the movie he wears a crude brace by his knee and has issues moving around.
    • In Once upon a Time in Mexico, when the Mariachi finally confronts Marquez, he blows both of the evil general's kneecaps out with a sawed-off shotgun before delivering final vengeance by blowing his head off.
  • Referenced in Reservoir Dogs, where Mr. White tells Mr. Orange that his gut wound is the second most painful place to be shot after the kneecap.
  • Meg shoots a mook in the knee at one point in The Replacement Killers. She later sees the same mook when she's captured and makes a smartass quip about it, to which he responds by kicking out one of her knees and making a quip of his own.
  • In the beginning of Inception, Mal is threatening Arthur with a gun in order to get Cobb to talk. Cobb points out killing him won't actually work in a dream. "But pain...? Pain is in the mind," Mal says sweetly, and shoots Arthur in the knee. Luckily for him, Cobb kills him, instantly waking him up.
  • In the climax of Jackie Brown, Ordell threatens to shoot both of Jackie's kneecaps if she doesn't give him back his money.
  • Near the beginning of The Substitute, Shale's girlfriend is kneecapped by a street gang, setting the plot in motion.
  • During the Spanish Inquisition segment of History of the World Part I, Torquemada plays kneecaps like a xylophone. In song!
    Torquemada: I asked in a nice way, I said pretty please! I bent their ears, now I'll work on their knees!
  • Welcome to the Punch (2013). The Cowboy Cop protagonist Max Lewinsky grabs the Villain Protagonist Jacob Sternwood as he's fleeing a heist, only to get shot in the knee. Three years later when the main events of the movie take place, the constant pain and psychological trauma fuel Lewinsky's obsession with catching Sternwood when he returns to London.

    Literature 

    Live Action TV 
  • Criminal Minds: In the season 6 episode "Today I Do", a self-ascribed motivational speaker turned serial killer shatters the kneecap of her most recent victim with a hammer after the victim refuses to eat the popcorn she made for her. She later turns this into a self-help lesson, by teaching the victim to "walk in the face of adversity".
  • In 24, Jack Bauer shoots a terrorist in the kneecap to get him to talk. In another season, he shoots The Dragon's wife near the kneecap to get him to talk.
  • In the Firefly episode "War Stories", this is how Shephard Book gets around the whole "don't kill" rule.
  • In Carnivāle, Jonesy's limp is the result of being kneecapped by mobsters when he refused to take a dive.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer
    • Darla threatens to do this to Buffy in the episode "Angel":
      Darla: So many body parts, so few bullets. Let's begin with the kneecaps. No fun dancing without them.
    • The demon Balthazaar also orders it done to Wesley in the episode "Bad Girls", but Wesley wiggles his way out of it.
    • Possibly slightly ironic, Wesley does it to a guy at Wolfram and Hart in season 5 of Angel, when he finds the guy isn't working to save Fred.
  • This was threatened on Veronica Mars when Logan was being tortured. His tormentors were playing Russian roulette with him, pulling the trigger after each "wrong" (i.e. not what they were looking for) answer given. After two "wrong" answers, they moved from his arms to his knees.
  • Love/Hate. The IRA do this to Aido, kicking off the plot of series 3.
  • Person of Interest. John Reese frequently shoots assorted bad guys in the knee to stop them from pursuing him rather than killing them.
  • Scandal: Olivia, apparently, to Abby's abusive husband. With a tire iron. Yay!

    Music 
  • The Capitol Steps' song parody "Breakin' Knees Is Hard To Do" mocks the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan incident (see Real Life below).

    Videogames 
  • In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, an unusually high number of generic guards will sometimes tell you that "I used to be an adventurer like you. Then I took an arrow in the knee."
  • In Kingdom of Loathing, this is the general modus operandi of the Penguin Mafia. You can even acquire one of their kneecapping sticks for your own use as a weapon.
    This is a stick used by the Penguin Mafia to break the knees of those who fail to bend to their whim. Because if you're not going to bend to the Penguin Mafia's whims, your knees are not going to bend in the right direction anymore.
  • In the Resident Evil series, the player can kneecap the infected/infested/zombies/abominations to pull off kicks and tricks against the enemy although kneecapping is also arguably justified when fighting zombies. This is especially useful in Resident Evil 4 where Leon (and Ashley) can suplex the infested after a kneecap shot.
  • Carn Evil specifically models damage to the kneecaps, with a successful blowout treated as a kill. Oddly, shooting one kneecap will visibly and gruesomely damage both of them simultaneously.
  • Gnomes in World of Warcraft, being, well... gnomes, tends to set them at about kneecap height, one NPC even does threaten this when you fight her in northrend.
    • A post one the roleplaying forums on 'rogue cant' (criminal jargon) suggested gnome rogues can be called "Kneecappers" for the above reason.
  • In Fallout 3, the unique sawed-off shotgun is called "The Kneecapper".
    • Also, throughout the series aiming at a leg has always been a viable strategy.
  • Renegade!Shepard threatens this near the beginning of Mass Effect 1 to get Fist to tell him/her where Tali is.
  • The Scout in Team Fortress 2 has an aluminum bat melee weapon, and one of his common catchphrases is "Say goodbye to your kneecaps, chucklehead!" There's no in-game difference when you attack someone's kneecaps, though, so his taunt is a bit meaningless.
  • On the other hand, Team Fortress Classic allows the Sniper to cut an enemy's speed in half with a leg hit, and the effect is permanent until healed by a medic. Most thigh-area shots seem to hit the pelvic region instead due to Hitbox Dissonance, so the safest way to cripple an enemy player is a rifle bullet in the knee. This especially infuriates and hamstrings medics and heavy weapons guys.
  • Metal Gear Solid 3: Happened to both Sokolov's kneecap by Colonel Volgin's handgun.
  • MechWarrior has a long and rich history of Knee-capping. Depending on which game you're playing, it can either turn enemy BattleMechs into limping wrecks (Such as MechWarrior 4 and it's subgames) or straight out destroy the enemy (Such as MechWarrior 3 and it's expansion). In Mechwarrior Living Legends, kneecapping an enemy mech (or yourself) will cause the mech to ragdoll, but leave the pilot completely in control of the torso, weapons, and jumpjets; which can lead to players being killed by a crippled mech propped up against a building, or by a kneecapped mech flailing wildly end-over-end through the sky with its jumpjets on full blast. Kneecapped mechs are irreparable once they've gone ragdoll, though crippled legs (which greatly slow down the mech and prevent it from walking backwards) can be repaired.
  • Kneecaps can be targeted in both The Godfather games, temporarily making the victim kneel haplessly.
  • In Splinter Cell: Conviction, Sam does this to both knees of Vice President Samson when he says he is diplomatically bulletproof.
  • Kneecapping is pretty much Raul Menendez's favourite tactic in Call of Duty: Black Ops 2; he cripples Woods for life by blasting him in both knees with a combat shotgun, and in an infinitely more sadistic instance, does the same to Hudson even though the latter is already restrained, unable to escape, and has just volunteered to die in order to save his comrades. The supplemental story "Rightful King" explains that he first learned to do this as a child, while helping his dad sell drugs for easy money in an earthquake-ravaged 1970's Nicaragua.
  • This is Marcus Kincaid's intro in Borderlands 2. A hapless NPC asks for a refund on one of his guns, claiming it doesn't work. Marcus responds, "Hmm, I dunno...", and proceeds to kneecap the guy with the weapon in question. Then he gives a big grin and adds "Looks like it works to me."

    Webcomics 

    Web Original 

    Real Life 
  • Figure skater and Olympic hopeful Tonya Harding's then-husband attempted to help her get a leg up on rival skater Nancy Kerrigan by paying off her bodyguard to attack Kerrigan's knee shortly before the 1994 Winter Olympics, in hopes of taking Kerrigan out of competition. The attempt failed, since Kerrigan still won the silver medal; Harding came in 10th.
  • Knee-capping was often used as a punishment by the IRA and other Northern Irish paramilitary groups. There were two versions of it. One involved a drill, the other involved putting a gun at the back of the knee and firing forward. Many patients from the UK and Ireland will travel to have every day hip or knee replacement surgeries in Northern Ireland because the surgeons there because... well... let's say they've had a plenty of practices.
    • A third method, originating with Protestant terrorists and gleefully adopted by their Republican counterparts, involved application of a sledgehammer.
  • Historically, kneecap mutilation was a possible punishment in ancient Dynastic China. One of the authors of a tome of military strategy was subject to this punishment as a result of court politics.
  • It's generally averted in real life, however. All reputable firearms training (civilian, police, and military) teach to aim center-of-mass at the torso, as it's a much larger and easier target to hit, and contains most of the body's vital organs. Even assuming you actually hit them, shooting someone in the knee may still not be enough to incapacitate them, at least not quickly enough to be of value. If you ever have to fire a weapon at another human being, you always shoot to kill.


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