The old carnival routine where a person (usually a woman) stands against a board as a target (sometimes a spinning wheel to ramp up the danger) and the throwing knives are supposed to hit on either side of the target, which may lead to a Knife Outline. Usually faked when done in live action, even where the possibility of error is supposed to be realistic; too many things can go wrong trying to do it for real, and lovely assistants in Stripperiffic outfits aren't easy to come by these days...
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Anime and Manga
- Kaleido Star has a guest character doing this.
- One of the Student Council meetings in Revolutionary Girl Utena had Touga and Miki doing this with Touga as the knife-thrower with plenty of impossible Knife Outlines all the while. Heaven knows why they were doing this, but then again, it's Utena.
- Being part of a circus as his cover, Trowa of Mobile Suit Gundam Wing performs in this act as the target. He doesn't even flinch when the knife was thrown close enough to draw blood.
- Cyborg 009 had this.
- Black Butler had Dagger, a knife thrower in Noah's Circus. He was quite skilled at it. Ciel tried to throw knives for his entrance exam to get into the circus so he and Sebastian could investigate a case involving missing children. He only hit the mark because Sebastian flicked pebbles at the knives so they would make it to the wooden target, since Ciel wasn't strong enough to chuck them that far himself.
- Mousse from Ranma ½ disguised himself as a circus knife-thrower when he came back (for good) to hunt down Ranma. And he did pin the latter down to the target board, but Ranma escaped the deliberate stabbing.
- A filler episode of Rurouni Kenshin had Kaoru attempt this, only to hit Sanosuke in the arm on her first try.
- One is performed in the court of the Kingdom of the Cats in The Cat Returns, using cuttlefish instead of knives. It doesn't go well and the knife thrower gets tossed out of a window.
- The arrested-maturation character Cassian from the Count Cain manga, who looks like a boy but is really thirty-five, and therefore has a weird sort of two-way paternal relationship with his early-twenties commander Jizabel Disraeli, was sold to the circus and performed in one of these for some time. During the series his main weapon remains throwing knives. (Not a very practical primary weapon in real life.)
- He is not seen to throw any knives after having his brain transplanted into the High Priest's body; presumably he didn't bother to train the new muscles and eyes and so on to the correct coordination and habits.
- In Gun Blaze West, Colice Satoh performs a knife throwing act in the circus.
- This is part of an interrogation technique used on a drug dealer in Dominion. First, they strap the man on a wheel. Then, Leona walks up in a Playboy Bunny outfit and politely asks who his suppliers are. If he doesn't answer, she stuffs a pinless grenade in his mouth and spins the wheel. Then the rest of the squad starts throwing knives at the man. They call this technique the "Wheel of Fortune".
- Referenced in Irresponsible Captain Tylor. The marines hear someone listening at the door during a secret meeting with the captain, so they leap outside throwing a couple of knives which hit on either side of Harumi, who's dressed in a skintight outfit (instead of her usual Hello, Nurse! look) as she's trying to assassinate Captain Tylor.
- In the Heart no Kuni no Alice movie, Alice suddenly finds herself strapped to a board in the circus. Two demented kids start throwing knives at her, ignoring her protests. One of the knives cuts her cheek. The last two would have landed in her chest if Blood Dupree hadn't blocked them in time. Enraged at them for endangering her, he annihilates the kids with a machine gun.
- In the anime of Golgo 13, a hitman posing as a circus performer demonstrates his skill with his Weapon of Choice by throwing a knife into the bulls-eye of a dartboard, just past his girlfriend's head. She shows her own Bad Ass credentials by not flinching. After playing the trope straight on stage, he then uses his skills against Togo, who unfortunately is an unflinching Bad Ass himself.
- De Kiekeboes: Depicted in “Doorgestoken Kaart”.
- General Alcazar in Tintin The Seven Crystal Balls has a Knife Throwing Act. After creating a full Knife Outline around his Indian target, he asks an audience member to blindfold him. His blind throw hits right in the center of the fruit held over the target's chest.
- Knife throwing was one of the skills mastered by the Gambler, a Golden Age foe of the Green Lantern, during his time at the carnival.
- In a Batman arc where Two-Face takes over a circus, Deadeye Dagger, the circus knife-thrower, was one of his more willing henchmen.
- In "Sawdust and Slow Death" in Jonah Hex #15 (original series), Jonah joins a circus and becomes the unwilling target of an armless knife-thrower (possibly inspired by The Unknown; see Film examples below).
- Gitano is the knife thrower for the Cirque du Romani in Lady Mechanika.
- Hawkeye developed his skills as part of a knife throwing act with the Swordsman.
- In Secret Avengers #29, John Steele is subjected to one after being captured by the Circus of Crime.
- Blade Benson was the knife thrower in the Circus of Crime who fought Kid Colt in Kid Colt #106.
- Used several times in EC Comics stories.
- In "Current Attraction" in Tales from the Crypt #41 the main character's daughter is attracted to the circus knife thrower, a married man.
- In "One Last Fling!" in The Vault Of Horror #21 the main character is a circus knife thrower and uses his skills to kill his wife onstage after she becomes a vampire.
- In Savage Sword of Conan #119, Conan (in a scene that is undoubtedly a Shout-Out to the movie The Vikings) is forced to play a game where his sister's head is stuck through the middle of a hollow target and he must throw axes to sever her braids while blindfolded. Luckily, he manages not to slay his own sister; and since he ran out of sisterly braids while still having an axe left, he indulges in a manly jest and throws the weapon at Magloclun, cutting the clan leader's own braid.
- Part of Lon Chaney's act as Alonzo the Armless in the classic silent film The Unknown. All of the throwing stunts were done by Real Life armless knife-thrower Paul "Judge" Desmuke, who threw knives with his feet.
- The Russian knife throwing twins from Octopussy.
- In the French film The Girl On The Bridge (1999), a knife throwing act is at the centre of the plot and serves as a powerful erotic metaphor. Vanessa Paradis stars as Adele, a girl who attempts suicide by jumping from a bridge but is saved by knife thrower Gabor, played by Daniel Auteuil, who persuades her to become his target girl.
- Gangs of New York features a confrontation between the main protagonists in which Cameron Diaz's character Jenny Everdeane acts as a target girl in an impromptu knifethrowing act with the villain, Bill 'The Butcher' Cutting, played by Daniel Day-Lewis. For extra suspension, he keeps "accidentally"" slipping, and constantly on the verge of hitting his partner, both to amuse his audience and to make the protagonist sweat.
- The 1987 television movie If Its Tuesday It Still Must Be Belgium features Courteney Cox as a character who becomes a target girl in a circus knife throwing act.
- The movie Bronco Billy features Clint Eastwood as a sharpshooter and knife thrower who runs a travelling circus, which threatens to go out of business when he accidentally hits a target girl during the act. A key plot element involves Sondra Locke as a character who becomes a new target girl.
- In the 1960s, knife throwing acts provided iconic scenes in several horror or suspense films set in circuses. These include the following three films, which all used Billy Smart's Circus for location filming:
- Phantom Of The Rue Morgue (1954) has an early scene featuring a knife throwing act. The movie was shot using a 3-D system, which was used to give audiences the impression that knives were flying at them.
- Egypt By Three (1953) comprises three stories, the first of which is about a knife throwing act. The thrower and his target girl have an affair but the thrower is married to another woman. When the wife finds out about the affair it leads to a potentially deadly situation.
- The 1951 movie The Knife Thrower is based on a short story by Guy de Maupassant about a circus knife thrower with an unfaithful wife. The thrower's wife, who is also his target girl, is having an affair with a magician.
- The Sideshow (1928) features a knife throwing act in the climactic scene. The knife thrower was played by Steve Clemente and his assistant by Janet Ford.
- The spy thriller Masquerade (1965) features Marisa Mell as a target girl named Sophie.
- The Mexican Mind Screw Santa Sangre takes place in a circus: the knife-thrower husband is having an affair with his target. His wife resents this, so the husband sets the wife at the bulls-eye and, with his throwing knives, chops off both her arms.
- The Three Stooges perform one in The Three Stooges Go Round the World in a Daze.
- Lynne's specialty in The Warrior's Way.
- One of Germy and Austin's old jobs in Drive In Massacre.
- The Scorpion is the Affably Evil knife-thrower in Lucifer's carnival in The Devil's Carnival.
- Knife-Throwing Act: In one of the most famous scenes in The Vikings, the Vikings subject a woman accused of adultery to "Odin's test". This consists of using thrown axes to cut the woman's braids while she puts her head through the hollow centre of a large target. All the braids getting cut without she being hurt means she is cleared of the charge. All goes well thanks to Einar.
- Steven Millhauser's short story The Knife Thrower features a thrower who specialises in nicking or marking those who stand at the target board for him. It was published in 1998 as part of a collection that bears the same title.
- The novel Knives of Desire by Marion Zimmer Bradley (writing under the pen name Morgan Ives) is about a woman who becomes involved in a lesbian relationship after joining a circus to be the target girl for a female knife thrower.
- The short story "The Artist" by Guy de Maupassant concerns a circus knife thrower who wants to kill his wife. It is hinted that he might do this by feigning an accident while she acts as his target girl. The twist is that he finds this impossible because he has trained himself so well that his reflexes prevent it.
- A knife thrower plays a prominent role in the Ravenloft novel Carnival of Fear.
- Coraline has Coraline used as a target for a single thrown knife. She gets a box of chocolates for helping with the act...
- In The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar by Roald Dahl, "the man who could see without his eyes" makes his fortune in part by doing a knife-throwing act while very, very blindfolded.
- Thom practices throwing knives at Nynaeve in The Wheel of Time series, when both of them are stuck with the travelling circus.
- The relationship between a target girl and a circus knifethrower is the central motif in the poem cycle Das Mädchen und der Messerwerfer published in 1997 by noted German poet Wolf Wondratschek.
- Referenced a couple of times in Discworld, usually with an unimpressed audience complaining that the thrower keeps missing.
- The short story Han's Crime by Naoya Shiga centers around the murder trial of a knife thrower who killed his target during his act.
- Falon's act in the player's troupe in the Knight and Rogue Series.
- The Fabulous Fran, before meeting Jonathan Healy.
- Studying with The Incredible Christopher is how Verity got so good at throwing knives.
- Mr Grin in Stormbreaker used to be part of a knife-throwing act in which he would catch a knife between his teeth during the act's finale. As a result of the act going horribly wrong, he now sports a Glasgow Grin and has difficulty speaking properly.
Live Action TV
- The television play The Act (1987) revolved around a knife throwing act. It was made for the BBC and was a co-production involving the Royal College of Art. It starred Caroline Embling and Bill Rourke. Real life knife thrower Jay Ruffley provided throwing skills in one scene and also appeared as the owner of a club.
- "Conspiracy of Silence", an episode of the television spy series The Avengers, featured a knife throwing act played by real artists Elizabeth and Collins.
- Booth and Bones went undercover as a knife-throwing act.
- In Charlie's Angels, Cheryl Ladd's character Kris Munroe goes undercover as a target girl in an episode titled "Circus of Terror".
- Knife throwing, with a celebrity acting as target girl, was a regular feature on Circus Of The Stars.
- A knife-throwing act featured in the Cold Case episode "Metamorphosis" which centred around a murder at a circus. The knife-thrower was the chief suspect for a while.
- The Spanish game show El gran juego de la oca featured Italian knife thrower Alberti Murroni and his Lovely Assistant Vesna Peracino Once per Episode. Each week he would perform a demonstration, after which the contestant would wager on the outcome of a second demonstration.
- In Father Ted, a knife throwing act is one of the things that Ted interrupts by phoning Larry Duff's mobile, to Duff's inevitable detriment.
- In the Frontier Circus episode "Karina", a woman, on the run after shooting her vicious husband, stows away in Casey's wagon. Casey agrees to let her join his circus as the target in a knife-throwing act, but local lawmen and her vengeful spouse soon arrive to exact vengeance.
- Get Smart. Max is going undercover in a circus when his identity is blown. The circus strongman seizes him while the knife-thrower chucks his knives, but as he's trained himself to just miss the target they miss Max and stick in the arms of the strongman holding him. Max naturally responds with his Catch Phrase, "Missed me by that much!"
- A knife throwing act was part of the entertainment troupe Gary tried to press into service to fight off a German invasion in the Goodnight Sweetheart episode "How I Won the War".
- An episode of Highlander had Amanda and Duncan doing a knife-throwing act at a circus, with Duncan throwing and Amanada as the target girl.
- An episode in Human Weapon that dealt with Ninjitsu had one of the masters they talked to (and who tried to teach them a bit of his art) specializing in throwing various sharp objects ranging from knives, star-knives, caltrops, and nails.
- I Love Lucy. Lucy Ricardo got into a knife throwing act once. It was faked.
- One of these acts was done on Jonathan Creek.
- After a critic describes Knowing Me, Knowing You with Alan Partridge as 'moribund', Alan decides to prove them wrong by having himself strapped to 'Wheel of Death'.
- Laverne of Laverne and Shirley was the throwee once. And Shirley was the thrower.
- Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries: Phryne Fisher goes undercover as the target girl in a circus in "Blood and Circuses".
- Faked in the first season of the reality television series The Mole. In one of the challenges, one of the contestants was placed in a game where he had to try to convince the others (including The Mole) to take part in situations that they would find terrifying. One of these situations involved the mole being blindfolded and put up against a wall, where a miniature ax would supposedly be thrown at her. Although the mole is normally given information in advance, in this case she was not told what was happening in order to up the drama and she actually briefly passed out. (Though none of the contestants were told exactly what they would be doing, she was able to pick up enough clues to guess.) When she finally agreed to the task, the actual throwing was faked— somebody simply walked up and stuck an ax in the wall.
- The Muppet Show Gladys Knight episode had a knife throwing act with Fozzie as the unwitting target. Unfortunately, the theatre roof was away at the repair shop, letting in a thick fog and the knife thrower, who aimed with his hearing, was randomly throwing knifes at the slightest sounds while everyone was ducking quietly for their lives.
- In My Name Is Earl, Earl volunteers to be on the target to help win a mother and daughter beauty pageant. The girl doesn't want to spend her life doing pageants though, so Earl encourages her to "accidentally" hit him in the leg during the act. He forgot how much getting stabbed hurt.
- Dave Nelson from NewsRadio was once a knifethrower named The Great Throwdini. At a talent show, he met an old knifethrowing rival of his, Throwgali.
- In Nikki, the episode titled "The Jupiter and Mary Chain", first aired in 2001, featured the characters played by Nikki Cox and Susan Egan taking jobs as target girls.
- In the Soldiers Of Fortune episode "The Danger Sisters", a sister knife-throwing act working in North Africa hire Tim and Toubo as bodyguards.
- Supernatural: Luckily for Dean in "Everyone Loves A Clown", the rakshasa seems more interested in pinning Dean to the wall by his clothes, than causing fatal cuts.
- This happened at least once on the Johnny Carson incarnation of The Tonight Show. Carson was strapped to the target. One of the biggest laughs Carson ever got was when Ed Ames did an axe-throwing demonstration (on an outline target) and didn't quite hit where he should've. See why.
- In the final episode of The Tripods, the protagonists are hiding in a traveling circus. The ringmaster, Al Pasha, forces two of the children to train for this act, so Will offers to take the girl's place but only when the thrower is good enough to hit the Knife Outline a hundred times in a row. To Will's apprehension he's able to reach this target before the arrive for a big show in Geneva, and so Will has to do some William Telling as the final act involves Will with an apple on his head; he ducks just as the knife splits the apple into two halves that Will catches in each hand.
- Model Karen Elson is seen spinning on a "wheel of death" target in a picture by photographer Steven Meisel that formed part of a series titled "The Greatest Show on Earth" in the April 2007 issue of the Italian edition of Vogue magazine.
- Model Kate Moss appeared on a "wheel of death" target in two of a series of fashion photos by Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott in the April 2006 issue of W magazine.
- Actress Jennifer Ellison appeared strapped to a "wheel of death" target and surrounded by knives in the UK edition of Maxim magazine in 2005.
- Singer and musician Shakira appeared standing against a target with knives around her in a photo in the April 2002 issue of FHM magazine (UK edition).
- The cover of Stick It to Ya, the debut album by heavy metal band Slaughter, was infamous for a picture by photographer Glen Wexler of former Playboy playmate Laurie Carr wearing a swimsuit, strapped to a target board and surrounded by knives. The cover of a subsequent release, Stick It Live, featured an image apparently from the same shoot as the first but this time showing the target girl walking towards the board hand-in-hand with a knife thrower.
- "The Devil's Daggers" from the Nox Arcana album Carnival Of Lost Souls is the music playing during the knife throwing act Diablo & The Devil's Daggers. It doesn't go well, and both the assistant and Diablo himself die.
- Tom Waits's song "Circus" from his 2004 album Real Gone features a knife throwing act as part of the eponymous travelling show.
- Gretchen Peters uses the target girl as a central metaphor in her song "Woman on the Wheel", which was debuted on her 2010 tour in support of her Circus Girl album.
- A knife-throwing act appears in the music video for "Midnight Circus" by Sunny Hill, with one of the singers as the target girl.
- The circus ringmaster character in the music video for Finntroll's Under Bergets Rot does this at one point.
- In the music video for Coldplay's Magic, this is featured. In the extended edition of the video, Chris Martin's character is stabbed through the heart. Lucky for him, this is only a dream.
- German artist Timm Ulrichs worked with knife thrower Jonny King to produce the performance video piece Messerwurf-Porträt 1978/91.
- Rock group The White Stripes appeared as a knife throwing act in a photo by Annie Leibovitz in 2003 that was part of a series which appeared in a book and an exhibition, both titled Annie Leibovitz: American Music.
- Hines in The Pajama Game does a Knife Throwing Act at the picnic, but Babe wisely ducks because his aim is a bit drunken. Later he goes Ax-Crazy with his knives in the pajama factory.
- The play Pin Cushion, by Clay McLeod Chapman, is based around a husband and wife knife throwing act and consists of the target girl delivering a monologue while her husband throws knives around her. It was performed as part of Chapman's Pumpkin Pie Show at The Red Room Theatre, New York, in May and June 2002. The performance involved a genuine knife throwing act, with actress Niabi Caldwell as the target girl and professional knife thrower Dr David Adamovich (aka The Great Throwdini) playing her husband.
- Queen of Knives, by American composer Eric Stern, is a full-length opera which tells the story of a brother and sister knife-throwing act in the midst of student protests in the early 1960s.
- The target in question is a painting, not a live person, but Count Carl-Magnus has a knife-throwing scene in A Little Night Music. It's almost completely irrelevant to the plot. (He's demonstrating his prowess with weapons to a romantic rival.)
- The well-known Playmobil range of toys, marketed at children aged between six and twelve, once included two different sets featuring figures of a knife thrower and assistant. The Knifethrowing circus act set, which was retailed from 1978 until 1982, consisted of a target girl on a rotating "wheel of death" and a knife thrower, both dressed in "wild west" type costumes. The Circus Performers set, released in June 1982 and discontinued in 1987, also contained a similar knife thrower and assistant with a wheel of death target, but their costumes were different and there were three other figures in the set.
- Sofia gets thrown into one of these by Indy in Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis. Indy himself ended up doing one of these in one of the comics.
- Touhou fanart sometimes has Sakuya Izayoi do this to Hong Meiling. Sometimes (usually depending on Sakuya's mood) the poor girl ends up becoming a Youkai Pincushion.
- In the final level of Psychonauts, a terrifying circus made of meat, you must navigate a few deadly obstacle courses including tight ropes, trapeezes, and, of course, sword-flinging knife throwers that only aim for you. There's a puzzle where you have to jump in front of a rotating shield at just the right moment so that a knife thrower tosses a knife that impales the shield and becomes a handle which you can catch to hitch a ride upwards.
- Some of your first permanent party members in Suikoden II are knifethrowers working at a carnival. They use Riou as part of the act and can actually hit him if you move him around. He gets better, though.
- In Grand Theft Auto IV, at the Cabaret, you can see one of these performed. This being Grand Theft Auto, he 'fails' the act and hits her, resulting in a bloody mess. And judging from the way he yelled at her, it wasn't an accident.
- In the Sam & Max: Freelance Police episode "Bright Side of the Moon", the Big Bad ties Sam to a "spinning wheel of death" — but Max, instead of getting concerned about Sam, urges the Big Bad to "throw some daggers, no, hatchets!"
- The Marionettes in Disgaea use this as an attack.
- The old Homestar Runner theme song video ("old" as in "replaced 10 years ago") has Strong Bad as the knife thrower and Strong Sad as the (unwilling) target. It's obvious that Strong Bad is trying to hit Strong Sad, but the camera cuts away before the knife hits.
- Done in the Woody Woodpecker short The Dizzy Acrobat.
- In The Flintstones episode "Dial S for Suspicion", Wilma's old boyfriend Rodney Whetstone is a knife thrower with the circus. Through a series of coincidences, Fred becomes convinced that Wilma is trying to kill to him. Naturally, that night at the circus, Fred is called up onto to stage to act as Rodney's target...
- The Batman has something along those lines, where Batman is captured and the villain proves to be an amazing knife thrower, first intentionally missing the pinned Batman in the typical circus act manner before going for a killing shot.
- In Camp Lazlo, Scoutmaster Lumpus becomes the unwilling target of knife throwing act after being captured by the clowns of Slapstick Mountain.
- In a moment of Getting Crap Past the Radar in Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law, Peanut is trapped in a genie's lamp with a woman. He says they're going to go on a "magic carpet ride" and asks her to hand over a roll of nearby rope. Later on, when said genie releases his captives, Peanut appears with the woman tied to a giant target, having apparently been doing such an act the whole time.
- In Around the World with Willy Fog, while Rigadon and Tico work in a circus while penny-less in Yokohama, Rigadon almost gets killed in a knife act thrown by villain and Master of Disguise Transfer. Willy steps up and saves him.
- In one episode of The Simpsons, Krusty does one of these acts with axes. He doesn't miss.