A stalemate where everyone has a weapon pointed at someone else. All the threats are equally balanced to ensure a Mutual Disadvantage; no one is walking away from this standoff with what they came for — or walking away at all, since everyone realizes that if you get to shelter, you can fire on them without suffering in return.
This trope can be constructed in a number of geometries: one against one, three or more to a side, free-for-all, or army against army. Frequently ends in a Blast Out when someone gets twitchy, figures the odds differently than everyone else and decides they have an advantage, or is just crazy enough to not care if they die too. Entry ofa third party can also end things, since those already there are fixated on each other.
When this kind of standoff happens in Heroic Bloodshed movies or more recent Hollywood fare, it usually takes the form of two characters with their guns in each other's faces at point blank range. The logic behind this is shaky at best; when your gun is right in your enemy's face, the rational move is to pull the damn trigger right now. By the time your enemy realizes they've been shot, the bullet will have exited the back of their head, taking their motor cortex (and thus the capacity to shoot back) with it. However, that wouldn't be nearly as tense and exciting. More sensible versions of the Mexican Standoff have three or more participants with guns leveled in ring-around-the-rosy fashion, so the person you've got covered is not the one covering you. Or blades could be substituted instead of guns, meaning the person you've got covered just might survive long enough to retaliate.
Sometimes the situation is resolved in a civilized fashion with all involved parties realizing the suicidal position they are in and agreeing to put down their weapons, usually on a count of three to make sure no one ambushes the other.
It's Older Than Radio and has been around long enough to be parodied in the play "The Critic", first staged in 1779. The term itself, however, originated in the 19th century - possibly in Australia, of all places - regarding perceived political indecision in Mexico.
Unsurprisingly, Mexicans don't refer to this as a Mexican standoff. In fact, no quippy Spanish equivalent seems to exist at all.
When entire nations do this, it's upscaled to Mutually Assured Destruction. Also a case of the famous "Prisoner's Dilemma": If everyone takes the gun down, everyone lives. If everyone shoots, everyone will die. But nobody wants to be the first to put the gun down and become vulnerable.
A commercial for AT&T U-Verse uses this trope, but the people in question are a typical nuclear family and the "guns" are remotes.
Anime and Manga
The final episodes of Death Note should count. Though Matsuda was the only one using his gun; We have Light, Mikami with his death note, the Japanese police, Near, and the SPK at each other's throats. Someone was about to kill someon,e and until the end it was Matsuda that was quick on the draw.
In an episode of Dominion Tank Police, there is a standoff in a sewer. Buaku and his police hostage are fleeing with a stolen portrait when they are accosted by power-armor wearing mercenaries called Red Commandoes. Then the Puma Sisters show up and point guns at the Commandoes. Then the tank police show up and point guns at both. Guns are pointed at everyone. No one moves, no one talks, because they all know what will happen. Then someone sneezes...
Vash and Knives, in their climactic showdown in the finale of the Trigun anime, have a very protracted (and very dramatic) one-on-one standoff, where every attempt to break the stalemate by one character is instantly copied by the other. Vash breaks it when Wolfwood's voice sounds in his head - at which point he realizes he's standing on the Punisher, giving him a move Knives can't copy.
Also happens in the manga with a multi-person standoff, consisting of Wolfwood, Zazie, Hoppered, Midvalley, and Legato all holding multiple guns to each other. Vash is kind of involved, too, since Legato's using his power to keep Vash from exploding. It was kinda awesome to watch. Then Meryl popped up from beneath Vash to resolve it.
Code Geass's first season ends with a Mexican Standoff that's resolved after the Fade to Black. One of the big mysteries going onto the Oddly Named Sequel is what exactly happened, since all parties involved are shown to be alive and well one year later (not to mention the protagonist's little sister has been replaced by a little brother). There's another standoff much earlier, but that one is possibly disqualified by the fact that one side consists of two men with pistols while the other is a Humongous Mecha with a supersized gun bigger than both men combined...
Subverted earlier in the season, when C.C. pulls a gun on Lelouch, threatening to shoot him in the leg, in order to stop him from leaving. Lelouch responds by drawing a gun of his own, but since C.C. is immortal and needs him alive to fulfill their contract, he points his gun not at C.C. but at his own head, threatening to kill himself if he isn't allowed to leave.
Kuze's plan in the end of the second season of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex is to enforce a permanent Mexican Standoff by building nuclear bombs and threatening to use them if the Japanese try to occupy the newly created refugee state. To prevent this, the government called in a favor from the Americans to level the entire overcrowded refugee camp with a nuclear strike, while they were still sure the plutonium was kept somewhere inside the camp.
Spike and Vicious engage in a Mexican Standoff in the fifth episode of Cowboy Bebop. Spike's got a gun, and Vicious holds a katana to the space cowboy's chest. They both attack each other, and Spike nearly dies, revealing flashbacks about both men's pasts.
Repeated in the final episode. Interestingly, the standoff is a result of each man disarming the other. Spike has Vicious's sword, Vicious has Spike's gun. In a Shout-Out to A Better Tomorrow II, they give them back and then both die.
In the third episode of Berserk, Guts and Griffith have their first fight, which ends with Guts and Griffith presumably in a standoff, neither able to move without putting themselves at a disadvantage. However, Griffith manages to pull an ingenious move and win the day, which is very Badass.
Happens at least twice — so far — in Black Lagoon. Once during Revy's epic battle with Roberta, and then again (with three participants) in Fujiyama Gangsta Paradise.
There's also the short standoff between Revy and Dutch during the Nazi arc following Revy getting the Whitman Fever and trying to gun down the noncombatant contractors on board the ship along with her Nazi quarry.
Baccano!! has a fun standoff as three separate groups simultaneously try and hold up a dinner car on a train. Two groups have guns and the third has a knife. The guy with the knife quickly apologizes, closes the door, and walks away.
In Maiden Rose, Klaus and Berkut have a brief standoff when Berkut's sword is at Klaus' neck while Klaus' gun is pointed at Berkut's head. Unfortunately for Klaus, Berkut notices immediately that the gun is jammed. Azusa begins shooting from behind him before Berkut can do anything about it, though.
Zettai Karen Children features a very prolonged metaphysical standoff between Big Bad Kyosuke and Badass Normal Minamoto; they both possess the means to kill each other (Kyosuke has Reality Warper psychic powers, Minamoto has a gun specifically engineered to kill high-level Espers like him), but neither one will actually pull the trigger because if they do, Living Macguffin Kaoru is all but certain to side with the martyr and bring about the future the killer doesn't want.
FLCL episode "Brittle Bullet". Haruko and Commander Amarao end up in one when she reveals herself as the woman cutting his hair. They each have a gun pointed at the other's head.
Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Destiny ends with a Mexican Standoff. At first, it's only between Durandal and Kira; then Rey appears and takes aim at Kira from behind, only to lower his weapon at Kira's Kirk Summation. Then at the end, Gladys appears and takes aim at Kira at the same time as Rey re-aims at someone. Finally, a shot rings out, Durandal collapses... and Kira looks behind himself with surprise as Rey falls to his knees in tears. Gladys immediately runs up to Durandal, who asks her whether she was the one who took the shot. She wasn't; it was Rey.
In the card game The Good, The Bad, and The Munchkin there is a card called Mexican Standoff which does indeed balance the sides in any given battle.
Short ones often occur in Magic: The Gathering when either player making a move would give the other an opportunity to kill them. It generally lasts until one player draws the right card.
In one issue of Marvel Team-Up, The Punisher and Blade (the comicbook version), have a gun and katana to each other's heads, respectively. Blade suggests they both stand down, and lowers his weapon. Punisher doesn't move. Blade: "..." He then turns away, and Punisher shoots him in the back.
A three-way version in Hitman with Tommy Monaghan, a random Mook, and Batman. Tommy has two guns, Batman doesn't have any, and he had his arms tied behind his back as well. Tommy talks the mook into pointing his gun at Batman, then leaves since nobody is pointing a gun at him. Batman later disarms the mook, because he's Batman.
Incorrectly named in My Immortal. Ebony yells out in one of the last chapters: "they're having a Latin standoff!" Considering this isMy Immortal, it's likely a parody, though.
In Undocumented Features, a three-way standoff is described as a "Carggian standoff." Another character replies, "Well, we moved from Mexico when you showed up."
There's a crossover fanfiction wherein the Eighth Doctor, Blade, Buffy, Mulder, and Scully find themselves in one of these. When a swarm of vampires suddenly show up, the Doctor — the only one involved without a weapon — remarks that things are starting to get a bit ludicrous...
The two-person point-blank variant of this is used in John Woo's A Better Tomorrow II, The Killer, and Hard Boiled. As a result, it's sometimes called the "John Woo Standoff."
John Woo is fond of these kinds of standoffs. Apart from the standoffs between Chow Yun-Fat and Danny Lee from The Killer, and between Chow Yun-Fat and Tony Leung Chiu-Wai in Hard-Boiled, there's also the moment in Face/Off where Sean Archer and Castor Troy end up in a standoff at a church, with Archer's FBI agents and family on one side, and Castor's family and crew on the other, which is made very dramatic by the fact that Archer and Castor are wearing each other's face and both sides are trying to convince the other which is which. When the stalemate is finally broken, the shootout that commences is the most memorable of the entire movie.
Earlier, we have the Gunpoint Bantering scene between Archer and Castor (with their original faces) in the airport hangar with each training a pistol on the other's head.
One of the most famous scenes from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly involves the titular characters in one of these. Somewhat subverted in that the Man With No Name knew that Tuco's gun was unloaded, so he knew to shoot Angel Eyes and deal with Tuco later. This scene helped to make the Mexican Standoff popular and is perhaps one of its best examples.
Hilariously played with in Shaun of the Dead when, in order to actually make the standoff 'fair', a character from one side hands a weapon to a character on the other side.
Corky Romano, a comedy revolving around a veterinarian with a mafia family he never knew about being used to infiltrate the FBI. The climax of the film has a Mexican Standoff of sorts that is really a half dozen men walking up to each other in a line, each doing a Click Hello.
The movie Reservoir Dogs features a few instances of the trope. Toward the beginning, an argument between Mr. White and Mr. Pink gets heated, and the end up pulling guns on each other. They hold for a moment, then both lower their guns. At the climax, an undercover cop and three villains are caught in a tense three-way standoff. Bad guy one shoots the cop, bad guy two shoots bad guy one, bad guy three shoots bad guy two and bad guy two returns fire. In the end, Mr. White holds Mr. Orange at gunpoint, while the cops (off-screen) point guns at Mr. Pink.
In the climax of Pulp Fiction, Jules disarms Pumpkin at gunpoint, Honeybunny freaks and turns her gun on Jules, and a returning Vincent takes aim at Honeybunny while also threatening to shoot Pumpkin until Jules shuts him down.
True Romance ends with a big standoff between the police, the mafia, and the bodyguards of a Hollywood director.
Kill Bill features a standoff between a hitwoman and Beatrix, who has recently learned she's pregnant and wants no part of it.
Inglourious Basterds features two separate stand-offs in a single scene. In the first, an SS agent and a British spy point pistols at each other's testicles beneath a bar table. Later, a German soldier and the rest of the Basterds have each other at a stalemate, during which time they argue about whether their position could be called a Mexican Standoff.
In one of the Pink Panther movies, a soldier is shooting at the baddies. A baddie sneaks behind the soldier and puts a knife to his throat, telling him not to move. Another soldier gets behind him and puts a gun to his throat, telling him the same thing, creating a sort of blade-based Mexican Standoff. As they are all there unmoving and unsure about what to do, a grenade drops nearby and blows them all up.
In Saving Private Ryan, there is a Mexican standoff between a group of German soldiers and a group of Americans. As both were taken by complete surprise, nobody dares to shoot first, but they insult and intimidate each other instead. A second score of Americans enters, and literally blows the status quo.
Near the end of the first movie Neo and Agent Smith have their guns to each others' heads, only to find that both their guns are empty.
In a memorable moment in The Matrix Revolutions, Morpheus, Seraph, and Trinity confront the Merovingian at his nightclub to secure freedom for a limbo-ridden Neo. There were easily at least 20 people involved. When the Merovingian demands "the eyes of the Oracle" in return, Trinity decides she doesn't have time for this shit and points a gun at his head. Merovingian calls off the standoff with no bloodshed after he realizes that the trio aren't going to back down.
At World's End has a particularly interesting one, involving five people (one of whom isn't even directly related to the argument and pulls out his guns because everyone else does), each with two guns pointing at two other people. During the course of a conversation, they constantly switch who they are pointing their guns at. The whole thing becomes moot when Jack tries to shoot Barbossa, and the shot is a dud. This prompts everyone else to fire at each other, with the same result. Turns out that all the guns were waterlogged.
Pintel: We can still use 'em as clubs!
Also used to interesting effect in the first movie. The cursed Pirates have a sword to Elizabeth's throat, while Will Turner has a gun to his own head (If he kills himself there, the pirates can never lift the curse.)
Also used in the second film, where Norrington, Jack, and Will engage in a Mexican standoff — but with swords. Norrington points to Will, Will to Jack... and Jack doesn't know who to point to, deciding to point, late, to Norrington.
Jack, Angelica, and Scrum over the mermaid's tear.
Near the conclusion of Lust In The Dust, a 1985 film, nearly everyone is pointing guns at each other over a chest of gold. Marguerita (Lainie Kazan) is the lone character without a gun — she exclaims, "This is not fair!" The others give her a pistol out of fair play.
A particularly well-done and tense Mexican Standoff is done in the latter half of The Rock, as seen here.
In the Hitman movie, the main character is in an Mexican Standoff with three assassins out to kill him. Why the assassins are pointing guns at each other and not just at the guy they're supposed to kill is a good question, but it is quickly overshadowed by the fact that they decide to "die with a little dignity" by ejecting the magazines from their guns, dropping their guns, and each pulling out a pair of mini-katanas, and after another brief standoff in which the 4 assassins cross their swords a la the 3 musketeers, they then have a swordfight.
As for why they're pointing guns at each other, I'd reckon it's because the guy who kills 47 is the only guy who gets paid.
The Departed: Costigan, Sullivan, Barrigan, Brown. An abandoned apartment building. Three bodies. Sullivan walks away.
Done much more simplistically in the film The Departed is based on, the Hong Kong thriller Infernal Affairs. Only three people, rather than the addition of another two a bit later on.
Lampshaded in the Jackie Chan movie Shanghai Noon. The corrupt sheriff comes in during the ransom money trade-off and pulls out dual pistols, aimed at Jackie and Owen Wilson. This is on top of the heroes having the other villain at gunpoint with the princess and royal guards also in the fray. He quips, "How bout that... it's a Mexican standoff... only we ain't got no Mexicans."
The first James Bond film, Dr. No, has Bond outwitting a would-be assassin by hiding behind the door while the assassin attempts to kill him in his room. Bond has the assassin drop his gun on a rug and sit down while he interrogates the man. Bond would occasionally take a drink during the conversation, which the assassin used to slide his gun closer to him by dragging the rug. Eventually, the assassin regained his gun and pointed it at Bond, saying that they are now at a standstill, to which Bond casually shrugs and simply shot the guy. It should be noted that the assassin had used all of his bullets earlier shooting the bed which he believed contained Bond. As Bond knew this fact, it was easier for him to react calmly to a gun pointed at him.
The film Time And Tide has two characters, a regular soldier and a special-ops mercenary, pull pistols on each other simultaneously. The soldier says "Now we are equal," and the mercenary shoots him immediately, then spits on his body, saying "I only speak with my gun."
In Bruges has Ray and Harry getting into one of these in the middle of the bed-and-breakfast. Harry is too principled to get into a gunfight with the pregnant landlady right there in harm's way, and she refuses to leave, so they hilariously argue about how they can continue the fight elsewhere.
In the film of Prince Caspian, Caspian confronts Miraz and puts a sword to his throat. Then Miraz' wife points a crossbow at Caspian. Then Susan walks in and points her bow at Mrs. Miraz.
Done between a squad of Army rangers and Sector Seven agents in the 2007 Transformers movie. Broken up by Defense Secretary Keller, who suggests the agents do what the rangers say. "Losing's not really an option for these guys."
Branded Yo Kill features a very odd subversion, almost a Deconstruction. The Number One Killer pulls a gun on the the Villain Protagonist, who responds in kind as dictated by the trope. Then the Number One Killer says "We'll have to split the bed." They stand next to each other for days, as the Sociopathic Hero goes crazier and crazier. The Number One Killer is unfazed.
Subverted in Rik Mayall Presents The Big One. Contains a five way Mexican Standoff. The guns are aimed this way and that, while three of the five people involved run off as soon as no-one is aiming at them. The two people left aiming at each other are on the same side.
Assassins (1995). Two hitmen are on either side of a bulletproof divider in a taxicab after an unsuccessful Not My Driver ploy. Neither can get out of the taxi without being killed, so the younger (and crazier) hitman breaks the stalemate by threatening to shoot an innocent bystander unless he starts driving. Then follows a car chase to avoid pursuing police vehicles while at the same time each hitman is trying to kill the other.
In Big Trouble in Little China, the Chang Sing gang and the villainous Wing Kong gang have what Wang calls a "Chinese standoff" before their big fight near the beginning of the movie.
Parodied by Date Night: "Oh my God everyone is pointing guns at everyone!"
DEBS. Lucy and Amy end up pointing their guns at each other the first time they meet and have a debate about who's going to put their gun down first.
The Tall Blond Man With One Black Shoe is an unknowing pawn in a scheme between two interdepartmental government rivals who is set up to appear to be a whistle-blower agent. When factions from both sides converge on his apartment, they all draw guns — as they face off, they agree that as professionals, they won't shoot each other... then a trick cigar (given to the pawn by his friend) smoldering in an ashtray blows up, and all four men gun each other down.
Hawkins': The Duchess dove at the Duke just when the Duke dove at the Doge. Now the Duke ducked, the Doge dodged, and the Duchess didn't. So the Duke got the Duchess, the Duchess got the Doge, and the Doge got the Duke!
Happens and even gets referenced by name in Transformers: Dark Of The Moon. During the scene where they believe the Decepticons are targeting Sentinel Prime, the Autobots protect him as they get him to NEST headquarters where the Pillars are located. When two of the Dreads show up with their guns, Ironhide and Sideswipe counter with their own. After Sideswipe Lampshades it, he and Ironhide offer to let the Dreads 'put down their guns and leave with their dignity still intact'. The Dreads do as they say, and so do the Autobots, then the Dreads try to use their hidden weapons. Sides' and 'Hide proceed to kick the metal shit out of them without their guns.
A huge one occurs in the B-MovieThe Immortals. The leaders of two gangs direct about a dozen people each on who they should be covering, every one with Guns Akimbo. It all hits the fan when an Innocent Bystander drops some plates. Most of the good guys somehow make it out alive (if wounded), even though everyone involved in the shootout were standing only a few feet away from each other.
Late in Repo Man, there's one in a convenience store involving 1) Otto's friends who've come in to rob the store, 2) the brothers also trying to chase down the Malibu, and 3) the store's security guard. All three keep moving their guns back and forth at the other two.
In Dragonheart, with the knight Bowen standing in the dragon's mouth, sword pointed up. If the dragon bites down, the sword goes through his brain. If Bowen stabs the dragon, his jaw comes down.
Discussed in Nick of Time by Ms. Jones when Gene pulls a gun on her, unaware that she has a gun pointed at his daughter.
A brief subversion shows up early in Predators. When Knife Nut Stans realizes what sort of a Death World they're on, he demands for someone to give him a gun, because his knife isn't going to cut it. After no one volunteers to give a gun to the friendly neighborhood Serial Killer, Stans catches Mombassa by surprise, holds a knife to Mombassa's neck, and demands a gun. Mombassa calmly points a gun at Stans' head, explains that he's Not Afraid to Die, and waits. It takes all of about two seconds for Stans to back down.
In keeping with the series' Western roots, Wizard and Glass involves the main character's friend training a fatal slingshot round on a corrupt deputy harassing a mentally handicapped boy, who then has a gun put to his head from behind by another one of the corrupt deputies, who then gets a knife put up against his throat by one of the first boy's friends, who gets a gun put to his head by the leader of the lawmen... who suddenly finds the main character's knife against his back, in what may be the most over-the-top example of this trope played straight.
Played straight in an earlier book, as well, between Eddie and Roland in The Drawing of the Three. Notable in that Eddie actually refers to the standoff by name as a Mexican standoff.
The novel Dance Of The Voodoo Handbag by Robert Rankin uses a Mexican Standoff in which an increasing number of characters arrive pointing guns at each other in an argument over the titular McGuffin. However, the main character realises noone's threatening him, so he steals the handbag and escapes in the confusion.
In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, there was a stand off between Harry, Hermione, Ron, Professor Lupin, and Sirius Black. It was then calmed, then when Snape entered the picture, the stand off began again.
Subverted in Popcorn, one of Ben Elton's earlier books, when a very film-savvy criminal gets caught in a one-on-one standoff and remarks "I never got why people didn't just stop yakking and shoot the other guy" before shooting the woman he's facing in the chest.
In the novel Something Rotten of the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde, Thursday find herself in one of these: for the better part of the book, Thurs has been trying to find a way to gently break it to her friend and colleague Spike that his cute, perky wife Cindy is secretly a contract killer with a contract out on Thursday. When she finally confronts Cindy in Spike's presence, Thurs draws her gun on Cindy (who she believes has a concealed weapon) only to have Spike — who refuses to believe her — draw his gun on her. The standoff ends when a random grand piano falls out of a window above them, and the piano bench lands on Cindy; she collapses, revealing said concealed weapon. The author has said that he had no idea how to end that scene, so he Took A Third Option. Astonishingly, by the end of the book, he actually Justifies it.
In Dan Abnett's Gaunt's Ghosts novel Ghostmaker, after Corbec tackled a figure who turned out to be a Volpone Blueblood, the Bluebloods surrounded him with guns; he let the major up, and the major drew a gun on him; Gaunt appeared, pointing a gun at the major and declaring that if he shot Corbec, he would be dead before his men could shoot; more Ghosts appeared, with their guns drawn... It was a good thing that the Inquisitor Lilith showed up, all in all.
One happened in Boba Fett's story in Tales of the Bounty Hunters, with a twist. Neither Solo nor Fett really wants to fight anymore. But neither of them trusts the other enough to be the first to put his gun down. The story ends with both still trying to figure out how to end the fight without killing each other. Since both of them show up in stories that take place later on in the EU, they must have come up with something.
Played with in Trevanian's The Eiger Sanction. The hero is only holding up his hand in a gun shape while he's under a sleeping bag.
Later, in The Fifth Elephant, Vimes and Inigo Skimmer are in each other's personal space, with blades drawn...
Vimes: "And now it appears that we have reached what Sergeant Colon persists in referring to as an imp arse."
In Jim Butcher's Dresden Files novel Turn Coat, Harry thrice goes into his apartment to find Morgan, Molly, and Mouse — with Luccio, twice in some form of a Mexican Standoff. He defuses the situations.
Harry and Murphy against Binder and the Gray Men. Harry and Murphy are protected from Binder's men by the empowered circle, but Binder could break it. Murphy points a gun at him to prevent that. Defused by Molly completing a second circle around Binder, banishing the Gray Men.
Happens often enough in Blood Meridian, one memorable one being after Glanton's horse bites the ear off an Apache chief's during a meeting, and moments later everyone on both sides is fixed in a web of gunsights.
Done in the Redwall novel The Bellmaker, where Mariel is threatening to kill the commander of a troop of rats. One rat has an arrow pointed at her head. This goes on for at least a few hours before the good guys are finally rescued.
One of the major storylines in the Liavek anthologies concluded with one of these in the office of the Levar's Regent. The Regent has a gun, his top enforcer Dashif has two, and a crossbow-wielding assassin has just showed up too. Also present are Dashif's daughter and one of the Regent's political rivals. The Regent makes the mistake of aiming at Dashif's daughter, so he dies along with Dashif and the assassin.
In Richard Ellis Preston Jr.'s Romulus Buckle & the Engines of War, Goethe declares that Sabrina is Sabrina Fawkes, and must come with him, in the middle of the Imperial stronghold. Both the Imperials and the Crankshafts face off against Goethe's guards. Romulus diffuses it with a challenge to a Duel to the Death.
In the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode, "Two to Go", Xander, Andrew, and Jonathan are caught in a two-sided Mexican stand-off when Andrew holds Xander at swordpoint, and Jonathan, trying to keep Andrew from killing Xander, puts his own sword to Andrew's neck.
In the Buffyverse comic book miniseries Fray, Melaka and one of the two random goons after the same prize end up pointing laser pistols at each other, causing the goon to state "It appears we have a standoff." Melaka's response? "What standoff?" BLAM.
Also subverted rather beautifully in the original opening two-parter of Firefly, where River is taken hostage by the Alliance mole, who has a gun to her head, and Mal is walking back up from their latest illegal dealing. Considering he, Jayne, and Zoe just came back from an outing during which they were all heavily armed, and considering the fed had allegedly called for backup, this could easily have led to a Mexican standoff, especially given that Jayne is prone to betrayal at the drop of a hat if given enough money. Instead, Mal and the others almost completely ignore the man's threats, with Mal simply shooting him in the face as soon as he catches sight of him without even slowing his pace or being fazed one bit.
Serenity, the Big Damn Movie of Firefly. This happens twice between Captain Mal and River Tam: the first time in the bar after River has demonstrated her martial arts abilities, and the second after River escapes custody and goes to the bridge.
Life On Mars: Gene's superior officer and mentor, recently found out to be corrupt, is cornered by Sam and Gene in a corridor. All three produce guns. The mentor begins to challenge the two to break the stalemate, remarking that none of them are getting out of this unharmed — but doesn't get to finish, because Gene bluntly shoots him in the leg while he's still talking. Gene, of course, was a bit pissed about the whole 'corrupt' thing.
One The X-Files season finale contained enough plot twists to briefly lead to a three-way stand-off between the good guys — it's resolved without bloodshed and with a slight degree of embarrassment on all parts.
In the Heroes episode "Landslide", HRG and Mohinder get into one. However, HRG isn't pointing his gun at Mohinder, he's pointing it at Molly Walker, a little girl whose power happens to be The Company's new "Walker" tracking system, and the biggest threat to the heroes' security.
One episode of the SitcomTaxi, Bobby has a fare talk himself into the front seat, then pull out a gun in an attempted robbery once they've reached his destination (the middle of nowhere-in-particular), foiled once Bobby pulls his own, kept for just such an emergency. This trope is then played straight for something like eight hours, subverted when the thief complained that his arm's getting tired and convinced Bobby to swap his much larger pistol for the latter's much lighter one... revealing afterwards that his gun was never even loaded, and resuming his crime from square one.
Wiseguy. When Vinnie Terranova gets framed due to a Government Conspiracy, his OCB handler Frank McPike tries to get an eccentric billionaire (who's cut himself off from society for decades) to help. The meeting takes place in a ski-lift, with the billionaire holding a cocked LAAWS rocket. At one stage he points out that it's not a good idea to threaten a man armed with a bazooka, whereupon McPike whips out his snubnose .38 and says: "Big hole, little hole; either way we're just as dead." The billionaire is so impressed with McPike's chutzpah he does eventually come forward to clear Vinnie.
Tim and Duane have a paintball standoff in the fourth episode of Spaced.
An episode of Burn Notice has a group of criminals in a standoff situation after being manipulated by Michael into believing they were being betrayed by each other. None of them actually wanted to start shooting, but Sam sneaks up behind the building and fires his gun into the ground. The noise makes the criminals panic and kill each other, in what is either crossing the Moral Event Horizon or a Crowning Moment Of Awesome for Sam, depending on the viewer.
Considering that Sam is a former Spec-Ops leader, if one is going with Moral Event Horizon, it's probably the least of his sins.
These guys had kidnapped a child and were planning on killing him and his father when their scheme was done. And they'd been keeping him in the woodshed in the back of their luxury home on a Miami island.
In another episode, Michael turns a situation where he should be at a massive disadvantage (he's alone and trying to face down an Arms Dealer, the dealer's 6 armed mooks, and the master thief that stole a chemical weapon and was planning to sell it to the dealer) into a Mexican Standoff with some quick thinking: rather than try to intimidate them by pointing his gun at his opponents, Michael points it at the chemical weapon they came to buy. Sure, if they shoot him, he's dead, but if Michael can fire before dying, the nerve gas inside will kill everyone there.
Supernatural: "Bad Day at Black Rock" has two of these over a cursed rabbit's foot — first between just Dean and Bela, then with Sam, Dean, and Bela, who shoots Sam in the shoulder.
An episode of Farscape involves a sentient virus who can take over the body of any intelligent being. Because nobody knows who the virus is inhabiting, at one point at least five or six people have guns pointed at each other, often weaving between targets.
Subverted on Criminal Minds, where a suspect snatches the gun from a park ranger's holster and aims it at her, only to realize she's drawn a hunting knife and set it against his throat. He points out the disparity in their weapons' effectiveness, and she agrees... because she doesn't keep her sidearm loaded. She's lying, and admits it after he forfeits the pistol.
Sure this isn't from the Movie Broken Arrow?
In Get Smart, Max and 99, attempting to protect a KAOS defector, comes up upon one of these in a hotel. The KAOS agent at the desk threatens them with a pistol, but he's covered by a maid, who's covered by the janitor, who's covered by another guest, who's covered by the hotel chef. As soon as Max, 99, and the defector leave the room, everyone fires and Max laments "All it takes is one wiseguy...".
The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Tacking Into the Wind" ends with Gul Rusot, a member of the Cardassian Rebellion, pointing a phaser at Kira, who is covered by Garak, while Damar holds them ALL at gun (phaser?)-point and tries to decide what to do.
The episode "Who Mourns for Morn" has one with four armed parties, and an unarmed Quark, in a Mexican Standoff over a cargo container of money.
In Destiny of the Daleks, one occurs when a squad of Daleks corner the Doctor, but he threatens to blow up Davros if they don't "spack off!" When they do stand down momentarily, the Doctor says "I believe this is what's called a Mexican Standoff".
Again in "Victory of the Daleks", when the Daleks gloat at the Doctor at gunpoint while he holds them hostage by threatening to blow up the TARDIS and take the Dalek ship with it. Eventually, however, the Daleks figure out that the self-destruct device the Doctor's been threatening them with is actually a tea biscuit, and everything goes to hell in a handbasket.
A Cougar Town episode ends with the whole cast involved in a Mexican standoff with finger guns, leading to a pretend bloodbath (one of the examples above even gets namechecked: Travis's dying words are "I love Spaced!")
In an early episode of Torchwood, Owen's got the villain at gunpoint, when the villains' accomplice reveals himself and points a gun at Owen. Gwen is shocked, and lifts her gun toward the accomplice.
In a filmed sketch on Saturday Night Live three gangsters have one of these which lasts for days; they sleep together, shower, go to a Thanksgiving dinner, go ice skating, even attend one of them's son's soccer game. Finally, one of them says that the last few days have been the best of his life; the other two immediately shoot him, then go back to a standoff with each other.
Elbow's song "Mexican Standoff" uses this trope as a metaphor for two guys who are competing for the attention of a woman, but apparently neither is brave enough to physically fight the other one.
Depicted on the cover of Lifehouse's album Almería.
The game Ca$h 'n' Gun$ is designed to simulate this situation. The players are crooks arguing over dividing up the loot from a robbery. Money is piled up in the centre over the course each round, and players have a number of 'Bang' or 'Click' cards. On a count of three, each player points a (foam) gun at another player. On another count of three, players can back off if they don't like the odds pointing at them. Then you reveal if anyone gets shot or if it's just a bluff, and then anyone still standing gets a share of the cash. Backing down costs you points, but getting shot enough makes you dead.
Older Than Radio: Quoth Scott Higgins' article in Cinema Journal 47, No. 2: "Brewster and Jacobs invoke Sheridan’s parody of this warhorse of situations in his 1779 play The Critic. Sheridan mocks melodramatic convention by having a fictional playwright concoct a scene in which two women hold the man they both love at dagger’s point; the man, in turn, draws two daggers and holds them on the women, at which point their two uncles enter and draw their swords against the lover. The standoff is resolved when, unexpectedly, a Beefeater enters and orders "In the Queen’s Name, I charge you all to drop your swords and Daggers."
There is a short comedic play called The Tarantino Variation which is three men, each holding a gun to another's head. Then they realize they need to kill the person holding them at gunpoint, and switch, all the while bantering — it's quite funny. The play ends with them each having one gun on each of the other men, walking off to lunch together.
The end (and perhaps other parts as well) of the one-act play "The Inspector Answers".
Subverted in the second chapter of the video game Killer7: a group of diplomats are playing mah-jongg when one is accused of cheating. All four men stand up, pull their guns... and then shoot each other without a second's pause.
Before they reach for the weapons, one even expresses irritation that they're about to all die.
Final Fantasy X-2 features a three-way Mexican Standoff between Gippal, Nooj, and Baralai. Actually, it happens *twice*, if you go around getting the optional scenes.
There's also a very brief Mexican Standoff between Yuna, Rikku, and Paine when the latter two are temporarily possessed by Shuyin in the Den of Woe. Probably not a true Standoff in the way that at least one party had no intention of harming the others.
Mass Effect is littered with Mexican standoffs with all sorts of people; whether they end peacefully, with someone getting shot in the face, or with a Blast Out depends mostly on the player's choices. In the most notable example, Shepard and one of his/her own party members, Wrex, get into a standoff over blowing up a lab containing a cure for the krogan race's infertility, which is slowly killing them off. Getting out of the situation without killing Wrex earns the player an Achievement for resolving "an impossible situation" with diplomacy. No better way to break a standstill than to have your buddy gun down your other buddy from behind him when things start getting hairy...
Max Payne 2: Beautifully done, as it actually makes sense. Both realize they're back to back with the enemy, so they turn around to shoot. The great part is if you look close enough, neither hesitate, and Mona Sax was just a few inches faster.
This standoff lasts for quite a while because you return to this sight until you play every character's intro.
In Pokémon, moves like Destiny Bond, Counter, Magic Coat, Sucker Punch, Metal Burst, and to a lesser extent, Bide and Endeavor can all heavily punish an opponent for attacking. If two Pokémon both carry such a move, and know that the other has one, things devolve into either this trope or risky overprediction.
Did we mention John Woo really likes this trope? In case it wasn't already evident, Stranglehold uses these as a regular gameplay mechanic where the player has a split second to dodge bullets and take out anyone who's holding him at gunpoint.
Samus vs Dark Samus on every occasion in Metroid Prime 2: Echoes. Made even more awesome by the fact, at some times, they both walk while holding their cannons to each other.
Depending on the game type, up to 16 people against each other in one standoff.
There is a moment in the game where John is accused of cheating in poker by a German guy, the occupants of the table as well as some guys from the crowd enter one of these, and a lampshade is hung on the moment when the German comments, "There must be a name for this." (At which point the protagonist's gunslinging mentor suggests "An impasse.") Appropriately, the scene takes place in Mexico.
In Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, one of these occurs between Sam and Douglas Shetland. Shetland decides that this is a good time to embark on aMotive Rant. It ends when Shetland lowers his gun, saying, "I know you wouldn't shoot an old friend," at which point Sam (controlled by the player) shoots him in the head and replies, "You're right. I wouldn't shoot an old friend."
Unless you lower your gun. Then Shetland tries to shoot Sam, only to get a knife in his gut.
In one of the side missions in Borderlands 2, you participate in one, which is slightly less dramatic than the other listed examples due to the fact that everyone involved has energy shielding. In another side mission, you defuse an all-NPC standoff by solving a logic puzzle.
A large one in Grand Theft Auto V occurs between Michael and Dave Norton, Agent Sanchez and a team of FIB SWAT officers, Steven Haines, a team of IAA agents, and a huge amount of Merryweather mercenaries backed up by a light attack helicopter. It ends when Haines gets shot in the leg, shoots Sanchez in the head, and begins the largest gunfight in GTA history.
The comic Ctrl+Alt+Del contains numerous examples of Mexican Standoffs.
Subverted in an early arc of Schlock Mercenary: Tagon's Toughs get into one with a small army, at which point the narrator describes the trope in detail. Then Tagon notices that his foes have armor while his allies don't, at which point the narrator points out that Tagon isn't even remotely descended from Mexican stock.
Not to mention he's outnumbered 5-3. Fortunately, it's resolved without shots being fired.
Later, Howard pulls another one, with entire fleets, although not really since at this range the Plaited Daisies could probably shred the Battleplate, and eat the other ships.
Lampshaded and parodied a few times in Sluggy Freelance. An example, since in Timeless Space everyone's guns have a Mexican Standoff setting that makes them go chakat! when pointed.
It doesn't get more dramatic than Pete and Brian's "Showdown". Hilariously done, with some Stock Phrases to boot.
This happens once in Survival of the Fittest version one, between David Jackson, Jacob Starr, and Peri Barclay. By this point, Jacob's mind has become dangerously unstable due to the guilt and trauma he's experienced over the game's course clashing with the morals his police officer father taught him his whole life, so the situation devolves into a Blast Out when he suddenly turns on Peri and attacks him.
Another happens in version 3, this can be best described as 'Bobby Jacks vs. Everyone', as at one point the aforementioned villain character had no fewer than six people pointing guns at him, whilst he reciprocated by pulling out both of his guns and returning the gesture. Fortunately, the situation was eventually diffused.
Another v3 example is one that involves Lenny Priestly, holding Heath Trennoby hostage, has a gun pulled on him by Bobby Jacks, while Shameeca Mitchell holds a gun at Lenny's sister Elizabeth, who is currently holding James Martinek hostage. Not to mention the three spectators who are watching from nearby. Unfortunately, just as things seem to be going good, Heath tries to attack Lenny. What results is James, Heath, and innocent spectator Lauren Howard being shot dead, Anna Kateridge and Lulu Altaire kidnapping Elizabeth, Lenny going on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge, Bobby Jacks trying to hunt him down, and Shameeca realising she failed in her one job of trying to rescue James. So naturally, it doesn't end well for anyone.
A smaller scale example would also be Clio Gabriella vs Brendan Wallace. Both with guns pointed at each other's heads. It lasts for several minutes, while Brendan manages to talk Clio out of doing anything rash, proclaiming that if she were to pull the trigger, he could pull the trigger on his gun just as fast, leaving them both dead. After a while, she runs off, and Brendan looks inside the gun to find there's not a single round inside. Cue LONG sigh of relief.
A Challenge Round is resolved like this in season one of The Leet World. Ellis drops down behind Leeroy and takes aim, only to be held at gunpoint by Westheimer, who is in turn menaced by Cortez. It ends with a Blast Out (luckily, Death Is Cheap).
Ellis:*Click* "Hold it right there, Bo. Reach for the sky."
Code MENT in Episode 14 has this between Shirley, Mao, and Lelouch... except Lelouch is caught in the middle, unarmed. And if he moves, Shirley will shoot him. And if he doesn't, Mao will shoot him. And that's why it's funny.
At the end of "Independant Movie", Stan, Roger, and Toshi's father Hideki celebrate hitting it big and then suddenly pull guns on each other. The screen goes black, a gunshot is heard, and Roger says that Hideki was the one who got shot.
In the pilot of Archer, the titular character's mother is taken hostage by The Mole, so he captures Lana and threatens her. Except that The Mole doesn't even care about Lana, and thus the Mexican Standoff is futile.
Arthur, of all shows, uses a family-friendly version of this trope: instead of threatening each other with weapons, each of the kids threaten to destroy something important to another one of them. If George sharpens one of Brain's pencils for Muffy, Brain will drop a book on George's bubble-gum stegosaurus model, so Sue Ellen will throw Binky's rubber-band ball out the window, Muffy will put Francine's Power Kitten stickers on Brain's desk, so Francine will tear all of the pages out of Buster's Bionic Bunny comic book, Buster will eat all of Arthur's chocolate chip cookies, Fern will cut up her and Muffy's shared desk ruffle, etc. Then Brain accidentally knocks the book onto the stegosaurus model and chaos ensues.
Parodied in Drawn Together, "The One Wherein There is a Big Twist, Part 1", where a minor issue between the housemates flares into a standoff. Then Wooldoor leaps into the fray and produces a ridiculous amount of guns (in a ridiculous amount of arms), even going as far to shout "I'M NOT AFRAID TO DIE!" before pointing yet another gun at himself.
G.I. Joe plays with this bit when Shipwreck is confronted by Destro and the Dredknoks just after he dumped a chemical that makes water explode down the drain. To hold them off, Shipwreck has a lit match and threatens to ignite the treated water. Destro confidently tells him that's pointless since a triggering explosion is needed to set off the water. Shipwreck calls it a bluff and Destro dares him to find out. Shipwreck does and drops the match down the drain, only to learn he was not bluffing as nothing happens. Now with the Joe's trump card now worthless, the Dredknoks open fire, but Shipwreck dodges and that weapons fire provides the triggering explosion to set the water off.
Subverted in King of the Hill when Dale turns to the bounty hunter and faces his target. Both drop their rifles and put their arms up... Then stand there until their arms get tired.
But not before they both covertly try to go for their guns... only to be scared by the other doing so, and both promptly surrender again.
Sealab 2021 took this trope to comedic excess in the episode "Let 'em Eat Corn", which climaxed in a 5-way Mexican Standoff, with each faction armed with a nuclear missile. It then anti-climaxed when they find out the nukes (all bought from the British) are duds.
Maggie gets caught in the middle of an Italian-American Mexican Standoff in the climax of the "Moe Baby Blues" episode of The Simpsons. Luckily, Moe is there to save the day. Yes, Moe.
In "The Seemingly Never-Ending Story" Snake, Mr. Burns, Rich Texan, and Moe were trying to get a pile of golden coins and all of them got weapons (well, Moe had a baseball bat but, once he realized the others had guns, he hid himself in the shadows and tried to make it seem he also had a gun). Rich Texan even described their situation as a "Mexican Standoff".
A Mexican Standoff is a heightened version of what is sometimes referred to as a Hobbesian Trap (After the philosopher, not the tiger). When two (or more) parties are both able to do harm to the others, and afraid of being harmed by the others, the trap is set. A great deal of effort has gone into providing ways to safely back out of the trap, at least on the national level; "Honor", where making a pre-emptive strike causes the nation to become a pariah; mutual defence treaties, where another nation will avenge any pre-emptive strike made against their ally, in order to discourage agressors; and international organisations like the U.N., who provide a way for nations in a Hobbesian trap to reduce their conflict to a war of words rather than arms. All three were considerations during the Cuban Missile Crisis, remarked on belownote America did not want to be seen as a bully blasting a neighbouring nation back into the stone age; the U.N. provided a highly visible means of pointing out that the Soviets were being disingenous about what weaponry they had provided to Cuba; and the mutual defence treaties... actually made the stakes a lot worse, as the various treaties set up a worldwide game of Disaster Dominoes.
The "Sitting War" that occurred near the beginning of World War II.
Most specifically, the French-German border was quiet for seven months while Germany conquered Poland and Norway. The English and French together had a 4-to-1 numerical advantage over the Germans in the area, but the defenses of the Sigfried Line made the situation a stalemate.
This standoff is probably best considered as a three way, with the third party being the bitingly cold 39/40 winter. Once winter decided to back out however...
Even with the end of the Cold War, nuclear weapons will keep the standoff going in perpetuity. A Timeeditorial considers this preferable to the level of bloodshed the pre-nuclear World Wars exemplified.
Many hostage situations boil down to Mexican Standoffs-the police don't want to fire on the hostage taker for fear of causing him to kill the hostage, yet the hostage taker doesn't want to execute the hostage, as there's then no reason for the police to refrain from shooting.
That's why there's always a sniper attached to the police during hostage situations. Unless the hostage taker isn't standing near a window.