"You best protect ya neck!"
Next to "Off with His Head!
", snapping a person's neck is one of the surest ways to kill someone in media.
Typical procedure: Alice
. Catching him unawares, Alice grabs Bob's chin with one hand and his opposite temple with the other. Bob just has time enough for his eyes to go wide with the realization of how screwed he is
when Alice wrenches his head to the side with a hideous cracking of bone
. Bob is always killed instantly and usually with his eyes open
. Sometimes Alice appears to put in an effort (or has superpowers or something) but often is remarkably blase about it.
Note that in Real Life
, it takes a considerable amount of strength and/or training to snap a person's neck 1
, especially if the character getting it snapped is considerably big and strong. It's possible if you know where to grab and twist, and can pin your opponent to get leverage. In real life, spinal/neck manipulation is allowed in certain martial arts competitions such as the UFC and other MMA events. However, it looks very different thank in the movies, and there is almost always time to "tap out" before injury, much less permanent or lethal injury. To preform the "neck snap" like in the page's image you would have to be extraordinarily stronger, to a point that is nearly superhuman.
Also note that in Real Life
nothing dies instantly from a fractured neck unless it sends vertebrae fragments into, or contorts, the brain-stem in such a way as to shut down all lower brain functions. A broken neck is no guarantee of a "silent kill" either as, if the aforementioned brain-stem damage is not inflicted, all you are left with is a quadriplegic victim, dying, but not yet dead, and still able to speak and scream.
The frequency of this in film and TV is possibly because it offers a fairly brutal way of killing someone without having
to use or show any blood.
As a Death Trope, expect spoilers.
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Anime & Manga
- Kirika snaps a man's neck using his own tie and a fall down an elevator shaft in the first episode of Noir.
- Balalaika, in a truly ruthless and Badass moment from Black Lagoon, snaps the neck of the leader of the Washimine group in one of the final episodes of the anime.
- In Mahou Sensei Negima!, we see Nagi doing this during a Pensieve Flashback. To a demon. With one hand. In a Neck Lift. He's just that strong.
- How do you go from Non-Action Guy to Badass in Shakugan no Shana? In your first fight, you kill four jerks and then kill the fifth by snapping his neck effortlessly.
- The Dummy-Plug controlled Unit 01 from Neon Genesis Evangelion breaks Unit 03's neck before brutally tearing it apart. Done somewhat realistically in showing the Eva struggling to do so.
- Byakuran from Katekyo Hitman Reborn! does this to Tsuna at the final battle of the future arc. Turns out that his victim survives, fortunately. Nearly scared the heck out of Uni and everyone else, though. This is toned down in the anime. Instead of the neck, Byakuran was either trying to snap his spine or crush all the bones in his body. Sounds less scary, until you count how many bones AND organs he probably broke this time.
- Cowboy Bebop episode "Boogie Woogie Feng Shui". Jet snaps the neck of a syndicate goon after interrogating him. The offhand, blase manner discussed in the trope description is justified here — Jet uses his cybernetic arm. In a later Jet-centered episode we learn that his cybernetic arm is no more stronger or more resilient than any other human arm (although he has little to no feeling in it). He's just that Badass.
- Dragon Ball Z
- Dodoria snaps the neck of the Namekian Elder after Frieza kills one of the escaping children with a smile on his face.
- This is subverted in the Tournament Saga: Videl apparently snaps Spopovich's neck in self defense when it was becoming apparent that he is trying to kill her, and nearly gets herself disqualified as a result, but then he not only revives himself, but even spins his neck back into place in the most disturbing way possible.
- In Naruto, Tobi does this quite nonchalantly (though seeming somewhat pissed off because he was annoyed by something else) to one of two men he captured when told a techniques demonstration required a live subject and a dead subject.
- Subverted with Nicholas's death in Cyborg 009, since he gets this done to him via Telekinesis. (And considering how it was done, he likely had had all of his limbs snapped at once, not just his neck.)
- Kasumi Gyoubu from Basilisk kills two out of three of his enemies this way. (Though not all of those deaths stuck.)
- Subverted in Magical Record Lyrical Nanoha Force: Deville attacks Isis In the Back and says that he heard her neck break, but it doesn't take.
- In Fate/Zero, Kiritsugu kills his wife Irisviel (or rather, a representation of the Holy Grail in her form) in this manner.
- Though she seems to prefer going for the spine, Nico Robin of One Piece certainly isn't above doing this when she feels like it. Even worse, she has powers that allow her to make copies of her limbs appear on surfaces up to a fair distance away, meaning she doesn't actually have to physically be anywhere near the person she's doing it to.
- In A Certain Scientific Railgun, there's the Dorm Supervisor, who punishes people this way while somehow not killing them. She's snapped Kuroko's neck at least twice and Mikoto's at least once. She's actually scary enough that at least two level fives fear her.
- In Bleach:
- This happens to Quilge Opie when he gets Hammered into the Ground by Ayon. However, he then gets up and pops his neck back into place.
- Later, it also happens to Giselle Gewelle when Ichigo knocks her and her friends through a building. However, since Giselle has a Healing Factor, she also nonchalantly pops her neck back into place.
- Marv does this to a guard or two in Sin City. Hartigan isn't as super-strong and must make do with slicing throats.
- The Joker snaps his own neck towards the end of The Dark Knight Returns.
- Similarly, Joker gets his neck snapped in The Nail. By Batman. To be fair, Joker had just killed Robin and Batgirl in front of him.
- Vandal Savage does this to a secretary fairly prominently in Kingdom Come.
- Legion of Super-Heroes v.3, in a Crowning Moment of Awesome for Princess Projectra. After Nemesis Kid stole her planet, enslaved her people, and murdered her husband, he didn't think he had anything to fear from her. She begged to differ. *KRRAK!*
- The Punisher does this in pretty much any media he appears in. Though just a human, still in great shape.
- Happens quite a few times in Fall of Cthulhu, a graphic novel based on HP Lovecraft's mythos. Justified as the ones doing the snapping are usually not quite what you would call human.
- The Incredible Hulk gets his neck snapped from The Maestro. He survives but is free to be taken advantage of by a slave girl while he's healing.
- Wonder Woman does this to Maxwell Lord in Infinite Crisis, and to the monstrous Grendel in Secret Six. Her killing of Lord becomes a lynchpin moment in the DC Universe, leading indirectly to the events of Infinite Crisis, 52 and Flashpoint.
- In "The Warrior Princess", an arc of the X-Wing Series comics, there is a resistance movement fighting an Imperial presence, one of the members is captured, strapped into a chair, and tortured. Then the beloved leader of the resistance walks in, tells him that he'd done well and will be sent home and set free, and then gets behind him and breaks his neck. Then he makes out with the head of the local Imperial forces in front of the dead man's staring eyes. ...As it turns out, the leader of the resistance is secretly evil!
- In Ultimate X-Men, in the "Ultimatum" storyline, Magneto does this to Professor X.
- Dudley Soames, a.k.a. Torque, a Nightwing villain, is a survivor of this.
- This is how Barry Allen killed his Arch-Enemy Reverse Flash in The Trial Of The Flash. He was put on trial for murder and acquitted. Reverse Flash recovered. Reverse Flash also likes to break multiple people's necks at super speed, then slow down and watch them drop all at once.
- Green Lantern: Hal Jordan kills Sinestro by breaking his neck. Sinestro recovered.
- The Kingpin made his final ascent to power when he snapped the neck of his boss, Don Rigoletto.
- The Authority: Killer cyborg Seth does this to Midnighter. It has no effect.
- Spider-Man: This is how Gwen Stacy died. The shock of being stopped so abruptly by the web line attached to her foot broke her neck.
- Darth Vader is ambushed by a group of Jedi in an EU comic. One of them is properly prepared for the fight (she was the only one who knew that it was coming, having lured the rest to the meeting area under false pretenses), and disables his lightsaber before going in for the kill. He proves in an instant with this trope that he doesn't need a lightsaber to kill.
- Colossus from the X-Men angrily kills Riptide this way during the extremely dark Mutant Massacre storyline.
- In several What If?? stories, The Mighty Thor has killed the Hulk and Sentry in this fashion.
- In New X-Men #116: "E Is For Extinction Pt. 3", Emma Frost/The White Queen snaps the neck of Cassandra Nova.
- The Yelena Belova version of Black Widow does this to a female opponent in Black Widow #3 (Greg Rucka-written mini-series).
- In The Bojeffries Saga, Ginda Bojeffries does a Neck Snap on David Cameron during Prime Minister's Question Time.
- Occurs in a Darker and Edgier Fan Fiction of The Land Before Time. The fan fiction's name: Land Before Time: Twilight Valley. Justified in that only smaller bipeds (under 400 lbs) get their necks snapped in this manner and it's usually a 1000 lbs+ dinosaur doing the snapping... and the dinosaurs have essentially taken a CQC course.
- In The Dark Knight Saga fanfic Knightfall: The Movie, Bane does this to a guard at Arkham, by wrapping his arms around the guy's head and neck, and twisting, similar to Jason Voorhees in Jason X.
- In Metal Gear Solid: Fight of Metal Gears 2, Jake Snake breaks one bad guy's neck and arm and throws them at another before snapping off his head.
- In Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series, Tristan can break necks with his mind.
- Some characters in Ace Combat The Equestrian War die this way, though the neck-breaks usually happen from impacts of punches and kicks in an all out fight, rather than a stealth attack.
- Subverted in the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fic Xenophilia: after several ponies suffer a bad case of Bullying a Dragon, Lyra Heartstrings grabs one of the attackers with telekinesis and it looks like she killed her. However, it turns out she knocked her out with a sleep spell and only jerked her head a bit to make it perfectly clear that she could have.
- My Little Mages: The Nightmares Return: This is how Nightmare Moon finishes off Celestia after she's been stabbed by the Grand Master.
- NGE Broken Sequence: Shinji is murdered this way in the third filler chapter.
- The Powers Of Harmony: Eclipse kills Granny Smith this way, only for Applejack to use the Element of Honesty's "Rejection of Fate" power to rewind time a few minutes, long enough to save her.
- Plasma's Folly: Ghetsis kills the Deino this way.
- In Yugioh! The Thousand Year Door Redux, after defeating Count Bleck in a duel, the Shadow Queen preforms a Neck Lift and then snaps his neck.
- In Mass Effect 3: Generations, one Brute certainly seems to have its neck snapped, or at least bent out of shape, by the charging Grunt.
- Hachin: This is how Bataar kills Unegan; when the latter is trying to kill Mulan, he comes up behind him and twists his neck 180 degrees.
- Garfield does this to Doc Brown in Garfield in: "Along Came a Splut", but in an unintentionally accurate example, it doesn't kill him, one of the few things that does make sense about an otherwise Mind Screw of a story.
- In chapter seven of Bait and Switch, Crewman Cdebaat, a Tellarite redshirt attached to Eleya's away team, gets his neck broken by an Orion matron who manages to get the drop on him with a stealth module.
- "Aen'rhien Vailiuri" has a supremely pissed-off Romulan named Morgan t'Thavrau do a one-handed Neck Lift on a Kazon who just insulted her ability to command her ship. When the Kazon proves Defiant to the End, she breaks his neck and tells her security officer to send in the second-in-command.
Films — Animation
Films — Live-Action
- In the David Palmer novel Emergence, Candy Smith-Foster (an eleven-year old girl) kills an enemy agent by pretending to cry, then snapping his neck when he hugs her. (She is a black belt with the ability to access greater-than-normal strength, and they're in free-fall in an orbiting spacecraft at the time.)
- Robert A. Heinlein used this a few times.
- In his short story "Gulf", "Kettle Belly" Baldwin killed a guard this way when he and "Captain Gilead" escaped from the New Age Hotel.
- The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, Professor Bernardo de la Paz mentions that during a brawl he snapped the neck of one of the Warden's guards using a maneuver called the Istanbul Twist.
- The eponymous Villain Protagonist of The Day of the Jackal does this several times in several different ways, usually in order to protect his Secret Identity.
- Played straight near the end of Book 11 of The Saga of Darren Shan when Steve kills Shancus this way. Justified in that Steve is superhumanly strong, and to make things easier for him, it's a child's neck he snaps.
- Also averted once in Book 3, in which Darren, weakened from a lack of blood, fails to snap the neck of a sheep he planned to feed on, and in a rather upsetting scene, has to repeatedly bash the terrified animal's skull in with a rock as a mercy kill.
- Happens by accident in the Honor Harrington novel The Shadow of Saganami, when an arms dealer supplying anti-Manticoran terrorists makes a desperate, ultimately unsuccessful attempt to prevent one of his fellow crew members from firing on a RMN shuttle coming to board the dealer's ship, after sensor readings by the Hexapuma showed that the dealer was running under false transponder codes. Done deliberately in Flag in Exile by an assassin sent to kill Honor on a guard.
- Prince Xizor does this to a would-be assassin in Shadows of the Empire.
- Near the end of The Last Argument of Kings, Frost does this to a maimed and tearful Severard. Both turn out to have been informing on Glokta, though he at first didn't realize that Frost was a traitor, too, and was seemingly going to let Severard live. Then the epiphany hits, and Frost silences Severard before going for Glokta.
- Discussed rather horrifyingly at the end of Unseen Academicals.
- In Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian story "Shadows In Zamboula" Baal-pteor offers Human Sacrifice like this, to save blood for the god; he has killed hundreds.
- George RR Martin's Haviland Tuf short story "A Beast for Norn". During a fight between a strangling ape and an ironfang, the ape kills the ironfang by breaking its neck.
- In Sharpe's Trafalgar, the eponymous hero proves his Badass nature by deliberately snapping the neck of a man trying to blackmail him. He does note it took a lot of effort.
- Walter and Phyllis kill her husband Herbert this way in Double Indemnity. Since The Hays Code was in place at the time, it is not shown on-screen in the film.
- In the final duel between Corwin and Strygldwyr in The Guns of Avalon the combatants end up grappling, and each tries to do this to the other. Corwin succeeds, if only barely.
- In The War of the Ancients novel trilogy, Archimonde kills Malorne this way, who was trying to protect his son Cenarius. To his credit, it still took considerable effort, despite Archimonde being a giant demon. Malorne was no pushover either.
- Suggested in the Gaunt's Ghosts novel Traitor General: When Brostin is a bit too careless in his stealth, MkVenner oh-so-gently places his palm on the other guy's neck. We're not told how Ven's going to do it, but considering that this is one of the most badass guys in an already badass regiment, Brostin wisely decides not to press his luck.
- Appears and is discussed in Term Limits. After a Senator gets his neck broken by an assassin, a soldier comments that the one time he tried to do that in the field, he failed miserably and had to cut the man's throat instead. The fact that people with the strength and skill needed to break a man's neck with one's bare hands is so rare helps point to the discovery that the killers were ex-US Special Forces.
- In the Noughts & Crosses series, Jude, as general of the Liberation Militia, does this to a subordinate who has betrayed them. He does this one handed, by jerking her upwards while he was standing behind her chair and she was turning to look up at him. He is a fit, strong man, the attack came totally by surprise, and one might suspect that her neck might be less muscled and more fragile than the normal victims of this trope, so it's difficult to tell how realistic this example is.
- In His Dark Materials, Will Parry accidentally kills a man who invaded his house by pushing him away, resulting in the man tripping over Will's cat, falling down the stairs and hitting a piece of furniture, bending his neck at a twisted angle. What Do You Mean, It's for Kids??!
- In The Hunger Games, Cato does this to the boy from District 3 in a fit of rage after Katniss set off a chain reaction with the landmines surrounding the Careers' food supplies, destroying all the food.
- Averted in An Oblique Approach where Princess Shakuntala attempts this on a guard and fails comically. After Raghunath Rao mocks her with monkey noises, she steps back and kills the guard with a kick, a palm strike, and three elbow-strikes.
- In the Paradox Trilogy, symbionts are strong enough to kill people this way, and it seems to be one of their preferred tactics. In particular, two important characters are killed by symbionts in this manner in Honor's Knight.
- In The Lord of Opium the drug lord Glass Eye Dabengwa manages to do this with a punch. He has many cybernetic implants, however, possibly increasing his strength.
- In Ivy's (banned) "Temptation of Sonata" music video, as a reenactment of Tifa and Loz's fight in Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, Tifa's victory involved a necksnap on Loz. It ended up banned due to her essentially infringing on copyrights.
- There are youtube videos demonstrating the proper technique, many of them overemphasizing the danger of the neck snap, since it's already both extremely dangerous and relatively simple to perform. The videos often come under fire for potentially inciting violent behavior that could either be justified by or hidden under the label of "self-defence". The matter is hotly debated.
- Call of Cthulhu supplement Fearful Passages, adventure "Sleigh Ride". One of the giganteus sneaks up behind Professor Chance and wrenches his neck with a sickening crack.
- You can do this in GURPS as part of grappling, but you usually fail at the required rolls, unless you have high ST and/or points in the Neck Snap technique.
- In Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, the Beadle, Judge Turpin's dragon, does this to the poor little bird that was Anthony's gift to Johanna in a quite cruel Kick the Dog moment before threatening Anthony with the same if he ever steps foot on their street again. In the non-musical version of the play by Christopher Bond that the musical was based on, Sweeney kills the Beadle by dropping him right down the chute with the chair in such a way as to break his neck upon landing, a nod to the way the original Sweeney murdered his customers in The String of Pearls.
- In Yarudora series vol. 3: Sampaguita, Boy performs this on a mook guarding the enemy headquarters, in order to storm it with maximum surprise effect.
- Sandaur of Drowtales finds a group of rebels attacking his students. Being a Badass Teacher, he Curb Stomps the crap out of the attackers, grabbing the final attacker by the neck and finishing him off with a quick twist.
- The X-Ray Skeleton does this to Ms. Green in Awful Hospital.
- In The Adventures of Dr. McNinja, Dr. McNinja does this to a random security guard in one of his early stories.
- The technique is described in loving detail in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer webcomic, Pillars of Faith. Given Faith has Slayer strength, this is performed as a decapitation technique involving a double torque.
- In Gnoph, Abbey dispatches a Mook this way early on, demonstrating her superhuman strength.
- Pella, the bard from Looking for Group snaps a guard's neck with her thighs, promising to write a song about it when they escape.
- The Order of the Stick
- Miko Miyazaki does this to Sabine on her first day in jail as a fallen paladin. Of course, since Sabine's an Outsider, it just annoys her.
- Xykon does this to Lirian in Start of Darkness.
- Durkon kills Zz'dtri in this manner.
- Nikol, in Seventy Seas, at one point snaps, and then unsnaps a monk's neck.
- Choo-Choo Bear of Something Positive does this as an act of mercy to a cat wearing a beagle hat.
- Discussed in Bug Martini here.
- Homestuck's Aranea Serket meets their end via one of these, courtesy of Her Imperious Condescension.
- In episode 7 of the Xiao Xiao series, the main character snaps a couple of mooks' necks, but it sounds less like a snap, and more like someone tapping a brick against a cookie jar.
- Hilariously parodied in the Escapist webseries Doomsday Arcade. When Shanks and Lund have to break out of a prison, the guards' necks snap with the slightest twist. They even manage to snap their necks by touching them on the shoulder and staring at them.
- Done with a one-handed Neck Lift in Magical Girl Hunters. Then again, the person being killed is a 5-year-old girl...
- SCP-173 loves this method.
- Red vs. Blue: Season 9, when South kicks a Mook headfirst into a locker. His head gets stuck there, and he doesn't get back up, so we can assume that it fits this trope.
- This is how Chase dies in Pyrrhic, mercy killed by his best friend Joshua.
- Stan Smith does this several times in American Dad!. Stan, while being high on crack, kills a monkey this way (which wouldn't really be that hard). He also kills Jay Leno this way in a fit of anger.
- Patrick Smith's short Delivery features two brothers fighting over a package. One of them eventually defeats the other by snapping his neck. And the box they were fighting over? Empty. According to Smith, it was a meant to be a rebuttal to all those Anvil on Head cartoons, saying that his character will die if one falls on them.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: Fluttershy does this to a bear in "Lesson Zero". Yes, this is a little girl's show. (The bear's fine. Apparently, it's a violently effective form of chiropractic therapy.)
- Robot Chicken parodies this all the time, including the "Happy Ending" and "Jared Gets Fat" sketches from Season 1
- The Simpsons: McBain does this to the trope namer of Commie Nazis.
- In Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Asajj Ventress and her allied Nightsisters decide to test the loyalty of their newly-empowered minion, Savage Opress, by commanding him to kill his brother. Savage does so with a Neck Snap. (Not with a Force Choke Neck Lift, mind you, as is traditional in this universe—Opress has only an instinctual knowledge of the Force in this episode, and no formal training. He does it with his bare hands.)
- The Venture Bros.
- Brock Sampson tries to walk a reluctant Hank Venture through this in "Ghosts of the Sargasso". Fortunately, Hank isn't strong enough to actually break any necks, but he does knock out a couple of the goons and ties them up, with bows.
Hank: And that'll knock him out... even more?
Brock: That'll kill him.
- In "Ice Station Impossible!" Hank, facing possible doom as a human bomb, asks Brock to kill him if the need comes.
Hank: How would you do it?
Brock: You're asleep, quick jerk of the neck. Never feel a thing.
Hank: You've thought about this!
Brock: Yes, I have.
- Captain Scarlet kills a Mysteron replicant this way in one episode of Gerry Anderson's New Captain Scarlet.
- This is the intended result of long-drop hanging style of execution. It is actually very difficult to achieve, and that is the reason why hanging has been pretty much superseded by firing squads or, in the 21st century, lethal injection.
- To give some perspective on how difficult it was to do the long-drop correctly, you had to calculate the length of the rope very carefully based on the weight of the convict. Too short and the neck wouldn't break and you had to wait for him to strangle to death. Too long and the force applied to the neck would be so great that...well, the best outcome was a snapped rope. The worst outcome was a total decapitation. More than a few hangings were botched in this way, such as Black Jack Ketchum, and there have been several judicial hangings in Iraq (not Saddam Hussein) where this has happened.
- Killing someone instantly like this in real life is possible, but completely impractical. You need to put one hand on the top of their head and the other on their chin, then wrench their head down to their shoulder while twisting the head to the side in the opposite direction. It doesn't actually snap their neck, but rather damages the nerves in their spinal cord in such a way that they stop breathing and collapse instantly. It is disturbingly easy to find how-to self defence videos on YouTube demonstrating how to kill people this way.
- I can tell you both as a biology student and amateur mixed martial artist that, "way that they stop breathing and collapse instantly" is not a very likely event. Even if the spinal cord is 100% severed and damaged, most organs in the body could function for some time and they would still have control of a small area of their head and upper body. Martial arts still has a lot of myths about instant-killing that have little basis.
- After two deaths in as many days where broken necks were a factor at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix (Roland Ratzenberger broke his neck and died instantly in a high speed crash during practice, Ayrton Senna was killed the next day in the race by multiple head injuries, one of which was a broken neck), Formula One mandated that all drivers wear a HANS device (Head And Neck Support) that attaches their helmet firmly to their shoulders with a strong carbon fibre rig and straps which prevents the violent whiplash accidents can cause from snapping the victim's neck. There has never been a driver death in Formula One since, with drivers walking away from 50G+ crashes.